Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Karol and Culture

Despite the fact that it was 4 hours long and should have been split into two shows, Karol: A Man Who Became Pope, which aired last night on the Hallmark channel, was very good. It suffered from the difficultlies inherent in producing biopics, but didn't let that deter the rest of the film (*cough* Therese *cough*).

One of the things I found most interesting was the film's focus on JPII's dedication to culture. As anyone who read any of the late pope's work (especially Memory and Identity) knows, he believed the cultivation and appreciation of culture was a vital force in our relationship with God, with each other and in forming our own identities - national, familial and personal.

Of course, the Nazis knew that too, which is why Hans Frank and the other Nazis depicted in the film constantly bemoan and belittle Polish language, literature, art, history and architecture - in fact, that's the role of their first scene in the film. While the young Karol certainly understands and in many ways respect his friends who take up arms against the Nazis, he knows one of the most meaningful forms of support he can give to the resistance movement is to produce poetry and plays. Those are the things which will remind the Poles of who they are and what the Nazis can't take from them.

Though not depicted in the film, Jews recognized this too. The Reichsvertretung, a nationwide alliance of Jewish groups in Nazi Germany, made it a priority to counter the anti-Semitic and Aryanization laws of the 1930s with an emphasis on teaching children about Jewish culture. Even the ghettoes' Jewish councils, charged with food and labor distribution, organized plays and musical performances.

JPII carried this appreciation of culture through to the communist era, which helped his people recognize that no matter who was running the state, they were still Poles. He certainly carried it even through his reign as pope, which is why I can't understand the few Catholics who insist that we must always be "counter-cultural." Certainly there are aspects of our American culture specifically, Western culture more broadly and the material culture perhaps inherently that we need to resist. But we need to recognize, as JPII did, that the only way of dismantling un-Christian culture is to build up an authentically Christian one - one that is full of beauty, intelligence, wit, truth, justice, loyalty, sacrifice and love.