Open Book: The Last Pope

BY: pradm2n

Lori

Imagine a book club built around your prayer life — with no reading required! Lori Strawn and her friend Alice Shelton discuss spiritual themes and questions from literature and poetry, then top it off with a prayer from the Prayables collection. Join us in our journey to find God between the pages of our favorite books. This week, Lori and Alice will discuss a quotation from a speech by Graham Greene: "The Last Pope."

 


 

Radio Transcript

Lori:
Hello and welcome to Open Book, a lively discussion of literature and spirituality. My name is Lori Strawn and I'm a praymaker for Prayables.com, an online prayer community for women of all faiths. With me is my friend Alice, we would love for you to join our conversation. You can call (347) 855-8506, or join us in the chatroom by signing into blog talk radio. Today our quote comes from Graham Greene's speach, The Last Pope, which was delivered in January 1948. I think I will read it first and see if I can clarify it a little bit, if that's okay with you Alice.

Alice:
That sounds great.

Lori:
“In our definition of a Christian civilization we should not be led astray by the presence of wars, injustice and cruelty...those things can exist in a Christian state...But if we give up all thought of achieving or even of pursuing perfection, what clues can we hope to find that will help us distinguish a Christian from a pagan civilization. Perhaps, truthfully, we can count on nothing more than the divided mind, the uneasy conscience, and the sense of personal failure.”  

Okay I know this is a lot to take in. What Graham Greene is discussing here is whether a Christian state or nation can exist on earth, and by Christian he doesn't necessarily mean a place that is run by Christians or by the church, it's more like a country that displays qualities that are Christ like, that has a moral center. Essentialy I think he is saying two things; Graham Greene believes that a Christian nation is possible on earth and he also believe that it doesn't have to be perfect.

Okay, to start out, say we're building it from scratch, Alice. What qualities would a Christian state or nation have to have?

Alice:
Well I think it would have to have some sort of due process. So if there are individuals who function or do something outside what the commonly held values to the society are there would have to be some kind of due process to deal with that so that there's some fairness or whatever. You know, when I think about it I think perhaps there would have to be some definition of what individual rights are within that group of people. And the other big one that comes to my mind is that some care taking of one another has to take place and be evident. There has to be some kind of, I don't know what you would call it, community service or ways of helping those who can't help themselves or that sort of thing. Those are kind of three things that came to me right off as I was thinking about it. What do you think?

Lori
Yeah, I especially agree with the last one. Compassion is the word that I thought of, not just in world aid but in self aid, people in your own country that need help. What about things like back in the 1540's Japan had more guns than any other country and they effectively banned them for 200 years. Is that a Christian thing to do or just a stupid thing to do?

Alice:
Well I'm not a huge gun fan so I don't think that's a bad thing to do but there are lots of other ways for violence to occur. So it would be difficult to ban scyths, for instance, so I guess in some way, while that would be something that I would be personally in favor of, the guns themselves are probably not the issue, the issue really if the community agreeably holds common values, whatever is present won't be an issue. I mean that's very idealistic and perfect and it probably would be very difficult to exist in perfection but, as you say, Graham Greene doesn't expect perfection, I guess there's just an effort, a human effort of trying.

Lori:
Right, what about that? Do you agree that a Christian state wouldn't have to be perfect? That there could be war and injustice?

Alice:
Well I think if we're going to be reflecting what I think I understand about Christianity or Christ, that is human beings realy are reflections of Christ, we are not Christ, so therefor there cannot be perfection. There needs to be significant effort and I think community effort, but I think it could exist if perfection were not expected, if perfection were expected it wouldn't be a human endeavor, it couldn't be a human endeavor.

Lori
Yes, exactly, yeah that's my thought was, you know, if perfection can't exist then getting there, sort of, would have to be enough. It would have to be something that we have to accept as being okay.

Alice:
One thing that confused me about his quote, and I don't necessarily take exception to it, but I would like to hear your response to it. It's the part about "We should not be led astray by the presence of wars, injustice and cruelty. Those things can exist in a Christian state." Wow, I mean, they probably would but just those things seem like big things to me. I mean war is a big thing.

Lori:
Right. I guess it sort of related to the idea of perfection not being possible or, you know, it could be a reference to, at the time of 1948, they just passed WWII and you know, there were a lot of moral issues involved in that war and it may be part of it that wars might have to happen even in a Christian state. Does that make sense?

Alice:
Do you think Greene is suggesting that the government would oversee this Christian state or not?

Lori:
You know what, I don't really know the answer to that. I think, from what I read, it would be the people and therefor the people make the government sort of a whole cohesive thing. I know that he felt very strongly that the Nazis were a Pagan civilization and that whole idea comes from that part of the quote where he says that we can count on nothing more than the diveded mind, the uneasy conscience and the sense of personal failure. What he felt about the Nazis was that they didn't have a conscience, that all they did was make excuses.

Alice:
That's interesting. I was with a friend last evening who is actually a woman who is from Germany but lived in the United States for, really, most of her child and adult life and I posed this to her just in talking about it, knowing we were going to be talking about it, and when I posed to her that Greene suggests Nazi Germany as being a Pagan state she took great exception to that and went on in length about the fact that the people themselves really were not Pagan, they very much were Christians in a large sense, obviously not all Christian, but they were people in really horrible economic conditions and really needed hope and were taken advantage of by a really tyranical leader, so she really took exception to that and I found that interesting and I don't agree or disagree with it I just wanted to share that.

Lori:
No I found that very interesting as well. It's a different perspective being there.

Alice:
Exactly, and you know when I posed the question it didn't even occur to me that I would be, stupidly I would be asking a person that would have a really personal reaction to it so I'm glad that it came up.

Lori:
Yeah, agreed. Okay so what do you think that Greene means when he's talking about the Christian civilization being distinguished by the divided mind, the uneasy conscience and the sense of personal failure?

Alice:
Well I get the last two, I really get the uneasy conscience and personal failure and I think that it's characterized by individuals who have some sense of inner moral compass or ethical core, they have some sense of right and wrong that's sort of internal. Personal failure, same sort of thing, you know you have some awareness that as a human being you have some responsibilities to be successful at certain things that are hopefully supportive of the community developing. I'm a little confused about the divided mind. I don't know if the divided mind means that you're wishy-washy, so I'm interested in your thoughts on that but, yeah, I think as long as there are people who have some inner sense of community value, Christian value if you will, the world is going to be okay, you know, as long as the number of people in that situation who are willing to act on those things outnumbers the folks who aren't. I think we're going to be okay and I think that's what Graham Greene is saying, but I would be interested your thoughts on the divided mind.

Lori:
Oh I completley agree. To me, just a divided mind means being two minded about something, not in a wishy-washy way, but in that I can see the other side of it, that I can see both sides of a problem.

Alice:
Okay

Lori:
And, yeah I agree with you that what he's saying an act of conscience really means something and it might mean everything in some ways.

Alice:
It might and if you think about where we get whatever that ethical or inner core is, you know, that's the piece that's a little unpredictable for me Lori, because if you believe that is nature vs. nurture, or nature more heavily over nurture and you've got a whole generation of individuals who are, say like Adolf Hitler, boy that's a problem because if that is an inherited thing, thankfully I think it's probably both nature and nurture and probably in some ways a lot more nurture but you know that's another discussion. That's another day Lori.

Lori:
Do you feel like you learn from an uneasy conscience or a sense of failure? I know personally for me it has to be something I don't dwell on. If I dwell on a failure I'm not going to learn. But uneasy conscience is sort of like touching a hot stove. You realize like oh okay, I've done something wrong, I'm not going to do it again. Do you think that sort of thing makes you better?

Alice:
I think it does. I think I probably over anylize things that I do in terms of failure so that's probably a challenge for me. Yeah, the uneasy conscience is something that I don't see it alot in super young people, so I think it's something that as you get older it's probably always there but maybe you listen to it more. But yeah, I'm pretty conscience driven and I think I surround myself with people who are intentionally or unintentionally. But you know the big motivator, you know, the place where I work we actually  infuse ethics sort of into almost all of our courses here in some way so that the students that come away from us not only have whatever they have inately, but they're trained to really think about situations ethically and I think that's a really important trait and important skill but we don't often see that as a skill and I think we probably need to do more of that in educating people.

Lori:
Agree. Well I hate to end the conversation but we need to wrap up with a prayer from the prayables collection. This prayer seemed suitable for the season and it's called Perfectly Imperfect, it's the first one I ever wrote for Prayables.



Amen.

Alice:
Amen.

Lori:
Well next week we're going to be talking about War and Peace, is that right?

Alice:
That's the plan, I don't know the exact details of it, but I figure there's enough volume there to find something good that we can talk about.

Lori:
Agreed. Well thank everybody for listening today and please join us next week and if you're looking for God just open a book.

Alice:
Bye bye.

 

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