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Travis Rowley: Pilgrims and the Pope

Saturday, November 30, 2013

 

Admittedly, there is much to be noted concerning warnings of the “idolatry of money” and the “excesses of capitalism.” But after carefully studying Pope Francis’ remarks touching upon economic philosophy within his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) I have drawn a conclusion: The Pope’s commentary is unfortunate.

And, like any other pro-collectivist argument, it is grounded in ignorance.

Forcefully correcting Francis’ claim that free market economics have “never been confirmed by the facts” – and that free markets fail to “[bring] about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world” – editor-in-chief of Reason Magazine Matt Welch penned an article that neutralized the Pope’s claim, providing numerous “facts” that would at least force Francis to modify his opinion.

This proud Catholic couldn’t help but agree with Welch when he wrote, “Francis's hyperbolic rants about the role and allegedly dictatorial power of free markets are embarrassing in their wrongness…To look upon the miracles of this world and lament the lack of ‘means of escape’ is to advertise your own ignorance. To call [capitalism] a ‘tyranny’ is to do violence to any meaningful sense of that important word.”


Thanksgiving vs. The Pope

Perhaps the timing couldn’t have been worse for Pope Francis. Evangelii Gaudium was offered on the Eve of Thanksgiving, when conservative pundits were reminding everyone of this national holiday’s true history and the real source of the pilgrims’ plight. As the governor of Plymouth Plantation William Bradford reported, after having ended the practice of a “common stock” for all the settlers in favor of private land ownership, the “face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God.” Bradford wrote, “Any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day.”

Another historical testimony came from Colony Secretary Ralph Hamor. Apparently, under the organization of “common stock,” the pilgrims “reaped not so much corn from the labors of thirty men as three men have done for themselves now.”

Four hundred years later the Bishop of Rome will denounce this anti-poverty system as a “selfish ideal.”

Pope Francis asks, “Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving?" – Astonishingly incurious as to the structure that provided so much food to discard in the first place.

But Francis seems to be in agreement with the most radical of leftists, obsessed with material “equality” and philosophically averse to a world of plenty: “The culture of prosperity deadens us.”

Pope Francis also writes, “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.”

For the Pope to proclaim that “today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest” is pure hyperbole to the point of complete inaccuracy. Indeed, the Tea Party movement sprung up in 2009 in defiance to the socialism being administered within the housing market, and in order to return us to a state of “competition.”

This particular statement manages to match the total oblivion represented by the Left’s repeated assertion that “free-market healthcare delivered us to this point” – the point where something like Obamacare was absolutely necessary. In reality, there may not be an industry that has been under more government control during the last 60 years than the markets dealing in health care and health insurance.


Pope vs. Pope

There is much less wiggle room for conservatives in this instance than there has been in recent months, when progressives were attempting to take advantage of more ambiguous remarks made by the Roman Pontiff.

In his exhortation, Pope Francis doesn’t merely encourage the wealthy to individually decide to care for the less fortunate. Rather, he calls on “the more fortunate” to “renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods more generously at the service of others.” Among many unmistakable remarks, Francis declares, “Inequality is the root of social ills” and calls on us to “[attack] the structural causes of inequality.”

While progressives again became giddy over the Pope’s latest comments, they likely won’t be asked by brokers of information to balance them against the anti-socialist comments made by popes of the past.

Most people understand that the Church is despised by progressives for its resistance to abortion and gay “marriage.” Less known is the fact that the Church has a long – while uneven – history of denouncing collectivist ideologies.

Pope John Paul II wrote, “The fundamental error of socialism is anthropological in nature. Socialism considers the individual person simply as an element, a molecule within the social organism, so that the good of the individual is completely subordinated…Socialism likewise maintains that the good of the individual can be realized without reference to his free choice…From this mistaken conception of the person there arise both a distortion of law, which defines the sphere of the exercise of freedom, and an opposition to private property…[Socialism] makes it much more difficult for him to recognize his dignity as a person, and hinders progress towards the building up of an authentic human community.”

In 1878, Pope Leo XIII was emphatic in his understanding that the “special object” of the Church’s “doctrines and precepts” is “the uprooting of the evil growth of socialism.” He warned of the socialist desire to “debase the natural union of man and woman,” that socialists are “lured…by the greed of present goods,” that they “assail the right of property sanctioned by natural law,” and that they “strive to seize and hold in common whatever has been acquired either by title of lawful inheritance, or by labor of brain and hands, or by thrift in one's mode of life.”

Leo XIII had a prophetic message for today’s unionists: “It is no matter for surprise that men of the lowest class, weary of their wretched home or workshop, are eager to attack the homes and fortunes of the rich.”

“But Catholic wisdom, sustained by the precepts of natural and divine law, provides with especial care for public and private tranquility in its doctrines and teachings…For, while the socialists would destroy the ‘right’ of property, alleging it to be a human invention altogether opposed to the inborn equality of man, and, claiming a community of goods, argue that poverty should not be peaceably endured, and that the property and privileges of the rich may be rightly invaded, the Church, with much greater wisdom and good sense, recognizes the inequality among men, who are born with different powers of body and mind, inequality in actual possession, also, and holds that the right of property and of ownership, which springs from nature itself, must not be touched and stands inviolate. For she knows that stealing and robbery were forbidden in so special a manner by God, the Author and Defender of right, that He would not allow man even to desire what belonged to another, and that thieves and despoilers, no less than adulterers and idolaters, are shut out from the Kingdom of Heaven.”


Pope Francis vs. The Future

The struggles against abortion and gay marriage are worthy – and even related to the collectivist effort. But I would venture to say that the widespread cry for economic socialism represents the most immediate threat to America’s future. Too many Americans – along with one of the nation’s major political parties – are now in full subscription to the collectivist ideal. If its unworkability and its evil roots aren’t decoded and outlawed soon, reaching the American ideal again will be made impossible.

This urgency is why a devout Catholic friend of mine decided this week, “If [the Pope] feels like wading into economics, I’m not gonna cut him any slack.” And this is why Matt Welch has declared that “cheering” for Pope Francis’ anti-capitalist sentiments is “like [liberals] donating money to a Creationist Museum, only with more potential impact.”

Conservative Catholics shouldn’t be afraid to speak out against the Pope’s promotion of collectivist theory. We should pray for Francis. We should remember that the socialist idea is seductive. And we should never forget that we have previous popes on our side.


Travis Rowley (TravisRowley.com) is the author of The RI Republican: An Indictment of The Rhode Island Left.

 

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