Postmodern Papacy?

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Get thee behind me, Derrida! Skeptical postmordernists may have reduced the certainties of Western intellectual life to a pile of gaudy plastic tchotchkes, but Pope John Paul II is fighting back. The pontiff on Thursday issued a 150-page papal encyclical urging a faith-centered approach to reason and challenging "doctrines which tend to devalue even the truths which had been judged certain."

More remarkable than what he said is the fact that the pontiff chose to engage with the prevailing secular intellectual currents. "This pope cares about ideas," says TIME religion correspondent David Van Biema. "He is an intellecutal along with being a mystic, and since postmodernism challenges the harmony between faith and reason, he feels compelled to engage with it." Don't expect him to bump any French metatheorists off Comp Lit reading lists, but rare is the pontiff who displays an awareness of the prevailing wisdom in college-coffee-bar philosophy.