[Re-posted from earlier today]
Well, after Sarah Palin, another scholar of Catholicism has weighed in on Pope Francis. Rush Limbaugh has a truly gold-star hathos alert in a recent diatribe, brilliantly titled:
It’s Sad How Wrong Pope Francis Is (Unless It’s a Deliberate Mistranslation By Leftists)
Does it get more awesomely hathetic than that?
In some ways, of course, Limbaugh is onto something. The Pope of the Catholic Church really is offering a rebuttal to the Pope of the Republican party, which is what Limbaugh has largely become. In daily encyclicals, Rush is infallible in doctrine and not to be questioned in public. When he speaks on the airwaves, it is always ex cathedra. Callers can get an audience from him, but rarely a hearing. Dissent from his eternal doctrines means excommunication from the GOP and the designation of heretic. His is always the last word.
And in the Church of Limbaugh, market capitalism is an unqualified, eternal good. It is the ever-lasting truth about human beings. It is inextricable from any concept of human freedom. The fewer restrictions on it, the better. In that cocooned, infallible context, of course, Pope Francis is indeed a commie:
Listen to this. This is an actual quote from what he wrote. “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.” I mean, that’s pretty profound. That’s going way beyond matters that are ethical. This is almost a statement about who should control financial markets. He says that the global economy needs government control. I’m telling you, I’m not Catholic, but I know enough to know that this would have been unthinkable for a pope to believe or say just a few years ago.
Really? Limbaugh specifically invokes the great anti-Communist Pope, John Paul II, as an alleged contrast with this leftist gobbledegook. So let us look at John Paul II’s discussion of capitalism and communism in his 1987 Encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis:
The tension between East and West is an opposition … between two concepts of the development of individuals and peoples, both concepts being imperfect and in need of radical correction … This is one of the reasons why the Church’s social doctrine adopts a critical attitude towards both liberal capitalism and Marxist collectivism.
My italics. The church has long opposed market capitalism as the core measure of human well-being. Aquinas even taught that interest-bearing loans were inherently unjust in the most influential theological document in church history. The fundamental reason is that market capitalism measures human life by a materialist rubric. And Jesus radically taught us to give up all our possessions, to renounce everything except our “daily bread”, to spend our lives serving the poverty-stricken takers rather than aspiring to be the wealthy and powerful makers. He told the Mark Zuckerberg of his day to give everything away to the poor, if he really wanted to be happy.
Limbaugh has obviously never read the Gospels. He has never read the parables. His ideology is so extreme it even trashes, because it does not begin to understand, the core principles of capitalism, as laid out by Adam Smith. Market capitalism is and always has been a regulated construction of government, not some kind of state of nature without it. Indeed without proper regulation to maintain a proper and fair and transparent market, it is doomed to terrible corruption, inefficiency, injustice, and abuse.
But let us return to Limbaugh’s hero, John Paul II, this time in Centesimus Annus, written in the wake of Soviet Communism’s demise:
The Marxist solution has failed, but the realities of marginalization and exploitation remain in the world, especially the Third World, as does the reality of human alienation, especially in the more advanced countries. Against these phenomena the Church strongly raises her voice. Vast multitudes are still living in conditions of great material and moral poverty. The collapse of the Communist system in so many countries certainly removes an obstacle to facing these problems in an appropriate and realistic way, but it is not enough to bring about their solution.
Indeed, there is a risk that a radical capitalistic ideology could spread which refuses even to consider these problems, in the a priori belief that any attempt to solve them is doomed to failure and which blindly entrusts their solution to the free development of market forces.
My italics again. Could anyone have offered a more potent critique of current Republican ideology than John Paul II? Could anything better illustrate John Paul II’s critique of radical capitalist ideology than the GOP’s refusal to be concerned in any way about a fundamental question like access to basic healthcare for millions of citizens in the richest country on earth?
Sorry, Rush, but if you think this critique of capitalism is something dreamed up by the current Pope alone, you know nothing about Catholicism, nothing about John Paul II, and nothing about Christianity. But I guess we knew that already, even though the ditto-heads still believe, like that particularly dim bulb Paul Ryan, that Ayn Rand and Jesus Christ are somehow compatible, when they are, in fact, diametrically opposed in every single respect.
Notice, however, as I noted yesterday, that the Church in no way disputes the fact that market capitalism is by far the least worst means of raising standards of living and ending poverty and generating wealth that can be used to cure disease, feed the hungry, and protect the vulnerable. What the Church is disputing is that, beyond our daily bread, material well-being is a proper criterion for judging human morality or happiness. On a personal level, the Church teaches, as Jesus unambiguously did, that material goods beyond a certain point are actually pernicious and destructive of human flourishing. I hesitate to think, for example, what Limbaugh would have made of Saint Francis, the Pope’s namesake. Francis, after all, spurned the inheritance of his father’s flourishing business to wash the bodies of lepers, sleep in ditches, refuse all money for labor, and use begging as the only morally acceptable form of receiving any money at all. In the Church of Limbaugh, there is no greater heretic than Saint Francis. Francis even believed in the sanctity of the natural world, regarding animals as reflecting the pied beauty of a mysterious divinity. Sarah Palin, in contrast, sees them solely as dinner.
Which gets to the deeper issue of materialism.
Nothing better demonstrates the antipathy of the current Republican right to Christianity – indeed its constant, relentless war on Christianity – than the following refreshingly candid confession of spiritual barrenness from Limbaugh:
I want to go back to this quote from the pope again, from his — there’s the name for the document. I can’t think of it and I don’t have it in front of me. “The culture of prosperity deadens us. We are thrilled in 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.” I’m not even sure what the connection there is.
We are thrilled if the market offers us something new to buy? I guess there’s something wrong with that. We’re not supposed to be thrilled if there’s something new to buy. That’s how I interpret it. Now, let me give you a fascinating stat I just learned today. The iPhone 5S, which is the top-of-the-line iPhone, was announced way back in September, and has been in shortage ever since.
They have been unable to meet the demand, for whatever reason. They have just recently caught up, and would you like to know how they did it? They have put one million people on different assembly lines, 600 employees per assembly line at the factory in China at the one factory, where they are making 500,000 iPhones a day, and they still haven’t caught up to demand.
That’s a lot of people who are thrilled with something new to buy.
Er, yes, Rush. But the Pope is not making an empirical observation. In so far as he is, he agrees with you. What he’s saying is that this passion for material things is not what makes us good or happy. That’s all. And that’s a lot for Limbaugh to chew on. And if the mania for more and more materialist thrills distracts us from, say, the plight of a working American facing bankruptcy because of cancer, or the child of an illegal immigrant with no secure home, then it is a deeply immoral distraction. There’s something almost poignant in Limbaugh’s inability even to understand that material goods are not self-evidently the purpose of life and are usually (and in Jesus’ stern teachings always) paths away from God and our own good and our own happiness. Something poignant because it reveals a profound ignorance of one of the West’s deepest cultural inheritances in Christianity.
Limbaugh’s only recourse when faced with actual Christianity is to conspiracy theories about translations of the Pope’s words. Perhaps it’s the commies who have perpetrated a massive lie through their control of the media. That was Sarah Palin’s response to, when confronted with, you know, Christianity for apparently the first time. But you sense that even Rush is beginning to realize there is something more to this, something that could be very destructive to his sealed, cocooned, materialist ideology of one. Hang on a minute, you almost hear him saying to himself …
Yes, Rush, hang on a minute. Christianity is one of the most powerful critiques of radical market triumphalism. And it’s now coming – more plainly and unmistakably in our lifetimes – to a church near you.
(Painting: “Christ and the Rich Young Man” by Heinrich Hofmann.)