The Early Days of a Better Nation

Saturday, April 02, 2005

A canticle for Wojtyla

I have conflicting emotions about the Pope, which go beyond the compassion anyone must feel for an old man in his last hours. His dignity abashes disagreement. To the end he is living the meaning of his life. But here is the conflict. On the one hand he is a reactionary. The contrast with the last pope to be popular beyond the RC church, John XXIII, is striking. He has beatified and canonised some of the most sinister and pathetic figures of recent times. He contributed quite significantly to, not the collapse of the Soviet bloc, but the depth of regression that followed. He has stuck to a doctrine that's contributed directly to the spread of AIDS. The Catholic theologian Hans Kung has recently written a scathing analysis of The Pope's Contradictions, which goes into these and other dark aspects of Wojtyla's papacy in detail. (Via).

The other side is that he has stood for peace and human rights in a way that set his face against not only Communism but certain aspects of imperialism and neoliberalism. He condemned the attack on Iraq. He moved the church to a greater acceptance of modern science. He has been more open to other religions than previous popes. He began a repentance toward the Jewish people. He rehabilitated Galileo and apologised for the Crusades.

Like the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela, he became a figurehead of an inchoate global humanism that has little to do with what he (and the others) specifically stand for. Fidel Castro is an awkward fourth in that company, but - like it or not - he belongs in it. All four of these old men have their roots in the Cold War, of which they are the last men standing. It's a measure of the strangeness of the New World Order that they all, in very contradictory ways, have become icons of its discontents.


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