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The Real Debate: Pope Francis vs. a Dehumanizing Kind of Capitalism
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2015-08-20 11:17:30
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“Behind capitalist economics lurks a rejection of ethics and God that debases humans. This lack of morality and ethics results in God calling for solutions outside marketplace economics, to make it possible for a more balanced and humane social order.”

                                                                                                                  --Pope Francis

We have just witnessed a circus conducted by Fox News which claimed to be a debate but was in fact a reality show revolving around the king of entertaining reality shows, the mogul Donald Trump, where the journalists who asked the questions thought of themselves as integral part of the show.

But the real debate is still to come. It will come in a few months when the Pope visits the US and delivers his message to the UN and the American Congress which crowded with innumerable “good Catholics.” The problem is however that those “good Catholics” are quite selective in their Catholicity: some have called “cafeteria” style Catholicity where one can pick and choose one’s moral values. They accept the moral teaching of the Church when and if it fits their ideological paradigm, but reject anything that in any way critiques it; then they proceed to tell the Pope that he is not competent in politics, he should leave that to the politicians and simply relegate his messages to spiritual matters. They want their cake and eat it too. In other words, when the truths of the Pope’s message are found inconvenient, they become more Catholic than the Pope himself. This is especially true when it comes to the crucial issues of income inequality, distributive justice, environmental degradation and climate change. Three of the “good pious Catholics” who have given counsel to the Pope in this regard are Paul Ryan, Rick Santorum and Jeb Bush.


Pope Paul VI addressing the United Nations on October 4, 1965

For example, here is a typical statement by Jeb Bush currently a presidential candidate: “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope; I think religion ought to be about making us better as people, less about things that end up getting into the political realm.”  Rick Santorum has expressed similar thoughts about the Pope’s pronouncements on climate change. The question arises: what are these politicians really saying? Basically this: the teachings of the Pope can easily be dismissed; appearing to be a pious Catholic practicing one’s faith may be politically useful to project an image of responsibility and compassionate care, but political ideology may end up trumping the Church’s teaching and make them irrelevant whenever and wherever it is convenient and useful to do so.

So much for being a “good American Catholic”. What we can now hope for, as a last hope, is that the really good American Catholics will not follow that kind of hypocritical example, and will refuse to repudiate their spiritual leader, and, when they go and vote next year, will remember what he has to say on those economic and environmental issues relating to the poor, usually summarily dismissed with economic platitudes and empty political rhetoric by opportunistic politicians parading as good Catholics.


Pope Francis Ministering to the Poor

And which are those inconvenient truths enunciated by the Pope and so disliked by some “good Catholics” because of his activism? Here are a few of them which will render an idea. He refers to capitalism as a war against the poor and disadvantaged and the environment when he says that “In this third world war, waged peace meal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide is taking place, and it must end.” He has called capitalism “the dung of the devil.” Now, that’s quite an image. He has also said: “Men and women are sacrificed to the idols of profit and consumption: it is the ‘culture of waste.’ If a computer breaks it is a tragedy, but poverty, the needs and dramas of so many people end up being considered normal.”

Is this pope calling for a worldwide revolution of the disenfranchised poor, while fomenting the flames leading up to the December signing of a sweeping and binding global agreement on climate change and carbon emissions, a deal likely accepted by as many as 200 nation members of the UN, even as the GOP, Big Oil, the Koch billionaires and the greedy capitalistic corporate world work to kill it in its infancy?

 Obviously, far from being a champion of technology and the technological fix-all, he is more the champion of the poor, those who have no voice to protest social injustices and abuses. So the game of playing deaf may be nearing its end for the US good Republican Catholic politicians, for this Pope will continue to put before them those truths they find so inconvenient. In reality he may have been the invisible elephant in the debating circus staged lately by the GOP with not one word mentioned on global warming or distributive justice. Dismissing this Pope outright may not work this coming election. A call to revolution seems to be afoot and the pope may well announce it in the US Congress as it listens respectfully (while raging inside) to the pope’s words.

Another question arises: is Pope Francis now the world’s moral conscience advocating the revival of moral values so lacking in today’s consumerist, self-centered, wealth-building society buttressed by an out of control nefarious capitalistic ideology a la Ayn Rand devoid of a moral conscience; that is to say, the advocate of a common people’s revolution? Even more to the point, is he now the single  most powerful politician in America vying for influence with the US Congress, the clownish GOP debaters, the conservative billionaire donors?

Considering that there are more than a billion Catholics world-wide, does he represent a veritable threat to the status quo’s forces (such as Wall Street and the EU bankers)? Will his message be a game-changing challenge to the conservative values of the good American Republican Catholics? To help us answer that question, at least tentatively, let’s try an experiment: let’s try to imagine a debate at the UN or the US Congress by those who will not be able to contain themselves and will push back on the Pope’s message, perhaps shouting loudly “you lie” as an opening salvo. It may never happen, but let’s imagine it anyway. Keep in mind, that all the quotes from the Pope (except for the very last one) are actual quotes, not imagined quotes.

Good Republican American Catholic: Your Holiness, with all due respect, you lie about this issue. Capitalism has lifted more people out of poverty than Communism ever did.

The Pope: Really? That is news to me. Why is then the gap between rich and poor getting larger and larger? As a good Catholic that you say you are, how would you interpret this Biblical metaphor as I enunciated it some time ago: “Money must serve, not rule, yet we calmly accept its control over us. Money originated in a profound human crisis, the denial of the primacy of the human person. The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money.”

GRAC: Your Holiness, you of all people, who lives in splendor, should know that money makes the world go around and eliminates poverty.

P: Really? That is not what I see around the world. We are urged to trust the invisible hand of the markets but, on the contrary, I say: “Never trust in the so-called ‘invisible hand’ of the markets and economic remedies like cutting workers to increase profits. The world needs a better distribution of income.”

GRAC: Your Holiness, the free market is equivalent to preserving freedom around the world. To destroy the free market is to destroy freedom.

P: Really? According to what I have been reading lately I believe that, to the contrary, the truth is that “Ideologies increase the wealth of a minority exponentially, increasing the inequality gap, separating the most humans from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. A new tyranny is thus born, unilaterally and relentlessly imposing its own laws and rules.”

GRAC: Your Holiness, if it weren’t for “trickle down economics the worthless lazy beggars would not even get the crumbs at the table of the cornucopia produced by capitalism.

P: Really. Is that how you, as a good Catholic, interpret the social teaching of the Church on distributive justice? To the contrary the Church, for the last one hundred years, the Church has been teaching that  “Free market trickle-down economics causes injustice. A naïve trust in the culture of prosperity and those wielding economic power deadens society.”

GRAC: You cannot distribute the wealth equally among all its inhabitants. That is logistically impossible. Even Karl Marx said that “each according to his talents; to each according to his needs.”

P. Really? Even Marx said in so many words that “Inequality is the root of social ills. Help the poor, reject markets and speculation, attack the structural causes of inequality, or you will never solve the world’s problems” and the Church concurs with that assessment despite some of his other misjudgments on capitalism.

GRAC: It is only through increasing the size of the pie, via production and consumption that we will be able to feed everybody.

P: Really. Is that how you see it? Let me tell you how I and the Church sees it: “Today’s economics promotes inordinate consumption, increases inequality, damages the social fabric, increases violence and serious conflicts. Blaming the poor and poorer countries for their troubles is misplaced; solve the corruption spreading at the top.”

GRAC: “Survival of the fittest” a la Ayn Rand is what has improved the world’s economic conditions. That is how it is in nature: the fit survive, the unfit do not.

P. Really? That’s how you read the gospel advocating mercy toward the poor the least able to help themselves? And you still go to Church on Sunday? To the contrary what you advocate simply means that “The laws of capitalist competition, the survival of the fittest rule. The powerful feed upon the powerless, the vast majority are marginalized: No work, No opportunities. No escape. News is a two-point loss in stocks, but not the death of elderly homeless”

GRAC: It’s everyone for themselves in Capitalism, your holiness. If everyone attends to their own interests all will benefit.

P: Really? That’s how you conceive of the common good? Is that how even a non-Christian like Plato construed it? To the contrary I say that “In a world where everyone has their own subjective truth, citizens cannot develop common solutions that transcend personal ambitions. We need a new way of living and thinking that’s more humane and noble, that brings dignity to all humans on this earth.”

GRAC: In a capitalistic society we are all producers and consumers. If you refuse to be that, you don’t deserve to survive. It’s as simple as that, your holiness. With all due respect we have to be realists and pragmatist in the world we live in.

P:  “Yes, humans are now consumer goods, used then discarded in our widespread throwaway culture. It is no longer about oppression and exploitation. Today, the excluded ones are no longer society’s underside, no longer even a part of it, but outcasts, leftovers.”

GRAC: but your Holiness, market based economics is the only game in town after the defeat of Communism.

P. To the contrary I tell you that “Behind capitalist economics lurks a rejection of ethics and God that debases humans. This lack of morality and ethics results in God calling for solutions outside marketplace economics, to make it possible for a more balanced and humane social order.”

CRAC: but your Holiness what you are advocating makes it impossible for us to be good Catholics. Perhaps we’ll end up starting a schismatic alternate Church more consonant to our values.

P. Perhaps you should, for as it is, one thing is sure, you are not what you claim to be: you are not good Catholics and it behooves you to begin to recognize that fact. At the end times you will not be judged by your political ideology or by how much wealth you accumulated, or by how many academic degrees you have hanging on your wall, but by what you did “to the least of my brethren.”




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Bob Nelson2015-08-21 01:31:24
If things are to improve we, as a society, need to focus on helping the marginalized and not focus on bringing "Big Oil, the Koch billionaires and the greedy capitalistic corporate world" down.

To a great extent "the marginalized" can help themselves a lot if we don't trip them up along the way. As someone said, if you want the start a lawn mowing business, your lawyer and accountant are more important than your lawn mower.

Mirella Ionta2015-08-21 19:50:06
I agree with this article but would also add that the education system has to change if we are to create moral, law-abiding and innovative citizens. As early as elementary school,a pupil's talent must be recognized and must be developed with the help of teachers. Pupils and students must know that No, they don't all have to be engineers or lawyers to be successful. In addition, ethics and morality taught through Christianity in grade and high schools is very important for the future of society. I think kids as early as Grade 2 (after receiving the Sacrament of the First Holy Communion) should each be assigned a Christian "spiritual mentor," and this exchange with a spiritual guide should be required and made part of the school curriculum. As it can be noted that kids, as soon as they hit puberty, begin to loosen their moral values and succumb to social traps, they are often left to their own devices in the mazes of the world. A personal spiritual mentor would steer them in the right direction. Let's face it: Our current education system creates arrogant monstrocities. I say we stop them before they become so at an early point in their lives .

Bob Nelson2015-08-25 20:14:14
"Let's face it: Our current education system creates arrogant monstrocities."

There seems to be a prohibition on teaching values in school and they are not being taught at home. anything with any religious sounding character (e.g., yoga as an exercise) is prohibited. At best, the state religion of secular humanism is taught, but the teachers main concern is survival (we seem to be seeing the same thing with the police). The current economy and school funding practices make it difficult for parents to send their children to schools where values are important and even there, political correctness is a problem.

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