The Pope’s Last Confession



Here are three of thirty-four chapters. Some chapters relate the pontiff’s private late-night confession made to a Confessor. Other chapters describe the Pope’s night time dreams.


Chapter   1 :  What God Gives


The pontiff hovered forty-thousand feet above the coast of Africa, amid the wispy cirro-stratus clouds.


Suddenly, all human languages spoke at once, not in cacophony, but in delicate, percussive synchronization.


All of humanity, dead and alive, spread out above the Sea, and on the Earth, and in the Sky of Africa, was calling upon the Pope to give witness to the Confessor.


Unexpectedly, from among the people, God appeared, reminiscent of a human being, lifting and twirling as a leaf in the air, completely covered in red linen and wrapped mummy-like. God spoke these words to the Pope: “I can wait until the cool rush of Sea-winds palm the white dunes smooth. I can wait until the raven morion is unEarthed. I can wait until a pencil-mapped Sky veils the doyen Pleiades. But I cannot wait for you.


Paucorum est intellegere quid donet Deus!” (It is given to few people to know what God gives!)


Then the Pope awoke from the dream.


Chapter  2  :  Not Of This Fold


As always––late in the evening, on olden merbau and marble floors; surrounded by colossal and opulent tapestries depicting unicorns and princes and dogs on the hunt; encircled by frescos of Moses in death and David in tears and Solomon in judgment and Jesus in agony; bounded by deep-dark mahogany chairs and settees and gorgeous threadbare Turkish rugs; in a thousand-room palace housing the papal apartments; and all within the larger antique Vatican complex––the Pope spoke face to face with the Confessor:


Have a seat right here tonight, Confessor dear, and I’ll sit there. That chair you’re in was refurbished recently. It was my grandmother’s chair. Feel that fabric.


I have been having the oddest dreams. You wouldn’t believe the one I had the other night.


Do you remember when we were young, when we first befriended Asif and Azra, and the day their child Abdullah was born? Do you recall the wonderful company that family provided us? Do you remember their piety, their deep goodness? Now think of others we met back then. Think of Hiromi and his serenity. Now think of bright-eyed Kalma. Now think of the poker queens Sonal and Kirin. Think of young Daniel. All non-Christians.


When we broke from the homogeneity of our Christian ghetto and actually met people from other religions and befriended them, didn’t that explode our religious exclusivism? We interpreted Jesus’ words “I have sheep that are not of this fold” as referring to these new friends of ours.


But inclusivism never uprooted my skepticism. Oh, I accept our friends of other religions, of course, but I continue to doubt the veracity of those religions.


That’s what I want to confess about tonight.


Bless me, my dear Confessor, for I have sinned. It has been eight days since my last confession …


Other religions engender doubt in me.


Was there ever a period of common consent about God in the history of the world? If there was, it was in antiquity when the vast majority of the human race believed in the existence of multiple gods. If common consent, or near-universal consent, is any guide to truth, then multiple gods must have existed. Today, there is no common consent about God or the gods, but only variety, as well as disbelief in God and the gods.


That there is something afoot in religions that is spiritual, we might concede. But I doubt the interpretation of the spiritual in all the world’s religions.


Let us think of the reasons why we do not believe in religions other than our own. Think of the ways we can explain the success of other religions without confirming their supernatural claims. Think of the ways we can account for the longevity of other religions without conceding that these religions are true. Consider how we can explain their sacred texts without admitting a sacred origin for those documents. Think about how we can explain other religions’ testimonies of personal experience as a validating principle. We might say: “Sure you felt a presence. Sure the hair on the back of your neck stood up. Sure your life changed for the better.


But your interpretation of the cause of these events was already hovering at the ready since the culture that surrounded you intervened to decipher the experience. In short, your experience was not immediate; it was indeed mediated through culture. The same feelings, the same experiences, in Sri Lanka, in Iran, in Arkansas, will have provided different interpretations.”


We doubt everyone else’s interpretation of their religious experience. Oh, the experience may be genuine. But the interpretation is suspect.


We should acknowledge that we think the vast majority of humanity has been self-deceived about—among other things!—their religions. And not only has self-deception occurred for the entire length of a single lifetime but, in the case of long-lived religions, for multiple generations over thousands of years!


Most people feel this way about ten thousand of ten thousand and one religions. Most people feel this way about most of humanity alive right now, not to mention the millions of people who have predeceased us.


Vast numbers of people can be deceived, and this is incontestable proof of impediments to real knowledge.


Why not feel the same way about our own religion as we do about others? Our religion. Its success and its longevity can be explained naturally, without recourse to supernatural, otherworldly explanations.


Believe you me, if you collect all the arguments against our religion made by thinkers from other religions, and if you collect all the arguments made by our thinkers against other religions, you will see that the arguments are interchangeable. All religions see other religions as natural phenomena, not super-natural.


I have come to doubt my own religion by the simple fact that other religions exist.


After I summarily dismiss ten thousand of ten thousand and one religions, isn’t it a short step to incredulity about my own religion? All the reasons for the error of others apply to me too.


And faith? Faith doesn’t impart knowledge or certainty! Faith is not a way of knowing! It’s a way of assenting! Besides, the faith of other religions is what we call credulity.


Can my faith lift itself above a charge of credulity?


This, my dear friend, is a confession of doubt. Doubt in a pope, no less!




And the Pope rose to kneel on one knee for a blessing.


The Confessor kissed the pontiff on the head, pronounced absolution, and then withdrew to leave the Pope alone.




The Pope hurried to the bathroom for quick relief, then sat thinking, heels of palms wedged tightly into wells of eyes. Would there be more of these? More confessions of doubt?


Later, the Pope drew a bath, hotter than usual, hot to the soft flesh of the backside, hot but pacifying. A one-hour soak. Then into pajamas of Belgian silk. Then into bed and out of consciousness.


And the Pope slept and the Pope dreamed …


Chapter 3 : Divine Comedy


The Pope sat with leaders of all religions in a large, darkly lit ballroom. Thousands were present: Clerics, ministers, ecclesiastics, prophets, priests, preachers, mystics, monks, lamas, nuns, rabbis, powahs, yogis, imams, avatars, rishis, gurus,, holy men, holy women, saints and spiritual models all. All in religious garb.


They were seated at round tables: ten or twelve per table. All of them imbibed rolled tobacco or water pipes. All sipped spirits. A thick murky swirl of smoke sat halo-like over the crowd.


Besides glowing tobacco tips, the room was lit by a spotlight fixed on a lone figure upon an enormous stage up front.


This figure, who in Baja-cielo is named Dios but in the outer limits is called The Divine Comic, addressed the crowd between deep drags on a long hand-rolled thick sea-green myrtle cigarette. Next to The Comic, off to one side, sat a feather-wing-ed angel in a clown suit behind a snare drum and cymbal. Drum sticks twirled in angelically nimble fingers.


The crowd was convulsed in non-stop laughter as The Comic continued in the ‘perfect’ routine, because a divine comic can only conjure the highest humor, delivering it with faultless timing, right?  What follows is what passes for humor, divinity styled:


“ … and just think of the great ones for inspiration when you’re feeling gloomy and low.


“Think of Ganesha, for instance. Mother of Pearl S. Buck! He got his head lopped off by his own father and from then on had to go around with an elephant’s noggin. He made the best of it though. He didn’t sulk and say ‘Woe is me.’ He didn’t make degrading elephant jokes like ‘Impressive, but how do you pee with it?’ No, he aspired to divinity. And you know what? He made it, baby. I mean he made it with a capital M. Millions (and I do mean millions) have loved this pious pachyderm––from toe to top, from his wiry little tail whiskers to that stretched-out snout.   I myself am a devotee.”


Bada-bing went the clown’s drum and cymbal.


The holy horde convulsed in laughter, and the Pope laughed with them.


“Think of Siddharta. Crime in Italy! He would be the first to admit he was susceptible to peer pressure with the whole fasting and asceticism thing. Those ascetics in north India really got to him—and he became one. Talk about a pious X-ray. Je–sus! I mean the guy was so skinny that light passed through him. He darn near starved himself to death. But he didn’t just sit under a banyan tree and call it quits. Well, actually, he did. He did just that. But at that very moment the whole “Buddha” thing dawned on him. And afterwards he was finally able to gorge himself on chickpeas without a bad conscience. He gained weight, but he kept that trim look. And for that the ironic Chinese adored him in fat grinning effigies. And those madcap Indians built a gorgeous temple around Sid’s single solitary slim tooth.”




The holy horde convulsed in laughter, and the Pope laughed with them.


“Think of Jesus. My cow in a rowboat! The guy gets nailed to a pole probably for nothing more than looking askance at a Roman centurion. He made the best of it though. Did he stay dead? Not for a minute. Well, okay, he stayed dead for the weekend. But then he got up off his backside and resurrected himself. It paid off in spades too. Every third amigo in Latin America is named after him.”




The holy horde convulsed in laughter, and the Pope laughed with them.


“Think of Muhammad (pbbuh)…Well…on second thought … don’t. Even I fear for my life.”




The holy horde convulsed in laughter, and the Pope laughed with them.


“Think of Joseph Smith. Christ on a half shell! Talk about getting kicked when you’re already down! I mean those prairie Methodists tried to smother him with a holy handkerchief and a length of twine. But you know what? Mr. Smith didn’t call it quits and amble down the Mississippi Delta with a five-string banjo on his knee. And he didn’t sneak off to French Canada in snowshoes with the beaver trappers either. No! He stayed put and conjured up the Book of Mormon from a couple of buried wagon wheels and two river rocks jiggled around in his wife’s bonnet. I mean he concocted the first modern “American” religion. Yes, yes. I’m talking about The Church of Jesus Christ, Latter-Day Saints! Never mind that ol’ Joe mis-calculated the latter days and the ‘Lord’ never returned. ‘Latter days’ means the general end of the world: tomorrow or five-thousand years from now; it’s all latter day.”




The holy horde convulsed in laughter, and the Pope laughed with them.


“Think of Amie Semple McPherson. Junebug love! I heard tell she had thousands swaying in the streets and floating two inches above dove-grey Los Angeles sidewalks. But she saw dark moments too. Was she going to let a boot to the backside keep her from evangelical bliss? Never in a million. Okay, so she’s not worshipped like Ganesha. Not yet. But give her time. Ganesha is several thousand years older, and that’s a little bit of a head start.”




The holy horde convulsed in laughter, and the Pope laughed with them.


“Think of Mary Baker Eddy. Slip me sideways! She was down and out not once, not twice, but six separate times. Did she break her own kneecaps and spend the rest of her life begging on a skateboard in New York City subways? No way! She started a religion. And I don’t mean any run-of-the-mill religion. I mean, she started Christian Science and catapulted untold numbers into the sprightly ranks of healthy living—or untimely death, if they happened to need surgery or antibiotics.”




The holy horde convulsed in laughter, and the Pope laughed with them. A rishi leaned over to the Pope and through tears of laughter said, “This is heaven!”


Then the Pope awoke, laughing still.


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