Jonah Goldberg

The name Goldberg might be a hint: I'm not Catholic. But that didn't stop me from loving this pope. So much has already been written about the humble man appointed to the most awe-inspiring job in the world, it seems silly to repeat all of the encomiums and accolades. Karol Wojtyla was a funny, lighthearted man by all accounts, so I think he'd get it if I merely said "ditto" to all of the wonderful things said about him.

But given the often abysmal discussion of the John Paul II's legacy and thought, what I think is worth noting is how childish phrases like "left" and "right" are when describing such a man and the institution he represents. After all, the designations of "left" and "right" come from 18th-century France, and the Catholic Church was already a couple centuries from its 2,000th birthday by then.

In the secular vernacular, the pope was a "social conservative" - even, shudder, a "theocrat" - because he opposed many things secular liberals favor: state-supplied condoms, state-funded abortion, euthanasia, etc. I'm not stealing an intellectual base here. JPII disapproved of non-state-funded abortion and condoms, too, but it was his role as a worldwide political force that irked so many of his critics. In other words, it was the fact that his words had real power that bothered some and terrified others. The terrified ones were most famously in Moscow when they realized that his admonition, "Be not afraid," was the most devastating thing a pope from a captive nation could say to the millions of people terrified into submission by Communism.

The irked folks are those who think it is a sign of enlightenment to compromise one's faith in an immutable truth (if that truth is something the Enlightened Ones disagree with). According to Timothy Garton Ash, writing in the Guardian, when the Pope was confronted by a friend who wanted him to change his anti-condom policy, the pontiff replied, "I can't change what I've been teaching all my life." For John Paul II, to teach otherwise precisely because his teaching had newfound global strength would be like saying you can no longer proclaim 2+2=4 because those who disagree are suddenly paying attention.

The most fascinating disconnect between our political categories and the reality of John Paul II was the fact that he was perhaps liberty's greatest champion in the 20th century. That story is well known and needs no repeating here.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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