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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Welcome Back, Jesus

Welcome Back, Jesus

By Robert Scheer
December 4, 2013

Forget, for the moment, that he is the pope, and that Holy Father
Francis’ apostolic exhortation last week was addressed “to the
bishops, clergy, consecrated persons and the lay faithful.”

Even if, like me, you don’t fall into one of those categories
and also take issue with the Catholic Church’s teachings on
a number of contested social issues, it is difficult to deny
the inherent wisdom and clarity of the pontiff’s critique of
the modern capitalist economy.

No one else has put it as powerfully and succinctly.

It is an appraisal based not on “just pure Marxism coming
out of the mouth of the pope,” as Rush Limbaugh sneered,
but rather the words of Jesus telling the tale of the
Good Samaritan found in Luke, not in “Das Kapital.”

As opposed to Karl Marx’s emphasis on the growing misery of
a much needed but exploited working class, Francis condemns
today’s economy of “exclusion” leaving the “other” as the
roadkill of modern capitalism:

“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.”

It is a message that applies to disrupted worldwide markets in
which massive unemployment is now common, as well as to
the underemployed and working poor who are the new “normal”
even in still wealthy America.

They make up the bulk of those ejected from a once largely
unionized industrial workforce, who are now left to compete
for low paying Wal-Mart style jobs that require government
handouts to avoid the extremes of poverty.

They are the victims of what the pope refers to as “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.” It doesn’t, and instead
“a globalization of indifference has developed.”

That is an obvious truth, whether divinely inspired or not.

So too is Francis’ excoriation of “the new idolatry of money,”
although here one can find evidence in Scripture that this
idolatry is not so new given the description in Matthew 21:12
when Jesus “overthrew the tables of the moneychangers” in
the temple.

But the pope is clearly right when he links our recent economic
crisis to the modern worship of the gods of finance capitalism:

“One cause of this situation is found in our relationship with
money, since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and
our societies. ... The worship of the ancient golden calf 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. ..."

This is a pope who in his native Argentina bothered to witness
and tend to the needs of those who suffered most, and he
comes to us now as a singular voice to remind us of the Occupy
movement, which mostly secular liberal mayors in U.S. cities
brutally silenced to suit the convenience of the superrich who
own our politics.

The pontiff writes:

“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. ... A new tyranny is
thus born. ... The thirst for power and possessions know 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.”

The deification of the market rests on denying that ethical
considerations trump the goal of profit maximization.

The market itself becomes the higher power no matter the
consequence for the exploited, the poor and the defenseless.

“Behind this attitude,” Francis writes, “lurks a rejection
of ethics and a rejection of God.” That is because ethics
inevitably represents a judgment that “makes money and
power relative.”

Finally there is a stern warning by this leader of a church with
many followers in economically desperate areas that a status
quo based on the extremes of exploitation contains the seeds
of its own destruction.

“No to the inequality that spawns violence,” the pope
writes with words that apply to the poverty ghettos of
the most affluent nations, words that echo those used by
the Rev. Martin Luther King in organizing anti-poverty
marches at the time of his assassination.

“The poor and the poorer peoples are accused of violence,”
Francis warns, “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 programs
or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems
can indefinitely guarantee tranquility.”


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