I was wondering how quickly after the Pope John Paul II's death Christopher Hitchens would come out with his requisite Pope-bashing column, and here it is already, maybe a new record for one of Hitch's patented "kick 'em when they're dead" pieces. Despite what some of my readers would probably assume, I'm not normally a huge fan of these Hitch pieces (Though I loved the one about how Bob Hope never actually said anything that was funny), however I think in this case someone had to say something like this in the face of the non-stop hagiography coming from virtually every other corner. Also, it's good to have the more critical point-of-view represented by something more intelligent than the idiotic and juvenile Matt Taibbi/New York Press stunt from a couple weeks ago.
The Hitchens piece is less harsh than this genre of Hitch piece normally is. It's more of an attack on the Catholic Church generally (and a fairly substantive one) than on the deceased Pope himself. As for Pope John Paul II himself, I myself have no strong feelings about him one way or another, which is why I find it strange that so many non-Catholics have such strong positive feelings about him, for instance Ann Althouse, who says that, "Hearing the news stories about him today and yesterday, I wondered if it was not the case that he was the greatest human being to have lived during my own lifetime." Huh? He was a human being with faults and with admirable qualities like all of us, just played out on a grander scale because of the power of his office. It was admirable that he stood up to communism. It was not, in my opinion, admirable that he looked the other way while his priests sexually abused children. It was also not admirable that he Tariq Aziz a personal audience at the Vatican right before the Iraq war, and that he fought against the use of any sort of birth control or contraception in the Third World, and even against the use of condoms to prevent the spread of STDs and AIDS in Africa.
While he inspired social conservatives, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, with his steadfast support for "moral values" and for the "culture of life", many of his acolytes seemed to completely ignore his unyielding opposition to the death penalty (something which I personally see as another fault because I'm extremely pro death-penalty) and, again, his opposition to the Iraq War. In short, there are contradictions and complexities here, a person who was something other than the perfect mixture of Jesus Christ and Rambo that Fox News and the blogosphere are trying to portray. Really, I think that's all this Hitchens piece is trying to say and I'm glad he wrote it. Predictably, it's already resulted in this sort of puffed-up outrage in the blogosphere.