Sunday, April 10, 2005



I’m flabbergasted at all the incredible coverage of the death of Pope John Paul II. I’m amazed at the huge number of pilgrims, I’m amazed by the attention it has recieved.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t object, I just find it rather amazing that somebody, who I barely thought about at all, who I believed was the figurehead of a waning power, who’s edicts on birth control seemed to be ignored by most Catholics I know, and who’s proclamations of the Iraq war were resolutely ignored, received such a grand send-off.

I once discussed religious leaders with a Jewish colleague. We were talking about Islam, and how that there is no nominated leader, so therefore any old mullah with a nutty idea, can legitimately wage jihad. He then asked me who I thought was the “leader” of Christians. I said “well I suppose the Pope”. He said. “No. I don’t think so. The leader of the Christians, in my view is George Bush”. And I guess for someone looking from outside the religion, or from outside the West, he's right.

You’d have noticed that President Bush is the very first US President to attend a Pope lying in state. This is an understandable and respectful act of homage, and it reinforces the view now being put around that he was one of the greatest Popes. But it also, reinforces the President’s own religious standing. I think in some undefined way the perception for other faiths, that the US President is the leader of the Christians will only now be reinforced.

The relationship between this Pope and the presidency goes back to Reagan’s days, when it is said that together they brought down communism. No doubt this is a overstatement and a simplification, but the perception of the two Wizards of Christendom bringing the Godless Communists to their knees is already written into the History books.

George Negus had a fascinating take on this Pope. In an interview with Cardinal Pell, he referred to the Pope as schizoid (at it appeared to him)

GEORGE NEGUS: As an outsider to the Catholic Church, it appears to someone like
myself that there were almost two Pope John Paul II's. There was this man who
was incredibly conservative on social issues, domestic church issues - like
celibacy, like abortion, like birth control, like marriage, married priests,
like AIDS, like homosexuality, that was one Pope John Paul II. The other Pope
John Paul II was this man who was very aggressive on the international stage.
He's opposed the war in Iraq. He's said that the pre-emptive strikes are not
morally justifiable, etc. He's spoken out against the Third World debt. He's
campaigned against racism and world poverty. So there were - he was almost a
schizoid figure and I use that term advisedly.

George of course is viewing the Popes beliefs through the prism of the standard Left-Right divide. Cardinal Pell’s response was:

No, no, not at all. He was a typically Catholic figure. As a Catholic, we don't
judge things in the categories of many people who don't belong to our tradition
or don't have any faith

Fair call I have to say, and this explains to me the alignment with the Bush Fundamentalist doctrine of some matters, but the divergence on others.

I suspect I disagree with the Roman Catholic Church’s view on many matters, but mostly I disagree with them on their apparent need to stick their bib into other peoples lives, and cast moral judgements on powerless individuals who are often the victims of circumstance, but this does not compare with the “bib-sticking” that the Bush Fundamentalists are now attempting.

I’ll take the ‘Schizoid’ Pope as the leader of Christendom any day over the ‘Crazoid’ President now in the Whitehouse. At least the Pope was half right!

The Interesting question for me though is this: Does all of this attention of the Pope’s death signify an increase in religiosity? Does it suggest the tide of secularism is turning, or is it just such a great media event. Is there just too much spectacle, ritual and emotion for our global media not to make the most of?

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