So when Joseph Stalin exhibited his microscopic rationale and exclaimed, “How many divisions has the Pope?,” we found it ridiculously amusing. Last week, this very “man with no divisions” retired and baffled the realm of political journalism. As a Sun columnist, events like these are extremely interesting because I get an opportunity to venture out of my ivory tower and literally shrug off the brain freeze that mundane and banal activities, such as calculus, bring forth. It is enthralling when such a phenomenal transition occurs because then we all get a brilliant opportunity to reassess and reevaluate all that holds weight in this world.
The Pope retired and instantaneously Daniel Drezner asks the question of the hour: “Why do we care?” The institution has been questioned and the dilemma reemerges. To put it very simply, just because an institution has lasted for a number of years, does it mean it must last until hell freezes over? The intuitive answer to that is no, but we act otherwise. For instance, if the Queen decides to retire, BBC will have substantive matter to cover, investigate and reinvestigate her retirement for at least a decade. The whole premise of “The King has died, Long Live the King” brings to our notice something startling. We place more emphasis on institutionalized positions today than the person holding the office itself.
The Pope does, of course, foster faith and is a source of inspiration for a large section of the population across the world. However, when the institution becomes larger than the person occupying it, why must it be startling when Pope Benedict XVI resigns because of old age? He is temporal but his office is eternal; did we not already know that? Still, it shocks us because this whole business is a rude reminder that more than half the things we cry and beat our chests about are actually socially constructed. Moreover, most constructed things are subject to change, including religion. For instance, if this resignation had occurred, say, even ten years back, the consequences would be manifold. However, today, if the Starbucks conglomerate closed its doors, we would be more hapless and inordinately disconsolate.
It is true that change is inevitable, but we replicate certain elements invariably. The practice of assuming a person is larger than life holds true even today. The President of the United States, America’s Next Top Model and the Ayatollah are all essentially human beings who are considered larger than life by onlookers. My contention is that nothing is larger than life itself and it stems from the fact that I am a confirmed existentialist.
So the Pope gets stressed out and needs a break from life. Well, don’t we all at times? It is true that the lives of leaders and public figures are not, at the end of the day, their own lives. However, it is not a catastrophe if certain aspects of society are tired of consistency. Religion itself was constructed to bind society together. The word religion comes from the root “religaire” — which translates as “to bind or hold together.” There are a gazillion other things that have developed the ability to bind society together today: exchange rates, scandalous lives of heads of states, an obsession with losing weight, the Super Bowl maybe (I don’t know, I’m international) and important things such as solidarity against sexual abuse, bigotry, terrorism and poverty. In this vein, it is more than appropriate to quote Ecclesiastes 3: “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.”everything including the Pope, is ephemeral. When we hold onto things obstinately, we fight, kill, tear each other down and make a royal mess everywhere: in politics, society, economics and most importantly, life.
Aditi Bhowmick is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Abstruse Musings appears alternate Mondays this semester.