December 17, 2013

Marxism and the Pope

Bitter clingers?
The Pope says he's not a Marxist, but he's defending his criticism of capitalism according to The Guardian.  Great. I would contend that the Pope wasn't asked the right question.  
Pope Francis has rejected accusations from rightwing Americans that his teaching is Marxist, defending his criticisms of the capitalist system and urging more attention be given to the poor in a wide-ranging interview.

In remarks to the Italian daily La Stampa, the Argentinian pontiff said the views he had espoused in his first apostolic exhortation last month – which the rightwing US radio host Rush Limbaugh attacked as "dramatically, embarrassingly, puzzlingly wrong" – were simply those of the church's social doctrine. Limbaugh described the pope's economics as "pure Marxism".

"The ideology of Marxism is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don't feel offended," Francis was quoted as saying. Defending his criticism of the "trickle-down" theory of economics, he added: "There was the promise that once the glass had become full it would overflow and the poor would benefit. But what happens is that when it's full to the brim, the glass magically grows, and thus nothing ever comes out for the poor ... I repeat: I did not talk as a specialist but according to the social doctrine of the church. And this does not mean being a Marxist."
He's not a Marxist, Marx decried religion so that would make no sense.  The Pope should have been asked if he was a  socialist.  If he has a political worldview that is informing his political views rather than the reverse, people should know about that.  

The Pope wants to reform the Catholic church.  That can be good and bad.  His focus on the poor is not a bad thing.  That focus would certainly help attract new people to the church.  But there is a difference between recognizing a problem and the prescription applied to it as a cure.  The Pope has decried capitalism but it has often been applied in a way that is as twisted as Marxists claim communism was applied in Soviet Russia.  In other words, capitalism has seen many flawed applications and it has still managed to lift millions of people out of poverty.  Perhaps what the Pope might be seeking is socialism.  Perhaps tempered capitalism.  He has been less than clear.

The danger for the church, particularly in the United States is that if he is taking a socialist approach, he risks turning off a lot of people.  While he may gain converts to Catholicism around the world, he could certainly lose the passion or even the faith of followers in America (and elsewhere). It's not clear if the Pope believes that to be the case and is taking a calculated risk, or doesn't know, or doesn't care.  The Catholic church  has a big pulpit.  If the pontifications coming from that pulpit espouse increased government control, the church may have lost its rudder.
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