March 3, 2005


Must democracy rest on faith?: In his latest book, Pope John Paul II criticizes Western democracies for abandoning God's laws. (Sophie Arie, 3/04/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

Just as democracy is celebrating its first victories over tyranny and fear in the Middle East, one of its greatest advocates in the 20th century, Pope John Paul II, has issued a stark warning that self-rule does not always work.

In a new book published last week, "Memory and Identity: Conversations Between Millenniums," the pope attacks Western democratic society for being so obsessed with freedom that it has lost its sense of good and evil.

In the "negative" society of the West, the pope writes, "the principle to which people aspire is to think and act as if God did not exist."

There are such "enormous economic forces" behind the Western antigospel campaign, which supports divorce, free love, abortion, and euthanasia, that the Pope wonders whether the Western way of life is in fact a "new totalitarianism cunningly disguised as democracy." [...]

John Paul II's criticism highlights a growing schism in Europe between left-wing liberals who dominate the European Parliament and religious-minded conservatives who say that the idea of freedom in Europe has gone too far.

More significantly, the pope's remarks are a major critique of democracy at a time when President Bush is urging its spread to the Arab world.

To be sure, the pontiff holds democracy as the best form of government. But his remarks echo the warnings of some Islamic leaders, such as Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who have warned that embracing the Western model of democracy means giving up religion.

"Islam has something in common with the views expressed in this book," says Massimo Introvigne, founder of CESNUR, the Center for Studies on New Religions, in Italy. "But so does Bush."

The common ground between the pope, the Islamic leaders, and Bush, he says, "lies in the belief that religious moral values should remain the fundamental basis on which a society is run." [...]

"We are now at a peak of the domination of so-called freedom values," said Ingo Friedrich, who is vice-president of the European parliament, where he represents the People's Party.

"When you have very high levels of wealth, the danger of freedom overload is always higher," he says. "If the donkey gets too fat, he falls through the ice," he says, quoting a German proverb. "We are definitely at a time when people are wondering how far this freedom thing will go."

"What the pope is really saying is that democracy is good for people only if it does what the Catholic Church says," said Franco Pavoncello, political analyst at Rome's John Cabot University. "But the whole point of democracy is that there is no blueprint. People get to choose how they want things to be done."

"In Rome, no one's listening to the pope's warning," wrote the newspaper La Repubblica, after mulling over the pope's words for a week. Recognizing the pope's arguments over human rights on question such as abortion and gay adoption, La Repubblica's Andrea Manzella argued that Italy's and Europe's Constitution both have careful procedures for laws to be challenged if they seem to infringe human rights.

"After the end of the ideologies of the 20th century and especially after the fall of Communism, various nations have pinned their hopes on democracy," the pope writes. "Which is why it is so important now for us to ask ourselves what democracy ought to be."

"Laws made by men, by parliaments," he added, "must not be in contradiction with natural laws, that is with the eternal law of God."

The future of the democratizing Islamic world is certainly much brighter than that of the secular West, precisely because these new democracies have the moral foundation upon which successful democracy must rest. The hard part, accomplished only by America thus far, is to maintain that foundation. The aspect of all this that folks seem to have the most trouble grasping is that the End of History is not going to be a good thing for most peoples.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 3, 2005 4:50 PM

What the Pope should be asking is why every land where Catholics predominate is a third world s[tink]hole where satan reigns supreme.

Posted by: NC3 at March 3, 2005 7:13 PM

Ireland, Poland...

But, of course, we'd expect to find Christ wherever we find stinkholes too.

Posted by: oj at March 3, 2005 8:44 PM

The Pope also seems to have little respect for meaning.

It seems a very odd kind of totalitarianism indeed that doesn't force anyone to do any of the bad things attributed to it.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at March 3, 2005 11:00 PM

The babies are dead, no? And the folks with AIDs? And the Jews and gypsies? And the kulaks and all the rest?

Posted by: oj at March 3, 2005 11:11 PM