Thursday, April 07, 2005

I guess you could call me a misanthropope...

Lauren Bacall recently made a statement:

We live in an age of mediocrity. Stars today are not the same stature as Bogie (Humphrey Bogart), Jimmy Cagney, Spencer Tracy, Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart.

How true.

She, of course, was talking about entertainment. But the truth in that statement extends far beyond.

I'm sure she knows that.

Perhaps it's crass to bring this up before the poor old man is even carried to his final resting place, but *shrug*. More and more as famous and important people waltz off this mortal coil, the reaction has become less actual mourning as much as it has been made into a cultural event in which ~everyone~ wants to say they played a part. And, more and more as we move deeper and deeper into the age of communication and information, we are able to use television, radio and the internet to whip ourselves up into a froth of anticipation, sorrow, or commiseration faster than you can say, 'papal election'.

There are simply not as many real mourners out there as there is people making a show of mourning.

Currently, I am thanking whatever omnipresent being there is that allowed me the foresight to not have access to television for this event. It's all I can take seeing as much as I have. The media circus started days before he even died -my god- and reported to the world every cough and wheeze that escaped him. There's only so many candlelight vigils a person can watch before you either want to tear your hair out or book a ticket to Rome. And millions of people chose the latter simply because they were told others were doing it.

Now (what prompted my writing this) what I hear is rumblings he ought to be named Pope John Paul II 'The Great'. 'The Great'? The only 'great' thing he did was to survive the Vatican for 26 years...which ~was~ a feat considering his predecessor lasted only 33 days. Of course, it's not as insane as when Diana died and people were calling for her to be sainted in the Church of England, but it's still pretty insane.

(That's where my comparisons of the Pope and Diana will end since the Pope was an infinitely more important and influential person than a silly jet-setting princess.)

Anyway, John Paul II was not a 'great' pope.

As a man, he was unusually ambitious, academic, and committed. He would have to be, they don't pick you if you're not. The top banana of the Holy See is a position of unique power and authority. Mediocre men do not reach this position as they can as heads of other governments and royalty. But the title then affords you the ability to ~not~ grow, to not cater to the needs of your people, to meddle where you like and not not respond to situations to which you don't want to respond. Once you're there, you're there...

So, he was not a great pope, nor was he a great man. And I'm not saying that disrespectfully, there are very few real 'great' men and women. That's why they're great...because it's rare. He simply was not one of them. He did some good work, but not enough for me to fall to my knees clutching a rosary and trying to get through to Air Canada on my cell.

(He was also not a holy man. As an ex-Catholic, I cannot see one shred of connection between the Vatican and anything that is ~actually~ holy. But...that's me.)

'Great' as a title can only come to men and women who have gone above and beyond the call of duty. John Paul II did not. To 'splain:

One of the main jobs of the Pope is to promote the Catholic Church. A pope travels, meets people, performs mass all over the world in a grand scale attempt to keep Catholics catholic and make non-catholics catholic. The pomp and circumstance that surrounds the Catholic church and it's rituals is one of the world's oldest forms of propaganda and advertising. Check an art history text.

It is true that JPII was directly involved with the fall of communism in Europe. He worked up the people so that Lech Walesa could do his thing so that Mikhail Gorbachev could do ~his~ thing. It was important and changed the lives of millions upon millions. But, it wasn't altruistic. As pope it was his job to sniff out the opportunity to regain millions of Catholics lost to communism. He was the right nationality, in the right place at the right time. Good job, but it would have happened with or without him.

So, yeah...but no.

A truly great man and a truly great pope would reform the church. He would try to drag it closer to the 21st century and address the issues of today in a more rational manner. It's relatively important to us in North America and Europe, but we forget the grip the church has on third world and developing nations and how it's absolutely vital to the people of those cultures that it act with logic and caring. The pope was vocal in STILL condemning birth control and masturbation as mortal sins while these countries sink under the weight of the problems brought about by overpopulation and HIV.

And of course, a truly great pope would have tackled the issue of rampant pedophilia within it's clergy and tried to save thousands of children from it's own predators. Instead, he allowed these men to be nuzzled within the safety of the Vatican, moved from parish to parish with no regard for the children they were to meet next. As Christopher Hitchens referenced Maureen Dowd:

I should say now that I think she put it best of all. A church that has allowed no latitude in its teachings on masturbation, premarital sex, birth control, and divorce suddenly asks for understanding and "wiggle room" for the most revolting crime on the books.

But, in this age of communication at the speed of light, media as the center of everyone's attention, and news of events that can now reach almost anyone in the world, it is easy to forget all the important things a person ~hasn't~ done and lift up their achievements so that they seem to have reached such heights that the world almost deifies them. We seem so badly want ~something~ and we rush toward whatever we can to lose ourselves in it.


I, for one, am very curious as to who's up next. I'm thinking of putting bets on it. Anyone with me?

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