Pope Laments Lessons Not Learned from 20th Century: Today's Totalitarianism Is Economics, He Says

By Thavis, John | National Catholic Reporter, March 4, 2005 | Go to article overview

Pope Laments Lessons Not Learned from 20th Century: Today's Totalitarianism Is Economics, He Says


Thavis, John, National Catholic Reporter


Despite the failed ideologies and tragic lessons of the 20th century, modern society still acts as if it can determine good and evil without reference to God, Pope John Paul II warns in his new book, Memory and Identity: Conversations Between Millenniums.

That represents a threat to entire groups of people, including the unborn, the pope wrote. "If man can decide alone, without God, what is good and what is evil, then he can also decide to exterminate a category of human beings."

The Rizzoli Publishing House issued a 227-page Italian edition of the book in a first printing of 330,000 copies Feb. 21. It is the fifth book that John Paul has written in his 26 years as pope.

The book will appear in 14 editions in 11 languages over the next two months, including an American edition to be published by Rizzoli International, the publishers said.

The book grew out of taped talks that John Paul held in the summer of 1993 in the garden of his country house at Castelgandolfo with Polish philosophers Jozef Tischner and Krzysztof Michalski.

John Paul, who taught philosophy and moral theology before becoming pope, examines the ideological struggles that played out in Europe over the last 100 years and their significance for the 21st century.

With the advance of the communist revolution, the rise of Nazism, the outbreak of World War II and the installation of the Soviet regime, the pope views the 20th century as a stage upon which the forces of good and evil engaged in sharp combat.

He is convinced that good has triumphed, but worries that not all the lessons have been learned.

For example, the pope noted that Hitler used legal means to open the way to aggression against other European countries, the passage of racial laws, the creation of concentration camps and the introduction of the so-called "final solution" to eradicate the Jewish race.

The pope then connected those historical developments with worrisome signs in modern Europe and elsewhere, and he warned of a dangerous detachment from traditional moral and religious values.

"The most immediate association of ideas that comes to mind are the laws on abortion," he said.

"The parliaments that create and promulgate such laws should be aware that they are abusing their powers and remain in open conflict with the law of God and the law of nature," he said.

If in the past it was nationalist regimes that advanced totalitarian agendas, today the threat is often represented by powerful economic forces that try to impose their ideas around the world, especially in poorer countries, he said.

Under "democratic" forms, this new type of totalitarianism has taken aim at basic human values by promoting moral permissiveness, abortion, euthanasia, genetic manipulation, contraception and divorce, he said. …

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