Editor's Note: If you're not a weekly subscriber to Taylor Armerding's column, you can publish this one if you notify him at email@example.com.
Editor's note: CNHI newspapers that are not weekly subscribers to Taylor Armerding's column may publish this one if they notify him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pope Francis, at least for 15 minutes or so, has become a darling of the left.
It likely won’t last. If he has the temerity to reassert the church’s position on “social issues,” he will once again become the religious extremist, bigoted leader of an outdated institution deserving only scorn and ridicule.
But, for the moment, he is way cool. The pope’s recent encyclical is seen as an attack on capitalism, especially as it is practiced in the United States. He’s blaming America first! How awesome is that?
And, indeed, the pope does decry what he calls “the idolatry of money.” He declares the alleged benefits of “trickle-down” economics “have never been confirmed by the facts,” and that our “throw-away culture” throws away the poor.
This had the Los Angeles Times salivating, figuring it would likely “cause Wisconsin GOP Rep. Paul D. Ryan some distress.”
No word from the paper on any possible distress for Democratic millionaires in Congress whose charitable giving is slim to none, and for whom “compassion” consists of spending other people’s money.
But it is strange that the left suddenly thinks the pope’s words should have any influence on government policy in the United States.
If he or any Catholic leader affirms the church’s position on abortion, gay marriage or female clergy, they are immediately told to stop imposing their morality on the rest of us or trying to violate the separation of church and state.
If the pope is allowed no standing in those areas, why is he welcome in others? Could it be because those on the left perceive him to be attacking their enemy – capitalism? How convenient.
Actually, if they bother to read the whole document, their ardor for the pontiff may cool. The alleged attack on capitalism takes all of about four of 84 pages. The majority of it is about evangelism – proclaiming the Gospel to nonbelievers in an effort to convert them to Catholicism.
That, even through persuasion rather than force, is anathema to the left.
And even the part they are applauding deserves some examination. It turns out I have some common ground with the far left: I don’t believe the Pope is infallible. He himself says numerous times in his encyclical that context is important.
For example, his denunciation of unfettered capitalism is welcome. But capitalism in the United States is the opposite of unfettered. It is drowning in regulation – enough to discourage entrepreneurs, many of them minorities.
The pope is obviously correct that there is inequality in the United States, as is the case everywhere. The more important point is that this nation remains the destination for millions from other countries.
If, as self-appointed scold Noam Chomsky declares, America hates its poor, why do we provide them with billions of dollars worth of food stamps and other benefits? Why are they not fleeing our borders for Mexico, instead of the other way around?
Yes, the pope is correct that there is greed in the United States. But all we hear is about corporate greed. What should we call it when public employee unions – particularly those in public safety – demand work schedules that the rest of us could only dream about, make double or even more what the average taxpayer they “serve” makes, and get benefits grossly out of proportion with those in the private sector?
Does the fact that they are “only” making tens of thousands more than average taxpayers, instead of hundreds of thousands, mean they get a pass? Is greed only a matter of degree?
The pope lumps “exclusion” and “inequality” together as factors that create an economy that “kills.” That is only half right.
Yes, the ideal should be to banish exclusion; equal opportunity is one of America’s sacred goals. But equal opportunity does not guarantee equal results. To demand that is as absurd as me demanding that I make the NBA because I tried as hard as Kobe Bryant.
The anti-capitalists are especially excited at the pope’s smackdown of the “trickle-down” economic theory, which he contends has never brought about “greater justice and inclusiveness in the world … (and) expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power ….”
That point deserves a substantive response from conservatives. But, again, context is important. The pope should say how “trickle-down” theory, or capitalism in general, compares with socialism in the former Soviet Union or totalitarian communism practiced in China.
Those systems did not simply exclude some people; those in power slaughtered millions.
Does the pope think putting all the economic power in the hands of governments will be much better than keeping at least some of it in those greedy private hands?
Finally, the Bible does focus on helping the poor and treating them with dignity and respect. But it never says a secular government should be the source of that help. It also says: “If any will not work, let him not eat.”
Does the pope think increasing incentives for the poor not to work is a worthy goal?
Like the left, I don’t agree with all of Pope Francis’s pronouncements. And that is the point: Nobody has to agree with everything he says. Nobody is required to be a Catholic.
But, the larger point is that the pope should also be welcome in the marketplace of ideas on economic morality or any other topic, including social issues. He should not be selectively banned from the public square.
Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at email@example.com