(at least according to Rush Limbaugh I am…)
Last week, Pope Francis released an apostolic exhortation (not a papal encyclical, which carries a lot more authoritative strength) entitled, ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ (The Joy of the Gospel). This hefty document calls primarily for ecclesial and administrative reforms within the Roman Catholic Church, along with a different emphasis on how clergy are to engage the parishioners and communities which they serve. I’m not Roman Catholic, but much of what Pope Francis commends in these pages seems theologically and pastorally reasonable to me.
However, what strikes many as troublesome, including the radio personality Rush Limbaugh, is Pope Francis’ critical comments about 21st century capitalism. Yes, capitalism. That sainted economic system of the modern world that so many believe was delivered to humanity by the Lord Himself. Sometimes, especially in this country, it sees that the only economic policy people believe is righteous is one that calls for little to no taxes, radically reduced government spending, and a virulent libertarian approach to bureaucratic oversight of private industry. Higher and higher profits are the mark of a healthy and successful economy. Economic advancement comes only to those who work hard (and without aid from the dreaded government) and is according to some, a sign of divine favor.
Francis counters this common refrain, speaking forcefully about the idolatry of money, rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets, and taking grave exception to unrestrained liberalism. He even goes so far as to say that unbridled capitalism is a form of tyranny. And it is these thoughts that Limbaugh and the rest of the Ayn Rand worshipers of the market get all freaked out about. It is as though the Pope is attacking their most sacred golden calf and any such attack must be countered with a monstrous force. For capitalism is to them, and many in our country, the most important component of a just society. To critique capitalism is to critique the very core of what it means to be an American and for that matter, a free person.
According to Limbaugh, “This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the Pope.” Moreover, the theologically astute and economically trained Limbaugh says, “It’s sad because this pope makes it very clear he doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to capitalism and socialism and so forth.”
I’ll admit, big picture, I am very sympathetic to Francis’ critique of 21st century capitalism. I take no exception to his call for our economies to place those without food, shelter, healthcare, and education as our highest priority. I don’t recoil when the pontiff asks the wealthiest in our society to share even more of their wealth with the less fortunate. As Francis notes, the rise and fall of the stock market should not be the most pressing news item at the close of our days, but rather the complete and utter poverty of millions around the globe should be that which concerns us. Wealth in and of itself is not evil, but the love of it, capitulated by so many of our economic policies today, is, as Pope Francis so poignantly writes, that which the Church and her members must vigorously address.
If critiquing what capitalism has become makes me a Marxist as Limbaugh and most others on the hard right suggest, then maybe it’s time to reread my copy of ‘Das Kapital’ and ‘The Communist Manifesto’, and consider anew the benefits of an even more centralized economy…Or, as one of my favorite Facebook pages depicts (Catholic Memes):