Monday, April 04, 2005

The Pope and Moral Clarity

In the coming months, and I suspect, years, there will be much to discuss about the legacy and thought of Pope John Paul II. One of the recent articles that caught my eye is by George Weigel, who as I understand it, is a biographer of the Pope.

One of the things that has struck me about the legacy of the Pope is his unwavering determination to be a religious leader-we did not know of the Pope because he was backing a political cause or because he was a decidedly political figure, but because he was clearly and unashamedly theological and Christian in his public life (very often bearing political consequences). This public Christianity of his frustrated a lot of people for all kinds of reasons. I think Weigel nails one of those reasons:

For if there is only your truth and my truth and neither one of us recognizes a transcendent moral standard (call it "the truth") by which to settle our differences, then either you will impose your power on me or I will impose my power on you; Nietszche, great, mad prophet of the 20th century, got at least that right. Freedom uncoupled from truth, John Paul taught, leads to chaos and thence to new forms of tyranny. For, in the face of chaos (or fear), raw power will inexorably replace persuasion, compromise, and agreement as the coin of the political realm. The false humanism of freedom misconstrued as "I did it my way" inevitably leads to freedom's decay, and then to freedom's self-cannibalization. This was not the soured warning of an antimodern scold; this was the sage counsel of a man who had given his life to freedom's cause from 1939 on.

Moral clarity was a theme of his. He embodied so well the Christian ethic of understanding other religions and views and treating them and their adherents with humane respect and attention while at the same time standing clearly for the truth. What bothers many people is that they can’t stand the notion that there is a moral truth to stand upon; they are betting their farms on it.

Hence the silly label, and sometimes criticism, of “conservative.” Sure he was conservative in the sense that he knew that the truths taught from the very beginning needed to be held to, but to our modern American ears the label carries with it political and moralistic overtones. We really are a shallow bunch.

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