Sunday, May 01, 2011

John Paul the Grating

I wasn't here for the funeral, so I'm only now starting to get a taste of how irritating it must have been for my many friends who were. I spent the last few minutes systematically removing all the posts put up using the expression "the Great," on my facebook newsfeed but gave it up as hopeless. All the sensible people I know are staying home today while the City hosts what looks like about a third of Poland. It seems to have turned out sunny, at least in S. Mar, so I may go to the beach.

A thought has occurred, but since today is not a day for the kind of religion that uses its head, I'll keep this brief.

People have asked me why I'm not keen on the JPII "phenomenon" and I've said a fair bit about it. But today, I'm going to leave off chanting the usual list and mention only one thing that comes to mind. It wasn't JPII himself that annoys me, it's mostly his bands of chanting cheerleaders.

He was the pope. History will tell whether he was a good one. Personally, aside from his strong reiteration of the Church's teaching on the sanctity of life, I think he was not a good one. I think his job was to govern the Church and I think that was a job he not only failed to do effectively, but essentially refused to do, and the Church and the world are in worse shape because of that refusal.

In Rome, this observation of JP's lack of governing ability isn't in question. It is a fact acknowledged by everyone. Should this manifest failure have been a disqualifying factor in this, in my opinion enormously rushed process of Beatification? I'm not a theologian, so I don't know. I don't know how much the man, Karol, can be separated from his office as pope.

Was he "holy"? Possibly. Was he "heroically holy"? I don't know. But he certainly has appeared so to a great many people. And here is the rub. Here is where I begin to separate the cult following John Paul II from the man himself. Whether he willfully encouraged this cult of adulation during his lifetime is, I think, now irrelevant, but it was certainly out of control by the time he died. And I believe with all my heart that that cult is a bad thing. I think it is bad for the Church and bad for the person taken up with it.

In general, ours is a culture that discourages thinking. It is one in which we have all been taught from infancy to lead with our feelings. Also, we love celebrities and our various cults of adulation. It seems not to matter what the moral quality of the person who is the object, as you can see when you talk to a European about his favourite soccer stars. Or a British teenage girl about her favourite television celebrity.

To give them their due, the clapping, chanting JPII cheerleaders have at least started their careers because they believed him to have been a supremely good man, a defender of righteousness and all that is beautiful good and true. (I imagine it would be prudent to leave most of the Poles out of that estimation because of the overriding factor of Polish nationalism that obviously makes up an unquantifiable percentage of their involvement.)

We live in a world that is overwhelmingly dark, where the moral life is not even considered, and John Paul became a symbol of their rejection of all that. But I think there is a great deal of self-gratification in his cult that is extremely unhealthy. I think that once people take up this "righteous" adulation, it feeds into their egos and creates a kind of emotional drug that ends up making them feel good about feeling good.

One of the things that makes me think it isn't healthy is the reaction of hostility encountered whenever the voice of opposition is raised. And since the voice of opposition usually consists of people pointing out facts about his papacy and its failings, I believe that the cult is, essentially, a Fantasy. It is something that has been created in the minds of its adherents that is not based on The Real, and it should be rejected on those grounds alone.

C.S. Lewis observed that people in our times lack the ability to distinguish between their feelings about something and the thing itself. That inability seems to me to have become the most important factor of our modern culture. This happened when the hippies took over.

I'll let you in on a little secret. You know how I'm always talking about having been raised by hippies? Well, in fact, all of you have been too, you just don't know it.

The hippie culture took over the world in the 1970s, which means that everyone who was born after that time has also been raised by them. We've all been taught that our feelings are the most important thing in life. That we must always express our feelings, pay attention to them, not hide them and guide our actions by them. That, in fact, only feelings are real.

The difference between the younger generation (people born in the 1970s who overwhelmingly make up the JPII enthusiasts) and me is that I actually remember the transition from the old thinking-based culture to the new feelings-based culture. I'm old enough, and was situated in the right place, to have had the pure hippie-culture poured directly into my ear in concentrated form while it was being distilled. After that early period, it was aerosolised in the form of ultramicroscopic hippie-think particles that were dispersed (mostly through the media) into every aspect of our culture. It became the fog that we all breathed and never saw.

But it isn't real. In fact, it's a really BAD thing. The idea that feelings are the most important thing in the world has given us some of the greatest horrors the world has ever seen.

So, here's my message for the JPII cheerleaders in town today:

There is a difference between your feelings about John Paul and the man himself.

Your enthusiasm for him does not make him a saint.

It doesn't make him "the Great".

It doesn't, in fact, have anything to do with him at all.

It mostly has to do with you and your feelings.

Your feelings about something don't affect that thing. They don't change facts or history. Feeling good about the Beatification doesn't make it a good thing for the Church.



Anonymous said...

Miss Hilary:

I am not a JPII apologist or fan...but..

1) I would suggest you head over to Fr. Z's latest post on this - asking what people think about separating "holiness" from "how one lived out one's vocation."

The comments are measured and interesting.

2) You admire Pope Benedict. I do as well. Here is what I think: I think that Pope Benedict knows what JPII was up against. He knows the Curial Rot. He knows how various parties kept information from JPII and other parties fed him different information and how intense the pressure was.

I am choosing to trust that B16 knows all of this and would *not* let the beatification go forward if he were not morally convinced of JPII's holiness and that his failure to perfectly fulfill his vocation were due in part to the Curial Culture that surrounded him.

3) I would also suggest that "Feeling good about the Beatification doesn't make it a good thing for the Church. " could be flipped around. Substitute "bad" for "good" and try it. Go back to the threads on Fr. Z's blog. Horrendous thing happened under JPII's papacy. But so did very good things. I would suggest that your negative *feelings* about JPII - are affcting your vision.

Finally - I think you should pray for JPII's intercession to heal your cancer.

That would be the best story of all.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

However interesting your comments may be, they are still subject to the O's P. commbox rules which forbid anonymity.

A name please, or do not post again.

Paolo said...

Hello. I'm older (47) and do understand the cultural changes you describe with regards to feelings. But I also think that JPII's actions and example go beyond feelings. As a socialist at university in the early 1980's, I was convinced the Marxist view of history was correct. Within 10 years, the Communist bloc was gone, I recall being in London when the Berlin wall came down, and being put out by this interruption to what should have happened. The logic and clarity of JPII's teachings against communism (and fascism) were helpful for me in understanding where human beings can go wrong in politics. Less logically, it seemed so inconceivable that communism would falter so quickly (from where it was in 1980), and I came to believe that this occurred through divine intervention, including in John Paul II surviving being shot in the chest twice at point-blank range, Much later, I became a Catholic, in large part because of his example of lived faith, but also because of his writings, particularly on Christian Humanism. None of this detracts from proper criticism of his failings as pope, but I am very pleased that he is being beatified, and find some of the mistrust of this on traditionalist websites disconcerting and mean-spirited.
Good luck with your treatment, I will remember you in my prayers.

hyoomik said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
hyoomik said...

But there is also JPII the philosopher, famous for "I strongly feel I think, therefore quodlibet"
verification word: dultion

hyoomik said...

It seems to me that a canonization meets the criteria for infallibility: (1) it is a universal thing to be believed (because the saint becomes part of the universal calendar; (2) it is our faith that we cannot know if anyone is in heaven except by God's revelation, and Rome is there to help sort that out, so it is a matter of faith; (3) it is by an official statement of the Roman pontiff.

(Perhaps, then, beatification is possible only if the person has made it to purgatory, and canonization only if the person has made it to heaven.)

Apart from that, there is politics, or better put, a symbolic level. JPII as a symbol or representative of all those who relied on their faith to resist communism. Which leaves us free to respect in pectore all those other uncanonized saints whenever the whole thing grates on us.

verification word: tricketa
verification word II: kedbu

Simon Platt said...

Bloody hippies!

You're quite right, of course.

Keep it up.

sjalsevac said...

If John Paul II was not "Great" then I must be a pathetically emotional, not particularly intelligent or knowledgeable fool for considering that he was indeed "Great".

I suggest that those Catholics who have serious criticisms about JPII, whether from the right or the left, are themselves dominated by feelings about what they wanted the Pope to do to meet their extremely particular expectations and views of how they believe the Catholic faith can and must be practiced and the Church governed. I doubt that very, very few, if any, of the holiest people in the modern age could meet the impossible standards set by the critics. That is because all obvious evangelical achievements and evidences of sanctity are discounted as being nothing because of other evidences of human failings or imperfect judgements. That is, only certain, mythically unflawed saints of the past or above human men and women of the present are considered acceptable. That is not the way of God.

The "Great" ones are themselves always most aware and constantly repentant of their failings which they pray constantly for the grace to overcome. Those are the true saints. Every evidence that I have seen of John Paul II and his effects is that he truly was "Great", despite his mistakes and errors of judgement and the extraordinary evils within the church and in the world around him that he had to contend with. The most important thing is that John Paul II was faithful, he clearly loved God with his whole heart and soul and he tried to serve God's people with that same love and all else that was given to him, but most especially with total dependence on prayer and grace. Whether he was always right or wrong or failed or succeeded cannot be God's final judgement of him. King David failed, Moses failed, Peter failed, many saints failed - grievously - but they have nevertheless been deemed to have been "great" because of their exceptional love and total giving of themselves to God. Who among us can say that of ourselves?