Tuesday, November 26, 2013

THE ROCK STAR POPE ISN'T SAYING ANYTHING ABOUT CAPITALISM THAT HIS PREDECESSORS HAVEN'T

Pope Francis has folks swooning again, this time because he criticized capitalism and greed:
Pope Francis has attacked unfettered capitalism as "a new tyranny", urging global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality in the first major work he has authored alone as pontiff.

The 84-page document, known as an apostolic exhortation, amounted to an official platform for his papacy....

In it, Francis went further than previous comments criticising the global economic system, attacking the "idolatry of money" and beseeching politicians to guarantee all citizens "dignified work, education and healthcare".

He also called on rich people to share their wealth. "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," Francis wrote in the document issued on Tuesday.

"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?" ...
To many observers, this must seem like a radical new stance for the Church. However, it really isn't. Look back to what Francis's immediate predecessor said on New Year's Day of this year:
Pope Benedict XVI said in his New Year's peace message today that the world was under threat from unbridled capitalism.

The pope said "hotbeds of tension and confrontation caused by the growing inequality between rich and poor and the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mentality also expressed by unregulated financial capitalism."

... A longer version of the Pope's annual message was sent to heads of state, government and non-governmental organizations on December 14th.

Reuters reports that in that message "the Pope called for a new economic model and ethical regulations for markets, saying the global financial crisis was proof that capitalism does not protect the weakest members of society."

The pope said economic models that seek maximum profit and consumption and encourage competition at all costs had failed to look after the basic needs of many and could sow social unrest.

"It is alarming to see hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor, by the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism." ...
And that phrase "idolatry of money"? John Paul II, the famous anti-communist, used it years before Francis did. Here's John Paul in a 1998 encyclical letter:
"Among the actions and attitudes opposed to the will of God, (and) the good of neighbor ... (are) the all-consuming desire for profit and ... the thirst for power (which) ... in today's world are indissolubly united.... We would see that hidden behind certain decisions, apparently inspired only by economics or politics, are real forms of idolatry: of money, ideology, class, technology."
And last year, Pope Benedict said in Mexico that an "idolatry of money" fueled the drug trade.

Popes have been warning against the excesses of capitalism for years. (Go here to read about John Paul doing it in 1991.) It would have been nice if it had changed some hearts and minds, but I can't say I've noticed anything of the sort. I sincerely hope I'm wrong about this, but what Francis is saying just seems like more of the same, and I don't expect it to make a damn bit of difference.

16 comments:

tonycpsu said...

Yglesias, of all people, points out the error in your logic:

I've heard a number of conservative Catholic commentators remark numerous times that it's silly for left-wing people to be highlighting Pope Francis' thoughts on economic policy because all this stuff has been Catholic doctrine for a long time. I think this misses the point. Obviously a new pope isn't going to make up a new religious doctrine from scratch. But when you have a corpus of thinking and tradition that spans centuries, it makes a great deal of difference what you emphasize.

It might just be Francis putting more marketing gloss on the church's discussion of income inequality and concern for the poor than Benedict did, but style matters, and emphasis matters, and for whatever reason, Benedict's message didn't project the way Francis' has. This can't be discounted just because we've found a few instances where Benedict covered some of the same ground.

Steve M. said...

So when Benedict puts this in a New Year's message and a pre-Christmas letter to world leaders it's a passing reference, but what Francis is doing now is more than that? What are we basing that conclusion on, apart from our desire to believe that Francis is awesome?

tonycpsu said...

I'm only a lapsed Catholic, but my understanding is the apostolic exhortation has a higher rank on the totem pole of Papal pronouncements than part of a sermon at a New Year's Day mass.

Steve M. said...

Benedict also critiqued capitalism in an annual letter to world leaders. Don't know where that ranks relative to an apostolic exhortation. Nor do I know where an encyclical letter ranks (see the John Paul quote in my post).

I question how much it matters if it's all just words.

tonycpsu said...

I question how much it matters if it's all just words.

Well, you and I can both agree on that -- I'm a lapsed Catholic for a reason. But insofar as these words do have an effect on the believers, I have a hard time believing Francis' substance and presentation aren't, together, doing more to project the idea that the New Catholic Church (tm) now cares more about poor people and less about social issues. We'll see.

Danp said...

I suppose you could make a similar argument about Obama and past presidents talking about the importance of education, job creation, etc. The bigger problem with the pope is that he has limited influence. I would argue that the Republican party had more influence over Catholic priests in regard to abortion, for example, than any pope. You didn't hear of any priests refusing communion to people who were in favor of legalized abortion before Bush. I don't think you can blame JP2 or Benedict for that. I think money is a factor, though (vouchers, faith based initiative, etc.).

Robert Johnson said...

For 1600 years the Catholic Church has been a reactionary organization. Why anyone thinks its 1600 year history is going to be reveresed by one man is beyond me but allow me to make a bold prediction: it won't be.
The day he dies the Church will still be what it is today.

Lindsey said...

Maybe the big difference this time is people think he believes it. Also, maybe more people want to hear it.

Lindsey said...

Maybe the big difference this time is people think he believes it. Also, maybe more people want to hear it.

Geese Howard said...

The issue is that it's in an encyclical (spelling for sure). That makes it more official doctrine rather than mentioning it in other ways.

Philo Vaihinger said...

Just so.

Rugosa said...

The church has always talked a good line about helping the poor, but the church's history has always been to dole out some crumbs while amassing great wealth at the top. Say, sounds a lot like capitalism! It galled me as a catholic that the church continually begged for money from its flock The poor, the uneducated, the unsophisticated were so willing to donate their widow's mite for a promise of heaven. I knew of a few instances where not-well-off but devout families were denied assistance from catholic "social services" and told to go to the public sector.

Dark Avenger said...

Yes, this isn't much different from what previous Popes have had to say on the matter. Tony is engaging in wishful thinking on the matter, to say the very least.

Knight of Nothing said...

"what Francis is saying just seems like more of the same, and I don't expect it to make a damn bit of difference."

You're probably right, but a guy can dream. Certainly Francis comes with the intellectual rigor of the Jesuits and a lot less theocratic baggage than JPII or Benedict. But as someone else in the comments said, one guy isn't going to reform an institution as old and conservative as the HMC.

Leah said...

Pope John and Vatican 2 were genuinely radical, in the best sense of unwrapping dogma to find a true Catholicism.

John Paul betrayed his name sake by pushing the church back to the right. Yes, he and Benedict said all the right things about poverty, but when it came to those who were actually working among the poor, both Popes were total hypocrites.

Note in particular John Paul's campaign against liberation theology at a time when America, under Reagan, was bringing the cold war to South America, where any concern with poor folks could be undermined as a strain of communism, i.e., see promoting civil war in Nicaragua, and arranging for the people of El Salvador to democratically elect a government of death squads. What did the Vatican have to say about Allende or Pinochet, or Chile or Argentina? Precious little.

That having been said, I'll admit finding this Pope, Pope Francis, fascinating, and his recent encyclical stunning, though I'm as skeptical about real world application of a genuine critique of present-day capitalism as Steve, (unless it comes from Catholic nuns on a bus,) but I have to admit that I was impressed by the fact the Francis actually criticized trickle-down economics by name, noting that based on experience there is no reason to think that it works.

Ten Bears said...

And for a thousand years oaths have been sworn to expose The Church for what it is: a money grubbing whore. I haven't the time nor the keyboard for history lesson here, so will leave it at since the corruption of the templar The Church has been the single most effective catalyst for unfettered capitalism.

And then there's that whole butt-fucking little boys thing. Papal proclamations are naught but lipstick on a pig.

No fear.