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Why John Paul II Will Be Missed

He didn't believe in the American Civil Religion.

by James Leroy Wilson
April 7, 2005

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Why John Paul II Will Be Missed

Much has been written about the reign of Pope John Paul II. Mostly positive, if only for his leadership and moral inspiration in facing down the Communist bloc.

Obviously, his impact goes well beyond that, reaching into domestic politics. I know little about the Vatican II conference of the 1960's, but it seems to me that John Paul clarified its intentions: there is a difference between "modernizing" and "liberalizing" and, much to the chagrin of Western intellectuals, he resisted the latter. Many who give him grudging respect upon his death are still bitter that he didn't open the priesthood to married lesbian Unitarian abortionists.

Because the Pope provided leadership in resisting moral relativism, abortion, and other liberal trends, he inspired a good number of Catholics to become "Reagan Democrats." If there ever was a "moral majority," then devout Catholics were certainly a substantial part of the coalition. As the moral consensus in America fractured over the course of the 1960's and 70's, conservative Christians of all denominations found themselves more in common with each other than with the liberals within their own denominations. Who knows if a less energetic or charismatic Pope, or a series of Popes, could have sustained this trend.

This is not to suggest that the John Paul personally endorsed very much of the Republican Party platform. Indeed, his resistance to the USA's two unprovoked wars against Iraq certainly caused a rift with American policymakers. The Pope didn't stand for America or "American" values, but rather for the values and doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church.

That's why I admire him. The United States has a "civil religion" unlike any other in the world. Springing from the Protestant values of the colonial period, which were then perverted by the Enlightenment, the American Civil Religion is a politicized, unitarian version of Christianity. It is, you could say, Christian piety, with Christian Trinitarian doctrine replace by the ideological doctrine of republican democracy, "liberty" (as defined by the politicians), and "progress." That's why the American Civil Religion could change and "evolve" with Darwinism, the War Between the States, the industrial revolution, urbanization, colonialism, all the way through the Cold War and Civil Rights Era. Whereas, core Christian doctrine was pretty much settled with the writings of Augustine and the Nicene Creed about 1600 years ago.

It is that Creed, not the American Creed, from which the Pope spoke and acted. Which is a good thing:, because the American Civil Religion is evil to the core, and is the cause of virtually all of America's problems, and most of the world's. For the American Civil Religion is of two varieties: both bad. The first, "liberal" side, wants to replace God with Humanity, the Church with the State; charity with politics. The second, "conservative" side, wants to "help" God achieve His purposes through human will, initiative, and effort.

Either way, we have Clinton lying us into a needless war against Yugoslavia, and Bush lying us into an equally needless war against Iraq. We have a war on people of color, the Bill of Rights, and a substantial part of Latin America, called the War on Drugs. Liberals justify it to "protect the children." Conservatives, because the drugs are "immoral." Both seek the expansion of the government's role in education, health care, and benevolence, thereby inhibiting the freedom, and depleting the finances, of families and churches. We have liberals who want to take "God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance, our schools, and our coins to the protest of conservatives. Both are apparently unaware that the "God" in question is not the God of the Bible, but the God of American Civil Religion, and probably the God of the people who put all that creepy Masonic stuff on our dollar bills. This "God" - the god of thousand-page tax codes, of "mandatory minimum" prison sentencing, of inflationary fiat money, of "eminent domain" powers to take away from the homeowner to give to the corporation, of undeclared, non-defensive war, of crackdowns on freedom of speech - resembles Satan to me.

What I liked about Pope John Paul II is that he did not bow down to the god of American Civil Religion. He did not confuse religion with nation; his "kingdom" is trans-national. And in his refusal to believe in the American Civil Religion, he is one of a growing number, both here in the USA and across the world. From Greens to neo-Confederates, isolationists to those committed to the United Nations, Objectivist atheists to ultra-conservative Protestants, and, well, most of the rest of the world, we are seeing "Americanism" for what it is. A fanatical, bloodthirsty religion, believed by a people who have not experienced war on their own land in nearly 150 years. The world is right in doubting America's aims and purposes. And the Pope doubted as well. His advantage is that he was the one foreigner millions of Americans would listen to.

Pope John Paul II helped destroy the Soviet Empire peacefully. Let's hope his successor may do the same to the American Empire.

Comments (1)

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Jonathan Wilson from Chicago writes:
April 7, 2005
Thank you, James Leroy. This piece is brilliant, succinct, and even-handed, capturing the essence of much disaffection across the political, religious, and philosophical spectrum. Sincerely, The Rev. Jonathan Wilson, Cuyler Evangelical Covenant Church, Chicago.

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