Monday, April 04, 2005

INTERESTING THAT in the New York Times article in today's edition, Adam Nagourney writes about John Paul II's "assertiveness" in trying to influence American politics in favor of conservative policies on abortion, gay marriage, and end-of-life issues -- but has nary a word to say about the Vatican's strong opposition to the death penalty and to war as a means of solving conflict. John Paul II took an equally dim view of environmentally destructive policies, which the Bush administration consistently supports. He frequently spoke out on behalf of the Palestinian people, decrying the conditions in which they were forced to live, the continued denial of their right to nationhood, and the daily brutalities committed against them. And he made no secret of his feeling that unfettered capitalism was an affront to the dignity of workers and a reversal of the priorities that are implied in the Genesis account of the Creation:

[T]he danger of treating work as "merchandise" -or as an impersonal "work force"-remains as long as economics is understood in a materialistic way. It is this one-sided approach that concentrates on work as the prime thing, leaving the worker in a secondary place. This is a reversal of the order laid down in the book of Genesis. The worker is treated as a tool whereas the worker ought to be treated as the subject of work, as its maker and creator. This reversal - whatever other name it gives itself- should be called 'capitalism"- an economic and social system that historically has been known as opposed to "socialism" or "communism." The error of early capitalism can be repeated wherever the worker is treated as a mere means of production, as a tool and not as a subject. To consider work and the worker in the light of humanity's dominion over the earth goes to the very heart of the ethical and social question. It is in insight that should be applied to all social and economic policy, within each country, but also internationally, to the tensions between East and West, North and South" [from Informed Comment].

It's arguably true that John Paul, although opposing U.S. conservative policies in the above areas, was more openly active in lobbying American Catholics to vote against issues like abortion and gay marriage. Then again, those are the issues that are the most flammable in American social and political life, so it becomes a self-enforcing mechanism: Abortion is a huge issue in every election; the death penalty is barely mentioned, if it's discussed at all.

I'm not Catholic, but if I were, I would be hoping that the next pope will be more effective at conveying the idea that abolition of the death penalty, workers' rights, Palestinian self-determination, and responsible environmental policies are central parts of the culture of life.

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