Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Wednesday, December 18th, 2013.


Jesus and the Money Changers

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Obama Administration

The American Right really doesn’t like His Holiness Pope Francis (hereafter HHPF). And we’re talking a big chunk of them; not just Rush accusing HHPF of being a Marxist. Patrick Daneen (in defense of HHPF) writes at The American Conservative:

Since the release of Evangelii Gaudium there have been countless articles and commentary about the economic portions of Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation. Some of the commentary has been downright bizarre, such as Rush Limbaugh denouncing the Pope as a Marxist, or Stuart Varney accusing Francis of being a neo-socialist. American conservatives grumbled but dutifully denounced a distorting media when Pope Francis seemed to go wobbly on homosexuality, but his criticisms of capitalism have crossed the line, and we now see the Pope being criticized and even denounced from nearly every rightward-leaning media pulpit in the land.

Not far below the surface of many of these critiques one hears the following refrain: why can’t the Pope just go back to talking about abortion? Why can’t we return the good old days of Pope John Paul II or Benedict XVI and talk 24/7/365 about sex? Why doesn’t Francis have the decency to limit himself to talking about Jesus and gays, while avoiding the rudeness of discussing economics in mixed company, an issue about which he has no expertise or competence?

It’s probably the case that the American Left is overreacting also, for example, by making HHPF into a gay rights hero mostly for taking a pass on a chance to say something homophobic. Note that the recent replacement of an American anti-abortion cardinal with a more moderate one in the Congregation of Bishops probably has more to do with proposed reforms of Vatican bureaucracy than with abortion.

Still, he seems a breath of fresh air compared to the last guy. Having never been Catholic I tend to ignore popes, but Benedict just put off bad vibes, as far as I’m concerned.

Elizabeth Stoker has an interesting evaluation at The Week, in which she says that European and other political conservatives who don’t live in the U.S. are just fine with Frank. It’s only American conservatives who can’t process that a man can be pro-Christian and anti-free market at the same time.

Since outlining his vision for the Catholic church in late November, Pope Francis has endured an amount of criticism from the American right wing commensurate only with the praise piled on by the remainder of global Christianity. For most, Francis’ moving exhortation to spread the gospel and engage personally with Jesus was a welcome and invigorating encouragement. But for many right-wing pundits in America, Francis’ call to relieve global poverty through state intervention in markets was unconscionably troubling.

Francis’ message likely raises American conservative hackles because the American right wing has invented such a convincing façade of affinity between fiscal conservatism and Christianity over the last few decades. Though free markets, profit motives, and unrestrained accumulation of wealth have no immediate relationship with Christianity, the cross and the coin are nonetheless powerful, paired symbols of the American right wing. Catholic conservatives thus must carve a way around Francis’ difficult insistence that governments be harnessed toward the relief of poverty, not the creation of it.

Now, you’d have to be pretty far down the rabbit hole not to see how weird this is. In the Gospels, Jesus never said a dadblamed thing about abortion, or homosexuality, and not much about sexual conduct generally. But he talked a lot about helping the poor and the sick. One might even argue that his famous attack on the temple money changers was an anti-free market act.

But American wingnuts are slamming HHPF for being too political. In their minds, threatening to deny communion to politicians who support abortion rights is not political; but asking governments to take care that the poor are not utterly trampled by unchecked, rapacious greed is political. OK.

Back to Patrick Daneen–

These commentators all but come and out say: we embrace Catholic teaching when it concerns itself with “faith and morals”—when it denounces abortion, opposes gay marriage, and urges personal charity. This is the Catholicism that has been acceptable in polite conversation. This is a stripped-down Catholicism that doesn’t challenge fundamental articles of economic faith.

And it turns out that this version of Catholicism is a useful tool. It is precisely this portion of Catholicism that is acceptable to those who control the right narrative because it doesn’t truly endanger what’s most important to those who steer the Republic: maintaining an economic system premised upon limitless extraction, fostering of endless desires, and creating a widening gap between winners and losers that is papered over by mantras about favoring equality of opportunity. A massive funding apparatus supports conservative Catholic causes supporting a host of causes—so long as they focus exclusively on issues touching on human sexuality, whether abortion, gay marriage, or religious liberty (which, to be frank, is intimately bound up in its current form with concerns about abortion). It turns out that these funds are a good investment: “faith and morals” allow us to assume the moral high ground and preoccupy the social conservatives while we laugh all the way to the bank bailout.

That was in The American Conservative? Wow.

Back to Elizabeth Stoker:

Though they claim Francis’ message arises from an unduly political place, their arguments rely on a uniquely American political frame rather than a Christian one. Limbaugh, Shaw, and Douthat may claim to object to Francis as Christians, but they argue against him first and foremost as conservatives invested in the free market.

Douthat, for example, argues that global capitalism has been responsible for an overall reduction in poverty. But Francis’ exhortation never called for an elimination of capitalism, only that states, as creations of humankind, be structured so as to alleviate the poverty that arises after capitalism has done its work. For Francis, all institutions created by humanity — and yes, distributions of wealth are created, not spontaneous — must be intentionally shaped to further just goals. Since Francis’ notion of justice is informed purely by the teaching of Christ, just goals include establishing an equitable distribution of wealth that alleviates poverty and contributes to peace.

By now we have more than two centuries of real-world experience showing us that Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” theory is hooey, and that unregulated markets are easily corrupted by greed and become toxic to national and global economies. But for all their howling about wars on Christmas, American wingnuts have more faith in free markets than they have in God. Their God is a weenie who can be driven out of classrooms by Supreme Court decisions, and who requires constant prayers and praising and public displays of the Ten Commandments just to do his job of, you know, God stuff. But free markets (blessed be They) can perfectly spread the blessings of capitalism without intervention of humans, apparently because free markets are ordained by heaven and are not human creations.

Good luck, Frank. You’ll need it.

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