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Thursday, December 05, 2013

Pope Francis--And My Politics, My Faith

I heard the sound bites. I wanted to know more than the spin the liberal media is putting on Pope Francis' various, recent writings and comments.

I love Pope Francis and think he is the best choice they could have made, and have blogged about this several times already. I am in awe of his Common-Man simpleness, his humility, his basic-trappings lifestyle even after he became our Pope.

If you've read this blog in the last few years, you know I'm a fan of capitalism as opposed to socialism and I'm definitely no fan of P.I.N.O. (President-In-Name-Only) Obama nor his ObamaCare.

So when Pope Francis writes that unfettered capitalism is "a new tyranny", I had to laugh because all the liberal hypocrites including, Huffington Post, CNBC and more trumpet this like a papal flag in our faces. Why are they hypocrites? Because Francis would be the first to tell them to their chirping faces, that their selfish, unflagging support of abortion and abortifacient drugs is not the equivalent of "access to healthcare." Period.

Oh, would that they who wrote those smug columns could find themselves in the presence of Francis, face to face, where he could call them out too, for their lack of respect for all human life, and for their general, sustained lack of charity to the poor over the decades (and since the Republicans have long been labeled "the party of the rich", here's another link to Congressional Budget Office data showing that "the rich" gave a "significantly higher... 3.4 percent of their income" to charity than any other income group.)

[Yes, I've also read the single paper by a couple of MIT grad students that claims it found, not the opposite, but just that the data "counters the notion that political conservatives compensate for their opposition to governmental intervention by supporting private charities." What they did to "conclude" this is that they took out those whose charitable giving could have been influenced by income and/or by their faith: "[T]he large bivariate relationship between giving and conservatism vanishes after adjusting for differences in income and religiosity... we show that any remaining differences in giving are an artifact of Republicans’ greater propensity to give to religious causes, particularly their own church."

Yet, what they found when they compared Republicans to Democrats, was that

"Republicans give much more than Democrats (B=1.12, SE=0.19), a percentage difference of 201%. While the magnitude of the effect decreases once we control for income and then church attendance in the second and third columns, Republicans still give 85% and 110% more than Democrats, respectively. In the fourth model where we control for both income and church attendance, Republicans donate approximately 34% more than Democrats. Although the giving gap between Republicans and Democrats shrinks substantially, we continue to find a significant difference."
So much for that "conclusion."]

Getting back to Francis and the "case against capitalism:" firstly, he doesn't even use the word capitalism, never mind the phrase "unfettered capitalism."

He does write

"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. Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading...

"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."

But what they are waiting for, isn't permanent dependency on the federal government, it isn't the "nanny state," and even Francis says so in this same encyclical, if the press had bothered to cherry-pick those quotes too:
"Welfare projects, which meet certain urgent needs, should be considered merely temporary responses."
"Business is a vocation, and a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life; this will enable them truly to serve the common good by striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all."
[that's talking about increasing gross national products, increasing jobs, not about welfare handouts]

"We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market. Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth: it requires decisions, programmes, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality. I am far from proposing an irresponsible populism, but the economy can no longer turn to remedies that are a new poison, such as attempting to increase profits by reducing the work force and thereby adding to the ranks of the excluded."
Yet, isn't that exactly one of the unintended but real nonetheless, side effects of ObamaCare? Businesses being allowed by this law to reduce workers' hours so they don't have to provide them healthcare insurance anymore?

And Francis clearly wasn't advocating for literally taking from the rich and handing it to the poor, as in a longterm welfare, nanny state.

He continues, sounding much like Jesus Himself:

No to the new idolatry of money

"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.

"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."

To me, this sounds like chastisement all around: of nations ("states") for not exercising their right--not keeping control over the ways that Big Business has gotten its loopholes, then its Bailouts, its being allowed to outsource so many jobs. And of the greedy unions who expected more benefits for themselves than the rest of us could get, thus pricing themselves out of those soon-to-be outsourced jobs. And also of the governments who've become fondly accustomed to living beyond their means, as ours has long done (only worse, under Obama). So we had the removal of Glass-Steagall and self-protecting requirements like Private Mortgage Insurance, and we had the QE debacle which has just handed millions to the banks, all of this doing virtually no good and much harm upon us citizens.

No to a financial system which rules rather than serves

"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.'"

"All forms of enslavement" can include being "on the government plantation" as well, as Louisiana State Senator Elbert Guillory so eloquently said. And "to take away their livelihood" surely includes not providing jobs and diminishing the jobs they have so they can't qualify for health insurance. For all the corruption and greed of some in Big Business/ Big Markets, or even Mediums, they still are the ones to create the jobs, to provide the "livelihoods" for most of us.
"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.

I can read this to mean that respecting and promoting the poor means more than assuming they can't be productive and are only good for a lifelong carry-in-the-cart, but a real promoting, with a decent job. As Francis has said in several ways in this encyclical, "I am far from proposing an irresponsible populism."

I looked up that term, to be sure I was reading it right, and it's a rather common term, but since Francis spent so much time in Latin America, I think all three references may be what he meant:

“Populism” is a loaded term in modern American politics. On the one hand, it conveys the idea that someone represents (or claims to represent) the broad mass of society against a privileged elite....
Obama has done nothing if not get elected, re-elected, and continue to campaign for his legacy, based on painting himself as just this "someone."
At the same time, populism is often used in a pejorative way – as a putdown, implying “the people” want irresponsible things that would undermine the fabric of society or the smooth functioning of the economy.

In Latin America, for example, there is a long tradition of populists’ falling into bed with a corrupt political elite, and the results invariably include irresponsible macroeconomic policies and various kinds of financial disaster (see “The Macroeconomics of Populism in Latin America,” edited by Rudiger Dornbush and Sebastian Edwards).

So if, HuffPost, had dug a bit, they might not have been so quick to quote Francis, when he just painted a portrait of Obama, the Populist, getting in bed with a corrupt political elite (see that New York Times article). I happen to agree with that article: he should have let the failing banks be closed down in orderly fashion, rather than propping them up. Just like Blackberry was replaced by the iPhone, and too-numerous-to-name computer companies fell by the wayside when faced with smaller, better technologies, so too should those failing banks.

It's as if Obama wants to do favors for as many elites as he can, at today's count, 936 companies in all, and a total of $608 Billion (GM, Chrysler, AIG, Bank of America, CitiGroup, JPMorgan Chase, many of whom were huge outsourcers in the 80s and 90s), so he will be welcomed and taken good care of after he's done playing at President.

I don't believe in accepting capitalism with all the concurrent greed, corruption, tax evasion, outsourcing, etc. If all capitalists/businesspeople could be trusted...but ah, when money is around, I do know that the love of it can tear even loving families apart. It tore my own childhood family apart. Because of my faith, I know that the several family members since deceased now know the real truth, and at least one regrets the choices made when alive. I can only pray for those who remain.

Francis is voicing what I feel many conservatives have long wished for but given up on: a nation where responsibility, work ethic, perseverance, self-sufficiency are rewarded justly, where fairness and truth rule, not lies or injustice. Capitalism with a small c, without the greed, corruption and rule-bending, can still succeed in providing the jobs Americans need. But honestly, working at McDonald's or WalMart for minimum wage wasn't ever meant to be anyone's lifelong career, or at least not a major breadwinner in a family. Yet enough people shoot no farther than that, many by choice. If someone can't be bothered to stay in school (that doesn't cost them a dime), or to do well in high school to manage better jobs, whose fault is that, Big Business? (I understand life may really be rotten if you live somewhere really sketchy, but do you know how much help is really available to survive the streets where you're growing up and to make something of yourself? You've probably got an iPhone and Internet connection and can find any entertainment you want on the web--so why not use those search skills to find the programs or charity groups sponsoring young people and families to help overcome it all? Or get the number of the local Catholic Charities, or a local Christian church, any denomination, and just walk in there. They won't turn you away. Not if you're serious about turning to something really good in your life, and I'm not talking about converting you either)

But I still think the liberal pundits are missing the totality of what Francis said. He wasn't advocating for ObamaCare, not in its entirety anyway. As I've already enumerated, there are better ways to get those millions of uninsured, insured. There are better ways to allow for pre-existing conditions coverage. There are less destructive ways to eliminate the "bad-apple" gouging private plans, while Obamacare instead just threw out the baby (all the good, fair, decent private plans) with the bathwater.

"I ask God to give us more politicians capable of sincere and effective dialogue aimed at healing the deepest roots – and not simply the appearances – of the evils in our world! Politics, though often denigrated, remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good. We need to be convinced that charity “is the principle not only of micro-relationships (with friends, with family members or within small groups) but also of macro-relationships (social, economic and political ones)”. I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor! It is vital that government leaders and financial leaders take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare. Why not turn to God and ask him to inspire their plans? I am firmly convinced that openness to the transcendent can bring about a new political and economic mindset which would help to break down the wall of separation between the economy and the common good of society."
Amen. Amen.

Also worth reading:

"Let’s Listen to Pope Francis on Economics",, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

The Paradox of Pope Francis, National Catholic Register (dated, but insightful to the present)

"Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Free Markets, and Social Justice: Give freedom a chance",, Ed Krayewski (he's speaking to Francis in the subtitle; he disagrees with Francis, making the case that free markets can and do work...and I generally agree, having thrived through the Reagan years, while Francis may not have experienced that firsthand): "...indeed, Pope Francis’ exhortation was meant to excite at least the passion of Catholics, to whom it was addressed. As such, his economic naiveté is born of optimism...The pope’s ideas [about free markets] are not grounded in realities, but in an unbridled optimism about the nature of political leaders."

Interesting. Perhaps Francis is acting more like Jesus than we realize. Didn't Jesus call the business and political leaders of His time to be better persons than they previously were, while they were still crooks and powermongers? Didn't he call down Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector, who was in bed with the Romans and milking his own Jewish people out of tons of money, out of the tree and say, "I must stay at your house today?" Zacchaeus had done nothing at all to warrant such trust, such choosing. Yet he rose to be the better person, giving away half of what he owned to the poor, giving back four times as much as he'd bilked from everyone....Hmmmm. Maybe Francis has something here, to have the same unbridled optimism as Jesus did...

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