The Papacy has learned a great deal since the days of Stalin. Though the Vatican still does not possess an Army as it did in the days of yore, it has certainly learned to master the art of soft power.
In the eight months since Cardinal Bergoglio has been elected pope – Pope Francis, as he has chosen to be called – he has caused quite the stir in the Catholic world. For one thing, he has called on Catholic bishops to eschew opulence to show their solidarity with the poor. Pope Francis himself did away with the famous bulletproof papal Mercedes limousine and chose instead to drive a 1984 Renault 4 as well as refusing to sit on the customary papal throne and preferring his simple white cassock over the more colorful clothes that his predecessor usually adorned. He also got the world’s attention when he said that the Catholic Church could not “interfere spiritually” in the lives of homosexuals and that he would not judge gay priests, asking rhetorically, “If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?”
One can almost hear Michael Buffer smoothly yelling into his microphone, “Ladies and gentlemen, let’s get ready to HUMBLE!!!!”
Who could possibly hate this man?
Pope Francis’ antics have been charmingly quaint. However, he has recently chosen to enter into another fray; one that is close and dear to my heart – economics.
In a document supposedly called an “apostolic exhortation,” Pope Francis claimed that unfettered capitalism is “a new tyranny,” and that capitalism is nothing more than the “idolatry of money.” He said that politicians had to “strive to provide work, healthcare, and education to all citizens;” and then called on the rich to share their wealth because “an economy of exclusion and inequality… such an economy kills.” Consistently with his logic, he called for action “beyond a simple welfare mentality.”
He later added that “some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”
Never mind that greater minds have already dealt with this question, this being just one example among many.
To honestly understand what Pope Francis is condemning, however, we have to know its exact nature. So what is capitalism? As I have already said in one of my previous posts, capitalism is an economic system whose fundamental philosophy is voluntary action. It is based on voluntary action because it is an economic system whereby people are free to choose to either cooperate or not cooperate with each other in order to satisfy their mutual interests. Due to it being based on voluntary trade, capitalism requires people to rely on their own rational mind and rational minds, in turn, can only exist under free conditions. A rational mind cannot work under compulsion. An individual can choose to obey his jailer or refuse to do so. Refusal, however, is almost always punished.
In essence, therefore, what Pope Francis despises is freedom. According to Pope Francis, individuals voluntarily trading with one another, exchanging values for values in the hopes of making profit in order to improve one’s own living conditions is a form of tyranny.
Furthermore, when Pope Francis exhorts politicians to “strive to provide work, healthcare, and education to all citizens,” from where does the good pope think that those things spring up from? His book seems to suggest that manna will somehow miraculously rain from the heavens to feed and clothe us helpless mortals. For the rest of us who do not believe in childish fairy tales, however, we have to contend that, as argued by Parmenides, ex nihilo nihil fit. Nothing comes from nothing.
To have jobs, healthcare, and education, they have to be created by people. People have to think, organize, work, and produce for anything to come into existence. It is because of these few individuals who thought, organized, worked, and produced (chief of them being to have thought) that the rest of humanity has been able to rise up to where we are now. And how does Pope Francis think that such people ought to be rewarded? Rewarded? Pope Francis wants politicians, people who produce nothing besides trouble, to provide those things to all citizens. He does not want them rewarded. He wants them chained.
Somewhere I hear the ghost of Galileo weeping.
"It still turns."
“Of course the Pope doesn’t want those people chained to slavery. He wants good hearted, noble men and women to take on their public tasks with great humility in order to serve the best interests of all of humanity,” his defenders will clamor. Of course! The men and women of noble hearts; the angels that each and every one of us strives to be. But where does Pope Francis think that he will find such men and women? Why is it assumed that bureaucrats are less motivated by personal interest than a trader? Does anyone assume that a president appoints his/her cabinet members or judges or ambassadors based on their individual virtues, or based on their political clout? Is political self-interest somehow nobler than economic self-interest?
Of course Pope Francis never gives an answer to this. Perhaps he will pray for a miracle.
In the midst of his mindless rant, Pope Francis then goes on to say that what this world needs is a “more ethical financial system.” Hardly surprisingly, he never goes on to explain what this new ethical financial system might look like. Considering how Pope Francis despises freedom and thinks that capitalism ought not be given “absolute autonomy,” I can only imagine that it would look a lot like slavery.
“But it’s for the common good,” his apologists will counter. But just what exactly is the common good? Brotherhood and good will to all men? Please. Anyone can show a pretense of sentimentality. Just what exactly is the common good? The common good implies that something is good for the whole society. But what is society if not a collection of individuals? Can every single person in the world ever agree on what the common good is? It is impossible. What the common good in practice comes down to is that some people’s idea of what is good takes precedence over that of others. In other words, it comes down to the good of the majority as against the minority or the individual.
But the good of the majority assumes that what is good comes down to a simple numbers game. The bigger gang is right, and the smaller gang is wrong. So one has to ask: Is Pope Francis the leader of a movement that believes in objective right and wrong, or is he nothing more than just another populist demagogue?
But surely giving to charity cannot possibly be argued against? Firstly, Pope Francis is not just hoping for more charity. As he said, what he wants is “beyond a simple welfare mentality.” Though he never gives a name to what this thing beyond a simple welfare mentality is, I cannot help but imagine a golden sickle and hammer.
Is there anything wrong with charity? Certainly not. There is nothing wrong with helping others, if and when they are worthy of the help and when we can afford to help them. But that is not enough for Pope Francis. What he wants is for the misery of others to hold a mortgage on the lives of those who are better off. He wants charity not to be voluntary, but an obligation. Instead of being proud of one’s own virtues and accomplishments, he wants people’s self-esteem to come from each handout that they are forced to give to others. Never mind that the image of inherited wealth is mostly a thing of the past. As far as Pope Francis is concerned, the rich owe others for having been allowed to be rich.
It has been most amusing to see the rest of the world’s reaction to this pope. After having seen a few symbolic gestures of what passes as humility, so many in the world seem to be more than ready to forget the Church’s great many sins and crimes. The sexual abuse of children? Who wants to hear of it? The Pope refuses to sit on an elevated throne! The Church’s unchanging position on condom-use in Africa? Why be so morose? The Pope washed a Muslim woman’s feet. If Pope Francis is so concerned about income inequality and the poor and wants to help them, then why is it that His Holiness has not yet auctioned off the Vatican’s unquantifiable assets? Or why hasn’t Pope Francis condemned his own bishops’ support for the minimum wage despite the fact the minimum wage is one of the culprits that keeps the poor where they are? But why question logical consistency? He’s already picked most everyone’s favorite villains, the rich (which the Church curiously does not appear to count as being part of) to foot the bill!
It would appear that the Catholic Church has succeeded in its PR campaign beyond its own wildest expectations. When Pope Benedict XVI threw in the towel, the Vatican was in desperate need of a PR makeover and who better to lead this makeover than a man who can make the fickle masses forget about the Church's crimes by giving mushy homilies without actually doing anything? It’s still the same morally bankrupt institute of charlatans but, oh, who cares? The Pope drives a beaten-up second-hand car and who could not relate to that?
I hate to end this by quoting a mass murdering tyrant but it has to be asked – just how many divisions has the Pope got? More than anyone suspected that he had, I fear.
Definitely more than that!