CAT | Religion
Christianity has—stretching from its murky beginnings to its wildly syncretic present—quite a few of those.
Writing on his always fascinating (if sometimes infuriating) blog, Andrew Sullivan takes Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin to task for making insufficient effort to reconcile their views on Pope Francis’s demagogic attacks on free markets with the Christianity that the two also profess. I don’t have a god in this fight, but read what Andrew has to say, and judge for yourselves. I should say that this this was one of his high-octane days, and that can make for a rough ride, but I’ll admit that this made me laugh:
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.
And how right she is.
“Pied beauty of a mysterious divinity”, or just beautiful in pies?
With apologies to Gerard Manley Hopkins (and pun-hating readers), I’ll take the latter.
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.
Well, “radical market triumphalism” is a mistake, but one that is more talked about than real: for the most part it is a straw man. On Andrew’s broader point, we’ll have to see whether the religious left is indeed going to enjoy another surge. Maybe, maybe not. It won’t be the first time. Or the last. But, there is a slight something in Andrew’s tone—a shadow, no more than that—which is a reminder that when such surges occur, liberty frays.
Cross-posted on Ricochet.
I’ll admit it, I’d been waiting for this.
Over at the Liberty Law blog, Theodore Dalrymple has now taken a look at what the pope had to say:
I was …not completely out of sympathy with some of the premises of the Pope’s latest apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium…but it seems to me that he has yielded in it to the temptation to mistake an initial apprehension of what is wrong as an understanding of economics….We – by ‘we’ I mean all who are likely to read this – are aware that a life of consumption of ever more material goods is profoundly unsatisfying and in the end self-defeating. We all know that an egotistical individualism is deeply unattractive and not even satisfying to the many millions of whom it is the leading characteristic. Even the improved means of communication that the Pope extols in his exhortation may not only conduce to self-preoccupation but serve to isolate people further. A million monologues is not a conversation.
So far, so good – that is to say so far, so banal.
And very typical, I’d add, of the way that the arguments used by this pope sometimes seem to amount to little more than a sequence of punches thrown at a series of straw men.
A good demagogic trick, I suppose,
But back to Dalrymple:
[T]he Pope, alas, then indulges in a little Peronist economics. I hesitate to call his theorizing mediaeval because scholars will inform me that, in fact, some of the scholastics were far more sophisticated in their economic understanding than we usually credit them with, getting well beyond denunciations of usury. I am not sure the Pope has got much further. He writes, inter alia, that ‘Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed on the powerless.’ This is demagoguery of the purest kind, the kind that ruined the Pope’s native Argentina seventy years ago and from whose effects it still has not fully recovered.
And from which, intellectually, nor has the pope.
‘As a consequence,’ continues the pope, ‘masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.’
If we put the two sentences together, a certain conclusion is inescapable: if only the powerful stopped cannibalizing the powerless, the latter would have work, possibility and the means of escape. To change slightly the framework of reference, four legs good, two legs bad.
The Pope is loose and inaccurate in his thinking. The trickle-down theory of wealth may or may not be correct, but those who hold it do not express, and never have expressed, ‘a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power…’ On the contrary, according to the theory it is not the rich whose goodness benefits the poor, but the system that allowed them to become rich, even if the rich should turn out to be hard-hearted skinflints. A system of redistribution, by contrast, really does require the goodness of at least the superior echelons of the system, faith in which is genuinely rather crude and naïve.
Most egregiously, the Pope quotes from St John Chrysostom: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods that we hold,but theirs.”
This could only be true if an economy were a zero-sum game, if my wealth were your poverty and vice versa. But if the world has learnt anything since the death of St John Chrysostom one thousand six hundred years ago, it is that an economy such as ours is and ought to be dynamic rather than static. I am not poor because Bill Gates is rich; as it happens in enriching himself he enriched me, though the ratio of his wealth to mine is probably greater than the ratio of my wealth to the poorest person in my society. I do not care; it does no harm to me unless I let it do me harm by dwelling upon it. In the meantime, I have enough to eat and much else besides.
This is not to say that all is for the best in this the best of all possible worlds, far from it. The world is full of dishonesty, corruption, cruelty, indifference and injustice. But Peronist demagoguery dressed up as apostolic exhortation will not improve matters, quite the reverse.
Reason’s Matt Welch responds to Pope Francis’s dishonest and manipulative attack on free markets:
Francis’s hyperbolic rants about the role and allegedly dictatorial power of free markets are embarrassing in their wrongness. Cheering them on is like donating money to a Creationist Museum, only with more potential impact.
To take one papal passage out of dozens:
“Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”
More people have escaped poverty the past 25 years than were alive on the planet in 1800. Their “means of escape” was largely the introduction of at least some “laws of competition” in endeavors that had long been the exclusive domain of authoritarian, monopolistic governments.
…To look upon the miracles of this world and lament the lack of “means of escape” is to advertise your own ignorance. To call it a “tyranny” is to do violence to any meaningful sense of that important word (much like Francis’s predecessor did with his silly “dictatorship of relativism” crack). And to make such absolutist statements as “everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest” is to admit up front that you are not primarily interested in spreading truth, but rather in exciting popular passions.
Cranmer picks up on a curious exchange in Britain’s House of Lords between a UKIP peer (Lord Pearson) and a Conservative minister (Baroness Warsi). The whole thing is well worth a read, but this section, in particular, caught my attention. The discussion between the two has gone on for a while and Lord Pearson is, as Cranmer noted, getting a little vexed:
An exasperated Lord Pearson intervened:
‘With respect, that does not answer the question. The question I put to the noble Baroness was about the persecution of Christians . . . Is it or is it not mostly the work of the jihadists? That was the question I put to her.”
And so she [replied]:
“It was mostly the work of extremists who do not follow any faith, as far as I am concerned.”
So, those who burn down churches, blow people up or cut their heads off while quoting the Qur’an, declaiming “Allahu Akbar” and invoking the name of Mohammed are not Muslims at all: they are really followers of no faith: they are secularists or humanist atheists; buddies of Professor Dawkins. This is the socio-religio-political depth of understanding of the UK’s first ever Minister for Faith and Communities. She says it is her job “to ensure that freedom of religion and belief remains at the top of the Government’s agenda both at home and internationally”. But while doing that, there can be no scrutiny of the virulent salafi-wahhabi strain of Sunni Islam, for, to her, that is not Islam at all. And even to mention the possibility that it might be invites allegations of bigotry. These ‘extremists’ are simply not true Muslims and are completely ignorant of the real Islam.
And yet.. and yet..
At a Muslim Peace Conference in Norway (yes, a peace conference in Europe), when asked if the Muslims in attendance agreed that adulterous women ought to be stoned, the speaker praises Allah that all the men’s hands were raised. His Grace says “men’s hands”, for there appears to be no gender diversity at this gathering. Unless, of course, the women were in the basement. When asked if they believed in the strict separation of men and women, all hands again were raised (except the bloke on the front line, whom the speaker ignores). This video is not of a group of ‘extremists’, but ordinary believers in a run-of-the-mill expression of moderate Islam….
These ordinary, everyday moderate Muslims want sharia law in their country; not secular democracy and human rights. The moderate and enlightened speaker mocks the media portrayal of their beliefs as ‘extreme’. One wonders, if they had been asked, whether all hands would have been raised to affirm the death penalty for apostasy. Surely, if stoning women for adultery is considered just, then hanging for apostasy or blasphemy is a fortiori the will of Allah. And it is a very small step indeed from that belief to burning down the odd church and beheading the occasional kafir.
But these are not Muslims. They do not follow any faith.
As far as Baroness Warsi is concerned.
Cross-posted on the Corner
As Kathryn notes (and we were discussing over at Ricochet), today saw the release of a major statement by the new pope.
One highlight(courtesy of an admiring Guardian):
Pope Francis has attacked unfettered capitalism as “a new tyranny”, urging global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality in the first major work he has authored alone as pontiff.
Quite where “unfettered capitalism” is to be found remains a mystery.
And there’s this (via Volokh):
We can no longer trust in the unseen forces…
Childish, I know, but I am not the only person to have smiled at that. Smiles past, lets rewind back to the beginning:
We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market. Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth: it requires decisions, programmes, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality. I am far from proposing an irresponsible populism, but the economy can no longer turn to remedies that are a new poison, such as attempting to increase profits by reducing the work force and thereby adding to the ranks of the excluded.
Take the time to note another straw man rushing by (modern economies do not, in truth, leave that much to the invisible hand) and the demagogic reference to the creative destruction of capitalism as “a new poison”, but then focus on what clearly lies at the heart of the Pope’s economic prescriptions, the belief in an economy even more tightly managed than ours are today, and with it, a belief in the skills, incorruptibility and fairness of a bureaucratic elite that would be touching, if it were not so troubling.
Troubling? Yes, and that’s probably too gentle a word. If this was just a discussion within the Roman Catholic church aimed solely at how its members should behave that, for the most part, would be up to them. But the pope’s words are rather more than that. In Francis, we see a charming and charismatic advocate (complete with large megaphone and the attention of a sizeable slice of the world) for economic policies of a type that have failed and failed and failed again, not least in the Argentina of his youth, the Argentina of Perón, the Argentina that he evidently still sees as some sort of model.
That’s not good news, nor is it likely to be the source of much joy.
Comments off · Posted by Andrew Stuttaford in Religion
I concluded my previous post with the question, How do we stop thinking of God as god? The contemporary theologian I have found most helpful on this question is Herbert McCabe. The key, suggests McCabe, is to stop thinking of God as in any way an inhabitant of the universe.
“God must be incomprehensible to us precisely because he is creator of all that is and, as Aquinas puts it, outside the order of all beings. God therefore cannot be classified as any kind of being. God cannot be compared to or contrasted with other things in respect of what they are like as dogs can be compared and contrasted with cats and both of them with stones or stars. God is not an inhabitant of the universe; he is the reason why there is a universe at all. God is in everything holding it constantly in existence but he is not located anywhere, nor is what it is to be God located anywhere in logical space…
“The Jewish discovery that God is not a god but Creator is the discovery of absolute Mystery behind and underpinning reality. Those who share it (either in its Judaic or its Christian form) are not monotheists who have reduced the number of gods to one. They, we, have abolished the gods; there is only the Mystery sustaining all that is. The Mystery is unfathomable, but it is not remote as the gods are remote. The gods live somewhere else, on Olympus or above the starry sky. The Mystery is everywhere and always, in every grain of sand and every flash of colour, every hint of flavour in a wine, keeping all these things in existence every microsecond. We could not literally approach God or get nearer to God for God is already nearer to us than we are to ourselves. God is the ultimate depth of our beings making us to be ourselves.
I shall eye my next glass of wine with strange new respect.
The seduction of conspiracy is the way it orders chaos.
Hmmm, that sounds like another phenomenon I could mention, which makes this entertainingly ironic :
In the summer of 1964, the English philosopher and logician Bertrand Russell—past 90 years old then and possibly the most famously rational person on the planet—read the early accounts of the Warren Commission Report with mounting alarm. None of the important questions, he thought, were being answered. There was the matter of the parade route being changed without explanation at the last minute, so that the motorcade passed Lee Harvey Oswald’s workplace; the geometrically confounding arrangement of entry and exit wounds; the curious fact that an alibi witness who helped get an alternate suspect released from custody turned out to be a stripper at Jack Ruby’s club. The logician went to work. Meticulously, Russell documented the discrepancies between each first-person account and the divergences between each report in the media. He gave his document a modest, scientific-sounding title (“16 Questions on the Assassination”) and a just-the-facts tone….
Bertrand, Bertrand, Bertrand.
Just another reminder that the impulses that played such a part in the creation of religious belief will always be with us.
Cross-posted on the Corner:
There was an exultant article by Jonathan Freedland over in the Guardian a couple of days ago proclaiming Pope Francis an “obvious hero of the left.” I wrote something about it over at Ricochet, but it’s also worth highlighting a different piece, linked to by Freedland as evidence of the discomfort that some free market folk feel over the pope’s economic pronouncements. It was written back in September by Phillip Booth of Britain’s Institute of Economic Affairs.
Here’s an extract:
…[John Paul II] was not only right to suggest that the word ‘capitalism’ might be confusing but he also talked elsewhere in the encyclical about how capitalism must have people at its centre, must operate in a juridical framework, must avoid the problems of monopolies, and so on. Indeed, implicitly Pope John Paul was criticising the crony capitalism systems such as those in South America and Italy that use the apparatus of the state together with the power of financial interests to oppress the people rather than to serve the people. A free economy naturally has the human person at its centre. Models of so-called capitalism which are, in reality, closer to corporatism and cronyism, as well as being riddled with corruption, do not bear any relationship to a truly free economy.
The countries in which Pope Francis has made most of his statements about capitalism are Italy and Argentina. In making his statements, he has related them to the economic conditions in those particular countries. This is interesting because Italy is the least free country in the EU according to the Index of Economic Freedom – and a long way down the world list (unusually for a European state). Argentina is one of the least free countries in the world. To criticise capitalism in Argentina is like criticising the malign influence of cricket on French society. The pope’s statements about capitalism are confusing in the least. They seem to involve visiting countries which are not in any meaningful sense capitalist and blaming the problems of those countries on a system that they have not adopted.
It is fair to say that the pope’s criticisms of capitalism could at least partly be put down to a misunderstanding of the concept due to his experience in South America …
They clearly have also been shaped by the ideological environment in which he grew up in Argentina. There’s no precise way to pigeonhole Francis’s economic thinking (and, indeed, his economic thinking is not very precise) but if I had to guess, it appears (as I noted on Ricochet) to be a muddle of Rerum Novarum and Juan Perón. That’s not particularly reassuring.
Back to Booth:
However, his criticisms of globalisation are much more dangerous – he does not like it, even when it functions well. The pope’s position is dangerous because globalisation has been responsible for the most rapid reduction in poverty in the history of the planet. The pope is capable of doing real damage if his ideas are widely adopted. Very poor people could be made poorer if the pope is successful in changing the climate of opinion. Again, looking at the data forming the Index of Economic Freedom, a simple measure of globalisation unsurprisingly puts Argentina towards the bottom of the whole world, whilst Italy also performs very poorly by the standards of developed countries.
And we’ve still yet to see what Francis has to say about the environment. I think I can guess the sort of thing that’s coming, but here’s one early clue: The pope is not (it seems) a fan of fracking.
I’ve never really thought that the God of Jews and Christians (despite His rather mixed origins—check out the works of James Kugel on this topic) was a god to be compared with a Zeus or an Odin and I doubt if the leading ‘new atheists’ do either, so this piece by Fr. Robert Barron is, I suspect, largely an exercise in strawmanship:
To a person, the new atheists hold that God is some being in the world, the maximum instance, if you want, of the category of “being.” But this is precisely what Aquinas and serious thinkers in all of the great theistic traditions hold that God is not. Thomas explicitly states that God is not in any genus, including that most generic genus of all, namely being. He is not one thing or individual — however supreme — among many. Rather, God is, in Aquinas’s pithy Latin phrase, esse ipsum subsistens, the sheer act of being itself.
It might be helpful here to distinguish God from the gods. For the ancient Greeks and Romans, for example, the gods were exalted, immortal, and especially powerful versions of ordinary human beings. They were, if you will, quantitatively but not qualitatively different from regular people. They were impressive denizens of the natural world, but they were not, strictly speaking, supernatural. But God is not a supreme item within the universe or alongside of it; rather, God is the sheer ocean of being from whose fullness the universe in its entirety exists.
“The sheer ocean of being from whose fullness the universe in its entirety exists.”
Right Wing Watch (I know, I know) reports:
Rick Santorum is asking you to do your part to free movie theatres from the Devil’s clutches by purchasing tickets to his upcoming movie, The Christmas Candle. He appeared on the Trinity Broadcasting Network last week to plug the new movie of his film company EchoLight Studios, which apparently is in a state of internal strife after his arrival as CEO. While speaking on a network where televangelists on a daily basis tell viewers that God will reward them financially if they send in contributions, the former senator and presidential candidate spent most of the time criticizing movies for being too materialistic.
Santorum, who has previously said that Satan has control over mainline Protestantism and universities, thanked viewers in advance for seeing the movie. “This is a tough business, this is something that we’re stepping out,” Santorum said, “and the Devil for a long, long time has had this, these screens, for his playground and he isn’t going to give it up easily.”
It may just be me, but I’m not entirely convinced that Santorum is helping build a GOP brand that can sweep to victory in 2014 and 2016.