FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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.

Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Franklin Lamb
Tehran’s Syria: Lebanon Colonization Project is Collapsing
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Fred Gardner
Medical Board to MDs: Emphasize Dangers of Marijuana
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
Robert Koehler
Playing War in Syria
Tamara Pearson
US Shootings: Gun Industry Killing More People Overseas
John Feffer
Trump’s Trade War is About Trump Not China
Morris Pearl
Why the Census Shouldn’t Ask About Citizenship
Ralph Nader
Bill Curry on the Move against Public Corruption
Josh Hoxie
Five Tax Myths Debunked
Leslie Mullin
Democratic Space in Adverse Times: Milestone at Haiti’s University of the Aristide Foundation
Louis Proyect
Syria and Neo-McCarthyism
Dean Baker
Finance 202 Meets Economics 101
Abel Cohen
Forget Gun Control, Try Bullet Control
Robert Fantina
“Damascus Time:” An Iranian Movie
David Yearsley
Bach and Taxes
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail