One of the guys at school is a devout practising Catholic. Think of him more as an Andrew Sullivan than a Rick Santorum. He’s full of effusive charm and sensibilities, and decry a Toryism that has been overtaken by radicals. However, despite that he is responsible for his associations.

Francis I has been in the news a lot, and some Catholics want to portray him as some sort of new special thing. “We’re changing! We’re getting better!” They like to point to interviews such as the one Francis I had with the Italian atheist Eugenio Scalfari for the newspaper La Repubblica.

He is certainly making waves, and the Southern Baptist Convention in the USA is almost about the reopen the Thirty Year War over comments about atheists, gay people, and proselytizing that Francis has made since he was anointed pope. You could almost hear the veins of people like Rick Santorum pop when the Pope said that politicized Christianity was a sin.

Despite all this rhetoric coming from the Vatican, often by way of the Pope ringing someone up and flustering the recipients of the call since they don’t know how to react to that, the truth is that little has changed. Women still can’t be priests, the Church is still hounding users of contraception in Latin America and Africa, and people like Cardinal Dolan still enjoy the opulent luxury of the Vatican instead of a prison cell in the United States.

I honestly don’t think that Francis is lying, or pretending. I think he does believe what he says, but he is limited in his perceptions as any human being are. I don’t think he has the institutional strength behind him to last long. The next pope will be a reaction, and the Church will slip effortlessly back into old forms.

That’s not a conciliatory attitude. I still don’t like the Catholic Church. But, it’s like there’s a social game going on in the Church. The old boys don’t like the new boy, and the new boy has inconceivably enough ended up as the Head Boy. I view everything in the prism of social games at the moment, because I seem to do so much of it. I’m not sure that makes me a chameleon, normal, or a big fraud.

So, it is amusing to listen to my school mate go on about it, as if everything actually has changed, and as if the emergence of a decent pope would actually change the Church itself. Unlike Catholics, I recognise that the pope is just a person, one man, and he is – maybe – fighting against an institutionalised entity that has had thousands of years to get set in its ways. And as long as this mate associates with the Catholic church, he’s in part responsible for how it is. He can only be free of the blame for it if he rejects it.

***

But the thing is, being like he is defines his identity in some way. It separates him from the main, and it elevates him from the masses. He is using his identity as a marker for why he should be seen and heard. Just like another student who likes to talk about her medical conditions, as if those subjects were in any way interesting to anyone, and I have wondered why she keeps bringing them up unless there’s some sort of need for confirmation that despite of those medical reasons, she’s all right.

People generally reaffirm her human worth through compliments and assurances, and they go ooh and aah about her stories. But you can see it in their eyes that they’re not really there. They’ve shut their ears, and are speaking on rote. Do this girl see that? Does she see the numb mask of indifference hiding beneath the surface of the practices social game face?

We’re doing ‘texts in context’ in our little seminar group, because that’s what we’re on for this module, and when she reads something she has a keen wit and a grasp of detail after reading something once. She sees things, and has clarity. That’s why it’s surprising that she doesn’t display this, but resorts to a supplication for sympathy about her problems.

Often I find that the social game is terribly fake and transparent, and while I go on and do the same thing everyone else does, it seems like there would be more truth and worth in being honest and transparent. There are things to admire in most people, as there are things to annoy you. When I have to pretend, like reaffirming this girl’s value through the list of problems, I feel like I want to be a total dick and tell her to stop relying on her crutches.

Take your bed and go, woman. The same goes for the Tory wannabe. And since I’ve not been thrown out for being disruptive, rude and impossible (yet) it goes for me too.

***

Seminar groups are interesting. I, Mark, and some of the members of his groups went down to the pub here. We had some tea or coffee, and then I got an earful of calculus and theories about calculus. It was like watching a group of foreigners because most of the time, what they said made no sense to me.

I think literary criticism is an oxymoric grouping to begin with because I doubt the honesty of such a thing, and I admire the meritocratic nature of Mark’s groups. In my groups, all opinion are the same, regardless of facts. In truth, opinion can be clever and deep in total absence of facts. Facts are not something that literary critics bother with much. For Mark’s group, it’s the reverse. If you don’t know your maths, you’re nothing.

I’m not saying that this is necessarily better because it can lead to conservative stagnation, can’t it? My groups can blow up a cherished understanding by presenting something in a new light too. So, I don’t want to dismiss either way. But… these are all social things, social games. It’s the measure of the social ape’s place in the hierarchy.

***

Watson, our dog, has an ear infection again. So, I’m waiting for Mark to come home from the animal shelter with some medicine for that. He took the dog down earlier to have the vet look at the dog, but had to wait till this afternoon to talk to the senior vet about the antibiotics.

Also, our car has developed a problem that I’m not sure what it is, but Mark has been outside with the bonnet open for hours while he dug into the engine. Of course he had his mates around him, with loud music.

In both cases Mark is so different, more relaxed and open, than in school. I’m not sure the group work is something he is totally all right with. As long as he can talk about maths, it’s fine. But the social games we both have to do, like listening to people jostle and buck in the hierarchies of achievement or popularity, is not something he does well.

Neither do I, to be honest. I keep mostly to Ben and Abbie who I already know, and together we traverse this new ground together, getting lost in hallways still. The atmosphere is different here; not so much laddish exuberance or devil-may-care jargon. It’s like we’re supposed to be adult now. Like this is serious business.

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