Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Of Popes and Protestants

Martin Luther burns the Papal bull in the square of Wittenberg in the year 1520.
Oil Painting on Canvas by Karl Aspelin 1857-1922
I live in two worlds.  While my conversion to Catholicism is complete, I try to never lose myself and forget where I came from, who I was, or where I began.  It's happened before.  I did on occasion forget my roots, and in those rare circumstances, I had to be reminded, because what I became was not very nice.  Once I was reminded by a bishop, who lovingly and privately brought me back to my senses.  I am grateful to him for this.  I am a Catholic, but I was a Protestant.  My theology is orthodox, but my manner of thinking was trained in the Protestant world.  I look at things differently and I always will.  I have to be honest with myself for who and what I am.  I am a convert, with two feet firmly planted in both worlds, and I can't be any other way.

Perhaps it's because I am accustomed to feeling religiously uncomfortable that I am willing to accept the uncomfortable feeling this latest pope gives us.  The truth is, I haven't felt "comfortable" in a religious sense in at least 15 years.  My religious discomfort began in the late 1990s, when my pastoral studies into Church history, and the Jewish roots of the Christian faith, led this Evangelical Protestant Fundamentalist to discover that the early Church was a lot more "Catholic" than I was comfortable with.  In rather short order, my whole religious world turned upside down.  I'm not ashamed to admit that I nearly had a nervous breakdown over it.  I was studying to become a pastor in an Evangelical church.  I was offered a very nice and comfortable position in that church.  There is no doubt in my mind that had I continued on that course I would be that church's pastor today. I would be making a fairly good salary.  I would be doing what I love -- teaching -- and the whole thing would be oh so very comfortable.  There are not many Protestants who know the history of Christianity.  Only a small handful do, and most of them are training for the ministry.  By that time, they are already vested into their denomination, and making a course correction is often difficult.  Sometimes it's near impossible.  So what these educated Protestants do is simply gloss over, or ignore, those parts of Church history that contradict what their denomination teaches, and that's how it's handled.  I couldn't do that.  I took the early Church Fathers seriously.  I took ancient (not modern) Jewish tradition seriously.  For this my vocation as a Protestant pastor was doomed before it ever got started.  I was honest with myself and with history, which of course made me very uncomfortable.

My conversion to Catholicism was a slow and difficult one.  My poor wife had difficulty understanding it and accepting it.  She did what a good wife does.  She let her husband lead the way.  With such a strong anti-Catholic background, I couldn't bring myself to just outright join the Catholic Church.  I still believed the Roman Catholic Church was the prophesied "Whore of Babylon" in the Book of Revelation 17.  So instead, I decided to take the slow route.  I believed the early Christians might be "Catholic" just not "Roman Catholic."  (Funny, how the Protestant mind works, isn't it?)  So I decided to explore the "Catholic" traditions of Christianity in what I considered to be a good, safe Protestant environment.  I became an Anglican. There is no doubt in my mind that Anglicanism is what completed my journey into the Catholic Church. Without it, I believe my conversion would have been impossible. I simply cannot describe to you the level of animosity I held toward Rome.  Only the most staunch Evangelical can comprehend this.  Anglicanism is what made the Catholic Church possible for me.  For that, I owe the Oxford Fathers a debt of gratitude, along with a certain Episcopal priest who knew just the right things to say at just the right time.  (If he's reading this, he knows who he is.)  I certainly would have been content to remain an Anglican (Episcopalian) indefinitely, and that would have been the most convenient thing to do, but I couldn't.  Because you see, The Episcopal Church U.S.A., like many Anglican churches throughout the world, is undergoing a radical change from a relatively conservative expression of Christianity 40 years ago, to a much more radicalised and "progressive" expression today.  They have been ordaining women to the ministry for a generation, and now they are becoming more accepting of homosexuality -- even to the point of celebrating it.  You can imagine, this went over like a lead balloon with this former Evangelical Fundamentalist.  I looked for more conservative expressions of Anglicanism, but at the time, only one could be found in our area and it was very small.  My wife plainly stated she did not want to join a smaller church, and if we were going to change anything, we had to go bigger.  In this, I saw her wisdom, because I understood what our Lord had told us about unity within the Body of Christ.  Again, I was having that oh so familiar feeling of being uncomfortable. I was uncomfortable with where I was within such a "progressive" denomination, and I was uncomfortable with where this meant we had to go next, but at that point it didn't matter any more.  Sometimes in life, you just have to do the uncomfortable thing, because it's the right thing to do.  So I joined the Catholic Church.

I found my conversion to Catholicism to be both warm and welcoming.  I also found it to be the right thing to do for so many reasons.  However, I would be lying if I told you I was starting to feel comfortable, because I wasn't.  What led this Evangelical to turn from rabid anti-Catholicism to becoming a Roman Catholic was a love for the high-church liturgy I was introduced to in Anglicanism.  There was something about this that conveyed a profound truth.  If indeed God is present in the Eucharist, if indeed the Creator of the universe has come to us in what looks and tastes like ordinary bread and wine, then shouldn't there be some pomp and circumstance to his visitation?  I thought to myself, if Jesus Christ were to bodily appear in the sky today, and slowly descend back to earth, how would we great him?  Would we break out the electric guitars, start playing rock music, and jump around in bluejeans and t-shirts?  Or might we do things with a little more seriousness and with royal fanfare instead? I mean, how does one greet a king? More than that, how does one greet the King of the universe!?!  The problem I was having is that everything seemed a little "toned down" in the Catholic parishes in the area I live in.  Catholic worship seemed rather "low key" and casual. In addition, sometimes liberties were taken, and innovations made, that didn't seem appropriate to me. As the depth of my understanding of the Eucharist increased, all of this casual worship was starting to feel a little -- uncomfortable.  By this time I was starting to get discouraged.  "Maybe I'm just too much of an uptight person" I thought.  "What's wrong with me?  Maybe I'll never be happy."  I know that's what my wife thought.  She told me this on more than one occasion, and frankly I don't blame her. Still I felt driven.  So I started attending a Latin mass where I became acquainted with more uptight people.  And there, I learnt something about myself.

I learnt that what was making me feel uncomfortable was not entirely the same thing that was making them feel uncomfortable.  These people seemed perfectly at home and comfortable in their traditional Latin mass liturgy, and while I drew a certain amount of comfort from it too, I knew this was not me.  I could feel just at home in a Novus Ordo English mass, if it were celebrated with the same dignity and reverence.  For me, it wasn't really a "particular way" of worship I was looking for, but rather a "general reverence" that is suitable to welcoming the King of kings.  The particular liturgical rite wasn't nearly as important to me as the way it was celebrated. In the end, I found that the best way to deal with this is to "kill two birds with one stone" so to speak. Liturgical expression is something that should be dealt with, but to do this properly, it must be a form of evangelism.  Good liturgy always produces new converts, and I'm living proof of that.  So that's why I signed on with Pope Benedict XVI's ordinariate plan for Anglicans entering the Catholic Church.  The high-church Anglican liturgy, combined with the uncomfortable feeling of what Protestantism had become, is what drew me into Roman Catholicism.  Being uncomfortable isn't always a bad thing.  Sometimes it can actually be a good thing, that is, assuming it leads one to do good things.  Sometime in the very near future, we hope to begin celebrating a mass in our area, according to the Vatican approved liturgy of Divine Worship, that comes to us from the Anglican patrimony.  Our hope and prayer is that this will both bring in new converts to the Catholic Church, and simultaneously re-evangelise old Catholics who have fallen away for various reasons. Will it work?  That remains to be seen.  God is in control of that.

I told you this story because I want to draw a comparison.  The title of this article is "Of Popes and Protestants" because I am seeing some striking similarities between what this latest pope is doing, and what happened to me over the last 15 years.  It seems that Pope Francis is making everybody feel a little uncomfortable, and I believe that is intentional on his part.  This is because I believe he knows that feeling uncomfortable is not always a bad thing, but can sometimes be a good thing, assuming it leads people to do good things.  I'm pretty sure that's what this pope is all about.  What he is doing is not out of the ordinary really, because Pope Benedict XVI made some people feel uncomfortable too.  I know for a fact that many people in the Catholic Church (even some priests and bishops) felt very uncomfortable with Summorum Pontificum, the official proclamation that made the celebration of the Latin mass more available throughout the worldwide Church.  I know for a fact that many people in the Catholic Church (clergy and laity) felt very uncomfortable with Anglicanorum Coetibus, the apostolic constitution that provided for the creation of personal ordinariates for former Anglicans within the Catholic Church.  In fact, some people felt extremely uncomfortable with these things, and voiced their discomfort very loudly.  These actions, taken by the previous pope, led many to do good things.  Simultaneously however, some people sadly missed the point. Instead they withdrew, said bad things about the old Latin mass and the new Anglican ordinariates.  Some people considered those who loved the old Latin mass to be reprobates -- calcitrant throwbacks who couldn't handle the reforms of Vatican II.  They said so in Internet articles, magazines and newspapers. Some even said it from behind the pulpit.  Some people considered Anglicans, who wished to join the Catholic Church through the ordinariates, to be mutants -- half-breeds who were no longer Anglican but then not fully Catholic either.  This again was articulated in Internet articles, magazines, newspapers, and even from behind the pulpit (believe it or not). In these actions we see people who felt uncomfortable with the pope's changes, and rather than using that discomfort to push them forward into doing good things, they instead withdrew and attacked others, in some kind of vain attempt to recover that previous comfort they had since lost.  Traditional and conservative Catholics loved Pope Benedict XVI, because many of the things he did agreed with their ideology.  Moderate and progressive Catholics were not so please with him, because what he did made them feel uncomfortable.

Now it's the other way around.  Pope Francis has thus far become the little darling of moderate to progressive Catholics, and this time it's the conservative to traditional Catholics who are feeling uncomfortable.  It remains to be seen how long this current situation will last, as I am convinced that Pope Francis is a lot more "conservative" and "traditional" than he letting on right now, but only time will disclose that. Still, what he is doing is making a lot of people feel very uncomfortable. That can be a good thing, if it pokes and prods people to do good things. If however, people reject that feeling of discomfort, and instead retreat in a vain attempt to recover their comfort zone, doing whatever it takes to get there, even attacking other people in the process, then we have a problem.  Over the last eight years I have watched moderate to progressive Catholics attack the reforms of Pope Benedict XVI, and sometimes even the man himself, simply because he made them feel uncomfortable.  I have been on the receiving end of a lot of immature and unnecessary nastiness over both Summorum Pontificum and Anglicanorum Coetibus. The things that were said to me, and about me (even by priests!), would have driven a lot of people out of the Catholic Church. Fortunately for me, I've grown a rather thick hide over the last two decades. My ego was obliterated in 1998 when I learnt that everything I believed about Christianity was wrong, and that it wasn't really the world that was upside down, rather it was me.  This epiphany led to my conversion to the Catholic Church, and in the process I discovered who my friends really were. The things that were said to me by Protestant family members, who could not understand my decision, will not be repeated here. The friendships that were lost are not something I care to discuss because I have moved on. If you're not a convert, you won't understand. The only advice I can give you when dealing with converts is this.  Treat them like you would treat somebody at a funeral who just lost his whole family in a tragic car wreck, because the emotions are similar. I learnt at the age of 30 how to be uncomfortable and embrace it. When those priests, and cradle Catholics, said those things to me (and about me) I was not discouraged. After what I had been through just to enter the Catholic Church, there was little they could say or do to drive me away. For this I am lucky. No, I mean fortunate. No, I mean blessed! Because this new pope is making me feel uncomfortable again, and I know, based on previous experience, that this is a very good thing!

Others may not be so blessed to have this understanding.  Instead, what I am seeing now is a whole lot of conservative to traditional Catholics, behaving a lot like their moderate to progressive counterparts did under Benedict's papacy.  They are retreating.  They are building up walls.  They are lashing out at the pope and those who defend him.  They are desperately trying to recover their comfort zone, but it is fading away quickly. They don't know what to do, and some of them are getting downright nasty about it. For the first time, in a long time, these conservative to traditionalist Catholics are getting a taste of what the moderate to progressive Catholics have been feeling for the last eight years.  Francis has done nothing to revoke Summorum Pontificum, and in fact, he has told some bishops to stop complaining about it.  Francis has done nothing to hinder the work of Anglicanorum Coetibus, and in fact, he has even strengthened it. So what is so upsetting then? Well, I think it's just his frank personality, and the fact that what he often says is true.  Granted, he doesn't always say it perfectly, because nobody is perfect, not even the pope. What he says however, is true, and the truth hurts, doesn't it. The truth often makes us feel uncomfortable, and it's supposed to -- because it's the truth! We are human beings, a fallen race, and we don't like hearing the truth. By nature we want to hear lies and half-truths, because that is what makes us feel more comfortable.

In recent days the pope has said some things about capitalism that has made many capitalists feel very uncomfortable. Some of them have lashed out at him, even some Catholics, even some Catholic priests! Then he clarified himself, and rather than taking the pope's words with docility, they accused him of back peddling. So is what he said about capitalism really all that bad? Is it untrue? No, it is the truth, and that is what is making people feel so uncomfortable. I say deal with it. Smell it. Because it's the truth and you need it. If it bothers you -- good! Now go out and do something good.

Over the last several months the pope has characterised his papacy with a rather meek and humble kind of presentation. This has made many traditionalists feel very uncomfortable. Some have lashed out at him, saying that he is pushing the Church back toward the radical innovations popular in the 1970s through 90s, which his predecessor, Benedict XVI, condemned as misguided. This in spite of the fact that he has done nothing to call for a return to such a hermeneutic of rupture, but has rather said the exact opposite, favouring more continuity with the past, and lamenting the general loss of solemnity and sacred mystery in the Roman Rite.  His personal style is irrelevant.  How he chooses to celebrate his own liturgy is his own choice.  He has done nothing to force modernist liturgy on anyone, and yet he makes people feel uncomfortable. Because he simply told a single religious order to abide by its charter, he is now derided as a "modernist" who wants to return the Church to the liturgical rupture of 40 years ago. For heavens sake people; you still have the Latin mass. You still have plenty of young priests who want to celebrate the Novus Ordo mass reverently as Benedict envisioned. Does the pope make you feel uncomfortable? Good! Now go and do something good.

The pope is in the process of reorganising the curia, and again, he can't even make a single decision without causing people to think we are going back to a hermeneutic of rupture. Come on people! It's not like he just appointed Hans K√ľng the new Vatican Secretary of State! Did the curia not need reform? Is the Vatican not in need of a total makeover? Did we not just learn about money laundering and a horrid homosexual prostitution ring within the Vatican, that was in part, the likely product of a system that is broken and needs significant repair? The pope has barely begun to fix things, and yet people are already complaining. Do his reforms make you feel uncomfortable? Good! And let's hope they make those who caused the scandals feel even more uncomfortable. No go and do something good.

The truth is, I don't know what will become of this papacy. I'm just leaving it in God's hands. After all is said and done, there is nothing this pope can do to change my Catholic Christian faith, other than make it stronger, one way or another. That's how I'm approaching this uncomfortable feeling he's giving me. I'm embracing it, because in the end, that's all I really can do. The only other option is to retreat and become bitter, desperately seeking to reclaim a comfort zone that I never really had to begin with, and is fading away for everyone else. In truth, many Catholics today, both on the traditional and modern side, are behaving a lot like Protestants, depending upon who the pope is. I choose not to go that route because you see, that's not the religion I signed up for. That is the religion I left behind.

I also didn't sign up for a religion that constantly makes me worry. Every day I'm hearing the same thing. "Pray, pray for the pope, pray for the Church!"  Yes, pray!  Pray regularly and pray hard.  I agree. Unfortunately, many of the people who are saying this are saying it in a spirit of desperation, because they don't like what the pope is doing, and he's making them feel uncomfortable. Their admonition to "pray" is really just a veiled protest. Prayer works. Do it. That however shouldn't stop us from using our feeling of discomfort to go out and also do something else that is good too.

According to the gospels, Jesus Christ spent a great deal of time talking about economics. I'm sure the things he said made a lot of people in his day feel very uncomfortable. Those same words make people feel uncomfortable today. Jesus Christ was also a bit unorthodox when it came to his observance of some Jewish traditions. This too made some people uncomfortable. Jesus Christ did more than reform the leadership of Israel. He replaced it! This, after all is said and done, is the reason why those in power had him killed. It made them feel very, very uncomfortable. Will we be like the scribes and Pharisees, who lashed out in the most wicked ways imaginable, to reclaim a fleeting sense of comfort that ultimately destroyed them in the end? Or will we be like the apostles who embraced that feeling of discomfort, and used it to do something good, turned themselves right side up, and transformed the history of planet earth? The choice is up to each and every one of us -- individually.

------------------------------------------------------

Click Image to Learn More
Highly recommended by priests and catechists, "Catholicism for Protestants" is a Biblical explanation of Roman Catholic Christianity as told by Shane Schaetzel -- an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism.  The book is concise and formatted in an easy-to-read Question & Answer catechism style.  It addresses many of the common questions Protestants have about Catholicism. It is ideal for Protestants seeking more knowledge about the Catholic Church, and for Catholics seeking a quick refresher course on fundamental Catholic teaching. It's an excellent book for Catholics and Protestants alike!

THE BOOK CONTAINS A
NIHIL OBSTAT AND 
IMPRIMATUR
ORDER YOUR COPY HERE
Kindle | NookeBook | iTunes

Monday, December 16, 2013

Pope Responds to Rush Limbaugh

[CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)] via Wikimedia Commons
Pope Francis
presidencia.gov.ar
If Rush Limbaugh were to say this Monday that his accusation of Marxism in the papacy provoked a response from the pope himself, he would be 100% right.  Pope Francis responded to the following question in his latest interview with Andrea Tornielli (Vatican Insider)...
TORNIELLI: Some of the passages in the “Evangelii Gaudium” attracted the criticism of ultraconservatives in the USA. As a Pope, what does it feel like to be called a “Marxist”? 
POPE FRANCIS: “The Marxist ideology is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.”
The term "ultraconservatives in the USA" is umbrella speak for Rush Limbaugh and those who followed his lead in the right-wing media.  If you would like to see Limbaugh's monologue that led to this little exchange between "golden EIB microphone" and the Chair of Peter, I have linked to a video here in a previous article.

In Limbaugh's own words: "this is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope."  Pope Francis responds in his own words: "The Marxist ideology is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended." 

There is it folks.  Marxism is wrong.  Period.  Now we shouldn't be surprised about this should we?  The popes have been railing against Marxism for 120 years now.  Why should this one be any different.  The Holy Father goes on, so as to show a little charity toward Mr. Limbaugh and gang.  "I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended."  He is not offended by the accusation.  Why? Because he has met many good (well intentioned) people in his life who are Marxists, so he doesn't view this as an insult.

Now that's pretty gracious.  I wish I could say I felt the same way when people call me a Marxist (and they do).  I tend to get a little upset when they do this, because not only is it untrue (I'm not a Marxist), but as an American, the very accusation seems rather "un-American" to me -- an insult to my nationality.  The pope is not burdened with the same nationality complex as I, so he doesn't take it in an offensive way.  Of course you're probably wondering why anyone would call me a Marxist in the first place.  I suppose they call me a Marxist for the same reason Rush Limbaugh said "this is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope." 

They lack imagination, and they are uneducated on this matter.

Yep, I said it.  I just called Rush Limbaugh unimaginative and uneducated -- on this issue.  Here is why I said it, and I pointed this out in my previous article.  I am a Distributist, and Distributism is an economic model that comes directly from papal teaching, stretching back 120 years to Pope Leo XIII papal encyclical Rerum Novarum.  Multiple encyclicals have been written on the topic since then, and each one carried far more weight than Pope Francis' recent apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.  So, you thought Pope Francis' words were politically charged? Wait till you read what previous popes have said, with more authority and weight of official Church teaching.  Here are just a few quotes...
"Hence by degrees it has come to pass that Working Men have been given over, isolated and defenseless, to the callousness of employers and the greed of unrestrained competition." -- Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, #3 
"On the one side there is the party which holds the power because it holds the wealth; which has in its grasp all labor and all trade; which manipulates for its own benefit and its own purposes all the sources of supply, and which is powerfully represented in the councils of the State itself. On the other side there is the needy and powerless multitude, sore and suffering, always ready for disturbance." -- Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, #47 
"Just as the unity of human society cannot be built upon “class” conflict, so the proper ordering of economic affairs cannot be left to the free play of rugged competition.  From this source, as from a polluted spring, have proceeded all the errors of the `individualistic’ school.  This school, forgetful or ignorant of the social and moral aspects of economic activities, regarded these as completely free and immune from any intervention by public authority, for they would have in the market place and in unregulated competition a principle of self-direction more suitable for guiding them than any created intellect which might intervene.  Free competition, however, though justified and quite useful within certain limits, cannot be an adequate controlling principle in economic affairs.  This has been abundantly proved by the consequences that have followed from the free rein given to these dangerous individualistic ideas." -- Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno, #88 
"Such a society ["a society of free work, of enterprise and of participation"] is not directed against the market, but demands that the market be appropriately controlled by the forces of society and by the State, so as to guarantee that the basic needs of the whole of society are satisfied." -- Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, #35 
"It is the task of the State to provide for the defense and preservation of common goods such as the natural and human environments, which cannot be safeguarded simply by market forces." -- Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, #40 
"There is a risk that a radical capitalistic ideology could spread which refuses even to consider these problems, in the a priori belief that any attempt to solve them is doomed to failure, and which blindly entrusts their solution to the free development of market forces." -- Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, #42 
"The Western countries… run the risk of seeing [the collapse of Communism] as a one-sided victory of their own economic system, and thereby failing to make necessary corrections in that system." -- Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, #56 
"Business management cannot concern itself only with the interests of the proprietors, but must also assume responsibility for all the other stakeholders who contribute to the life of the business: the workers, the clients, the suppliers of various elements of production, the community of reference." -- Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate #40 
"In the face of unrelenting growth of global interdependence, there is a strongly felt need, even in the midst of a global recession, for a reform of the United Nations Organization, and likewise of economic institutions and international finance, so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth. One also senses the urgent need to find innovative ways of implementing the principle of responsibility to protect and of giving poorer nations an effective voice in shared decision-making. This seems necessary in order to arrive at a political, juridical and economic order which can increase and give direction to international cooperation for the development of all peoples in solidarity. To manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration: for all this, there is urgent need for a true world political authority." -- Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate #67
When put into the context of previous papal teaching, (teaching that has far more weighty authority I might add, because these are papal encyclicals, not mere apostolic exhortations), it would seem that Pope Francis' remarks are quite mild in comparison.  This is papal teaching that goes back 120 years!  Are they all Marxists?  I suppose by Rush Limbaugh's criteria they might be.  In which case Catholic listeners of Rush might find themselves having to choose between the "doctor of democracy" and the Vicar of Christ.  Or maybe it's not that simple.  Maybe Rush is actually wrong about something, and if he is, well that just changes everything.

The truth is, Rush Limbaugh is not alone, and this article is not intended to pick on him exclusively.  There are many more conservative talk-radio show hosts out there, and a good number of them follow Rush's lead on stories.  This is added to a plethora of print media and Internet outlets that likewise share Limbaugh's opinion on a great many things.  Then of course there is the popular (and somewhat Leftist) mainstream news media. While these obviously don't agree with the "all-knowing, all-sensing, all-everything Maha Rushie," they do however share his view of Pope Francis as a liberal Marxist, but to them that's considered a positive thing.  I assert here that they are all wrong.  Why?  Because they are talking heads in the media who have never studied papal social teaching on economics before.  They've never bothered to research this, and what little investigation they might have done has been coloured by their own biases and limited world view.  So I'm going to simplify matters for all of them right now, and lay it out in plain and simple English for them to absorb.

The popes are not Marxists.  The popes are not socialists.  The popes are not fascists.  The popes are not Keynesians.  The popes are not Austrians.  The popes are not supply-siders.  The popes are not capitalists at all.  The popes are none of these things.  They have no economic model they follow.  Rather, they make the principles upon which economic models are built, and the only economic model built on papal teaching is distributism. 

In this loose sense we could say the popes are distributists, but we should keep in mind, the popes are not economic ideologues.  They leave such matters to those who can formulate such models.  Distributism comes from the popes.  The popes are not literally distributists.  Does that make sense?

Now the word distributism does not mean "re-distribution" as is the common misconception.  These are two completely different concepts.  Redistribution falls into the Keynesian model of economics, and is often a key component to other economic models as well, such as socialism and Marxism.  What we are talking about is taking money from one group of people and giving it to another.  While virtually all forms of government engage in this to some degree, that is not what is meant by "distributism."  Rather, what is meant by "distributism" is simply this.  The most just economic system is one in which productive property (small business, etc.) is the most widely distributed to the most people possible.  Distributism is about small family-run business.  In a distributist economy, small business is the boss.  It is the backbone of the economy. Distributists envision a world where the majority of commerce is exchanged through small business.  It's a world were nearly any man can "become his own boss."  Realising that some forms of business need to be much larger in order to function, Distributists call for the widespread creation of cooperative corporations, wherein the workers own a share (and a vote) in the management of a company.  This is the core of distributism, but it doesn't stop there.  There is much more in the way of trade guilds, licensing and small government based on subsidiarity.  Much of this will sound foreign to conservative talk-radio in America, and that's too bad, because there are a whole lot of "conservative" things to talk about here. 

I invite Rush and gang to do a little more homework.  Now that you've been graciously answered by the pope, Rush, you owe it to him to figure out what he's talking about.  I invite you to take a look at this Wikipedia article on distributism and then read a few articles on The Distributist Review.

------------------------------------------------------

Click Image to Learn More
Highly recommended by priests and catechists, "Catholicism for Protestants" is a Biblical explanation of Roman Catholic Christianity as told by Shane Schaetzel -- an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism.  The book is concise and formatted in an easy-to-read Question & Answer catechism style.  It addresses many of the common questions Protestants have about Catholicism. It is ideal for Protestants seeking more knowledge about the Catholic Church, and for Catholics seeking a quick refresher course on fundamental Catholic teaching. It's an excellent book for Catholics and Protestants alike!

THE BOOK CONTAINS A
NIHIL OBSTAT AND 
IMPRIMATUR
ORDER YOUR COPY HERE
Kindle | NookeBook | iTunes

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Rush Limbaugh versus Pope Francis


I include the Rush Limbaugh video above because I want to be fair.  I'm not going to paraphrase Rush Limbaugh here.  I want you to hear his own words.  This is extremely important, because you see, Rush Limbaugh is wrong about some things here, and he's making some pretty profound judgements against not only Pope Francis, but Catholic social teaching in general, going back over 120 years!

Worse than that, Rush Limbaugh has the largest talk show following in the United States, with at least 15 million regular listeners.  So now that this heavyweight has thrown his hat into the ring, the battle lines are clearly drawn.  What this man said will reverberate through other conservative talk show syndications as well, and before the week is done, we can expect somewhere in the neighbourhood of 20 to 30 million people in the United States believing that Pope Francis is a Marxist.  Priests and bishops be warned, you're going to have a very serious problem on your hands before 2013 comes to an end.  Many of your biggest lay supporters in your parishes and dioceses are regular listeners of conservative talk radio.  What this man has done, along with the many who will soon follow suit, is sow seeds of doubt into their minds.  They will soon doubt the leadership of the pope, and by extension, that includes your leadership as well.

Now the temptation here is to start "Rush bashing" and condemning conservative talk radio.  I suppose some priests and bishops will be tempted to advise the faithful to "stop listening to that stuff."  Granted, that's probably good advice in general, but I'm afraid if our leaders become militant about this, it may actually confirm the doubt and end up producing the exact opposite result, with more conservative lay Catholics listening to Limbaugh and the like.  This blogger is not going to take the bait, and my suggestion to readers is that you shouldn't either.  Rather, I would encourage the Church's spiritual leaders to educate of the lay faithful instead, and I'm afraid the days of "sitting on the fence" are now over.  Pope Francis laid down his economic position, which is the Catholic Church's position for over 120 years, and Rush Limbaugh is now leading the charge against him on this.  Bishops and priests; you are about to encounter some serious problems on this, and they will start quickly, in early 2014, and if you're not proactive now, you may end up losing some of your best and most dedicated lay faithful as a result. Do not underestimate the power of conservative talk radio. You ignore their influence at your own peril, and at the expense of your parishes and chanceries.

The problem Rush has is the same problem many people have on the conservative Right.  They have an extremely narrow view of economics.  They see the whole economic paradigm as existing between two extremes.  There is the Austrian school of economics, which has a lot in common with supply-side (or "trickle down") on the one hand, and then there is Marxism on the other hand.  Period!  That's it.  That's how they view the world.  There is nothing else.  You can see this in Rush Limbaugh's monologue above.  Rush is a big supply-side (or "trickle down") guy, and like most supply-side economists, he believes anything that isn't supply-side (or similar) is Marxist.  Pope Francis is clearly NOT an supply-side (or "trickle down") guy and so therefore, from the Limbaugh point of view, he must be a Marxist.  Do you see the thought progression here?  It's very simplistic, overly simplistic and wrong, but that doesn't matter, because you see Limbaugh has a huge following, and when you include the other talk show hosts who follow his lead, that following is massive!  We are going to lose parishioners because of this, and many Catholics will go over the the SSPX because of this.  The Evangelical anti-Catholics will be emboldened by this, as it plays right into their "pope is the Antichrist" motif. Bishops, don't blow this off.  Don't dismiss this. This is much bigger than you think. Be proactive now, or you will be sorry later.

The problem with this supply-side and Austrian mindset is that it's just plain wrong.  It assumes that economics is just a simple polarity between Austrianism and Marxism -- supply-side and communism.  It fails to take into concept a third dimension.  The Catholic Church's teaching on economics goes back to 1891, and continues with a steady stream of eight papal encyclicals as follows...
  1. Rerum Novarum: On the Condition of Workers, Pope Leo XIII, 1891
  2. Quadragesimo Anno: On the Reconstruction of the Social Order, Pope Pius XI, 1931
  3. Mater et Magistra: Mother and Teacher, Pope John XIII, 1961
  4. Populorum Progressio: On the Development of People, Pope Paul VI, 1961
  5. Laborem Exercens: On Human Work, Pope John Paul II, 1981
  6. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis: On the Twentieth Anniversary of Populorum Progressio, Pope John Paul II, 1987
  7. Centesimus Annus: The Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum, Pope John Paul II, 1987
  8. Caritas in Veritatae: Charity in Truth, Pope Benedict XVI, 2009
It's a pretty hefty reading list, but one that every bishop (and priest) should be familiar with.  Sadly, many are not, and even worse, most lay Catholics have never even heard of them!  What Pope Francis has written in his recent apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, is just a synthesis of the above papal encyclicals written by six previous popes! If you can't see that, you need to go back and do your homework on Catholic social teaching. Nothing Pope Francis said is new in this regard, and everything is consistent with the previous teachings of the popes. The only difference is that Pope Francis doesn't say these things softly. He says them with gusto! That, and the fact that the mainstream news media has wrongly labelled him as a liberal-modernist "hippy pope," has made him a lightning rod of speculation and accusation.

The gist of the Church's teaching on economics is basically a synthesis of Solidarity + Subsidiarity. In other words, the economy is made for man, not man for the economy. We must have solidarity with all peoples, including the poor, and the economy must be structured in such a way as to maximise the benefit to the most people possible. This in turn is balanced with Subsidiarity, wherein power and production must be distributed to the smallest units possible.  The traditional family (mom, pop and kids) is the foundational building block of every economy. Therefore, any just economic model must be structured in such a way so as to benefit the traditional family. Without the traditional family, you have no economy -- period. The fundamental teaching of Catholic social doctrine comes from the first papal encyclical on the topic -- Rerum Novarum by Pope Leo XIII in 1891, and what it all comes down to is property. The popes (including the current Pope Francis) take the exact opposite position of Karl Marx. The papal position is that productive property, in the form of the tools needed for business, should be naturally placed under the ownership of the traditional family (mom, pop and kids). Let that sink into your head for a moment. Karl Marx said the exact opposite of the popes, and advocated that ownership of productive property should be placed into the hands of the state. The popes say the opposite of Karl Marx. Productive property (i.e. the tools of business) belong to families -- not corporate plutocrats or government bureaucrats. I want you stop and re-read this paragraph. Let that sink in.

So the popes' position on economics opposes the centralisation of productive property (the tools of business).  It opposes the centralisation of productive property in the form of corporate plutocracy, and the extreme centralisation of productive property in the form of government bureaucracy. In other words, the popes oppose both big business and big government at the same time.

The Austrian school of economics (and by extension supply-side economics too) can't understand this, and neither can the Marxist school of economics. They both believe you can have one without the other. Austrians (and supply-siders) are supporters of big business, and believe you can have big business without big government. While the Marxists are supporters of big government, and believe you can have big government without big business. Both are wrong, for big business and big government are dependent on each other. While it is possible for one to exist without the other, neither does well when left absolutely alone. The best situation for both big business and big government is when they work together, but when they do so, they do so at the expense of the poor and middle class. In recent years we have seen both the rise of the Tea Party movement and the Occupy Wall Street movement. While these movements embody two extremes of the political spectrum, the core of their grievance against the current status quo is identical. They'll never admit that of course, as the political animosity between them seems insurmountable. Nevertheless, we Catholics should be able to see the similarities, if we've been following the popes' social teaching for the last 120 years. Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests the influence of large corporations and big banks over big government. While as the Tea Party (TP) protests the influence of big government over everything else. So who is right? They both are! The TP correctly identifies that government has gotten too big and is now self serving. OWS correctly identifies that big business now influences big government for self serving purposes. In the end, we find that many of the people appointed to serve in big government are in fact the exact same people who previously served big business. What is sad about this whole situation is that both TP and OWS are so heavily influenced by partisan politics and political ideology that they cannot see the plain truth -- which is that they are both two dogs barking up the opposite side of the same tree.

In the wake of Pope Leo's social encyclical 120 years ago, two Catholic theologians and authors (G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc), formulated an economic system that models itself after papal teaching. This economic system is called distributism (read more here).  What is it?  At it's core, distributism is capitalism, but is is distributed-capitalism. What that means is the economy is structured in such a way, so as to give small (family owned) businesses an economic advantage over large corporate businesses. Recognising that large industry is needed in some areas, distributism compensates with the idea of worker-owned cooperative corporations, rather than corporations owned independently of workers. In other words, when you have a large corporation, the shareholders should be the employee-workers themselves, not some entity that exists apart from the workers. Thus, the employee-workers will have a say in every corporate decision that is made, which insulates them against decisions that are made at the expense of employees. This is the core of distributist economics.  It is a capitalist economy that is distributed among as many people as possible. It is a real ownership economy that prevents too much productive property (the tools of business) from falling into the hands of too few people. It is the polar opposite of both Marxism (communism or hard socialism) and Austrian capitalism and/or supply-side ("trickle down"). It takes productive property (the tools of business) out of the hands of corporate plutocrats and government bureaucrats, and puts it back into the hands of local families. That is Catholic social teaching! That is what Pope Francis is advocating. Anybody who understands Catholic social teaching can clearly see this in Pope Francis' writings, and it is consistent with the social encyclicals of six previous popes.

For the last 120 years, distributed capitalism (distributism) has been dismissed and derided by the reigning corporate plutocracy as anything from a "joke" to "naive fantasy" to "impossible." The economic model is frequently mischaracterised as an economy for farmers that is more appropriate to the middle ages then the modern world.  Often, G.K. Chesteron's reference to "three acres and a cow" is misapplied here. The strategy of the reigning capitalist plutocracy has been one that's worked for over a century now, which is to laugh and scoff at the popes' ideas. Marxist will sometimes jump on this bandwagon too, realising that distributism poses an even more serious threat to their ideology than the capitalist plutocracy. In this, politics makes strange bedfellows, as Marxists and Austrians, as well as supply-siders, find themselves on the same team fighting against the popes.

In spite of this however, distributed capitalism (distributism) does work, and this has been demonstrated in places such as Taiwan, and throughout the free world, wherein small business, worker-owned cooperatives and credit unions are plentiful, where they have been allowed to thrive. Nobody today, except maybe Rush Limbaugh and gang, would deny the benefit of antitrust laws breaking up monopolies. These laws were inspired by distributist thinking. Most people think worker-owned cooperates are a good thing, and a whole lot of people prefer to bank at client-owned credit unions as opposed to traditional banks. Most people prefer small family-owned business to large corporations and would like to see more of that.  However, what some people, especially Rush Limbaugh and his radio talk-show comrades, fail to understand, is that under the Austrian school of economics, and also under supply-side ("trickle down"), that doesn't really happen. Instead you get a short-term boost in small business, but this is short lived, as larger (more powerful) businesses either gobble them up in acquisitions, or else drive them out of business with unfair competition. What you end up with, in the long run, using the Austrian model and/or supply-side, is something akin to the old laissez-faire school of economics, which is the very abuse that gave rise to Marxism in the first place. The Austrians and supply-siders must learn that too much capitalism, in the long run, result in too few capitalists, and that in turn generates the knee-jerk reaction of creating a whole lot more Marxists.

I began this article with a video, and now I will end it with two more. The first is a video I've used a couple times before, but it does a wonderful job explaining papal economics (distirbutism) in a very short amount of time (about 4 1/2 minutes). Besides that, I love the music that accompanies it! Below this video, is a second video (about 15 minutes) which explains economics in light of the gospel, the social kingship of Jesus Christ, and the Catholic Church's roll in this. Below that, I'll give you two links. The first will be to a Wikipedia article on distributism, and the second will be to The Distributist Review -- an online magazine publication. If you're a Catholic, please watch the video and bookmark the links for further reading. If you're not a Catholic, you might want to do the same.





Please share this article with family and friends.


------------------------------------------------------

Click Image to Learn More
Highly recommended by priests and catechists, "Catholicism for Protestants" is a Biblical explanation of Roman Catholic Christianity as told by Shane Schaetzel -- an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism.  The book is concise and formatted in an easy-to-read Question & Answer catechism style.  It addresses many of the common questions Protestants have about Catholicism. It is ideal for Protestants seeking more knowledge about the Catholic Church, and for Catholics seeking a quick refresher course on fundamental Catholic teaching. It's an excellent book for Catholics and Protestants alike!

NIHIL OBSTAT, IMPRIMATUR
ORDER YOUR COPY HERE