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Friday, May 09, 2014

Pope Francis and the Ephphatha Moment

Everyone wants to say that Pope Francis is a communist. Here are his actual words:
In the case of global political and economic organization, much more needs to be achieved, since an important part of humanity does not share in the benefits of progress and is in fact relegated to the status of second-class citizens. Future Sustainable Development Goals must therefore be formulated and carried out with generosity and courage, so that they can have a real impact on the structural causes of poverty and hunger, attain more substantial results in protecting the environment, ensure dignified and productive labor for all, and provide appropriate protection for the family, which is an essential element in sustainable human and social development. 
As I have pointed out before, in the past two centuries, the combination of clear property rights, technology and capitalism has fed, clothed and housed the 1800 AD equivalent of roughly six entire planets of people. We only have about one billion poor people left on a planet of seven billion people - not bad work for 200 years worth of progress.

Structural Causes of Poverty

What are the structural causes of poverty and hunger? The Pope doesn't say. But, given the clear evidence of the last 200 years, we can conclude that those structural causes are unclear property rights, lack of technology and lack of capitalism. Marxism clearly harms the environment. Capitalism heals it. Capitalism ensures a much more dignified and productive labor than Marxism ever did. As for the family, both capitalism and Marxism are a mixed bag. Marx and Engels explicitly wanted the family destroyed. Capitalism implicitly is fine with the family being destroyed.

So, if capitalism helps the poor and the environment at the expense of the family, while Marxism is purely harmful, how should governments handle the inequality which is economic poverty?
The gaze, often silent, of that part of the human family which is cast off, left behind, ought to awaken the conscience of political and economic agents and lead them to generous and courageous decisions with immediate results, like the decision of Zacchaeus. 

Charity

No one ordered Zacchaeus to give of his wealth. No one confiscated it. Instead, Zacchaeus spontaneously decided to do the right thing with his wealth. So, the Pope is urging governments to give people the opportunity to do the right thing. He is not calling for higher taxes, more confiscation, wealth redistribution at the point of a gun. That is Marxism, and the Church has already explicitly declared Marxism condemned, anathema, a tool of Satan.

So what is Pope Francis doing? He is calling on individuals to be more generous, and he is asking governments not to stand in the way of that generosity, not to make that individual generosity more difficult than it already is. Indeed, you can argue that the Pope is calling on governments to lower tax rates and other confiscation techniques. In fact, he virtually says this just a paragraph later:
The account of Jesus and Zacchaeus teaches us that above and beyond economic and social systems and theories, there will always be a need to promote generous, effective and practical openness to the needs of others.
He is asking governments to promote giving by individual citizens like Zacchaeus.
I do not hesitate to state, as did my predecessors, that equitable economic and social progress can only be attained by joining scientific and technical abilities with an unfailing commitment to solidarity accompanied by a generous and disinterested spirit of gratuitousness at every level. A contribution to this equitable development will also be made both by international activity aimed at the integral human development of all the world’s peoples and by the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the State, as well as indispensable cooperation between the private sector and civil society.
As I pointed out above, his predecessors condemned Marx and Communism in the strongest possible terms. Socialism, whether national socialism or international socialism, is anathema to Catholic teaching and to this Pope.

Legitimate redistribution

So, what constitutes "legitimate redistribution"? Again, Pope Francis doesn't tell us the difference between "legitimate" and "illegitimate" redistribution. But he does tell us to interpret his words in the light of his predecessors' words, that is, in the light of the Magisterium of the Church.

The Church guarantees private property rights and liberty, endorses individual charity, doesn't like people to take other people's stuff. You are not allowed to do evil that good may come of it. You are not allowed to steal from the people you consider rich so that you can distribute their goods to the people you consider poor. After all, you don't know the whole story - you don't know who is really rich and who is really poor.

Subsidiarity is one of the founding principles of Catholic Faith. Even when movement of wealth takes place, it is supposed to take place according to the principle of subsidiarity - the people who directly own the wealth are supposed to give it to the people who directly need it with as few intermediaries as possible. None, if that can be managed. Interposing an entire government bureaucracy is a violation of subsidiarity. That's why Francis doesn't like government welfare.

So, "legitimate redistribution" does not necessarily have anything to do with tax rates or government confiscation. Indeed, given Church teaching, it is quite unlikely to include much in either of these categories. Again, nowhere in this speech does the Pope define what constitutes "legitimate" as opposed to "illegitimate" redistribution. Despite what the headlines say, nowhere does he use the word "wealth". He intends us to take his words in the context of the Catholic Magisterium.

The left reads everything Pope Francis says in light of their own agenda. By doing so, they try to steal spiritual riches in order to give to those who they consider poor. But their very inability to appreciate the content of those riches means the papal meaning gets twisted. As they try to transmit his message, they twist what he actually said into what they would prefer that he said. Thus, by the time "his words" reach the world, through the agency of the news organizations, they are no longer his words.

Twisting the good so it is no longer as good as it was - that is the definition of evil. But that is what keeps happening to this Pope's message. As the world grabs it,  both liberals and conservatives wring his messages like a sponge, but as we squeeze and twist it ever more tightly, we get not living water, but only gall for our trouble. Crucified by our own sins, we thirst for living water, but we insist on accepting only our own reeking waste instead. The world is not going to get much out of Pope Francis' exhortations until it allows its ears to be opened. It will not be able to pass on the papal message accurately until it allows its tongue to be loosed.

We don't need an "Ah-hah!" moment.
We need an "Ephphatha!" moment.


7 comments:

joe said...

well said

Flambeaux said...

Steve, I really don't see how your read is valid in light of this statement by His Holiness:
"by the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the State"

Same old Marxist story. Same old Marxist song and dance. Even if the Trads and CST obsessives want to dress it up as "distributism", "solidarism", or any of the other nonsense they cling to in order to continue ignoring economic reality in favor of pietistic fantasy.

For the record, I realize you're not among those groups.

I wish I found your contention more convincing as it would be the sanest approach I've seen. But His Holiness' own words suggest he really is just rehashing the nonsense of his predecessors without even the token pinch of incense to condemning Marxism.

CST is a mess, like so much of what Rome has taught over the last few hundred years.

At some point, someone with authority is going to have to eat a big plate of crow and a lot of people are going to lose faith. Maybe that will start with some sanity being brought through the upcoming Synod to the question of divorce, remarriage, and Holy Communion. But I'm not holding my breath.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Well, he can't be Marxist because he referred to the fact that he was just repeating the teachings of his predecessors (no restriction), and his predecessors CONDEMNED Marxism.

"Economic benefit" is not defined. What constitutes an "economic benefit"? When America sets up a military base anywhere, that's an economic benefit to the region that doesn't require us to assume confiscation of wealth and checks to "poor" people.

And he talks of the state performing "redistribution" of economic benefits - which means the state takes the benefits it has already distributed and re-arranges their distribution. So, strictly speaking, does that mean the State should confiscate all welfare payments (distributed benefits) and redistribute them in a new way?

You could just as easily argue that he's saying (as he has said before) that welfare is not really helping anyone. Remember Francis' first apostolic exhortation "202. Welfare projects, which meet certain urgent needs, should be considered merely temporary responses."

He's not a fan of government welfare. People keep acting like he is, but he isn't.

Salvelinus fontinalis said...

How much longer can we blame all of theses confusing statements grom Francis on "twisted interpretation"?

Sooner or later we need to admit that much of what Francis says is, well.... uncatholic, that is, a radical departure from the 2000 years of Catholic tradition.
This has nothing to do with "left" or "right". It's about being Catholic or something else, with bishops all saying something different, instead of universal (Catholic) truths.
Our lady of Fatima, ora pro nobis!

Steve Kellmeyer said...

1) Francis consecrated his papacy to Our Lady of Fatima.

2) Everything Francis says is perfectly Catholic. More accurately Catholic than most of what you hear from "traditionalists", actually.

3) Check your Protestant attitude.

Salvelinus fontinalis said...

Please expand upon what is a "protestant attitude".

When the current pontiff says snd doed things radivally different, and in fact were condemned (worshiping with muslims and Jews, calling an Anglican a "brother bishop" - see Kenneth Copeland, insulting those that "count rosaries", speak of arch heretic cardinals in Germany as "sound theologean", staye that atheists can be saved, embrace an attitude that all religions have sallific abilities).

Francis has declared nothing that meets the level of magesterial level so Catholics can disagree without neocstholics pulling the "radtrad card".

By calling "traditional Catholics" protestant you are also stating there was no church until 1970 and all of the popes were apostates until the newchurch formed.

But hey... who am I to judge...

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Well I agree with you on one thing, Salvelinus.

Who ARE you to judge?

Do you have an useful answer? Because I sure can't figure out why I should listen to you instead of the Pope.