Archive for the ‘Pope’ Category

Ethnographic Study of Poland I

Ethnographic Study of Poland II: Ontology

In the next section of the ethnographic study I did in Poland, with the help of one of my teammates, we look at axiology (the study of values) and epistemology (the study of knowledge, especially how knowledge is acquired). Again, there were 11 respondents in total, and we went through an hour-long interview with each, based on selected questions used in HRAF (human relations area files) from Yale University (subscription needed)


1. Ethics

We didn’t ask any questions that related specifically to ethics, but two questions prompted ethics answers. “How does a person gain spiritual power?” and “How would you define spiritual success?” elicited responses that included following rules, especially the Golden Rule, and an inner peace based on knowing you are doing right.

In addition, the question about discerning God’s will usually brought a response connected with doing good. Although 3 people equated God’s will with fate, 2 people said that we could discover God’s will by following the 10 commandments. 1 person said we could discover God’s will by doing what we thought was good – but said that it had nothing to do with what God says. In the section on epistemology, we will see that most people had a relative view of good and evil, right and wrong, based on how they felt. This view showed up in this question as well, with the idea that discerning God’s will, through being good, was more something that was felt internally than an external set of rules.

2. Exceptions

We asked if rules apply equally to all persons, and most respondents said yes, they do. However, most respondents also indicated that in reality, some people got better treatment than others. Different reasons were cited, including “friends in high places,” possessing more money, or political clout. One person said, “those who make the rules think they are above the rules.” Another described the reality as a “hierarchy” in government and business that allowed for more privileges.


The majority of the questions focused on Polish epistemology. This was the worldview component that I most wanted to study, and the one that seems to be least addressed by other sociological research. I will only cover two areas, but I want to continue to explore Polish epistemology even after this project is complete.

1. Authority

Pope John Paul II: Poland's primary authority

Pope John Paul II: Poland’s primary authority

I mentioned in part 2, Ontology, that the Church was not really seen as an authority any longer, but John Paul II still was. Other persons mentioned included Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama. Most commonly, however, people mentioned a parent – especially their mother. Two young men mentioned their father as an authority for them, and two people said that anyone who cared about people and invested themselves in serving other would be an authority for them. Two men also mentioned that anyone who had knowledge and experience in a given area would be considered an authority.

Our sample was small, but the men tended to identify authority with knowledge and competence, while the women looked at relationship, and the aforementioned investing in others. This trend also carried through in the component of truth determination.

2. Truth

We asked the question, “how do you determine whether something is true or not?” The most common answer was: “intuition.” According to most respondents, you just know. A few respondents said you feel it, or have an inner peace, most however made a connection with knowledge that you already possess. Two people also said they would ask others, trusting the opinions of their friends to determine what is true. One person (the oldest male) said that he would search for proof. Opinions, knowledge, and objective proofs formed his framework for determining truth.

No one indicated any kind of absolute standard for truth and falsehood. Although the Ten Commandments were mentioned as rules for ethical behavior, the Bible was never mentioned as having anything to do with a truth standard. In fact, with perhaps the exception of the oldest man, the idea of a standard, absolute truth would probably be unacceptable. Not only was the Bible not mentioned, but the Church wasn’t either. For nearly every respondent, truth was a personal, subjective issue.

Science was trusted, in the physical realm, but all but one person indicated that science could not answer all of life’s questions. And a couple of people were wary of science, pointing out that certain scientific assumptions or “discoveries” had later proven to be wrong.

The responses to our questions led me to describe contemporary Polish culture as animistic, with strong Roman Catholic influences (or Catholic, with strong animistic influences), but with a much larger degree of postmodernism than I expected to see. Postmodernism especially showed up in the epistemological portion of our study, in the subjective nature of truth.

In the final two posts, I’ll share some thoughts that our study prompted, regarding Polish postmodern animistic Catholicism.

Interrupting all the serious blog posts recently with a little fun. I’d love to hear your suggestions 🙂

1. Coca-cola – by far the most obvious. Everyone is in red, for Pete’s sake (St. Pete, of course) Although, the old joke says the Pope already turned down Coca-Cola when they asked him to change “bread” in the Lord’s Prayer to “Coca-Cola.” (or was it the wine in the Eucharist??)

2. Vermont Castings – U.S. makers of fine wood stoves. Kind of partial to them, since I used to help install them.

3. St. Louis and Arizona Cardinals – sorry, just couldn’t resist. You could add Stanford, too.

4. Gammarelli tailors – dressing the pope for over 200 years.

5. Poland and Germany tourism departments. Well, why not. The home countries of the last 2 Popes are great places to visit. Also,  Ghana, Italy, and a couple of other countries associated with front-runners.

6. Gerda keys and locks – because conclave basically means “lock-in,” after all.

7. Makers of anti-bugging devices.

8. Port-a-potty manufacturer who provides the portable toilets in the Sistine Chapel.

9. European bookmakers betting on the new Pope. (No link – I’d rather not encourage you to bet)

10. Berlitz and the Rosetta Stone – especially the Latin modules.



Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI

Last time was 600 years ago – as pretty much everyone in the Western world has now heard many times. Popes don’t resign – how can the representative of Christ, who speaks on doctrine ex cathedra, who was chosen by the Holy Spirit through the cardinals, give up his office? One Polish blogger compared the Pope’s resignation to the denial of Christ by Peter, the “first pope.” The same blogger indicated that since the Pope is abdicating, this casts doubt on all of the claims that the Church makes about the Pope anyway.

Now, like many Western Protestants, I don’t mind at all that the Pope, who is 85, is stepping down. It makes sense, he’s earned it – if only by nature of the unbelievable stress it must be to be Pope – and the Pope’s abdication has absolutely no effect on my faith, or my perception of the Roman Catholic Church. But I live and minister in Poland, one of the last real bastions of the Church. The abdication of the Pope is topic number 1 the last few days. And this is in spite of a growing resentment among many Catholics towards the Church. I think most Poles have a positive image of Benedict XVI. The cynic may say the Church has done a good job “selling” his image, but in Poland, that would have been a pretty tough sell, without some very impressive quality to go along with the image. He replaced the greatest Pole in modern history, the savior of the Polish nation from communism, Karol Wojtyła. And Ratzinger is German! But Benedict XVI has been erudite, sincere, and seemed committed to cleaning up some of the problems in the Church. Sure, he probably hasn’t been as popular as John Paul II was, certainly not in Poland – but then, who could have been?

The question really is, of course – who’s next? Who will be the next “Vicar of Christ?” And what effect will he have on the Roman Catholic Church, or even the world at large? Already Polish commentators are writing about the potential changes in the Church, if only as a result of new bishops appointed. Benedict XVI worked hard to reintroduce academia and rationalism into the Church, to reinforce Catholicism as a viable, intellectual framework. Will the new Pope continue that trend?

Or will he usher in the end of the world? Many people understand the medieval prophecies of Nostradamus and Malachy to indicate that the last Pope, Petrus Romanus, will be black, and will usher in the end of the world. Before I quote my dad, and say “hogwash”, I think many Poles would see an African Pope as just about the end of the world. lists the betting odds for the new Pope. The current front runner is from Ghana. Hmm. Cool! End of the world, here we come! Now, on the one hand, I don’t really care who becomes the next Pope. I’m not Catholic, and I’m not planning on betting on the race. However, the next Pope will have an effect on Poles – Catholic and non – and I do care deeply about that. So, this might sound strange to my fellow evangelicals in Poland, but – I’m praying for this process. Praying that God would use the choice to bring people to Himself.

Oh – one last thing – maybe I am pulling for one candidate. Currently listed as 80 to 1 odds – I always did like an underdog. Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, famous for refusing to give John Kerry communion, because of Kerry’s stance on abortion. Burke comes from Richland Center, WI, and is my step-grandfather’s nephew. We saw each other only once, at Grandpa Theron’s funeral, when he was still bishop of LaCrosse.  But – wouldn’t it be cool to be related to the Pope??

Raymond Leo Burke

Raymond Leo Burke