Monday, April 04, 2005

JUAN COLE has written a thoughtful, sensitive, intelligent piece about John Paul II's passing and the meaning of his papacy. The gist of it is Cole's point that John Paul's legacy is larger than just his well-known hewing to Catholic doctrine on abortion, celibacy for priests, homosexuality, and the ordination of women. The late pope also spoke out against war -- particularly the Iraq war. He opposed the death penalty. And he openly supported the rights of workers not to be exploited by the forces of globalization. Cole says it's important for progressive people to acknowledge the ways in which this pope supported the causes we value, even though in other areas we strongly opposed his stands.

John Paul II was a complex man and among the more intellectual popes in history. Because of his admirable stance against Stalinism in Eastern Europe (which did not in fact involve any denunciation of communism or socialism per se) and his anti-abortion stance, he is often claimed as an ally by the American Right (which is mainly Protestant and mainly about the best interests of wealthy business people).

But John Paul II was often an inconvenient man, whose moral vision would be upsetting to the US Republican establishment if it were taken seriously. He opposed the death penalty, to which George W. Bush is so attached. He opposed the Iraq War. He condemned laissez-faire capitalism and cared about the exploitation of workers, who he felt should have a dignity that is seldom bestowed upon them by the Walmarts and other firms in the US. And he cared about the rights and welfare of the Palestinian people in a way that virtually no one in the American political establishment does. He symbolically blessed the Palestinian claim that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Palestinian people.

That is, the Pope's message sometimes had a strong progressive content, and he was in some important ways on our side. That progressives might have had differences with him on some issues should not forestall our celebrating his progressive legacy. The American Right appropriates shamelessly anyone who even halfway agrees with them. We on the left must learn to make sectional alliances and commemorate those areas of agreement we have with people like John Paul II.

I think Cole is right, and his piece is important reading.

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