The Pope And Capitalism?

I am very thankful for family. Yesterday my wife and I had three of our children, a spouse and significant other, and one grandchild over for dinner. Tonight we are going out for dinner with four of our children, a spouse and significant other, and four grandchildren to celebrate my birthday. I am truly a blessed man, and God continues to heal my family and bring us together.

I am also very thankful for the level of prosperity God has allowed to come into my life. My wife and I are not rich by any definition, but we are comfortable, and we are able to give back as we choose. We are just one couple in a plethora of people in the United States who give from their abundance to help others. I think we should be happy that the United States is one of the most giving countries in the world. What has motivated me to think about our prosperity was the Pope’s comments two days ago and its so-called diatribe on unfettered Capitalism.

I will admit the Pope does say, “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.” I will also admit that the Pope said, “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.” I would also admit that the Pope commented on the idolatry of our age, “The worship of the 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; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.”

The more I read the Pope’s comments, the more I understand the importance of his words. “While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so to is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few.” He made several other comments that I think are critically important such as, “ideologies that defend absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation, “ or how through the rejection of the right of states to exercise control, new tyrannies are being born, and other comments that decry the current economic state of the world.

However, having read his words now, I understand his critique is not against the economic process of creation of wealth, but with the unfettered collection of wealth and power at the exclusion of human care. I understand this and I agree with it. However, to think that this is a denouncement just of Capitalism is incorrect. The Pope’s comments are against any economic system that produces the results he is describing. Monarchies of the past, crying out let them eat cake, or Socialist systems that allow the power and resources to flow to the few. His denunciation is of a world system that eliminates any type of checks and balances. I don’t think there is a business-person out there that does not recognize the importance of government checks and balances, just not too many of them. However, I think the Pope recognizes it is because of sin this system has eroded into one that is imbalanced.

The Pope argued, “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. . .In effect, ethics leads to a God who calls for a committed response which is outside of 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.”

Paulo Freire, in his classic The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, discusses the destruction of humanness that occurs both in the life of the oppressed and the oppressor. I think the Pope may have this in mind.

The Tower of Babel narrative found in Genesis 11, describes the desire of humanity to build a tower that will make a name for themselves and climb to the level of God. A Stassen comment in relation to this narrative is appropriate, “The desire to build ourselves up to God’s level and to dominate others results in alienation and loss of community with others and the earth.” There is a loss of the humane that occurs when we accumulate without the thought of others.

The system that the Pope is denouncing is one that all of us recognizes as problematic. We need an economic system, and a free-market most closely aligns with Democracy. Therefore, it comes down to our responsibility. The Wesleyian quadritlateral (what does the Bible say, what has the church said for 2,000 years, is it reasonable, and has it been proven in human experience) is a decision tool developed by Wesley to determine if something is right or wrong. However, Wesley also gave a trilateral sermon discussing the use of money. He believed, gain as much as you can, save as much as you can, and give as much as you can.

Gain all you can, described industriousness, hard work and cleverness. Some have reported that Wesley in his best years made about $1.4 million. Save all you can, was not just about putting money away it was about being frugal, and choosing wisely how one spent their money. And lastly, give all you can, according to Keith Drury, meant that the reason for making money was to be able to give it away, “(1) First, give to yourself all you need for the basics. (2) Then give to your family and employees their fair share, or you are worse than an infidel. (3) Third, give to the “household of faith” — other Christians, which we assume includes the organized work of the Lord in churches. (4) Finally Wesley says we are the give to all men in need, which includes the poor, the needy, even if they are not believers.”

The bottom-line, I agree and disagree with the Pope. I disagree because the free-market is not an evil system, people are evil, and I agree with the Pope because we do need to do more to decrease the gap between those that have and those that don’t.

And that is my thought for the day!


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