Monday, April 11, 2005

The Last Anti-Modern Pope?

Two days ago, I bade Pope John Paul II a distant farewell. Soon, the College of Cardinals, upon which hinges the future of the Catholic Church, will be meeting to decide on the new pope (and I'll have to bake another cake).

Whom will they choose?

According to Sandro Magister, Pope John Paul II was selected partly because his geographical position as archbishop of Krakow furthered the interests of clerical anticommunism:

"[W]hen on 16 October 1978, the archbishop of Krakow was elected to Saint Peter’s chair, his candidature had actually been launched by the cardinals of wealthy nations: Germans, Dutch, North Americans. The new Polish pope would be the thin end of the wedge driven into the Soviet empire."

Magister notes that these very Western cardinals got more than they had bargained for:

"But his powerful electors had underestimated the fact that Wojtyla’s criticism of communism was part of his more general condemnation of a West that no longer had morals nor faith, that was a lover of profits and a slave to consumerism. The antibourgeois Wojtyla was much more steadfast than the anticommunist Wojtyla. For him, communism was merely an unwelcome byproduct of a much deeper evil. The evil of the West."

From this pope's perspective, the "evil of the West" lay in its profound and thoroughgoing secularization, the political and intellectual essence of modernity's Enlightenment project. Thus Pope John Paul II's critique of the West's "culture of death," which he saw as the ultimate expression of its profane evil:

"In the pope’s opinion, the evil of the West was at its peak when it wanted to violate the sacta sanctorum of the life of a human being, from birth to death."

This explains the pope's anti-modern opposition not only to abortion, capital punishment, and euthenasia but also to such things as genetic engineering:

"In this attitude, John Paul II was definitely an anti-modern pope. He was the total adversary of the technocratic modernity that does not only want to interpret man, but also wants to rule over him, changing him, wanting to take possession also of his generation. Time will tell whether the pope was defeated in this. Or whether he was a prophet."

In such a view, the "culture of death" includes not only methods for killing particular individuals, such as abortion, but scientific developments in genetics appropriated for the purpose of transforming mankind into something else, e.g., genetic engineering, the 'death' of mankind.

These issues have not disappeared, but other issues have grown acute. The Catholic Church faces two great religious challenges looming for the next couple of generations. One is the staggering growth of evangelical Christianity. The other is the resurgence of Islam.

Evangelical churches compete with the Catholic Church for souls in Africa and Asia and have drawn millions away from Catholicism in Latin America. However, the possibility of ecumenism is strong, for due to John Paul II, many evangelicals have a far more positive image of the Catholic Church and Catholicism than in any previous period. Moreover, both face an identical threat: Islam.

The resurgence of Islam is hardly disputable. Nor can one reasonably dispute that this resurgence has often been characterized by hostility, even contempt toward Christianity. The next pope will need to be a leader who can counter Islamic hostility and nurture a more positive attitude among Muslims, if possible.

The next pope, then, would need to deal with these two acute issues even while assuming John Paul II's mantle as critic of the West.

Therefore, if I were to place bets, I'd bet on yet another antimodern pope, this one arising from Africa or Asia, where Catholicism is growing, competing with Evangelicalism, and confronting Islam. I'd probably lose my shirt, but why not go for broke?


Post a Comment

<< Home