Stairway to Heaven

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Stairway to Heaven

In his most recent column, The Nation's David Corn reminds us that the same president who made those lump-in-his-throat White House remarks hailing a deceased pope was also the candidate who five years earlier had happily agreed to speak at a South Carolina college whose president called John Paul II the Antichrist.

But Corn had something else to say as the media continue to encourage a nationwide mourn-fest:
"Jim, you think he's with Jesus now? We only have 30 seconds."

That was CNN's Larry King "grilling" Jim Caviezel, who played Christ in The Passion of the Christ, on Sunday night. (Thanks to The Hotline for featuring this wonderful media moment.)During cable news' around-the-clock Pope-apalooza, the anchors have had to fill airtime with something.

I know, I know -- Pope John Paul II was adored by millions, he was a historic figure who helped nudge the Soviet Union toward collapse, and a papal death hasn't happened in decades. But I do find it odd that much of the media discussion has not covered a fundamental point: what was the Pope really all about?

To be precise, he headed an institution that promotes the view that only a certain sort of Christian who faithfully heeds a certain set of (conservative) rules will be granted access to the eternal Kingdom of God ... Well -- to cut to the chase -- is he right?

... it is interesting that the media dance around -- or away from -- this issue.

There's been talk about the Pope's theological conservatism ... And there's been gum-flapping over the Pope's politics. Conservatives celebrate his advocacy of a "culture of life" that has no room for stem cell research, contraception and abortion ... Liberals point to -- and conservatives downplay -- John Paul's opposition to the Iraq war, his stance against capital punishment, and his passionate criticism of the excesses of capitalism and consumerism.

But what about the Big Idea? Larry King, that pisk from Brooklyn (pisk? look it up, it means "big mouth") got as close as it gets when he asked an actor ... if the Pope had bet on the right horse. I mean, suppose John Paul II died, rose to heavenly heights and found himself confronted by one giant golden Buddha.

... If the Pope was right, many of us are in deep trouble. (Oh hell!) If he was wrong, then millions are in for a big disappointment ... I don't mean to be sacrilegious here. But is it out of politeness that we tend not to discuss religion in these terms?

We can dissect the Terri Schiavo case, (and) obsess over the Michael Jackson trial ... Yet in the national media we don't tend to apply our argumentative imaginations to all-important spiritual matters.

Of course, there is -- as far as we know -- no way for us mortals to know whether John Paul II preached the true Gospel or not. But for my money, the most significant question is indeed, is John Paul now with Jesus and comparing notes with God? ... Or is he just doing the dust-to-dust bit in a crypt with other dead Popes.

Inquiring minds want to know. Or should want to.

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