Friday, November 29, 2013

Why I Like "Evangelii Gaudium": Part Two

Here is part two of my continuing series on Pope Francis's Evangelii Gaudium.

Liberal Catholics and non-Catholic liberals absolutely love Francis's treatment of consumer capitalism in this document.  My Facebook feed is loaded with liberal friends who are gushing all over Evangelii Gaudium.  Some of them are publicly wishing they were Catholic.  Who knows, maybe someone will convert.

Someone at First Things, a voice of conservative Catholicism and, on occasion, free-market Catholicism, allowed Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry to publish this piece in defense of the Pope's economics.

Francis's critique of consumer capitalism is stinging and generally on the mark.  He calls consumerism "the great danger in today's world" and defines it as "the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience."  I don't think it was a coincidence that Francis released this document a few days before Black Friday.  He continues: "Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor.  God's voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades."  This is pretty powerful stuff.

Later in the document he describes capitalism as an economy that excludes and thus promotes inequality.  ("Such an economy kills").  Francis asks "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?" When everything falls under the "rules of competition" and "the survival of the fittest," human beings become "consumer goods to be used and then discarded."

And then Francis goes after the defenders of what he calls "trickle down theories."  He claims that these theories "assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world..  In a statement that will drive certain Catholics (Michael Novak, for example) crazy, Francis concludes that trickle-down theory "has never been confirmed by facts" and expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system." Drawing from Exodus 32, he believes we are all worshipping the ancient golden calf, which 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."

 I am struck by the fact that this language, while strong, does not seem to be any different than the encyclicals of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  I believe that John Paul II regularly referred to the "savage capitalism" that defined our society.  Benedict XVI often lamented the unequal distribution of goods under capitalism.