Friday, April 08, 2005

Left not willing to credit Pope

Marc Fisher in Slate is not willing to credit the Pope for a role in the end of Communism

This week, it's been a given in most of the tributes to the pope that he was fully or at least largely responsible for the fall of communism and the collapse of the Soviet empire. And surely, this pope's firm and insistently communicated stand for freedom inspired his fellow Poles to rise up against the regime that controlled their country.

But elsewhere in the old Eastern Bloc, the pope's impact was at least a couple of steps removed from the courageous decisions that ordinary people made to head out onto the streets and march in protests that they fully expected would be met with absolute resistance from the Soviet forces and their local puppets....

The Communists did a good job of detaching the people of Eastern and Central Europe from their religious traditions. But before we weep too much over that loss, we ought to cast our eyes across to Western Europe, which achieved pretty much the same thing without any official atheism or overt state antagonism to religion. In West Germany, for example, the churches ran the public schools, yet those schools produced generations of children whose connection to Christianity is limited pretty much to Christmas sentimentality.

Even in Catholic churches at the time, the pope's name did not come up. The priests who created sanctuaries for political rebellion specifically said that they had neither intent nor desire to convert their neighbors into people of faith. They spoke of freedom and of choice, and they went out of their way to note that this was not about religion. One priest in Leipzig, Father Christian Fuehrer, who turned his Nikolai Church into a clubhouse for demonstration organizers, told me that he never discussed any of his actions with his superiors in the church hierarchy because they would have told him to desist. If Father Fuehrer preached any religion in those weeks, it was that of nonviolence and peace. He drew from Martin Luther King, Jr., whom he cited liberally in those days, not from Pope John Paul the Great, whom he never saw any call to mention.

Randall Parker blogged Fisher's argument strikes me as correct. The Pope had some influence in Poland. But most of the people in late communist era Eastern Europe were not Christians of any sort, let alone Catholics. Russia and the Ukraine were formerly Orthodox but few believers remained. What caused communism's collapse? The material differences between the communist East and relatively more capitalistic West became too large and glaring. The communist economies were stagnating and even in decline. The greater exposure to Westerners that came as a result of Nixon and Kissinger's negotiations with Moscow heightened the awareness of Eastern Europeans and Russians that they were falling hopelessly behind.

Tim Cavanaugh blogged Marc Fisher reminds readers that back in the actual year 1989, it was the allure of big TVs, fresh fruit, and new cars, not the prospect of trading a set of authority figures in drab garb for one authority figure in outlandish garb, that motivated Eastern Europeans to get out into the street.

The Pope certainly did not cause the collapse of Communism by himself, Regan's military buildup certainly helped drive them broke, but the Pope helped give the people the strength of conviction to "Be Not Afraid" and dare to go out in the streets and demand changes, and his support let other church leaders to know that they could also support the people in their desire for changes.

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