I love quantum physics and I love popes.
While I was a physics major in college, I created a Facebook group called "Baptists Who Like Catholic Things." When Pope Francis began making some unusual headlines a few months ago, I did some quick calculations and realized that something quirky was happening in the fabric of Papal spacetime.
First, the Pope preached a homily in which he apparently said that atheists were redeemed – that everyone was redeemed, in fact. Then, headlines began popping up about the Pope's approval of gay priests. And at some point in all this, I was informed that I had gotten some time knocked off my purgatory sentence by following him on Twitter.
Thankfully, because of my science background, I was prepared for this barrage. I want to tell you how quantum physics put my mind to ease about the Pope.
The Observer Effect [and the atheist homily]
There's a recurring theme in the reports that follow each of these papal remarks: "Pope Francis is one of us (not one of them)." Like the Jesus of history, people are reading his words and then piecing together an identity for him that always looks curiously close to their own.
Following the Pope's homily that called atheists brothers, an article in The Huffington Post led with the Pope's emphasis on doing good as a principle which unites all of humanity, and the article contrasted him with other Christians who believe that Jesus is the only way of salvation. So, you see, the Pope is a humanist with a universal bent, like us.
Fr Thomas Rosica, a Canadian Catholic priest and journalist who works closely with the Holy See Press Office, offered some dogmatic clarity the next day: the Pope was just riffing on Vatican II. God, through Jesus, lets atheists do good works as a way of bringing them closer to knowing Jesus. Saying that atheists are "redeemed" is just Pope-talk for saying that Jesus died for everybody (news flash: the Pope isn't a 5-point Calvinist), and that some people who are atheists now will ultimately come to Jesus. So, you see, the Pope is a good Catholic, like us.
NPR needed to get a word in at this point, so they said that Fr Rosica's clarification was just "Vatican spin [that] tried to dampen the media hype" following "another example of this pope reaching out to an audience that goes well beyond the church." So, you see, the Pope is a media entity reaching diverse audiences, like us.
Why such confusion? Modern physics. One of the more interesting and frustrating aspects of quantum physics is the observer effect.
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