FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Pope is My Man

When I was a child, after World War II, I was fascinated by the yearly admiration polls—the ten people Americans most admired. The current president was always at the top of the list: Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower and usually their wives. The religious evangelist, Billy Graham, was also near the top—something I could never understand. Besides the presidents’ wives, the only other woman who made the list was Eleanor Roosevelt. Then there was the odd inclusion of others: whoever was the current pope, Douglass MacArthur (but only for a time), and Sir Winston Churchill. Later, well into the seventies and eighties, Ronald Reagan was number one, even before Republicans tried to turn him into a saint. My confusion, even when I was young, was what Mamie Eisenhower—let alone others—had done to merit such respect.

In later decades when I continued to observe in dismay the names of people who topped the list (Richard Nixon and his plastic wife, for example), and tried to draw up my own list, it was usually impossible to name more than one or two candidates. Malcolm X was one of my choices for a time, but not Martin Luther King. William Faulkner was another. Certainly my list included none of the figures whose names usually made me gag. No pope would ever have made it, possibly because of vivid images I retained of Pope Pius XII, during the war, looking like an evil magician in his cape and gown. Later, we discovered just how complicit he had been in the extermination of Jews during the Holocaust. So the last person I could ever admire was the pope.

My heart warmed up a bit for Pope John II but chilled again for Benedict XVI, who reminded me of the singular reason the position is important: moral authority. Thus, when Pope Francis arrived, I held my guard, though I was excited by the fact that his origins were in South America. Everything changed for me the day he said—with regard to gays—“Who am I to judge?” That’s a statement few leaders are comfortable enough to utter. “Who am I to judge?” ought to be Francis’s mantra. I can’t imagine anyone on the religious right making such a remark, which is what is wrong with their religion.

I waited anxiously for the Pope’s encyclical on climate because virtually no one else wants to take responsibility for the problem. Climate change is like gun control: politicians and journalists are afraid to mention the term. The only way I can regard these people is as cowards. That’s the kind of world we live in. Certain topics, which involve the major issues we need to confront, have become taboo. It didn’t take long for Republicans to pounce on the encyclical, using the knee-jerk response that the pope is not a scientist (neither are the politicians who shout most loudly, but the double standard never bothers them).

Global warming—the term that most bothers conservatives—troubles them because of its implication of responsibility. Something has happened to the earth. Something terrible and, worse, it continues to happen. And therefore something needs to change—in this case a major shift in our use of carbon fuels before the entire earth is destroyed. But Republicans are not known for their sense of responsibility or humanity about anything. All that matters is making a quick buck. Is that a generalization? Of course, but the history of their response to the nation’s major problems is always one of irresponsibility. They carry a big stick, bludgeoning anyone or anything that they disagree with. Again, you ask, am I not making generalities? My answer is no, as their response to the killings in Charleston this past week demonstrated ONCE AGAIN. Most Republican presidential candidates turned themselves into pretzels so they could avoid the obvious: guns and racism.

The Pope’s message is crystal clear: we have trashed the earth so badly that our relationship with it is totally out of harmony. Years ago, when I researched and wrote a book on Native American fiction, the writers of these works wrote me painful letters, expressing their concern with our treatment of Mother Earth. But who would pay any attention to Native Americans or peoples of other cultures who have often voiced the same lament? This country can’t accept the opinions of those who are not white. In its coverage of the Pope’s encyclical, The New York Times printed a photo of a gigantic garbage dump in Gauhati, India, reminding me of the way Western countries have often sent their toxic trash to Third World countries. We don’t want to touch this stuff! We’ll let you do it. Another prime example of irresponsibility.

Or, this past week, consider the cries of the super rich in California. Why should water restrictions apply to them? The response to global warming, climate change, the reality of drought in places like California, has brought out the worst in people. And that worst means no action. There may be climate change, but what must happen to bring people to change is a much bigger problem. People change doesn’t look very promising.

The second major issue of the Pope’s encyclical (after the destruction of the earth) is his concern about poverty, another word that drives conservatives crazy. They can’t understand why people working a job with the minimum wage, food stamps and other government assistance can still be poor. Ergo, these people are lazy—they want to be poor. They have chosen poverty. Sure, they enjoy eating the cheapest and least nutritional food available. They love their hot, stifling apartments in the worst of the summer heat. They love their obesity, their diabetes, and their children’s lousy schools. These are all things they have chosen because of their love of poverty. My response? Such simplicity, such racism and bigotry.

The Pope is my man. I say this as an avowed atheist, as someone who has no regard for religion. Pope Francis dares to speak, while too many of us live in silence.

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C. Email: clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

 

More articles by:

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
January 24, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
A Letter From Iowa
Jim Kavanagh
Aftermath: The Iran War After the Soleimani Assassination
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Camp by the Lake
Chuck Churchill
The Long History of Elite Rule: What Will It Take To End It?
Robert Hunziker
A Climate Time Bomb With Trump’s Name Inscribed
Andrew Levine
Trump: The King
Jess Franklin
Globalizing the War on Indigenous People: Bolsonaro and Modi
James Graham
From Paris, With Tear Gas…
Rob Urie
Why the Primaries Matter
Dan Bacher
Will the Extinction of Delta Smelt Be Governor Gavin Newsom’s Environmental Legacy?
Ramzy Baroud
In the Name of “Israel’s Security”: Retreating US Gives Israel Billions More in Military Funding
Vijay Prashad
What the Right Wing in Latin America Means by Democracy Is Violence
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Biden’s Shameful Foreign Policy Record Extends Well Beyond Iraq
Louis Proyect
Isabel dos Santos and Africa’s Lumpen-Bourgeoisie
Nick Pemberton
AK-46: The Case Against Amy Klobuchar
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Promtheus’ Fire: Climate Change in the Time of Willful Ignorance
Linn Washington Jr.
Waiting for Justice in New Jersey
Ralph Nader
Pelosi’s Choice: Enough for Trump’s Impeachment but not going All Out for Removal
Mike Garrity – Jason Christensen
Don’t Kill 72 Grizzly Bears So Cattle Can Graze on Public Lands
Joseph Natoli
Who’s Speaking?
Kavaljit Singh
The US-China Trade Deal is Mostly Symbolic
Cesar Chelala
The Coronavirus Serious Public Health Threat in China
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Must Remain Vigilant and on Guard Against US Hybrid Warfare
Robert Fantina
Impeachment as a Distraction
Courtney Bourgoin
What We Lose When We Lose Wildlife
Mark Ashwill
Why Constructive Criticism of the US is Not Anti-American
Daniel Warner
Charlie Chaplin and Truly Modern Times
Manuel Perez-Rocha
How NAFTA 2.0 Boosts Fossil Fuel Polluters, Particularly in Mexico
Dean Baker
What Minimum Wage Would Be If It Kept Pace With Productivity
Mel Gurtov
India’s Failed Democracy
Thomas Knapp
US v. Sineneng-Smith: Does Immigration Law Trump Free Speech?
Winslow Myers
Turning Point: The new documentary “Coup 53”
Jeff Mackler
U.S. vs. Iran: Which Side are You On?
Sam Pizzigati
Braggadocio in the White House, Carcinogens in Our Neighborhoods
Christopher Brauchli
The Company Trump Keeps
Julian Vigo
Why Student Debt is a Human Rights Issue
Ramzy Baroud
These Chains Will Be Broken
Chris Wright
A Modest Proposal for Socialist Revolution
Thomas Barker
The Slow Death of European Social Democracy: How Corbynism Bucked the Trend
Nicky Reid
It’s Time to Bring the War Home Again
Michelle Valadez
Amy Klobuchar isn’t Green
David Swanson
CNN Poll: Sanders Is The Most Electable
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Our Dire Need for “Creative Extremists”—MLK’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”
Jill Richardson
‘Little Women’ and the American Attitude Toward Poverty
David Yearsley
Watching Star Wars in Berlin
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail