The conflicting strands of modernism and traditionalism in the mind of JPII
If Pope John Paul II stood for all the modernizing, humanistic ideas he stood for, why does everyone, on both the left and the right, believe him to be a “staunch traditionalist,” an “opponent of secularism,” and an “anti-modern”? The answer, of course, has to do with his positions on matters relating to sex: he opposed extra-marital relations, homosexual relations, abortion, women’s ordination, and all the usual things that you would expect a traditionalist person—and any Catholic Pope worth his salt—to oppose.
Thus he said in Wloclwec, Poland, in June 1991:
Giving in to desire, to sex, to consumption: that is the Europeanism that some supporters of our entry into Europe think we should accept. But we mustn’t become part of that Europe. We were the ones who created Europe, and with much more effort than those who claim exclusive rights to Europeanism.In true traditionalist fashion, John Paul denounced the unqualified “freedom” that is the ruling ideal of the modern West and he insisted on traditional moral restraints. But the problem is, how convincing or believable is such a call coming from one who also taught that the nature of all human beings is already divinized by the advent of Christ; who taught that this divinization unites all human beings in a common spiritual experience, so that Catholics ought to pray with voodoo worshippers and Moslems because they all “really” worship the same God; and who insisted that all human persons possess a vast panoply of “rights,” including the “rights” of Third-Worlders to migrate en masse into the West, that it is the duty of the world community to protect and nurture? On one side, the principle of traditionalism suggests that man has impulses that are bad, from which it follows that man must exercise self-restraint and be restrained. On the other side, the principle of modernism, of Vatican II, suggests that man is naturally divine, or at least very good, from which it would seem to follow that no limits on man’s self-expression and self-fulfillment are necessary.
These mutually incompatible views of human nature co-existed with each other in the mind of JPII, never coming into contact with each other or being resolved, and thus making his moral teachings and his whole world view fundamentally incoherent. But neither liberals nor conservatives are aware of this fact, because they both focus exclusively on JPII’s conservative aspect. The liberals hate him for it, and the conservatives love him for it. But what both sides share in common is that they ignore or minimize his modernist aspect, enabling everyone to continue in the fantasy that John Paul II was a “staunch traditionalist,” an “opponent of secularism,” and an “anti-modern.”