This critical Catholic assessment of the last Papacy may serve as a useful introduction to the new one as well. Writing in a recent issue of The Tablet, a British Catholic weekly, veteran Vatican critic Marco Politi applauds John Paul II for his many achievements, but calls him "a man ill at ease in his own century."
It was JP2's stated view that "from Descartes onwards, there had developed in modern society an anti-religious agenda based on 'the battle against God' and 'the systematic elimination of everything that is Christian.' The Pope described it as an attack which had 'dominated in large part the thought and life of the West for three centuries.'"
According to Politi, "Many believers were left perplexed by this interpretation of the development of critical thought from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century. Non-believers found it incomprehensible that the Enlightenment, Positivism, Nietzsche, Marx and Freud could be represented as a sort of huge plot against Christianity."
"John Paul II always had a problem with modernity," Politi believes. "He was constantly in conflict with it. Nihilism, relativism, hedonism, materialism—these were to him the basic elements of contemporary culture, a tangled mass of 'isms' that wandered ghost-like through the modern world." Of course, these are largely the same views held by John Paul's successor. Indeed, such continuity was apparently a major factor in Benedict's election to the Papacy. He now can be ill at ease in a century of his own.
The essay's money quote concerning modernity's central challenge to the Church is drawn from Italian sociologist Giuseppe De Rita, who (in Politi's formulation) holds that "the Catholic Church must sooner or later take account of the most explosive phenomenon of modern civilisation, the emergence of a desire for full self-determination on the part of individuals. Today, this has reached a point where religion itself is increasingly a do-it-yourself affair."
Speaking of DIY religion, Jesse Walker examined modern civilization's spiritual jacuzzi here.