Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Farewell to the Pontiff

I have to say, I was actually quite upset when I heard the Pope died. I may not be Catholic, but I sympathised with much of what he stood for. The reaction to the Pope's death, even in secular Europe goes to show just how influential he was, and makes me wonder... where exactly is this "post religious world" that western liberals refer to?

The Pope was unique in that he was hard to pin down. You couldn't call him a liberal when you consider his views on abortion or euthanasia, but when you consider his opposition to unfettered capitalism, war and the need to cancel third world debt, he was no conservative either. In fact, during the political upheavals that took place in South America during the 1980s, there were Christian radicals urging the Pope to adapt a Marxist position, but he wouldn't have any of it. He wouldn't let the Church be hijacked by political ideology.

For me, that was above all his legacy. He was a rock, steadfast in his beliefs, and unwilling to conform to the fashion of the times, whether it was Marxism, Consumerism or Secularism. Western liberals couldn't make him out because of their parochialism, their world outlook doesn't extend beyond the shores of Western Europe. Had they looked a little further, they would have seen a world which is experiencing a religious revival, one in which the Catholic population has increased from 750 million in 1978 to over a billion in 2003. It's true that the population increase has been mainly due to population growth, but there is no doubting the high esteem in which the Pope was held by his followers, and the influence he had on them. The Church of England could learn a thing or two from him. They have bent over backwards to accomodate every fashion of the last quarter century and their churches are still empty.

The purpose of religion is to challenge people, not accomodate them. Europeans may not have liked the pope's message on abortion or contraception, but you only have to look at their shrinking population to see how right he was.