Most of us remember Chris Crocker’s YouTube video in defense of Britney Spears. A petulant teenaged misfit who fancied himself a woman, Crocker found a kindred spirit in the misbehaving Spears, and was so mortally offended by the moralists who “trashed” his heroine that he uploaded a tearful two-minute monologue in her honor, mascara dripping down his cheeks as he shrieked “Leave Britney alone!”
Today, another rock star is under attack, and cries of “Leave Pope Francis Alone!” echo through the halls of social media. Pope Francis resonates so well with the popular sentiments of some opinion makers that he’s broken popularity records on Twitter, appeared on the front page of Rolling Stone, and was named Person of the Year by both The Advocate and Time magazine. Many whimsical Christians are also delighted that they finally have common ground with their once-sworn enemies: a pop-cultural icon to share. As the Catholic magazine Crux recently proclaimed, “Verdict is in: Pope Francis is a global rockstar (sic).”
Why all the excitement? As I recounted today over at TheBlaze.com, Pope Francis's vague message of "mercy" and "compassion" has struck a chord with a generally anti-Christian faction within our culture, and they are taking full advantage of him. He's been praised and cited as an authority by Elton John the gay rights crusader, Jane Fonda the abortion activist, and Barack Obama himself, the author of the anti-Christian HHS Mandate that sought to outlaw religious liberty in America by attacking the economic liberty of employers such as Hobby Lobby.
Catholics who are just tickled pink by Pope Francis’s way of doing things have every right to disagree with his critics. What they cannot do, without making Chris Crockers of themselves and a Britney Spears of the Pope, is pretend they’re shocked and mystified that the critics exist.
After all, today’s Pope Francis critics are the same cast of characters who have been at war with the callous underbelly of pop culture since long before Pope Saint John Paul II dubbed it the “culture of death.” We’re not particularly interested in aiming our firepower at Pope Francis, but there’s nothing that will stop us from attacking that deadly culture, even if a pope walks into our line of fire by becoming party to it.
But, some will protest, Pope Francis is roundly conservative on “social issues.” This is true; he has been outspokenly pro-life and anti- gay “marriage.” And he's been rejected by those on the left who've bothered to take notice of his moral orthodoxy. But the point here is how the cultural left that loves Pope Francis's message, and political left that arranges abortion-on-demand and attacks religious liberty, are connected—and Pope Francis is unwise in his insistence on accepting the left's policies while claiming to reject their basic worldview. The cultural and political mechanisms of the enemies of the Church are a package deal, which is why pro-life champion Ramesh Ponnuru has justly called the Democratic Party "The Party of Death."
Lest we fall into another fruitless round of tribal name-calling, let’s get real about the culture that culture-warriors fight and Pope Francis seems to embrace. On behalf of my own tribe, I’ll admit that that the term “culture of death,” apt as it is, is thrown around in Christian circles often enough to lose its edge and become just as empty and self-congratulatory a cliché as “I’m okay, you’re okay” among those who agree with its meaning. And so I appeal to the Chris Crockers of Catholicism to dry their streams of mascara and join me in an examination of the question: What is the culture of death?
According to John Paul II's definitive encyclical on this question, one of the tools of the culture of death is “false mercy.” It’s easy to see how it plays into the hands of euthanasia- and abortion-advocates: They argue that an unborn baby isn’t going to have a pleasant life, or that that it will be a burden that’s unfairly painful to the mother. The solution? Death to the child. Similarly, they reckon that the suffering of the dying is unnecessary. As John Paul II warned, we can be led by a “perversion” of mercy to “kill the person whose suffering we cannot bear [emphasis added].”
But the murder that the culture of death justifies is just one logical conclusion of false mercy, which also poisons free society in many other ways. It has its roots in a false conception of “freedom” which actually “ends up by becoming the freedom of ‘the strong’ against the weak who have no choice but to submit,” John Paul II wrote.
This is the kind of “freedom” that allows people to accept the self-destructive lifestyles, eating and drug habits, serial unemployment, permanent welfare dependency, and sexual promiscuity that bring America down. It tempts Americans to be content in the hellish utopia of a Nanny State, where sins like sloth and envy are perpetuated by “compassionate” policies, and the consequences of our worst decisions are erased by low-level bureaucrats—whether that means the forgiveness of unpaid debts or the termination of accidental pregnancies. All this at the expense of our tax-paying neighbors and, if we add Obamacare, the religious liberty of dissenters.
This counterfeit freedom couldn’t be further from the true liberty espoused by America’s founders, who, John Paul II once said, “clearly understood that there could be no true freedom without moral responsibility and accountability….” Rather, the “freedom” he criticized is only the mirage of liberty which even those enslaved by sins and falsehoods still possess: their own “subjective and changeable opinion,” their “selfish interest and whim.”
Finally, at the very bottom of the culture of death, beneath the “compassionate” pontifications, John Paul II found a central lie: The belief that there is no “meaning or value in suffering,” and that in fact suffering is “the epitome of evil, to be eliminated at all costs. This is especially the case,” he wrote, “in the absence of a religious outlook which could help to provide a positive understanding of the mystery of suffering.”
In reality, suffering is an important part of the natural world, especially in human life. As my fervently pro-life mother used to tell me, “Everybody suffers; the saints are the people who know how to suffer well.” There are two kinds of suffering we need to recognize:
The culture of death refuses to allow either kind of suffering, and would rather kill souls and bodies than let the unavoidable reality of suffering touch them. What this refusal of suffering ultimately comes to is a hatred, not just of free society, but of life itself as it is meant to be lived, with all its challenges, ups and downs, and numerous opportunities to do the right thing, even when it isn't the easiest thing to do.
As Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, once said, “The most merciful thing that a large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it.” My mother, on the other hand, had eight children, and no “mercy.”
Read my article at TheBlaze.com here.
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Stephen Herreid is the founder and Editor-In-Chief of Candid World Report. He is a contributor to TheBlaze.com, and his work has been published at Crisis Magazine, Aleteia.org, CatholicVote.org, The Intercollegiate Review Online, and other publications. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHerreid.