A lot of right-wingers have been sniping at Pope Francis for the economic views he expressed in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. While I haven’t had the time to read the whole thing, here are some thoughts on the debacle:
1. Funny how nobody seemed to have a meltdown when Benedict XVI spoke about the economy or the environment. The papacy has a history of criticizing the evils of collectivist ideologies like Marxism. It also has taken aim at ones that go too far in the other direction.
2. Are we so myopic these days that everything has to be viewed in terms of partisan politics and culture war stuff? Is it possible to maybe put the ideological axe down for a moment?
3. The sort of people who tend to mock liberals for whining about the Church suddenly find that one of their own sacred cows has come under fire. And they start whining about it. Surprisingly, the Catholic Church is not the republican party at prayer. America is not the new Israel.
Anyhow, it is worth quoting some of the document:
53. Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.
Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.
54. In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.
A lot of libertarian types are (rightly) suspicious regarding the benevolence of those with political power. But it is also naive to think that the invisible hand will negate the abuse of power. Further, it is also worth asking whether efficiency and economic growth necessarily equals humanity, and the extent to which these things themselves have played a role in the breakdown of Christian morality.
57. Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God. Ethics has come to be viewed with a certain scornful derision. It is seen as counterproductive, too human, because it makes money and power relative. It is felt to be a threat, since it condemns the manipulation and debasement of the person. In effect, ethics leads to a God who calls for a committed response which is outside the categories of the marketplace. When these latter are absolutized, God can only be seen as uncontrollable, unmanageable, even dangerous, since he calls human beings to their full realization and to freedom from all forms of enslavement. Ethics – a non-ideological ethics – would make it possible to bring about balance and a more humane social order. With this in mind, I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs”.
The quote at the end comes from St. John Chrysostom. I guess one of the most eminent Church Fathers was a total marxist too, eh Mr. Limbaugh?
It is worth noting here that Francis is not saying that implementing a particular programme of social/economic reform will solve society’s problems. The point is that, absent God or any sort of higher moral categories, our behavior will become disordered. That is a point which all Christians should be able to take to heart.