Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Orgy Of Obituary

I dont have a lot to say with regard to the recent passing of the Pope. He seemed like a very decent man.

However, I will link to a few of the bazillion obituaries, tributes, and overviews flooding the net that say things of interest.

Roy of alicublog makes a good case that JPII wasn't much of a political friend to third world peasantry. I fear that Roy may be right, though I hope he's not.

Christopher Hitchens, whose once noble -- because somewhat compartmentalised -- hatred of religion has now become massively ignoble and has so mutated his soul that he is as ruthlessly anti-religion as the average jihaddi is pro-religion, offers little in his summation of JPII.

There is an interesting and worthy aside:

Actually, the Kennedy brothers were part of a Catholic cabal which imposed another Catholic cabal on the luckless people of South Vietnam. It's impossible to read the history of that calamity without noticing the filiation between the detested Diem dynasty in Saigon and the Kennedys, Cardinal Spellman, and various Catholic Cold-War propagandists from Luce to Buckley. However, there's no proof that the Vatican ordered this, and the Kennedys did repent by having Diem murdered, so perhaps we can let that one slide.


And then, because he is now not only a "single-issue voter" but a single-issue thinker, the inevitable Iraq War-related cheap shot:

(He behaved much better on that occasion than he did when welcoming Tariq Aziz, one of Saddam Hussein's most blood-spattered henchmen, to an audience at the Vatican and then for a private visit to Assisi.)


How many other countries, including Hitchens's sacred (and oh so recently guiltless) cows, at one time or another had diplomatic relations with Saddam Hussein's Iraq? Or perhaps Hitchens would have preferred that the Vatican had sent its ambassador straight into the lion's den, and not to just chit chat, but to make a sweet deal.

Timothy Garton Ash, on the other hand, is far more generous, more pleasingly anecdotal, and even stylistically superior to degraded Hitch. His piece is also at odds with Roy's, though thanks to Roy, I'm also more suspicious of Ash's claims. Still, I'd like to believe this:

John Paul II was a consistent spokesman for the half of humankind who live on less than $2 a day. This is also the part of the world where most Catholics are now to be found. He preached, tirelessly, every person's right to a minimum of human dignity. "I speak," he said, "in the name of those who have no voice." It was not just in communist-ruled eastern Europe that he spoke up for freedom. Opening an old file of newspaper cuttings, the first one I find is headlined "Pope takes issue with Stroessner on freedom". It records him reading the Paraguayan military dictator a fierce lesson about the importance of human rights and of free speech.

The familiar claim that he was "socially conservative" is a gross oversimplification. He consistently admonished third world dictators and western capitalists about the need for social justice. In a small Polish-speaking group I once heard him say, very plainly, that he deplored unbridled capitalism as much as communism. He was also utterly consistent in his advocacy of peace, from criticising the impending Falklands war when he came to Britain in 1982 to opposing the Iraq war in 2003. In Japan, he cried: "Never again Hiroshima! Never again Auschwitz!"


Now that's some moral clarity that recent-vintage Hitchens or his neocon friends (or their sainted President) could never grasp.

Ash is, like me, an agnostic, but it's nice how his view dovetails with that of liberal Catholic Cristina Odone:

And yet the very same liberal consensus had to abandon its easy pigeon-holing when the Pope pronounced on Third World Debt, capital punishment, or the 'scandalous' arms trade. On these issues his views were progressive, and his calls to action a challenge to the liberal conscience.

How could we in the West justify our profit from the poor in the developing world? How could we lead a life of such selfish materialism? How could we participate in an unjust war? Did we not recognise the evils of unfettered capitalism?


Wishful thinking? Maybe. Who knows what the Pope really believed, but the extant evidence is contradictory and, like the Bible itself, there seems to be in his writings and rhetoric anything that the reader or listener wants to find. Such is normal when one saw so much and lived as long as did JPII.

(Also from The Guardian, this editorial on the papal succession and probable future stances of the Church is worth reading. Of course the church is by nature autocratic -- that indeed is the nature of religion itself -- but there comes a point where materialist limits absolutely must force if not some democratisation, then a compromise. With AIDS, pedophilia, and a world of declining resources the Church must eventually compromise on issues of safe sex, priests' marital status, and birth control. This is not a "should" proposition, it's an inevitablity and ultimately an issue of self-preservation for the Church. The sooner the Church sees that, the better for not only the laity and the teeming masses of the world, but the institution itself.)

Finally, the most balanced, to my eyes, analysis of JPII's record is from Max Sawicky. Do read it, and be rewarded with Max's bonus of showing what a thorough asswipe Glenn Reynolds is in the conclusion to the entry. Nice work.

** Added: I forgot to note this exchange between Chris Matthews and Pat Buchannon. I can't find a transcript, but watch the vid and, if you can, ignore the discussion on JPII's cultural battles and instead appreciate that these two pundits, one conservative the other a flaming reactionary, agree that the Pope was decisively against economic libertarianism, and, what's more, they both agree that the Pope's position was the correct one. If this is true, and JPII saw the evil in the social darwinism of economic libertarianism, there's a lot in the Pope for liberals to admire in him (and in some of his socially-conservative followers). I won't say that it makes up for JPII's socially-reactionary stances, but it does mean that at least he was, in this regard, not just truly Christian but also truly humanitarian.

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