Society’S Yearnings Surface

Pope John Paul II was a smash! Who would have thought that a preacher of righteousness would attract millions in sophisticated, materialistic, hedonistic America in 1979? Yet, there he was, standing amid the throngs and beaming across the television screens of the land. There he was, enjoying the beneficent smile of the Southern Baptist layman who now occupies the White House.

Two decades ago such a scene would have been a political disaster, and a religious blunder of the first magnitude. But in the fall of 1979 only a few bothered to point out the blurring of state-church separation lines—and one of them was the atheist Madelyn Murray O’Hair. Apparently most Americans were quite content to have their tax monies and their chief executive contribute to something that spoke of the old-time virtues, even though the spokesman was the human head of a specific religious organization. Times do change.

The Pope’s performance not only proved that interreligious attitudes change, but also that America’s moral dilemma is so acute that previous animosities and political ideologies could be cast aside for the sake of a public proclamation of righteousness, even if such proclamation came from the lips of a native of Poland, who now occupies the Holy See of Catholicism in Rome, Italy. Most Americans apparently saw Pope John Paul II as a symbol of the righteousness they believe in, rather than as the promulgator of a religious system they do not necessarily accept.

There are those who out of biblical convictions, or even out of tradition, do not accept Roman Catholic dogma—or, quite possibly and understandably consider some of it heresy—but who found themselves admiring Pope John Paul II for his courageous statements ...

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