I'm beginning to think that Pope Francis has a lot in common with Norville Barnes, the main character in the Coen Brothers' 1994 comedy The Hudsucker Proxy. You get the impression that the powers that be saw him as a rube they could elevate to a figurehead position then push around, but what they wound up with was somebody who by accident or through sheer force of goodwill stumbled into completely revolutionizing the company.
Up until now Francis's acts as pope could have been written off as being either ineffectual or simply personal quirks: he extended a hand to gays and atheists while not actually changing church policy on the inherent sinfulness of the gay and atheist lifestyle; he spoke out against priest sex abuse and met with victims but there are those who are still suspicious, calling it PR stagecraft; he regularly sneaks out of the Vatican to feed the homeless and he seems to truly care about people. But something he just said during an address at the Museum of Unbelievable Irony, otherwise known as the "Pontifical Academy of Sciences," is truly worth raising an eyebrow or two over.
When talking about how the Big Bang and evolution square within the circle of Christian dogma, he made the remarkable statement that not only are these concepts consistent with bible teachings, they're actually critical to understanding God. "When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything — but that is not so," the pope said, no doubt to a room full of carnage created by all those exploding heads. He essentially was -- and is -- claiming that creationists are wrong and those who espouse evolution may very well be right. "God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life," the pope said to the few remaining heads left. "Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve."
While I'm sure he would argue with me on the outcome, let's run his statements through the religion-to-reason translator and see what we get: "It's entirely possible that there is no God, at least not the God described in the Bible."
Think about the Bible as the very source of Christianity, the supposed word of almighty God. Now think about what it says about God, how he is in fact a "divine being" and what we would by all accounts describe as an omnipotent magician able to simply stretch out his ethereal arms and create the cosmos in a single breath. Think about what the Bible says about creation, how the world was spun out of nothingness in six days and man evolved not from a lesser creature over time but instantly from the dust and clay because that's what God decreed. Now think about what Pope Francis -- the head of the Catholic church and an allegedly infallible presence who also speaks for God here on earth -- just said with regard to all of that. He contradicted it all. He rewrote the Bible.
The point here is one that atheists have argued for centuries: If the word of the Bible can be interpreted to fit personal religious biases then how can it be the word of God, and if it can be manipulated on a whim or to account for the march of human progress then what good is it? Why is it necessary at all? (This, by the way, is the backbone of my colleague Mike Luciano's issues with Islam: there's simply no need to acknowledge or pay deference to a belief system that at its core espouses illiberal values and is immune to criticism or progress when that belief system is ludicrous by modern standards and therefore unnecessary.) Pope Francis is basically arguing that an ancient, fantastical text whose sole reason for existence is to act as the Christian rule book can accommodate proven realities that are diametrically opposed to its teachings. And if that's the case, then why is there any need for a belief in the ancient, fantastical text at all?
The answer: there isn't.
RELATED: Why can't we just admit that religion is crazy? We pose that question here.