Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Is God Italian?

In light of recent religious events which focused world attention upon Italy, that is, the passing of John Paul II and the election of the replacement Pope, Benedict XVI, in a sealed room in the Vatican, some interesting questions come to mind: Is God Italian? Does He like Italians more than Americans or other mongrel peoples? And if virtually the entire world is locked on St. Peter's Square for a week in April, does that mean that Italians have a lock on God, or at the least, "un punto speciale nel suo cuore", a special place in His heart? The answers to these questions are, in my opinion, based upon a bit of current fact, a bit of history, a bit of Biblical knowledge, a bit of Roman Catholic doctrine and a bit of old-fashioned Italian pride. (Yes, I do not mean to shock you, but Italians "got it" and they know it, so much so that they don't need or even care to show "it" off...unlike Americans, who try and fail so very miserably, that they end up looking like the ostentatious-yet-ineffectual narcissistic twits that they actually are.)

So, let's take a brainy ride my friends. Yes, I know, this is America and we don't like to use our brains, but really, this should be painless. Nevertheless, please stay seated at all times...oh, and keep your hand on your wallet.

First, a bit of Catholic doctrine, to establish just who the Pope is. I've learned that Catholics believe that the Pope is the "Vicar" of Christ, meaning that he is the physical representation of God on this earth. And if you watch most Catholics' reaction to the Pope, you might even gather that they may view him as divine as well. So where does the Vicar live? Why, in Italy of course. Ah, but purists (or wop-haters) would protest that Vatican City is in fact not a part of Italy at all, but a small "country" within the country of Italy. While this is technically true, I think it's splitting hairs. To get to the Vatican you go to the country of Italy. I mean, what IS a "country" anyway? I don't know, but I'm fairly sure you have to have an "international" airport to qualify as one, complete with a Food Court. And the last time I was at the Vatican, I didn't see no Chick-Fil-A eatery tended by a gaunt, yellow-eyed man of dubious origin, nor did I see any Boeing widebody--or worse, Airbus--planes taxiing down St. Peter's Square.

Now, while JP2 (John Paul II) was Polish, and Benedict XVI is German, wouldn't it appear that, since they live(d) in the Vatican, God has apparently chosen Italy as a place of residence for the number one man down here? The fact that Vatican City is in the heart of Italy, well, it makes the inference inescapable.

So, how exactly did the Vatican arrive in Italy? The answer lies in the person of Saint Peter the apostle, and this is where things begin to get a bit murky and/or controversial. Catholics consider St. Peter to be the "first Pope", though non-Catholics contest the whole concept of a Pope or that such was Peter. Furthermore, some Catholics believe that Peter was even martyred in Rome, again, something hotly debated in religious circles. You can see where this is going: Therefore, for Catholics, since Peter was the first Pope, and died in Italy, the Catholic faith naturally must make its home there.

But why the emphasis on Peter the apostle as the first Pope? Why is his tomb located behind six inches of glass underneath the Basilica, and not any of the other apostles' tombs? And why is he considered by Catholics to be the first Pope in the first place? The answer, according to the Catholic faith, is the passage in the Bible--you may have heard about's a book--where Jesus states to Peter, "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church." (This is found in Matthew 16, in the New Testament.) Catholics believe that the "rock" is Peter, while others insist that the rock is Jesus himself and that He was talking about himself. Aha, so this then is the origin of the Pope and the Roman Catholic faith: that Jesus (according to Catholic interpretation) declared Peter to be the rock upon which the Christian church would be based, that Jesus therefore made Peter the first Pope, and that Peter completed his life's work in Italy.

Seems natural then that Italy and Italians may wish to lay hold of a special claim regarding their place with God. There are a few "snags" however...there's always snags, you know. Both Jesus and Peter were both Jewish, not Italian. They ate kosher meals; Italians most decidedly do not. Furthermore, as Catholic Christians and Protestant Christians ascribe to the belief that Jesus is fully God, then the conclusion is of course that the Catholic God is Jewish, not Italian.

This begs another intriguing question: Since Catholics worship Jewish figures who--most scholars would agree--spent the vast majority of their time in Israel, why then didn't their religion just naturally spring up there, making its home there, as Judaism and Islam did and does? Well, maybe it's because the early Catholics realized there was already enough trouble in Israel between the Hebrews and the Arabs, as there still is in the 21st century; where's that Rodney King (Jew?) when you need him, to get on T.V. and tell these people to get along? I mean, to this day the Jews and the Arabs are still doing the big dukeroo, with no end in sight, despite the efforts of JP2, Bill Clinton and Rachel Corrie, the patron saint of all leftist activists (that poor girl). Or maybe the early Catholics just decided that to try to construct the Vatican in Jerusalem amidst all those wild-eyed, dynamite-adorned jihadists would be less than "optimal". Or maybe they just figured out that Italy is a lot prettier than much of Israel, so why not just make Saint Peter an honorary Italian and then make beautiful Italy the centre of their religion?

On that last point, I would have to concede that Italy is, in general, much prettier than Israel, at least today anyway. However, let me preempt the inevitable (and hollow) accusations of "anti-Semitism" by saying that I dig Jews. They're survivors. I like survivors. Furthermore, I also like Hebrew National hot dogs. They're scrumptious, or, dare I say it, "jew-licious". (Oh yes, I do dare.) But anyway, I assure you that no frothing, goose-stepping, classic Jew-hater would ever eat those things, much less put this illustrative picture here.

So I guess that settles least, in my mind. God is not Italian, but is first and foremost a Spirit, as cited in the Bible, and only then perhaps Jewish. Jesus is not Italian, but Jewish. Peter is not Italian but Jewish. And from the familiar John 3:16 scripture which you learned in Sunday School ("For God so loved the world...") we should agree in principle that God has no favorites and loves all people equally...Heebs, Degos, Krauts, Frogs, Coloreds, Crackers, Heinz-57s, everyone; otherwise, this blog entry could go on and on, eventually wrapping around the "internets" several times like a tapeworm, and who really wants that? For any Catholic readers out there, I love you all and have nothing against you, of course. In fact, I'm Christian myself, though not Catholic. Rather, I'm simply doing some "critical thinking" here on some religious points which concern Italy and her place with God.

All right then...see you next time. Meanwhile, go out there and get some Hebrew National dogs with a side of Rotelli pasta salad.

Grazie and L'Chaim!