TAG | Religious Left
Writing in Salon, Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig;
If the Reason-Rupe and PRRI reports are right, millennials just might be opting out of the partisan approach to politics altogether, which means the partisan leash on religious constituencies might just be fraying. This makes coalitions like the faith and family left — which has commitments all across the political spectrum, founded in faith rather than political expediency — seem a lot more viable in the long run. In short, the weaker the partisan system becomes, the more nuanced the religious story about politics can become. And this means prime time for the Christian left to re-enter the political stage.
The idea that the Christian left ever left the political stage is ludicrous. What it destested, however, was sharing that stage with the religious right.It says quite a bit about Ms Bruenig–and how far her notions of intellectual diversity stretch–that she appears to equate being made to share a stage with having no presence on it.
Anyway, back to the celebration, complete with the inevitable praise for the (more or less) Peronist in the Vatican:
And what a smashing re-entry we’re set for, with figures like Pope Francis casually backhanding capitalism and corporate greed in graceful continuity with his praise of family life, solidarity and a culture of life. At this very moment, different factions of the religious left are duking it out over Obama’s proposed executive order banning discrimination against LGBT workers on behalf of federal contractors, and though the diversity of the religious left might concern some, the big picture is that the religious left is a growing force for political influence. As time passes and the mantle of political participation passes from prior partisan generations down to millennials, we might see that influence continue to grow, re-invigorating some of the finest features of the Christian tradition: to resist categorization, pull hard for the oppressed and downtrodden and insist upon hope while coping with the realities of power.
Pope Francis, whose criticisms of unbridled capitalism have prompted some to label him a Marxist, said in an interview published on Sunday that communists had stolen the flag of Christianity. The 77-year-old pontiff gave an interview to Il Messaggero, Rome’s local newspaper, to mark the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, a Roman holiday. He was asked about a blog post in the Economist magazine that said he sounded like a Leninist when he criticised capitalism and called for radical economic reform.
“I can only say that the communists have stolen our flag. The flag of the poor is Christian. Poverty is at the centre of the Gospel,” he said, citing Biblical passages about the need to help the poor, the sick and the needy.
“Communists say that all this is communism. Sure, twenty centuries later. So when they speak, one can say to them: ‘but then you are Christian’,” he said, laughing.
The Raw Story (reporting on the same interview):
Pope Francis has accused communism of stealing its ideas from Christianity, and said its founding thinker Karl Marx “did not invent anything.”
Commenting on suggestions in the media that his world view is not dissimilar to communist ideology, the pope responded that it was the church that got there first.
Let’s just say that’s a rather benign interpretation of what communism actually is. Nevertheless, as The Raw Story goes on to note, the pope has in the past rejected the idea that he is a Marxist. That’s fair enough. To start with, although communism has many of the characteristics of a millennialist religion, there is that whole ‘no God’ thing.
The pope’s critique of capitalism, if not the demagogic language in which he makes it, is better seen as a radical application of Rerum Novarum than as an attempt to give Das Kapital a clerical twist. At the same time, as I read Francis’s comments I couldn’t help thinking of Ayn Rand’s remark about Christianity (and, more specifically, its collectivist tradition) being “the best kindergarten of communism possible.” As so often with Rand, an oversimplification, but…
Business Insider reports:
The 77-year-old leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics said some countries had a youth unemployment rate of more than 50 percent, with many millions in Europe seeking work in vain.
“It’s madness,” the pope said in an interview with the Barcelona-based Vanguardia daily’s Vatican correspondent Henrique Cymerman.
Well, that’s not entirely unfair; it is madness that so many are unemployed in countries such as Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece. But the madness is that these high levels of unemployment are in no small part the consequences of the euro, a currency that is in many ways the antithesis of the free market economics that the pope so disdains.
But I don’t think the struggling single currency union is what the pope is really referring to when he talks about “an economic system that no longer endures”.
No, what the pope is talking about is free market capitalism;
“We discard a whole generation to maintain an economic system that no longer endures, a system that to survive has to make war, as the big empires have always done,” Francis said.
“But since we cannot wage the Third World War, we make regional wars. And what does that mean? That we make and sell arms. And with that the balance sheets of the idolatrous economies — the big world economies that sacrifice man at the feet of the idol of money — are obviously cleaned up.”
Nonsense, of course, poisonous nonsense, but skilfully deployed.
Here’s Miami’s Roman Catholic archbishop Wenski writing from, so to speak, his tax-exempt pulpit, with an attack on the position that the Republican-controlled House has taken on immigration ‘reform’:
As the Archbishop of Miami, a region with more than one million immigrants who came to America seeking a better life, I was pleased and hopeful when the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill endorsed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
But that was almost a full year ago. Ever since then, the leadership of the House of Representatives has offered a litany of delays and excuses for inaction and obstruction. These political whimpers stand in contrast to the cries of torn-apart immigrant families that echo in parishes across the country. Parents of American children are deported. Eleven million of our neighbors live in constant fear of losing their loved ones, their jobs, their place in a country that has become home.
A nation of immigrants and a beacon of democracy can surely do better. Now is the time for the House to pass common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform that the American people support and the American economy needs…
Wenski appears to know about as much about economics as his (quasi) Peronist boss in the Vatican. The American economy does not “need” immigration reform. And America’s unemployed (the sort of people for whom, incidentally, priests are supposed to care) do not need yet more competitors for the jobs that they would like to have and, in an age of increasing structural unemployment, are likely to find it ever more difficult to secure.
Wenski thunders on:
I believe Speaker Boehner (R-Ohio) knows that passing comprehensive immigration reform is the right thing to do, and that there are enough people of good will in the House to get it done. What remains to be seen is whether these legislators understand the fierce urgency of the situation. Criticism from the partisan base might loom larger than the plight of an altar boy whose father awaits deportation, but which is more important?
This priest, it seems, is not too happy with democracy (or, as he would term it, “criticism from the partisan base”).
Naturally Pope Francis’s notorious Lampedusa talk gets an implicit plug:
Pope Francis…condemns a “globalization of indifference” that takes immigrants’ lives.
Here, again, is some of what Theodore Dalrymple had to say about that particular piece of demagoguery:
In his homily, the Pope decried what he called ‘the globalization of indifference’ to the suffering of which the tragedy of the drowned was a manifestation and a consequence. Our culture of comfort, he said, has made us indifferent to the sufferings of others; we have forgotten how to cry on their behalf. He made reference to the play of Lope de Vega in which a tyrant is killed by the inhabitants of a town called Fuente Ovejuna, no one owning up to the killing and everyone saying that it was Fuente Ovejuna that killed him. The West, said the Pope, was like Fuente Ovejuna, for when asked who was to blame for the deaths of these migrants, it answered, ‘Everyone and no one!’ He continued, ‘Today also this question emerges: who is responsible for the blood of these brothers and sisters? No one! We each reply: it was not I, I wasn’t here, it was someone else.’
The Pope also called for ‘those who take the socio-economic decisions in anonymity that open the way to tragedies such as these to come out of hiding.’
With all due respect, I think this is very loose thinking indeed of a kind that the last Pope would not have permitted himself. The analogy between the two situations, the murder of the tyrant in Fuente Ovejuna and the death by drowning of thousands of migrants, is weak to the point of non-existence. After all, someone in Fuente Ovejuna did kill the tyrant; no one in the west drowned the migrants. Is the Pope then saying that Europe’s refusal to allow in all who want to come is the moral equivalent of actually wielding the knife?
By elevating feeling over thought, by making compassion the measure of all things, the Pope was able to evade the complexities of the situation, in effect indulging in one of the characteristic vices of our time, moral exhibitionism, which is the espousal of generous sentiment without the pain of having to think of the costs to other people of the implied (but unstated) morally-appropriate policy…..
And that’s just fine with Wenski.
Of course, we need to remember that what Wenski is preaching has very little to do with compassion, and a great deal to do with power, and more specifically, the power of numbers. Latino immigration fills pews, and (often) adds support for the Roman Catholic Church’s ideological agenda.
As The Economist explained a month or so back:
Together with a general migration from the north-east and Midwest towards the sunbelt, the number of people leaving the faith has led to a shrinking of Catholicism in its former heartlands…
This shrinking has been offset by growth in the South and southwest of the country. The number of Catholics in the archdiocese of Atlanta has increased by 180% in 2001-11. In these growth areas two-thirds of all Catholics are Hispanic. Hispanics tend to have larger families and their children are more likely to stick with the religion than the offspring of white Catholics. This is causing a big change in the ethnic makeup of the faithful. About a third of American Catholics are Hispanic, but for those under 40 the share rises to almost half.
And that’s what Wenski’s advocacy is really about.
While there are perfectly good scientific reasons for accepting the theory of AGW, the certainty, the fervor and the moralizing displayed by some in the climate change crusade look very much like a form of religious belief. Under the circumstances it’s no surprise to see this new faith incorporated into the teachings of more conventional churches.
The Guardian has an excellent recent example of this phenomenon:
Religious groups have urged Pope Francis to back a campaign to encourage millions of people, organisations and investors to pull their money out of the fossil fuel industry. Multi-faith groups in Australia and North America have sent a letter to the pope saying it is “immoral” to profit from fossil fuels. The letter, shown exclusively to the Guardian, says 80% of global fossil fuel reserves must “stay in the ground” if dangerous climate change is to be avoided.
The letter sent to the pope’s offices in February is co-signed by the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC) and US-based GreenFaith.
…GreenFaith executive director, the Rev Fletcher Harper, said: “Pope Francis’s support would provide a powerful validation of the moral rightness of divestment and reinvestment in response to the climate crisis, and would immediately signal the need for dramatic action. It would be of vital significance.”
The modish and tacky elision of ‘green’ and ‘faith’ is revealing enough, but a visit to GreenFaith’s website fills out the picture still further. It makes for grimly entertaining reading:
Worship leaders can integrate “raw” natural elements into worship services. For example, worship can include containers of water, earth, plants, leaves from local trees, or other natural elements placed in the worship space and visible to all. These natural elements can beautify a sanctuary and deepen worshipers’ relationship with God.
And so it goes on.
I was, however intrigued by this detail lurking in the Guardian piece:
The letter to the pope was sent a week before Australia’s Cardinal George Pell was appointed to an influential senior position within the Catholic church and the Vatican as the head of a new secretariat for the economy.
Cardinal Pell has expressed extreme scepticism of the science linking greenhouse gas emissions to climate change. In 2011 he delivered the annual lecture of the UK’s sceptic group the Global Warming Policy Foundation, founded by Lord Nigel Lawson, and claimed carbon dioxide was “not a pollutant” and animals would not notice a doubling of atmospheric CO2.
He said climate change campaigners were following a “mythology” which he said was attractive to the “religionless and spiritually rootless”.
I don’t agree with the cardinal on CO2 (the argument is considerably more complex than that), but I do agree with him (I agree with a cardinal!) when he talks about the appeal of a certain type of environmentalism to the “spiritually rootless”.
Like it or not, most people possess a religious instinct. To borrow that old X-Files line, they “want to believe” : greenery can fill that gap. It can, quite clearly, also garnish the faith of those who have already found a pew.
Boston’s “Cardinal Sean” pulls a cheap stunt:
NOGALES, Ariz. — At a Mass held under the shadow of the border fence this morning, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston called on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform this year.
“The system is broken, causes terrible suffering and is a waste of human resources,” O’Malley said.
This is the same priest who campaigned so hard (and so successfully) against Massachusetts’s Death With Dignity Act, a measure that would have done quite a bit to alleviate terrible suffering on his own doorstep.
O’Malley’s stance is, of course, very little to do with compassion, and a great deal to do with power, and more specifically, the power of numbers. Latino immigration fills pews, and (often) adds support for the Roman Catholic Church’s ideological agenda, an agenda that O’Malley is not, as we have seen, reluctant to impose on others.
But back to the cardinal:
“We’ve lost the sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters. … America at its best is not the bigotry and xenophobia of the know-nothings but the welcome of The New Colussus.”
O’Malley was accompanied by eight other members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and 17 other priests. The clergy gave communion to people on the Mexican side of the fence as part of the Mass.
“We see this as a moral issue, as an ethical issue,” said Bishop Gerald Kicanas of the Tucson Diocese…
The presumption, therefore, is that those who dare to disagree are a thoroughly immoral lot.
The committee of bishops, which favors a path to citizenship for undocumented migrants, on Friday called on Catholics to pray, fast and take action for immigration reform, such as sending members of Congress electronic postcards advocating change….
From The Economist:
Together with a general migration from the north-east and Midwest towards the sunbelt, the number of people leaving the faith has led to a shrinking of Catholicism in its former heartlands….
This shrinking has been offset by growth in the South and southwest of the country. The number of Catholics in the archdiocese of Atlanta has increased by 180% in 2001-11. In these growth areas two-thirds of all Catholics are Hispanic. Hispanics tend to have larger families and their children are more likely to stick with the religion than the offspring of white Catholics. This is causing a big change in the ethnic makeup of the faithful. About a third of American Catholics are Hispanic, but for those under 40 the share rises to almost half. The church’s building programme cannot keep up. In some parishes in Arizona the local church will hold up to seven services on a Sunday, says Gerald Kicanus, the bishop of Tucson. Finding enough pastors is hard: the diocese has brought in priests from Nigeria, India and the Philippines to make up for a shortage of home-grown ones.
Once they have found a pew, Hispanic Catholics expect a different kind of worship. Cross-carrying processions during Holy Week have become commonplace. The way the sign of the cross is made can differ, as can the use of holy water and the saints and shrines chosen for veneration—the growing cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe is the best example. Services have more music, and the kind of charismatic preaching performed by Father Hoyos in Arlington has gained ground.
This distinctive way of doing things extends to politics. Overall, America’s Catholics vote like the country as a whole. In 2012, 50% of Catholic voters backed Barack Obama and 48% went for Mitt Romney, his Republican opponent. But there was a clear divide between white Catholics, who favoured Mr Romney, and Hispanic Catholics, who favoured Mr Obama.
Though Hispanic Catholics are conservative on some social issues, such as abortion, this seldom determines their party allegiance. (The same is true of black evangelicals.) Their notion of the proper role of government is more Democratic than Republican. Some 61% of white Catholics say it should reduce the income gap between rich and poor. For Hispanic Catholics the figure is 86%. For Mr Obama, who was to meet the pope on March 27th, these numbers must seem miraculous.
So Latino immigration helps fill Roman Catholic churches and brings votes the Democrats’ way.
And both that church and that party favor more of it.
Possibly a phenonemenon that it does not need a Sherlock Holmes to explain.
There are those who think that Europe’s appalling unemployment problem can be explained by overly rigid labor markets, the spiraling energy costs that greenery has brought in its wake and, of course, the ill-judged introduction of the euro.
Pope Francis has a different explanation:
“What can we say, when faced with the very serious problem of unemployment that affects various European countries?”, he asked. “It is the consequence of an economic system that is no longer able to create work, because it has placed at its centre the idol of money…”
It’s hard to work out what’s worst about that comment, its frivolity, its ignorance or its demagoguery.
In the course of a lengthy piece on Pope Francis, The Economist looks at the pontiff’s political and economic opinions and (correctly, in my view) finds them rooted in the history of the country of his birth:
The political landscape of Francis’s homeland, however, offers a more accurate, and nuanced, understanding of his views. For most of his life Argentina has plotted a kind of third way between Marxism and liberalism—albeit one with disastrous political and economic results. “[Francis] only knows one style of politics,” says a diplomat accredited to the Holy See. “And that is Peronism.”
The creed bequeathed by Argentina’s former dictator, General Juan Perón, with its “three flags” of social justice, economic independence and political sovereignty, has been endlessly reinterpreted since. Conservatives and revolutionaries alike have been proud to call themselves Peronist. But at its heart it is corporatist, assigning to the state the job of resolving conflicts between interest groups, including workers and employers. In that respect it resembles fascism and Nazism—and also Catholic social doctrine.
The pope’s Peronist side shows in his use of a classic populist technique: going over the heads of the elite to the people with headline-grabbing gestures and comments. And it is visible in his view of political economy, which also has much in common with post-Marxist protest movements such as Occupy Wall Street, the Spanish indignados and Italy’s Five Star Movement. “While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by the happy few,” he has written. “This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control.”
The Economist is perhaps too polite to mention the fact that crude reductionism, scapegoating and argument by straw man are also often “classic populist techniques”, and ones, regrettably, that this pope sometimes appears willing to deploy. Nevertheless, the magazine does find space to include this:
One passage in Evangelii Gaudium [This pope’s first ‘Apostolic Exhortation’] appalled many: “Just as the commandment: ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘Thou shalt not,’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality.” Even more radically, he quoted St John Chrysostom, an early church father: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them.”
This, of course, was (as The Economist noted) the same document that included, without qualification, this:
“Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless.”