So the relatively new Pope releases a document. Being Pope such documents come in many arcane forms and designations. Not being Catholic, I don’t understand it all, I just know that when the Pope writes it’s really important. This document, because of its economic views. has been widely misunderstood and widely commented upon. Sometimes not very smartly.
Rush Limbaugh has quite now famously called it “Marxist.” Even if true (and I am not saying it is), not a smart move on Mr. Limbaugh’s part. Besides, Marx was not exactly original. Any reader of The Acts of The Apostles, Chapter 2 would realize that. Christianity has a communal economic impulse that rightfully runs deep. Volumes have been written to reconcile the apparent socialism/communism of New Testament communities and clearly private property oriented sensibilities of the Old Testament. This is not a theology blog, so we are not going to unpack that here, but I will bet the farm that the Pope has read a lot more on the subject than Rush Limbaugh.
Again, not being Catholic, I have been trying to steer clear of this thing. But I have finally seen some non-Catholic commentary that made some sense to me and deserves further comment. William Murchison (an Episcopalian) at Real Clear Politics:
Lost amid conventional media blather concerning the 47,560-word apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of Evangelism”) was any real sense of what Francis was up to: summoning the church to put off torpor and present Christ to a world in need of him. “I invite all Christians everywhere,” the pope said, “to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus … I dream of a missionary option, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything … ” And more of the same — much more.
Amid tumult over the healthcare.gov website and animated speculation over who can beat Hillary, Francis addressed mankind’s spiritual calling. He shoved political matters to the side. More properly, he spoke of the world’s conundrums in the context of God’s love for the world. What kind of talk was this? Many wished to know.
It was religious talk. That was the problem. The pope’s holistic view of the human condition broke across boundaries and surged down side roads, as well as broad boulevards familiar from the 6 o’clock news. He wanted to save souls! What an idea — one that meant submitting the whole human enterprise to divine oversight: in the name, yes, of freedom. “God’s mercy has willed that we should be free.” Really? How would that be? To talk of freedom is to talk of politics and economics — isn’t it?
From the chair of Peter, the view is more encompassing. The mercy of God that leads to freedom, mercy apportioned to the weak as well as the powerless, the poor and the 1 percent, is the divine property the people would show the world. Economics, Marxist or classical, is a means — just that, a means — to the end the pope would show the world: barriers leveled, hatreds stilled, vices quenched before the throne of God.
American religious traditions, particularly Evangelical ones draw on Kuyper and divide the world into spheres, starting with “secular” and “religious” spheres. Kuyper knew these spheres, like great Venn diagrams, often intersect, but much modern religious thought – particularly Evangelical thought – does not stray into those intersections. It just sort of says simply, “If you are a Christian, you will do x, y, and z when operating in this sphere and a,b,c when operating in that sphere. That is not an intersection, that is a border crossing. The intersections are messy and not subject to a simple little rule making. They are full of individual, unique and unforeseen circumstances that require on-the-spot decisions that cannot be dictated by a set of per-ordained ordinances.
In the intersections we may make capitalistic decisions and take capitalistic action, but we should have charitable and communal impulses and hearts. I agree with Murchison here. The Pope is speaking not to economics, but to hearts and impulses.
And now I am going to be far more frank than perhaps I should be. Rush Limbaugh is a vitally important voice in conservative politics. But I have never heard him confess any faith beyond a simple acknowledgement of a generic Almighty. I have never heard a thought from him (and I have listened a lot, though not in recent years) that seemed rooted in the teaching of any church or school of religious thought. Rush simply strayed out of his wheelhouse here. He is not worth listening to on things religious, Catholic, Protestant, or Buddhist for that matter. Rush was, I think, victimized by the anti-Catholic impulses within a significant portion of his listening audience. Impulses that the readers of this blog are all too familiar with.
Unfortunately many Americans, particularly within certain branches of Protestantism, are not really worth listening to when it comes to bringing our faith into the public arena. Their faith has boundaries. not intersections. Thus they can, and often do step out of their wheelhouses. I am not saying Francis is entirely correct here, I do not have the Catholic requirement to hold papal pronouncement sacred. Nor have I examined the document with enough care to engage in serious criticism. What I will acknowledge; however, is that the Pope is trying to tear down boundaries and build intersections. That is worthy.
It is something every person of faith should be seeking.