Pope Francis has already become an icon of virtue both within and without Christian communities. In secular societies, his popularity is similar to that of the Dalai Lama.
In an extraordinary interview with America magazine in September 2013 upon his arrival in Rome, he lays out a number of his personal philosophies that touch upon and incorporate all three of the Lenses.
Looking through the Fractal Lens, and contrary to what one might expect, Francis takes the view that his faith necessarily must embrace uncertainty.
"[I]n this quest to seek and find God in all things there is still an area of uncertainty. There must be. If a person says that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good. For me, this is an important key. If one has the answers to all the questions—that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble. Uncertainty is in every true discernment that is open to finding confirmation in spiritual consolation."
In taking this stance on uncertainty, Francis effectively mirrors the position of Nassim Taleb and the complexity theories described in Mark Buchanan's Ubiquity, which is that many of the most important things in life cannot be predicted with certainty as to their occurrence, the timing of the occurrence and the impact of the occurrence, or some combination of the three. There are always known unknowns and unknown unknowns out there. Evidently God works not only in mysterious ways, but also fractal ways. An observer of the inherent roughness of the natural world such as Mandelbrot would agree. On the other hand, a quest for certainty in all things would appear to be a human failing and a fools' errand.
Looking at Francis's discourse through the Mimetic Lens, we can see the quandary that organized Christianity has always faced. Founded as a religion of outsiders on the idea that the sacrificial victims of organized communities are innocent and such violence should be renounced, when it becomes organized itself, it often mimics the archaic sacred ways of selecting its own sacrificial victims and scapegoating them to preserve order in its communities. The persecution of individuals as witches is only one of many historical examples.
As an interesting aside that may the subject of a future post, this was reflected in Gandhi's famous quote: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” In a famous essay from 1941, Gandhi declared that Christ belonged to everyone: "I believe that [Jesus] belongs not solely to Christianity, but to the entire world; to all races and people, it matters little under what flag, name or doctrine they may work, profess a faith, or worship a God inherited from their ancestors." Rene Girard also observed that the concept of the innocence of the victim has spread (or bled) well beyond the confines of Christianity and is pervasive as an aspirational ideal in most of secularized Western societies and in movements based on non-violence.
Getting back to Francis, he takes the following position on organized Christianity: “If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing. Tradition and memory of the past must help us to have the courage to open up new areas to God. Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security,’ those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists—they have a static and inward-directed view of things. In this way, faith becomes an ideology among other ideologies. I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life. God is in everyone’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else—God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life. Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow."
In terms of the Mimetic Lens, when he says Christianity can become an ideology among others, he is really saying that much of what passes for organized Christianity is in fact still based on the archaic sacrificial scapegoating model in search of maintaining order through violence, and that it remains a constant struggle to escape it. He also echoes the commitment of uncertainty of the Fractal Lens in noting that trying to make everything "clear and safe" through ritualistic rule making is an illusory quest.
Looking through the Prospecting Lens, we see that Francis is clearly in the camp of recommending the active deployment of the slow thinking and uncertain System 2 over the fast thinking and certain System 1. Francis incorporates this into his discussion of "discernment", which is the Jesuit idea that important decisions should be contemplated carefully to ensure that the correct decision is being made. Regarding this he states:
“This discernment takes time. For example, many think that changes and reforms can take place in a short time. I believe that we always need time to lay the foundations for real, effective change. And this is the time of discernment. Sometimes discernment instead urges us to do precisely what you had at first thought you would do later. And that is what has happened to me in recent months. Discernment is always done in the presence of the Lord, looking at the signs, listening to the things that happen, the feeling of the people, especially the poor. My choices, including those related to the day-to-day aspects of life, like the use of a modest car, are related to a spiritual discernment that responds to a need that arises from looking at things, at people and from reading the signs of the times. Discernment in the Lord guides me in my way of governing.
“But I am always wary of decisions made hastily. I am always wary of the first decision, that is, the first thing that comes to my mind if I have to make a decision. This is usually the wrong thing. I have to wait and assess, looking deep into myself, taking the necessary time. The wisdom of discernment redeems the necessary ambiguity of life and helps us find the most appropriate means, which do not always coincide with what looks great and strong.”
In my mind, this interview tends to demonstrate and confirm that when the three Lenses are combined, good decision-making and wisdom results.
I have always been curious about the way the world works and the most elegant ideas for describing and explaining it. I think I have found three of them.
I was very fond of James Burke's Connections series that explored interesting intersections between ideas, and hope to create some of that magic here.