I like your god - manifesting itself through the processes of nature at a cosmic scale. That god is as plausible an answer as any to the question "what created the universe" - the question itself may be unanswerable. If that god were God, I wouldn't believe in him, but I'd respect the idea.
On the other hand, the God that places man on a pedestal above all animals is a joke. Man is an animal like all the rest, and while the most intelligent, is not the sole posessor of sentience. Sentience is not an absolute - I think some animals posses it to a limited degree. Elephants have funerial rituals and may comprehend their own mortality, dolphins have a crude form of speech, and every animal that can use its eyes to navigate around an obstacle has some reasoning ability. Man is not special; he is not God's personal little pet.
The God that created man in his image, the one that flooded the earth after allowing Noah to build his ark, turned a woman to salt for looking back at a burning city, sent his son to earth to start a religion, resurrected that son and pulled him up forty days later - that is an even bigger joke. The idea of God, watching down on man and intricately connected with his fate, is laughable to me. So is the idea that this God has an afterlife waiting for his pet creation.
Such a God is an invention of man. Jesus was a charismatic cult leader who was pulled off the cross with a weak pulse and hung around as long after his "resurrection" as he could without getting caught. Jesus was L. Ron Hubbard in an age where people were less educated and more desperate - nothing more.
You can challenge me to prove it, I suppose, and I can't. But I think it's the extraordinary claims that demand the proof. Bodily ascension into heaven shouldn't be what people believe by *default*.
Now, we come to this statement: "Second, regardless of the existence of God or otherwise, nature has a tendency to select those most beneficial to herself to rise and become influential."
Once again this assumes that nature/universe/God has a hand in the petty affairs of man. But more than that, your mentality scares me, for it implies a trust in the people that lead. Trust in leaders is what gets the societies of man in trouble - distrust of power and authority is the only thing that keeps it in check.
I reject the notion that nature selects those most suitable to be leaders. Our leaders are simply those who have a combination of fortunate circumstance and personal ambition to lead. The former is randomness (often the sort of thing that fools ascribe to God as "miracles" or even "luck") while the latter is a personal quality. There is nothing purposeful in the selection of leaders - if nature or God had a hand in it, we'd have to acknowledge that men like Bush, Putin, Mugabe, or Idi Amin were placed into their positions of authority with a greater purpose. A few of the people on that list believe that, and it scares me.
No, our leaders are nothing special. They are just men, and they are often among the worst of men.
Which brings us to the pope. An elected politician.
"The Pope, a Great man by any measure, is given a a platfrom from which his wisdom can be beamed to the world. Shmucks like you and I, with our limited sampling of the World and its ways, are denied this platform and the influence it allows."
I'd contend that the pope isn't a great man by /any/ measure. Some measures, maybe. Some, maybe not. There are other threads here dedicated to the discussion of this, and it comes down to politics.
But you're saying is that the pope can speak to so many because he's special - somehow more of a man than the rest of us, selected for the job by a greater force. I see him differently. Schmucks like you or I are denied a voice in world affairs because we don't pursue it passionately enough, we don't know the right people, we didn't have the right chance encounters, and we lack the personality type to fit in with the right people. It's just human factors, nothing more. I don't see why we should attribute these things to divine intervention.
So, does the pope believe in God - the christian God with his earthly son and all? Or does he just use the idea for his own power? I happen to believe that a man who could claw his way to a position of leadership is too self serving, cynical, and hypocritical to believe in what he preaches. I guess it comes down to a deep distrust of those in positions of authority - a distrust that you clearly do not share, with your idea that they are leaders for some great reason.
"If he believes he was an actor in some intricate play for an audience of none..."
He was an actor, and Catholicism is an intricate play (a rather theatrical one at that). The audience, last I heard, was 1.1 billion.
"...then what fear would permeate his mind?"
Probably none, because I can't imagine that he would have started to believe in God at the last minute. It was amusing to imagine that he did, though.
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