Sunday, February 2, 2014

Evangelii Gaudium, Part Three

Still working our way through this mammoth document. Continuing on:

55. 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. 

And the denial of the place of the person begins with a denial of God’s place in the universe.

But really, is this anything new? Something about the love of money and the root of evil comes to mind. Is there any doubt that man is being stripped down into nothing more than a machine for consuming lots of worthless crap? We’ve moved well beyond our natural need for leisure here. Brave New World comes to mind again.

That being said, I wish very much that Pope Francis would have acknowledged that the poor often idolize money even moreso than the rich. As we’ve referenced here before, distributist remedies to our economic and moral problems seem to be past their prime because of the effects that attempts at wealth redistribution have had on the poor themselves. The decay of families, the rise of the welfare state, etc. are all things we’d been warned about (see Centessimus Annus #48, for example). We didn’t listen. Now, the poor and rich can bask in their mutual religion of money worship.

56. While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. 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. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule. 

None of this is wrong. It shows a limited view of the problem, though, as we mentioned in the prior section. Yes, it’s awful that income gaps keep growing. It’s even worse that we’ve put poor people in a position where they are just as greedy as the rich. This happened because they were fed a line about how great things would be if they just had stuff and how their real salvation was in liberation from poverty and oppression. Why has the “prosperity gospel” made such in-roads in the Third World? Because it’s preaching to this inherent materialistic greed that grace is cheap and really what we should be praying for and expecting is more stuff.

57. Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God. Ethics has come to be viewed with a certain scornful derision. It is seen as counterproductive, too human, because it makes money and power relative. It is felt to be a threat, since it condemns the manipulation and debasement of the person. In effect, ethics leads to a God who calls for a committed response which is outside the categories of the marketplace. When these latter are absolutized, God can only be seen as uncontrollable, unmanageable, even dangerous, since he calls human beings to their full realization and to freedom from all forms of enslavement. Ethics – a non-ideological ethics – would make it possible to bring about balance and a more humane social order. With this in mind, I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs”.[55] 

This is absolutely correct. What I’ve noticed, though, is a lot confusion about its application. The Pope has spent several sections up to this point talking about breaking the Gospel back down to its basic tenets because the teachings of the Church on virtue, sin, morals, etc. won’t hold up without this foundation. Now, we see this about how the underlying issue of financial injustice is actually a rejection of ethics. I’ve heard more than one person talk about this as being somewhat contradictory, or at best, putting us in a chicken/egg sort of dilemma about how to remedy the situation. I don’t think it’s contradictory. I do think that it’s not very clear how this is supposed to be incorporated into the over-arching “style” that the Pope had talked about earlier.

58. A financial reform open to such ethical considerations would require a vigorous change of approach on the part of political leaders. I urge them to face this challenge with determination and an eye to the future, while not ignoring, of course, the specifics of each case. 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. 

Again, very little of controversy there. It still raises the question of how we immediately inject a discussion of ethics into a conversation that is supposed to be about the Gospel basics, which, as stated earlier, precedes reference to morality.

59. Today in many places we hear a call for greater security. But until exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples are reversed, it will be impossible to eliminate violence. The poor and the poorer peoples are accused of violence, yet without equal opportunities the different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and eventually explode. When a society – whether local, national or global – is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes, no political programmes or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquility. This is not the case simply because inequality provokes a violent reaction from those excluded from the system, but because the socioeconomic system is unjust at its root. Just as goodness tends to spread, the toleration of evil, which is injustice, tends to expand its baneful influence and quietly to undermine any political and social system, no matter how solid it may appear. If every action has its consequences, an evil embedded in the structures of a society has a constant potential for disintegration and death. It is evil crystallized in unjust social structures, which cannot be the basis of hope for a better future. We are far from the so-called “end of history”, since the conditions for a sustainable and peaceful development have not yet been adequately articulated and realized. 

This could be applied equally to the “better theology through guns” crowd among the liberation theology types who use the rhetoric of “social justice” to incite poor people to violence. Still nothing particularly eyebrow-raising in this section either.

60. Today’s economic mechanisms promote inordinate consumption, yet it is evident that unbridled consumerism combined with inequality proves doubly damaging to the social fabric. Inequality eventually engenders a violence which recourse to arms cannot and never will be able to resolve. It serves only to offer false hopes to those clamouring for heightened security, even though nowadays we know that weapons and violence, rather than providing solutions, create new and more serious conflicts. Some simply content themselves with blaming the poor and the poorer countries themselves for their troubles; indulging in unwarranted generalizations, they claim that the solution is an “education” that would tranquilize them, making them tame and harmless. All this becomes even more exasperating for the marginalized in the light of the widespread and deeply rooted corruption found in many countries – in their governments, businesses and institutions – whatever the political ideology of their leaders. 

Here’s another section where I think being from outside the Latin American loop hurts understandings. For myself, I have no idea where these accusations against poor people and countries are coming from. The only such accusation I’m familiar with is the same one Pope Francis makes regarding internal corruption in such countries.

Here also ends the first part of the exhortation that received widespread reporting. Other than one section that was apparently caught up in a translation error, was there anything all that shocking or earth-shattering? Especially when compared with a much more substantive (yet shorter) document like Lumen Fidei?

61. We also evangelize when we attempt to confront the various challenges which can arise.[56] On occasion these may take the form of veritable attacks on religious freedom or new persecutions directed against Christians; in some countries these have reached alarming levels of hatred and violence. In many places, the problem is more that of widespread indifference and relativism, linked to disillusionment and the crisis of ideologies which has come about as a reaction to any-thing which might appear totalitarian. This not only harms the Church but the fabric of society as a whole. We should recognize how in a culture where each person wants to be bearer of his or her own subjective truth, it becomes difficult for citizens to devise a common plan which transcends individual gain and personal ambitions. 

Lots of stuff hear that hearkens back to Pope Benedict. The Pope is coming out and saying that there is no subjective truth or morality and that the belief in such things is damaging to the Church and everything else. Contrast this with the insanity that was promoted after the Scalfari “interview.”

And Pope Francis also deserves big kudos for his constant beating of the drum when it comes to our persecuted and increasingly persecuted brethren all over the world. He doesn’t come right out and quote Tertullian’s “The blood of the martyrs is seed” statement, but this section comes close to it.

63. The Catholic faith of many peoples is nowadays being challenged by the proliferation of new religious movements, some of which tend to fundamentalism while others seem to propose a spirituality without God. This is, on the one hand, a human reaction to a materialistic, consumerist and individualistic society, but it is also a means of exploiting the weaknesses of people living in poverty and on the fringes of society, people who make ends meet amid great human suffering and are looking for immediate solutions to their needs. These religious movements, not without a certain shrewdness, come to fill, within a predominantly individualistic culture, a vacuum left by secularist rationalism. We must recognize that if part of our baptized people lack a sense of belonging to the Church, this is also due to certain structures and the occasionally unwelcoming atmosphere of some of our parishes and communities, or to a bureaucratic way of dealing with problems, be they simple or complex, in the lives of our people. In many places an administrative approach prevails over a pastoral approach, as does a concentration on administering the sacraments apart from other forms of evangelization.

He is, of course, absolutely right about the “shrewdness” of new religious movements. This would have been another great opportunity to hammer the prosperity Gospel folks, but he stops just short.

I again profess ignorance on the “structures” and so forth that are so problematic.

64. The process of secularization tends to reduce the faith and the Church to the sphere of the private and personal. 

I wonder what this means for those politicians who are “personally opposed” to abortion.

Furthermore, by completely rejecting the transcendent, it has produced a growing deterioration of ethics, a weakening of the sense of personal and collective sin, and a steady increase in relativism. 

I’m still not sure how some of the stuff the Holy Father proposes is supposed to mesh together. How are people supposed to regain the sense of sin without the Church’s condemnation of it and pointing out where it has most infiltrated our culture? To speak constantly of mercy without stressing the fear of our just punishments is only going to lead people down this road more. They get the sense that, since sin is so easily forgiven, then it isn’t all that bad (if it was a sin at all).

These have led to a general sense of disorientation, especially in the periods of adolescence and young adulthood which are so vulnerable to change. As the bishops of the United States of America have rightly pointed out, while the Church insists on the existence of objective moral norms which are valid for everyone, “there are those in our culture who portray this teaching as unjust, that is, as opposed to basic human rights. Such claims usually follow from a form of moral relativism that is joined, not without inconsistency, to a belief in the absolute rights of individuals. In this view, the Church is perceived as promoting a particular prejudice and as interfering with individual freedom”.[59] 

Right. When the Church does speak of sin, She is cast as the enemy. Has this ever not been the case, though?

Again and again, the Church has acted as a mediator in finding solutions to problems affecting peace, social harmony, the land, the defence of life, human and civil rights, and so forth. And how much good has been done by Catholic schools and universities around the world! This is a good thing. Yet, we find it difficult to make people see that when we raise other questions less palatable to public opinion, we are doing so out of fidelity to precisely the same convictions about human dignity and the common good. 

This is a wonderful riposte to secular criticism. The temptation for many Catholics, though, is to focus solely on these accomplishments and not consider the supernatural achievements of the Church, ie- the salvation of souls. Too much focus on the temporal serves to strengthen the feedback loop of forgetting the transcendent, ignoring sin, and so forth.

Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. But the indispensible contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple. As the French bishops have taught, it is not born “of loving sentiment, ephemeral by definition, but from the depth of the obligation assumed by the spouses who accept to enter a total communion of life”.[60] 

Beautiful stuff.

69. It is imperative to evangelize cultures in order to inculturate the Gospel. In countries of Catholic tradition, this means encouraging, fostering and reinforcing a richness which already exists. In countries of other religious traditions, or profoundly secularized countries, it will mean sparking new processes for evangelizing culture, even though these will demand long-term planning. We must keep in mind, however, that we are constantly being called to grow. Each culture and social group needs purification and growth. In the case of the popular cultures of Catholic peoples, we can see deficiencies which need to be healed by the Gospel: machismo, alcoholism, domestic violence, low Mass attendance, fatalistic or superstitious notions which lead to sorcery, and the like. Popular piety itself can be the starting point for healing and liberation from these deficiencies. 

This might be the most significant section of the whole document. A call for a Catholic culture, born out of popular piety is unimaginable to the vast majority of the world. It is directly opposed to the image that so many have painted of Pope Francis. Not only that, but it looks like this call is extended to non-Catholic nations as well. In other words, the Catholic culture should be something ubiquitous, regardless of national, ethnic, etc. boundaries.


haskovec said...

55. On this point actually money arises naturally in the market place and didn't come about as stated here. One begins with a simple market place where trade is conducted by barter. In a barter environment you have a problem if you have eggs to barter and need clothing but the person with clothing wants apples. Instead what happens is that certain commodities are more universally in demand and people start exchanging for them and using those for to store value until there were goods or services they needed. In the market place this was gold and silver about 6000 years ago. We don't have money anymore but a fiat currency. So I understand what the Pope is getting at with the love and idolatry of money, I just don't think that money comes from where he says it does.

56. Some of the reason for the earnings gap growing is in fact the fiat money system instead of using a system of honest money. The federal reserve decides to print a pile of money that money first goes into the hands of the wealthy (the bankers). They get access to this money before the market place has absorbed the issue of this money and the prices have adjusted to it, so they are buying at the per-inflationary prices with money created out of thin air. As that money starts working its way through the economy the prices rise. The last people to get the money are the poor but they have already been suffering the price rises for some time. So fiat monetary inflation directly transfers wealth from the poor and middle class to the wealthy.

Then factor in fascist policies of the government bailing out failing private businesses. So the government and federal reserve pumped in trillions of dollars to save Goldman Sachs and other wealthy connected banks which benefit the rich at the expense of the rest of society meanwhile the middle class eats it on their mortgages that went underwater.

That same money if applied to people's mortgages could have paid off a huge ton of people's mortgages which would have helped the middle class and still saved the banks without handing the rich directly a big bailout and crapping on everyone else. Of course even if they had chosen to do that with the middle class it would have still been an immoral policy as you would have been stealing purchasing power from everyone else in society to benefit the homeowners who hadn't paid off their property. The only moral policy in that scenario in my mind would have been to let all the insolvent banks fail and come in and prop up the FDIC so people's insured savings are protected and bring moral hazard back into the system.

Throwback said...

On 55, I'm not sure there's much disagreement. It's more about what our relationship with money has turned into. This goes back to our prior post about New Jack City as Pope Francis's favorite movie and Nino Brown as the poster child for modern idolatry.

56. Inflation is a tax on the poor. Ain't no doubt. Part of me wonders why that didn't get any mention. My guess is that it's not the sort of thing that is subject to sound bites and too few people understand how the monetary system works in the first place.