War Gets a Break in Pope's 'Culture of death.'(John Paul II Encyclical, 'Evangelium Vitae')(Cover Story)(Column)

By McCarthy, Colman | National Catholic Reporter, April 14, 1995 | Go to article overview

War Gets a Break in Pope's 'Culture of death.'(John Paul II Encyclical, 'Evangelium Vitae')(Cover Story)(Column)


McCarthy, Colman, National Catholic Reporter


In Evangelium Vitae ("Gospel of Life"), the new encyclical of John Paul II, is the pope a scold or a teacher? The Holy Father leaves no doubts. He scoldingly lashes out at those with whom he disagrees. Women who have abortions are committing "unspeakable crimes." Euthanasia is "deliberate and morally unacceptable killing."

This is the language of a churchman for whom intellectual punching is the preferred way of communication. The pope takes the combative crouch in his encyclical: "In the proclamation of this gospel, we must not fear hostility and unpopularity, and we must refuse any compromise or ambiguity which might conform us to the world's way of thinking."

John Paul is a Western thinker, steeped in Western theology found in Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. Both framed the moral debate as a question of good against evil. The pope states it as "the gospel of life vs. the culture of death."

Eastern theology, as developed by Buddhist and Hindu mystics, argues that the debate is less about good vs. evil than about ignorance and awareness. Create the conditions in which awareness of moral truths and the innate goodness of human beings can be nurtured and chances increase that ignorance and its negative affects on behavior can be overpowered.

Strains of Eastern theology surfaced in the teachings of Christ. His final words were about ignorance: "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do."

Unable to move beyond the confinements of Western thought -- odd considering that the word catholic means universal -- the pope is a scold denouncing the "world's way of thinking" without considering that those caught up in abortion and euthanasia are often trapped in desperation and not criminals. …

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