We have all heard that George Washington was offered the position of king, and turned it down. Of course historians debunk this notion as flatly as the idea that the young George “could not tell a lie,” and confessed to chopping down a cherry tree.
And who doesn’t remember Camelot? I wasn’t born until 1967, and yet the images and rhetoric from the Kennedy presidency have been so prevalent in print, film, and text over nearly 50 years that I feel like I remember the actual events.
We are fascinated by the idea of royalty. By holding on to Washington’s myth, he somehow becomes much larger, grander, wiser to us. The same goes for Kennedy. When his widow Jacqueline described her husbands years in the White House as being a period of hope and optimism–an American Camelot, the media jumped on it and we embraced it, and as a result Kennedy’s legend has become…well, just that, legend.
It is not hard to see how easily that happens. We want to believe in people at their unbelievable best. Want a Moses to part the water, a King Arthur to rule benevolently, a Robin Hood to take care of the poor.
Problem is that such extreme greatness never seems to happen in our lifetimes or even in the verifiable past. So many of our religious leaders have affairs, or abuse children. we have seen not-for-profit charities being dishonest in their financial dealings. And don’t even get me started about our presidents.
But Americans have never given up on having our own royalty, so in the absence of the leader or hero to crown, we must look elsewhere for our kings and queens. Because with royalty comes wealth, we have a tendency to confuse the two, mistaking wealth for royalty, but wealth, even when coupled with humanitarianism doesn’t seem to be enough.
If it were, we would be crowning Kings Ted Turner, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, who remain largely above the tabloid fray and try to use their wealth to better our world. Or, if royalty were more about power than benevolence, we need look no farther than the largest corporations–Walmart, Exxon, Chevron and the like, but again, the American people don’t view them in that light. Nobody wants to put a crown on the head of Exxon’s Director Michael J. Boskin. Who even knows his name?
No, American’s don’t look for power, kindness, or morality in the ones on whom we place our crowns. Money seems to be important to us, but when it comes to granting royal status, we tend to turn away from the more kingly traits and place the castle jewels on the jesters.
Just yesterday I heard a reference on a popular NPR radio show to “American Royals, the Kardashians.” When Glamour Magazine polled it’s readers as to whom they consider America’s royal couple, along with the names Kennedy, Clinton, and Obama, were Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, and Beyonce and Jay-Z. And a recent poll by Public Policy Polling recently declared Green Bay Packers Quarterback Aaron Rodgers King of Wisconsin. I don’t know which is more frightening, that a quarterback would be crowned king or that time and money were spent determining which quarterback should wear the crown.
I could go on and on with my list, but I think you get the point. Americans want to be entertained, and we worship those who entertain us best. We would sooner crown a jester in all his pomp, buffoonery, and scandal than a wise, benevolent, even altruistic leader, which brings me to the clown who got me thinking about all this.
On Christmas Eve in his homily, Pope Benedict XVI came down on the commercialization of Christmas and suggested to his followers to “ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season.” Later in his address, he spoke of the barn in Bethlehem believed to be the birthplace of Jesus, and of the entrance to the chapel on the site with an opening merely one and a half meters high. He suggested that this small opening–much smaller than the original–was “above all to prevent people from entering God’s house on horseback. Anyone wishing to enter the place of Jesus’ birth has to bend down.”
I couldn’t help but ponder such words from a man whose house and real estate value over 900 million dollars, who rides around in a specially-designed one-of-a-kind car, whose wardrobe eclipses those of Elton John and Elvis, and who appears to his followers from a high balcony overlooking a massive courtyard.
It all seems a bit hypocritical to me, but it also fits the American model of royalty. He is wealthy beyond belief, his business is riddled with sexual scandal and coverups, he dresses like Liberace, claims a special relationship with God, all the while espousing the nature of Jesus–a man with no business, no house, no money, by all accounts morally pure, and who preached that his followers could do greater things than him.
It makes perfect sense then that royalty-loving Americans would be big fans of the Pope. He brings it all to the table. Step aside Kim Kardashian. To the sidelines Aaron Rodgers. By American standards, Pope Benedict is more king-worthy than either of you. And he has one more qualification–birthright. I’m pretty certain that Brad and Angelina’s parents weren’t royal, and there is no guarantee their children will amount to anything, but this pope, the last pope, and the next pope will certainly come from the same Vatican fraternity–the college of cardinals.
Makes me wonder…if the Vatican sold all its holdings, and the pope were left with one humble outfit, a single pair of sandals, and a bowl, would anybody care what he has to say?