Is Pope Francis a Communist?

In November Pope Francis published Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). He characterized the paper as not a comprehensive document, but rather a simple sharing of his pastoral heart for the mission of the Church. In the midst of this exhortation he speaks of poverty and economic oppression of the poor.

The release of the document was widely covered and some of its content considered controversial. In this post I want to call attention to paragraphs 53-58, the parts that sparked the controversy:

                No to an economy of exclusion

53. Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless [emphasis mine]. 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 … .”

54. 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. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.

No to the new idolatry of money

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.

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.

No to a financial system which rules rather than serves

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]

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 favors human beings.

Pope Francis clearly has a heart for the poor. His paper is a cry for justice. Some people have agreed with Francis. Some Catholics are in general agreement—this is their Pope, after all—but they spin his words to soften their harshness. Others, like radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh have accused the Pope of being a communist.

So which is it? Is the Pope a communist? Or does he offer a fair critique of capitalism? The answer depends on what is meant by the term “capitalism.”

For the sake of our discussion we can refer to two meta-narratives: the ancient Judeo-Christian worldview and the modern Atheistic-Materialistic world view. The former understands that the universe is both an open system and a moral system. The latter assumes that because there is no God, the universe is a closed system and a-moral.

The grid below depicts four economic models, one for each quadrant. Note the vertical axis measuring morality. The top half acknowledges the moral dimension of the universe. The bottom half regards the universe as amoral.

The horizontal axis measures “openness.” A position left of the line sees the universe as open (to God’s intervention), on the right as closed, the universe is a machine.

Pope Francis discusses economic philosophyThus we have four economic models.

–              Amoral – Closed (communism) – This is the system that has collapsed before our eyes. It collapsed because its atheistic metaphysical capital (no God, therefore the system is closed and there is no moral order) produced a system that destroyed the human spirit and failed to create wealth.

–              Amoral – Open (Consumer Capitalism/Hedonistic Capitalism) – This is what Pope Francis is critiquing and what many in the West are defending. It lives off the memory of Judeo-Christian theism’s open universe (wealth can be created) yet at the same time denies that the universe is moral. Thus there is no moral responsibility in the gain or the use of wealth.

–              Moral – Closed (Socialism) – Evangelii Gaudium may not be Francis’ final word on the subject. Nevertheless, he has articulated the upper right position of the quadrant. The universe is moral, not amoral. Thus man is responsible in how he gains and uses wealth, how he treats the “least of these.” Yet Francis’ exhortation builds on the assumption that the universe is closed; wealth is fixed and can only be redistributed between the rich and the poor. This view is inconsistent with the Bible.

–              Moral – Open (Oikonomia) – The upper left position represents the view articulated in the Scriptures. The universe is both moral and open. Wealth is created, but God places moral bounds on how it is created and what is done with it. The Greek word oikonomia expresses this Biblical concept of the “stewardship of the house.” Underdeveloped countries seeking economic and civil progress should look here.

It is helpful to read Pope Francis’ paper with this framework in view. But there is another important consideration that sheds light on his comments. Stay tuned!

Darrow Miller 08 21 09 051 (2)- Darrow Miller

  
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13 Responses to Is Pope Francis a Communist?

  1. “La economía desde el evangelio, ni cerrada ni depredadora”. Esta idea es una base para cuestionar desde el evangelio tanto al capitalismo depredador como al socialismo controlador. Interesante.

    Sobre Francisco, son interesantes sus palabras. Sin embargo, detrás de la fe que representa hay todo un sistema de mentiras que producen pobreza y dependencia. Muchas preguntas giran en mi cabeza…

    Dios se manifieste en este mundo, por quién quiera y por todas partes. Paz.

    “The economy since the gospel nor closed nor predatory.” This idea is a basis for questioning from the gospel both predator capitalism and driver socialism. Interesting.

    About Francisco, his words are interesting. However, behind the faith that there is a whole system of lies that produce poverty and dependence. Many questions revolve in my head …

    God manifest in this world, whoever and everywhere. Paz

  2. Ben says:

    It would be helpful if you would support your assertion that “Francis’ exhortation builds on the assumption that the universe is closed; wealth is fixed and can only be redistributed between the rich and the poor” with textual evidence from Evangelii Gaudium.

  3. Kris Zyp says:

    This closed/open system idea seems to have been expressed several times here, and I am curious about it. I think a basic understanding of supply and demand recognizes there is a large spectrum of variation in the constraints on supply, or elasticity of supply. For example, it tends to be relatively easy to scale up the supply of manufactured goods (an elastic supply) compared to natural resources, that can rapidly increase in cost as demand increases (inelastic supply), with every shade of variation in between. The taxonomy of closed and open system which seems to be an attempt to stuff every product and service into a binary view of either being completely inelastic or completely elastic, seems remarkably naïve from economic and theological perspective. That no constraints exists is untenable, and despite continuations assertions that it is Biblical, but I have never actually seen any Biblical support (the only reference I saw in the post comes from the Pope’s quotation). A closed system is a strawmen; only the most wildly communist economist would really suggest that economics is zero sum, and that global cumulative economic growth doesn’t exist.

    The idea that policies and exhortations (like the Pope’s) with redistributive effects leading towards a more just economy (as defined by the Bible) are somehow mutually exclusive with wealth growth and expansion, is a false dichotomy that seems equally unsound. I can’t find any such claim in my Bible. And how do we arrive at “Yet Francis’ exhortation builds on the assumption that the universe is closed”? I don’t see anything in his statement that suggests that, without leaning on the false assumption that desiring great economic justice is somehow mutually exclusive with continued global economic growth.

    Anyway, I don’t mean to be too harsh, but I certainly appreciate Pope Francis’ willingness to let a Biblical perspective on economics challenge the beloved ideologies of syncretistic American Christianity. This is an interesting topic to dialogue about.

    • admin says:

      Kris

      Thanks for taking time to write. You write that “A closed system is a strawman.” I would beg to disagree. The worldview of the West today carries a variety of names: Naturalism, Atheism, Darwinism, Secular-Humanism, etc. This dominant worldview sees the universe as mechanical, a closed-system. There is no transcendence, no God, angels or demons to intervene in the system. These are pre-Modern mythology. The Naturalistic paradigm infects everything it touches including science, economics, social theory, the arts, etc. It is anything but a strawman. And, as you have said, this is a topic well worth a dialogue. Kris, thanks for your engagement.

      darrow

      • Kris Zyp says:

        As I noted there may be a few people that believe in a truly closed system (as wildly out of touch as that would be with any realistic assessment of economics), but this post is specifically attributing this belief to the Pope, and then attempting to discredit his statements by knocking down the closed system. Falsely attributing a weak argument to someone and then knocking down that argument is the very definition of straw man fallacy. And this attribution seems dependent upon the invalid assumption that wealth creation and policies (and a Biblical pursuit of those policies) that proactively affect lead to more equal wealth distribution are somehow mutually exclusive.

        • admin says:

          Good Morning Kris

          Thanks for the continued dialog. My guess is that we are in agreement on several things. The first is that Pope Francis is clearly functioning from the Biblical framework that we live in a moral universe, we have a moral responsibility towards the poor and oppressed and that we must consider a moral frame in how we gain and use our wealth. The second is that Pope Francis stands against the inconsistent framework of an a-moral/open system as expressed in such economic models as the “crony capitalism” he has experienced in Argentina and the “hedonistic capitalism” that is driven by so much of Western culture today.

          My sense is that we are in agreement that there is no inherent contradiction between the creation of wealth and our moral responsibility to the care of the poor. This, I would argue, is the consistent Biblical position of a moral universe and an open system.

          I did not see a clarity in Pope Francis’ missive that he subscribed to an open system framework. Perhaps because his experience is in the Latin American tradition where Liberation Theology is so prevalent, I assumed that he was functioning from a closed system frame. If this is the case then, I receive your admonition.

          My guess is that as Pope Frances is able to speak further on his economic philosophy, we will discover if he is functioning from an open or closed system framework.

          For more on this subject, we developed a series of blogs on the subject of Social Justice. One of the blogs that expands on our discussion, and will link you to the series, is found here http://darrowmillerandfriends.com/2012/02/23/why-so-much-heat-about-social-justice-part-2/.

          Kris, thank you again for your constructive engagement.

          darrow

          • Kris Zyp says:

            Yes, thank you for the helpful reply, and dialog. And yes, I certainly agree that the Pope is operating in a moral framework, and also definitely agree that the open, creation of wealth, is not contradictory to the call to help the poor. I might be misunderstanding the intent of the post, though. I had assumed it was about engaging with claims and ideas within the Evangelii Gaudium (and any other statements by the Pope), and not just categorizing certain people (or making an ad hominem rebuttal based on theological background). The Evangelii Gaudium makes some very important claims and challenges that are well worth considering, and that I believe are deeply rooted in scriptures. And my main point is that these ideas can’t be contained or dismissed by these categories, nor by omission of explicitly stating support for one system. Anyway, thank you again for the reply and comments.

  4. cam says:

    Of course, I don’t know if the Pope is a communist, but based upon what he has written I can certainly understand why Rush Limbaugh would label him such.

    According to what Pope Francis has written, he clearly hates the poor. Or he loves the poor but is just real stupid.

    It’s not a stretch, based upon what is in this short piece, to say the Pope has a perverted perception of the God of creation. This leads to his irrational world view, including his view of economics.

    What Richard Weaver promoted, that ideas have consequences, is not going to go away just because those in leadership positions ignore it.

    Those that do follow the leadership of the Pope will eventually have that “Oh Crap!” moment when they realize they’ve been misled. By then it will be to late.

  5. Dan Brewster says:

    Good analysis, Darrow. I like that grid.
    However, I think whole premis is wrong — that ‘trickle-down’ is a model that anyone espouses. It is a classic straw man. THomas Sowell pointed this out in his recent comment. He said:

    “While there have been all too many lies told in politics, most have some little tiny fraction of truth in them, to make them seem plausible. But the “trickle-down” lie is 100 percent lie.

    It should win the contest both because of its purity — no contaminating speck of truth — and because of how many people have repeated it over the years, without any evidence being asked for or given.

    Years ago, this column challenged anybody to quote any economist outside of an insane asylum who had ever advocated this “trickle-down” theory. Some readers said that somebody said that somebody else had advocated a “trickle-down” policy. But they could never name that somebody else and quote them. . . . .

    Let’s do something completely unexpected: Let’s stop and think. Why would anyone advocate that we “give” something to A in hopes that it would trickle down to B? Why in the world would any sane person not give it to B and cut out the middleman? But all this is moot, because there was no trickle-down theory about giving something to anybody in the first place.

    The “trickle-down” theory cannot be found in even the most voluminous scholarly studies of economic theories — including J.A. Schumpeter’s monumental “History of Economic Analysis,” more than a thousand pages long and printed in very small type.

    • admin says:

      Hi Dan

      Thanks for your comments. I appreciate Thomas Sowell; he is brilliant. I am not an economist like Sowell, so I will accept his critique on face value.

      But let me make a comment on the question he raises: “Why would anyone advocate that we “give” something to A in hopes that it would trickle down to B?” Eliminating the phrase “trickle down,” People give things to “A” all the time with expectations that A will share it with B. This is the nature of family, of community and of the blessings of God.

      darrow

  6. Jon says:

    Another helpful article. Just shared it on Facebook.

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