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Who Hates The Pope?

Max Sawicky predicts that "If the Pope dies, at least one high-profile wingnut blogger will cite some fragment found on the Internet to demonstrate that Liberals and the Left hated the Pope." I'm afraid I may have to play that role. I certainly wouldn't say that I hate the Pope (among other things, for all my politically aware life he's been in rather bad shape and one gets the sense that he wasn't making all the decisions single-handedly) but I certainly don't admire the man or the institution he heads. Indeed, I find the extent to which it's considered taboo to mention this is a bit odd. Normally, religious leaders who take stances on controversial political or moral issues -- from Pat Robertson to Jesse Jackson to Michael Lerner to whomever else you please -- are considered fair game for criticism and derision from those who disagree with them.

In the United States, for interesting historical reasons, happens to be a country where white Catholics are an important swing constituency and where the Church's Christian Democratic politics happen to be somewhat at odds with those of both major political parties. At least partially as a result of this, the tendency is for actors in the American public debate to emphasize their points of agreement with Catholic teachings in order to appeal to conflicted voters and secure the support or neutrality of the local bishops or what have you. As a political strategy, that's all understandable, but since the American media appears to understand "truth" to mean "printing what Democrats say and what Republicans say" the result is that an eerie reverance for the pontiff pervades the media. But one of the Church's major roles is as an expounder of moral principles, and these are principles that -- quite rightly -- few Americans share. Certainly this one doesn't.

April 1, 2005 | Permalink

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Tracked on Apr 2, 2005 12:53:31 PM

Comments

Who hates the Pope? Christopher Hitchens hates the Pope.

Posted by: Christopher M | Apr 1, 2005 7:06:55 PM

Please turn yourself in to Kathryn Lopez for discipline immediately. Be warned, though: she's a little fragile this week.

Posted by: DaveL | Apr 1, 2005 7:07:31 PM

It's not just the Pope and the Catholic Church, it's established religion in general that the American media is absurdly deferential towards. Wendy Kaminer says it better than I could:

"The deference paid to mainstream religion, compared to the derision with which we're encouraged to regard New Age and pop spirituality, is intellectually indefensible. Protestants, Catholics, Moslems and Jews are no less superstitious than people who believe in shamans, witches and astrologers (as many Protestants, Catholics, Moslems and Jews do) ... Why should it be socially acceptable to make fun of psychics and not priests? What's the difference between crossing yourself or hanging a mezuzah outside your door and avoiding black cats? Believing that you've been abducted by aliens or that Elvis is alive is, on its face, no sillier than believing that Christ rose from the dead or that God parted the Red Sea so that Moses and his followers might traverse it ... It is a combination of cowardice and prejudice that discourages us from critically examining established religions, as we examine cults. I suspect the media elites offer virtually no analysis of the religious impulse or majoritarian religious beliefs because they fear appearing impious or giving offense. Less reverent than timid, the press flatters adherents of mainstream faiths instead of challenging them."

Posted by: Don P | Apr 1, 2005 7:08:37 PM

Back in the good old days of all-out WASP domination, it used to be considered good form to Pope-bash. It seems to me that this particular Pope is by far the best of a bad lot, though. He did some real good to help bring down communism in Eastern Europe, for example. He's generally not in favor of foolish wars, additionally.

Posted by: praktike | Apr 1, 2005 7:17:19 PM

The respect isn't entirely political. I admire the Church's tradition of serious and principled consideration of fundamental questions, even if I almost never agree with its positions. Salon's recent interview with theologian John Paris is a good example (though in this case I do agree...).

Posted by: ogged | Apr 1, 2005 7:19:53 PM

Yes, yes, we all appreciate the Pope's anti-communism. Good for him. Maybe somebody will tell this gang that having all of Africa get AIDS and die because people won't use condoms is also bad. Some opposition to fascism would be nice, too, but I won't overreach.

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias | Apr 1, 2005 7:23:04 PM

Normally, religious leaders who take stances on controversial political or moral issues -- from Pat Robertson to Jesse Jackson to Michael Lerner to whomever else you please -- are considered fair game for criticism and derision from those who disagree with them.

That's because critics of Pat Robertson, Jesse Jackson, and Michael Lerner don't see them as genuinely admirable people in the way that even those who criticize the Pope's policies see him. It's not that everyone agrees with him; obviously not -- the Left thinks his views on sexual morality and abortion are horrible (and says so), and the Right thinks his anti-death-penalty, anti-war, pro-worker views are silly. But people admire him. People get the sense that his actions are motivated by love, not by the kind of self-aggrandizing one sees from Jesse Jackson, Pat Robertson, and Michael Lerner. One doesn't have to agree with all of, oh, say, Ghandi's views to understand why people generally speak well of the man.

You seem to be a pretty thoroughgoing consequentialist, though, and I'm not sure that kind of admiration makes much sense in that framework.

Posted by: Christopher M | Apr 1, 2005 7:27:18 PM

Wasn't that Pius XII?

Posted by: praktike | Apr 1, 2005 7:29:45 PM

You can't put Pat Robertson and Jesse Jackson on the same level as the Pope! For one, the pope is the head of an incredibly powerful global institution. But the real point is that the Pope is a religious leader before he is a political figure. He is the supreme earthly authority of an entire fatih. Jesse Jackson has some game, but he ain't the supreme authority of shit. For sure the Pope is a far more serious religious scholar and thinker than any of the religio-political hacks you mentioned. You should read some of his work, he writes very well. I would recommend a work called Veritatis Splendor.
I like your blog, really I do, But why do so many liberals who themselves dont follow a religion (a group that includes me) feel a need to belittle those who do? I understand that politics is the main focus for your blog, and I was interested by what you said about the media coverage about the Pope and its realtion to the political courtship of american catholics, but I really believe that the Pope is an incomparable figure. No other religion has a CEO the way Roman Catholicism does.

Anyway, keep up the good work, I depend on your blog for some sanity on this cracktarded internet.

Posted by: Greg | Apr 1, 2005 7:32:32 PM

Matt,

I didn't realise until I read your blog that white catholics are such a tiny percentage of the population. Of course we won't talk about all the funny Hispanic male Catholics and I believe that there are quite a few black male Catholics. And why no mention of white female catholics? Maybe you see them as more progressive than their male couterparts.

Posted by: Jonathan | Apr 1, 2005 7:48:10 PM

"Yes, yes, we all appreciate the Pope's anti-communism."

I don't think you really do. At the time of his trip to Poland, it was a truly radical move, some say instrumental in inspiring the Solidarity movement's mass resistance to the ruling party (and the Soviets). At the time, to many who were truly afraid of what (seemed like) the unassailable institutional power of the Communists over the people of Eastern Europe, the Pope's intervention really was awesome. That shine never really faded for many children of the Cold War.

Posted by: Kiril | Apr 1, 2005 7:57:51 PM

ogged:

John Paris's position on Schiavo is the opposite of the Church's. And as for the claim that its teachings flow from some "serious and principled consideration of fundamental questions," I see this quite often from liberals, this I-respect-the-Church's-intellectual-integrity shtick, and I think it's just laughable. Have you actually read any of the documents in which the church lays out its arguments for its positions? They're not even honest or logical or consistent on their own terms. As Garry Wills put it, "When ancient props for certain moral stands are removed, or crumble of themselves, the thing they upheld is not allowed to fall with them. New Jerry-built contrivances are shoved under to keep them in place."

Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and other protestant Christian conservatives are foolish and dishonest men, but the inhabitants of the Vatican are no better, and may be considerably worse.

Posted by: Don P | Apr 1, 2005 8:03:52 PM

"No other religion has a CEO the way Roman Catholicism does."

Hah! You forgot Reverend Moon, and Bob.

But dissing the Pope on his deathbed isn't the coolest thing MY ever did. Wasn't this mean to Ronnie.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Apr 1, 2005 8:05:11 PM

Jonathan:

I didn't realise until I read your blog that white catholics are such a tiny percentage of the population. Of course we won't talk about all the funny Hispanic male Catholics and I believe that there are quite a few black male Catholics. And why no mention of white female catholics? Maybe you see them as more progressive than their male couterparts.

Huh? He didn't say that white Catholics are a "tiny percentage of the population" and he didn't distinguish male from female ones. He said that they are an important swing constituency, which is true. (I think he was talking about non-hispanic whites, and perhaps he should have made that more clear, since hispanics are technically whites.)

Posted by: Don P | Apr 1, 2005 8:12:35 PM

"Best of a bad lot", I don't know about. I wish John XXIII had more than five years. But John Paul II isn't Rick Santorum; he's nothing like Rick Santorum. He's done some great things, and some terrible things, and a lot in between how the scales come out I don't really know but I think they lean towards the good. Then again, I suspect the bad part will outweigh the good--in this country at least.

The Catholic Church shares with a lot of religions the unfortunate tendency to sacrifice human beings on the altar of its theological consistency. The teachings on ectopic pregnancy, for instance, or on emergency contraception for rape victims, or divorce, or homosexuality. And in a few cases, like condoms as a means of preventing AIDS and the misguided recent pronouncements on feeding tubes, they're not even being consistent. But most of the time, they ARE. They are as good on the death penalty, on issues of war and peace, on immigration, on torture, on Communism, on poverty, as they are bad on homosexuality and birth control and sexual abuse and canonization of people with shady ties to fascism.

I have no doubt that this Pope would not have been silent during the Holocaust. I can easily imagine him risking his life to help try and stop it. So that's something.

Posted by: Katherine | Apr 1, 2005 8:43:51 PM

But aren't we saying the same thing, Katherine? A mixed record. Maybe I should have said "Best of a mixed lot, all of whom I don't agree with on a lot of substantive moral issues, and some of whom were actively bad."

Posted by: praktike | Apr 1, 2005 8:51:15 PM

I'm not sure about either "best" or "bad lot", is all I'm saying. But yeah, we largely agree.

I'm all verklempt, for some reason...my parents are lapsed Catholics and my grandparents' generation were unlapsed, if occasionally mutinous. (my grandma used to get in trouble for sneaking in gender-inclusive language into her readings.) There's a lot of good there; it's upsetting to see how it's being effectively made into Rick Santorum's and Antonin Scalia's and for God's sake George W. Bush's church in this country instead of the church of people like my grandparents and great aunts and uncles.

And there's seemingly no chance in hell that his successor won't be equally anti-condom-even-if-it-means-innocents-dying-of-AIDS and anti-gay.

Posted by: Katherine | Apr 1, 2005 9:03:43 PM

John Paris's position on Schiavo is the opposite of the Church's

Which speaks well of the Church and its members, no?

Have you actually read any of the documents in which the church lays out its arguments for its positions? They're not even honest or logical or consistent on their own terms.

Well, yes, some of them, and while I don't find them convincing (or I'd be a Catholic) I do think they're serious and principled.

Posted by: ogged | Apr 1, 2005 9:10:34 PM

I'm sad to read this. Any analysis of the John Paul II's career has to include the many positive things he's done. Sniping at things which have more or less been official dogma for 1500 years is just petty.

Raised a Roman Catholic, I have enormous respect for the church, though I am no longer a member. This is a congregation of principles, that arrives at decisions through learned and contentious debate - relying on scholarship, precedent, and logic. Where does the Catholic Church come down on Evolution? Cosmology? This is one of the first denominations to make a huge blunder with dissing science, and then recovering from its mistake.


Throughout the 1970s I had been mainly studying black holes, but in 1981 my interest in questions about the origin and fate of the universe was reawakened when I attended a conference on cosmology organized by the Jesuits in the Vatican. The Catholic Church had made a bad mistake with Galileo when it tried to lay down the law on a question of science, declaring that the sun went round the earth. Now, centuries later, it had decided to invite a number of experts to advise it on cosmology. At the end of the conference the participants were granted an audience with the pope. He told us that it was all right to study the evolution of the universe after the big bang, but we should not inquire into the big bang itself because that was the moment of Creation and therefore the work of God. I was glad then that he did know the subject of the talk I had just given at the conference -- the possibility that space- time was finite but had no boundary, which means that it had no beginning, no moment of Creation. I had no desire to share the fate of Galileo, with whom I feel a strong sense of identity, partly because of the coincidence of having been born exactly 300 years after his death! [Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time (New York: Bantam, 1988), pp. 115-16.]

John Paul II is no Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell.

Find a knowledgeable Catholic apologist and ask them about abortion, homosexuality, or any other issues where church doctrine differs from progressive values. If you're lucky, you'll get a rational, compassionate and well-thought-out defense. Unlike fundamentalists, you can have fruitful discussions with these folks where you both learn things, though you may not convince each other.

I like to think that my background as a scholarly Catholic Apologist prepared me for my life as a thoughtful Progressive. Because frankly that's where the trend of Catholic thought leads - not to the narrow cul de sac of the fundamentalists, but to the world-embracing (St. Francis) life-affirming (Mother Theresa), worker-supporting (Lech Walesa) theology of tolerance.

John Paul was indeed a giant, and the world will be the lesser for his passing.

Posted by: Brian Link | Apr 1, 2005 9:17:34 PM

Matt, I'm rather surprised you can't admire the man for his determination, his willingness to take on the Soviets (clearly at the risk of his life), and his indefatiguability in traveling and speaking out for causes he thought were right. No, I don't agree with a lot of his positions either, but disagreement is very different from looking down upon.

Posted by: barry | Apr 1, 2005 9:18:52 PM

what many apparently overlook is the pope's radical humanism. to actually believe that all humans have worth and dignity--irrespective of their ability to "contribute" to society--should be something that most people of good faith can embrace. although i can also understand why so many feel such contempt for the pope due to his views on women and sexuality. my disappointment is that this obscures rather than reveals who the pope is and what he stands for.

oh, and when did hate became a liberal value? and what's feeding this hunger for mean-spirited polemics that is dividing this country?

Posted by: jk | Apr 1, 2005 9:22:39 PM

I'm with you Katherine. As I say here, I think too many progressives allow the less progressive among them to take over institutions that we should rightly call our own. My grandmother was a devoutly Christian woman, but her faith was about helping those even more poor than she, not about spending her days condemning others to hell for their belief or lifestyle. Her legacy informs my faith and I wish their were more Christians like her than Santorum. Falwell or Bush.

Posted by: "George" | Apr 1, 2005 9:24:41 PM

I hate the Pope, also known as the anti-Christ in our neck of the woods. I hate the Pope even more than I hate gays, liberals and the cast of Friends.

God I sure do hate the Pope! Pope, dope, pope on a rope, dopey popey - soapy ropey!.

Posted by: Bob Jones | Apr 1, 2005 9:31:03 PM

Well here we go, 78% of Americans like the Pope. It'd be interesting to see the crosstabs on who those 22% are.

Posted by: praktike | Apr 1, 2005 9:32:55 PM

Katherine:

They are as good on the death penalty, on issues of war and peace, on immigration, on torture, on Communism, on poverty, as they are bad on homosexuality and birth control and sexual abuse and canonization of people with shady ties to fascism.

It's silly to just list issues like this as if they can be considered independently or as if you can evaluate the church by tallying up a list of goods and bads. However immoral you consider the death penalty to be, it is a trivial cause of death in comparison to disease and poverty. You claim that the church is "good" on poverty, but its sexual and reproductive teachings are a primary cause of poverty in the first place, not to mention disease and the perpetuation of the subordinate status of women. These things are all related. One wonders too how many lives lost to AIDS in the developing world might have been saved--millions, tens of millions, perhaps--were it not for the church's opposition to condoms and to any kind of realistic recognition of human sexuality. And its position on matters of war and peace is at the very least considerably more ambiguous than you are suggesting. The church never formally opposed the Iraq War, for example. Liberal apologists for the church need to get some perspective and confront the real-world effects of its policies more honestly.

Posted by: Don P | Apr 1, 2005 9:45:18 PM

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