The Pope is not a Marxist.
I can’t believe I even need to write that sentence.
Of course the Pope is not a Marxist.
It is a sad indictment of our society that he even had to clarify that point this weekend.
Into what sort of twisted and bizarre alternate dimension have we stumbled? The Pope — the most prominent, religious, anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage figure on the planet — must defend himself against the ignorant attacks of… conservatives? The Pope, the leader of the Catholic Church, the leader of Progressive Secularism’s most hated institution. The Pope, the man who recently released an Apostolic Exhortation in which he proclaimed abortion to be an atrocity that “cries out in vengeance to God.”
The Pope, the guy who, in the same document, also said this:
“..This defence of unborn life is closely linked to the defence of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development… Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defence of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be.”
In other words, he not only condemned abortion, but he condemned it in stronger and more eloquent terms than any American conservative media figure or politician could possibly muster. Yet, this same Pope finds himself in the rhetorical cross hairs of certain elements in the American right wing.
And for what?
Because he criticized capitalism.
And, yes, he did criticize capitalism.
And, no, that doesn’t make him a Marxist.
Of course that doesn’t make him a Marxist.
I am a capitalist. I love the idea of the Free Market, although I’ve never actually encountered such a thing. But capitalism is not my religion. I know that it is an economic system created by men; I know that it is not perfect. It can be criticized, and Catholicism has a long history — and a recent history — of doing just that.
He doesn’t say anything that Chesterton and Belloc didn’t already say a century ago. He doesn’t break any papal ground that hasn’t already been thoroughly tread by his predecessors — notably, John Paul II and Leo XIII. Most important: he doesn’t say anything that isn’t entirely in line with Christ’s teachings.
If you aren’t familiar, this whole “controversy” stems from an exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, which was released by Pope Francis a few weeks ago. The entire thing is only about 200 pages, and it’s worth reading. In fact, if you are going to publicly use it as proof of the Pope’s “Marxism” — a dramatic and startling claim, to be sure — then you have a responsibility to read the full context of his remarks.
A woman messaged me on Facebook last week to inform me that the Pope’s “horrible comments” prove that he is not only a liberal, but quite possibly the anti-Christ. She assured me that the end is nigh, and I will likely burn in Hell if I do not denounce him. I asked her if she’d actually read the entire context of any of these comments.
“No,” she responded, “I don’t have time.”
Ah, I see. You read a few sentences cherry picked by American media outlets, immediately formed your “this guy is the anti-Christ” hypothesis, and didn’t even take the time to verify it? If I thought someone was the harbinger of annihilation, I’d at least carve out a few hours to investigate the matter.
But this is America, and this is how we operate. Too lazy to inform ourselves, too arrogant to keep our mouths shut when we are completely ignorant of the subject at hand.
For my part, I did read it. I read the whole thing. I found not a single instance of Marxism. Interestingly, I also found not a single instance of the Pope actually using the word “capitalism.” But he did mention consumerism:
“Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. 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…”
“One cause of this situation is found in our relationship with money, since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.”
“Money must serve, not rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and to the return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favours human beings.”
Marxism? This is Marxism?
No, this is Christianity.
Here is the similarity between what Pope Francis said and what Karl Marx said: they both criticized certain elements of capitalism.
The end. That’s it.
To say that the Pope is automatically a Marxist because he condemned obscene wealth is like saying I am automatically a vegan because I didn’t have a Big Mac for lunch last Tuesday. It’s absurd.
The following is NOT the definition of Marxism: “Anything that isn’t capitalism.”
Karl Marx was a godless materialist; Pope Francis is an obedient and humble servant of Jesus. I doubt very much that Mr. Marx would have said this:
“For just as some people want a purely spiritual Christ, without flesh and without the cross, they also want their interpersonal relationships provided by sophisticated equipment, by screens and systems which can be turned on and off on command. Meanwhile, the Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction. True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others. The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness.”
I could be wrong, but I don’t think Karl Marx wanted to create a philosophy that calls us to “true faith in the Incarnate Son of God.”
Not only is that excerpt — also from the Pope’s “Marxist” manifesto — very true, it’s likewise incredibly profound. If we were a deep and thoughtful people, we would stop screaming “Marxist” at everything that moves, and instead ponder and discuss the words I quoted above.
Conservatives fulfill every conceivable negative stereotype when they castigate a man for simply urging us to give to the poor. This is like something out of a political cartoon in the New York Times. It’s befuddling and embarrassing.
The Pope is not a Marxist. He probably wouldn’t refer to himself as a capitalist, either. I don’t think he’s too concerned about the labels we place on him, but I’m guessing, if anything, he’d probably identify closest with Distributism.
Distributism is a third-way economic philosophy, developed by guys like Chesterton and Belloc, which places the emphasis on property ownership. A Distributist would say that property ownership is fundamental to human dignity, and the means of production ought to be spread widely among many people. Distributism rests on the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity — principles I also hold. Personally, I do not think a Distributist “system” can be established on a national scale, but it does hold promise on the hyper local level; among families and small communities.
In any event, Distributism is not Marxism. Distributism is rooted in Catholic social teaching; Marxism is rooted in materialism and godlessness.
We can debate the Pope’s words on the economy, but I refuse to debate anyone who hasn’t taken the time to read them first. In the end, you might find that you still disagree with some of his opinions. As a Christian, I can’t fathom how you’d fundamentally oppose the overall crux of his message — that we should serve the poor and stop idolizing money — but you might differ on the nuances of his argument. We can have this discussion, but only if it’s an honest discussion.
In the end, regardless of economic theory, Pope Francis is an extraordinary man, and he is accomplishing extraordinary things. He is a lesson to all of us, particularly yours truly. Despite what American media outlets might claim, he has not compromised on the tough “social issues.” He hasn’t given up even one inch in that regard. He is an eloquent and unapologetic defender of life and truth, yet he is embraced by many who would normally despise the people who hold such beliefs.
Well, some of them might have been taken in by the propaganda campaign of left wing journalists; a campaign that has clearly succeeded in fooling more than a few conservatives as well. But I think there’s even more to it. I think people see this Pope, a man of such power, and they notice his genuine humility and compassion. They can’t help but be moved by it. They see the images of him wading into crowds to hug and kiss the sick and the deformed. They see him doing little things, like driving a used car, or paying his own hotel bill, and they realize that even nameless, insignificant congressmen in this country aren’t nearly so unassuming and down-to-earth. They hear the stories about him, and they know that his love for the downtrodden and the impoverished is real. It’s not an act. Pope Francis is a powerful man and a good man, and this is a combination we so rarely see anymore.
Because of this, the Pope is loved. He isn’t loved because he compromises on the Truth, or kowtows to modern trends; he’s loved because he loves. And for that, this Pope ought to be hoisted up as a model for all of us.
Either the Pope is not a Marxist, or Marxism has been vastly misunderstood by everyone, including Karl Marx.