I was disappointed yesterday after the news of Pope Francis’ statements on economics and income inequality. No, I’m not disappointed in what he had to say. Let’s be honest: Pope Francis is probably the most progressive, populist Pope to ever come along. He’s been the leader of the Catholic Church for less than a year and he’s already turned things upside down in a shakeup a little more diplomatic, but certainly no less controversial than the story of Jesus throwing the money changers out of the Temple.
What’s my disappointment with then? It’s with the hand-wringing professional left that will never be happy with anything that he (or anyone else) does unless he somehow magically adopts overnight the exact same worldview that they have. You know who I’m talking about — the folks who won’t be satisfied unless the Pope issues proclamations that conform exactly to their often irrational expectations of how a nearly 2,000-year-old religion should suddenly shift course. These are the same people who make excuses to conservatives for things that haven’t been fixed under President Obama, but yet they also criticize him relentlessly among their own ranks about Tibet, GMOs, or some other pet cause they feel he hasn’t paid enough attention to.
Think about it for a minute: This is the first Pope who has told his congregation to worry less about the Church’s complete obsession with the topics of abortion and sexuality, and to pay more attention to the poor and inequality. Pope Francis has absolutely infuriated the old rosary-clutching guard who were more concerned about going to church every week and paying attention to outdated rituals instead of practicing the teachings that the Church was supposedly founded on. In only nine months, he has steered Rome in an almost 180-degree course away from the distant, pompous reign of Pope Benedict, who I absolutely despised. You know the fundamentalist conservative Catholics like Rick Santorum? They can’t absolutely cannot stand the guy — and that’s a good thing.
His newest proclamation, titled “Evangelii Gaudium,” specifically condemns trickle-down economics and states that the “free market” leading to equality has never been proven. I mean come on, look at this following excerpt:
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; and in the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.
This is something that, if it were uttered by someone two years ago at an Occupy Wall Street rally, would have been condemned on Fox News as the scary precepts of radical leftist college students who had no experience. But this isn’t from some stereotypical dreadlocked college gender studies major — this is from the freaking spiritual leader of over one billion human beings!
Many people will say, “Why should I care? I’m not a Catholic!” Hey, guess what? Neither am I. I was baptized into Catholicism as a baby and I’m now for all intents and purposes an atheist, but that doesn’t take away from the reality that nearly 1/6th of the world’s entire population is associated with that version of Christianity. In a previous article, “Pope Francis May Not Be The Pope We Want, But He’s The Pope We Need,” I discussed the importance of that fact.
Nobody is asking you to convert to Catholicism, but I am asking you to do the Progressive thing — to find where you share common ground with others and work together to better the world. You’re not going to get him to go along with you on abortion or women as priests, that’s a given. However, if someone who wore a dress suit with a flag lapel instead of a simple white frock and a cross made the following statement, wouldn’t it play to your ideological heartstrings like the political second coming of Beatlemania?
While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.
I think it isn’t unreasonable to propose that when you find the Pope outflanking your own President and political party on the left with statements like that, perhaps it is time to get off your damn self-righteous high horse. If you’re waiting for your ideological Prince Charming to come along from the Vatican any time in the next century, don’t hold your breath. Yet, we can work with what may be the best thing that has come along in nearly 2,000 years to make our world a better place. We owe that much to ourselves.
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