It’s interesting to note that Pope Francis’ recent exhortation, called “Evangelii Gaudium” focuses on the importance of the Catholic Church to improve its missionary skills. Here, in the year 2013, there has been a competing theology that he chooses to address, which began in the Reagan-Thatcher era. That competing theology is the Theology of Greed, or “Theologica Avaricae,” in Latin. It is certainly true that “The Joy of the Gospel” has a much better message for many than does the “Theology of Greed” promulgated by the Neoliberal party of Reagan, Thatcher, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Blair and company.
Consider the structure laid out in Evangelii Gaudium, in the metaphor of modern business. Pope Francis states his goals on pages 16-17 of his exhortation:
“Here I have chosen to present some guidelines which can encourage and guide the whole Church in a new phase of evangelization, one marked by enthusiasm and vitality. …. I have decided, among other themes, to discuss at length the following questions:
a) the reform of the Church in her missionary outreach;
b) the temptations faced by pastoral workers;
c) the Church, understood as the entire People of God which evangelizes;
d) the homily and its preparation;
e) the inclusion of the poor in society;
f) peace and dialogue within society;
g) the spiritual motivations for mission.”
Moving past the words of a religious nature, we can immediately determine that Papa Francisco has created a document which is a mixture of a legal brief, a strategy statement and a religious exhortation. We’ll focus first on the strategy, starting with his list, above.
This is a statement of goals, to grow the Church and counter competing Churches, to reform how the Church speaks to its member and non-members, what is said, what is done, and why. It gets to this point after an exploration of the problems which face us today.
We name the problem it addresses, Theologia Avaricae, or the Theology of Avarice (Financial Greed). We note in passing that the Theology of Avarice, as promulgated by Reagan-Thatcher and as blessed and eulogized by others in the political and financial communities, is really a religion, with a central doctrine of greed, which has now had a generation’s time to grow, and flourish. No wonder the Pope wants to fight back; this theology of greed has become strong, and it directly attacks both Christian and societal values which we have all cherished for a very long time. Notice his words from sections 52 and 53 of Evangelii Gaudium. He calls out those who by reason of their own selfishness cause harm to others:
Without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape. Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded.
We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.
In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. – Evangelii Gaudium, see pp. 44-46.
The Pope has issued a clarion call to all who value the most important things in human society: love, support, generosity, sharing. Love of money kills these qualities in people, for the reasons that Pope Francis mentions; money becomes the only worthwhile goal, and all other values suffer. His comments have brought some sharp replies from the Servants of the Theology of Greed:
- Russ Douhthat: Denial. Claims that Capitalism is good. Weak argument, in view of the comments made by Papa Francisco, and the examples that he used.
- Forbes Writer: Anger (I’m afraid that my reaction to it is barely controlled rage) Anger is another weak response. Lacking good counterarguments, anger is one of the few choices he/she has remaining.
- Limbaugh: Anger. Claims that the Pope is a Marxist. Ad hominem attacks are weak substitutes for real counterarguments. The ad hominem attack is designed to distract readers from noticing that he has not presented an argument explaining why what the Pope said is incorrect. The right wing extremists like to do this, because all they have on their side seems to be unproven dogmas. Most of their arguments are not strong enough to support themselves, so they have to rely on attacking the person, not the idea.
- Stuart Varney: Denial. Says: In my opinion, society benefits most when people are free to pursue their own self-interest. Another weak argument; Mr. Varney is entitled to his opinion, but 30 years of Reagan-Thatcher has effectively proven that “trickle-down” economics simply do not even trickle down.
In the light of these weak responses to the strong arguments of Pope Francis’ exhortation, we say: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Evangelii Gaudium yields not an inch to the Avaricious and their paid servants.
Back to the strategy expounded at length by Papa Francisco. It is a long document translated into many languages, and one has to admire the erudition of on institution which can deliver such a stunning statement in hundreds of languages and deliver a very hard message in soft language. The very length of the document and its breadth in many languages demonstrates an incredible amount of thought and effort behind its production. This underlines the seriousness behind the effort, and the determination behind its implementation. Make no mistake, the Catholic Church is very determined and deliberate in implementing its messages.
The document indirectly is a slap in the face to many groups. The breadth of the document places an emphasis on references to the New Testament and Christ’s love; this is a slap to the right wing, especially, so-called “fundamentalist Christians.” The inclusion of the poor is a slap to the Theology of Avarice, the selfish religion which has been competing for the hearts of men for over 30 years. Greed has many faces, from austerity, externally imposed on innocent populations, through to extraordinary wealth accumulation, which has provoked sharp reactions for the Avaricious’ servants.
Moreover, it shows the harm done by those who insist on putting process before fellow-feeling: forcing harm on others merely because one believes it is better for him, or that adversity is good for others, violates the Christian message of love that Jesus taught. The Pope has identified that the best solution to the world’s problems is to show love and support for the weak, empathy for the bereaved, and gentleness along with correction to those who have made a mistake. Abusing populations just because one believes they have power or the right to do so is a fundamental violation of Christian ethics. Want peace? You won’t get it by massacring a population with military might, nor with forcing a southern-European country to be ruthless with its people. You’ll build resentment, and sooner or later, you’ll get a sharp reaction to what you’ve done. It’s human nature. You don’t believe it? Look at the Treaty of Versailles (1919). The sharp reparations imposed on Germany in that document led directly to the rise of people who brought Europe war in the 1930′s and ’40′s.
Papa Francisco is correct; greed and selfishness are rampant in our time, and are threatening to destroy human society. Read his document, and give him your support, because he will certainly have many people who, for their own selfish reasons, oppose the plan that he has laid out. If we value the good things in human society, we need to lend him an outstretched hand. Greed can completely destroy society; that’s why it’s considered a mortal sin. In its worst forms, greed can kill a lot of people. Greed encourages people to behave like animals. Humans can do better. Much better.
Here’s the Challenge:
To the Neo-”liberals”: Propose something better, because we all perceive the current system is building a disenfranchised underclass, with huge potential for violence and unrest. You won’t like the results if you insist on visiting pain and suffering on others just because you think “They’re them, not us.” Do better!
To the genuine liberals: Get on with rebuilding this world. Don’t wait on the right wing to do better; they have a long record of unfulfilled promises. So do you. If you want to prove that social solutions can make a better world, DO IT! Holding back has not given you an enviable record. You can do better too. Do it!
What’s it to be? More words? Get on with it! Start with the 2014 campaign, and focus on reversing the “trickle-down” features of the US tax code.