Who is 2013’s Person of the Year?

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Time Magazine has named Pope Francis its person of the year, crediting him with shifting the message of the Catholic Church while capturing the “imaginations of millions” that had become disillusioned with the Vatican.

Not only did the editors at Time Magazine have the good sense to pass over baffling contenders like Ted Cruz and Miley Cyrus, but they also chose a man who has arguably been the most popular religious leader in a long time.

This whole contest is based on the pretense that the winner is the most influential figure of the year.  In some senses, Pope Francis is exactly that; he has made statements about his dissatisfaction with happenings in Catholicism, and he has overall shown a more left-leaning ideology—absurdly different from the Catholic Church we’re all used to.

For the last 50-60 years or so, the default was to respect the Catholic Church first, then ask questions later (if at all.)
They believed their own rhetoric, and people have not questioned their actions for a long time. Recently, their own flocks have been leaving in droves and other non-Christian countries do not respect nor trust them by default any more.  Due to the advent of the Internet, non-believers, for the first time in history, can, without judgment from their family and friends, criticize the church and its actions, while reaching thousands if not millions of people with the message.  The church can no longer choose to ignore, nor can they easily shutdown any dissenting voices.  They needed to have a major P.R. campaign, which is what they are doing now.

The church has been doing this for over 2000 years.  They know how to please the crowd–they are the experts in that game–and seemingly smart and rational thinkers are falling for their P.R. campaign hook line and sinker.  Especially after considering the last 4 popes were hard into conservatism, it only makes sense for the game plan to include a moderate to keep stringing along the layperson.

The Pope isn’t a “great guy trying to change the ways of the corrupt church.”  He is a P.R. machine, designed to spit out kind rhetoric so the Church can subsist in this progressive society.  But that’s just the thing: all he does is say things that people want to hear.

He’s extremely charismatic, but the Church still does not allow women to be ordained as priests.  He’s a Jesuit, but still speaks out against contraceptives.

He assembled a panel of experts to advise him on sex abuse in the clergy — a task that will involve looking at how to protect children from pedophiles, how to better screen men for the priesthood and how to help victims who have already been harmed.

But it remains unclear if the experts will take up one of the core issues behind the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal: how to make bishops who shelter abusive priests accountable.

New pope guy sounds so incredibly reasonable. Maybe the Catholic Church isn’t that bad after all, right?  Maybe he has changed the face of religious dogma?  No, the Pope has done little actual good this year rather than say things that people want to hear; he has changed nothing.  In fact, there are many other people that would have been a more fitting choice for “person of the year.”

Hassan Rouhani, the President of Iran and a Muslim Cleric.  His first year has completely changed the trajectory of the relationship the west has with the Arab and Persian worlds.  His rhetoric is kinder to the West. This gives the West a chance to change its policy towards Iran without losing face.

Malala Yousafazi, a 16 year-old girl from Pakistan.  It takes a tremendous amount of courage to stand up for women’s rights in her part of the world.  Even after getting shot, Malala continues to fight for what she believes in, encouraging people to fight against the oppressive climate in the Middle East.

Bashar al-Assad, the oppressive President of Syria and general secretary of the Ba’ath Party.  “Person of the year” does not necessarily mean someone who is great and wonderful and helpful to the word.  It can also be someone that has affected the world a significant amount, positively or negatively.  I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find people whose actions have had more global repercussions than this man.  The entire U.S./Russian alignment of the Middle East is being thrown around as a bargaining chip because of him; talk about the actions of one relatively person impacting world policy.  And because of the gassing he ordered on his civilians, he called the precedent for Human Rights interventions into question.

And finally, my personal choice for Person of the Year: Edward Snowden.  In the months since the Guardian published the first round or revelations from the documents Snowden leaked, newspapers and websites in countries around the world have run article after article detailing the stunning breadth and depth of the global surveillance networks tracking the movements of seemingly everyone on the globe.  Without endorsing or condemning what he did, I think it is obvious that his actions have had the biggest impact on the United States this year.  He completely changed how the average person sees their relationship with their government.

That doesn’t mean that the things Snowden leaked were surprising and revolutionary.  People who pay attention to these kinds of things in Politics probably had a sense of what was happening, and where it was headed.  No one paid attention to it then—they called us crazy.  Now they don’t. That’s a big deal.  Western society certainly needed something on this scale to wake them up.

These things are cyclical.  The critical mass to modify the Patriot Act was there already, but it needed a crisis in order to get momentum- much like the proverbial snowball rolling down hill.  By slowly releasing bombshell after bombshell, Snowden is keeping the public’s focus on privacy violations. It is ramping up pressure from our allies, and even Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo have stood against the snooping.  So yes- he’s having an influence on events, and his actions will be felt for several years.

While Pope Francis is saying some great things about changing the ways of the Catholic Church, nothing has changed as of 2013 (the year in question.)  Meanwhile, Malala and Snowden are changing social perception and government transparency, respectively.

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