First it was The New York Times. Then it was MSNBC. Next it was the HuffPo, Mother Jones, Time Magazine, Life Magazine… All to be expected. But then it was Rush Limbaugh. Now its Fox News. Yes, its gang up on Pope Francis time and Catholics everywhere…. do what exactly?
The first bunch I expect. Heck, if the New York times didn’t misrepresent Pope Francis I’d be nervous. But Rush? Fox News? Et tu, Brute? Rush Limbaugh’s astounding ignorance I addressed here. Enjoy. But I have been stewing about the article posted on Fox News’ website this week. I was actually going to go line by line and refute (and possibly mock) everything that was said. But then Mark Shea wrote a brilliant piece here and saved me the trouble. (and he is a published writer with, ya know, an instant audience. Its all good, I say my Litany of Humility… )
Mr. Shea got me thinking though, after my initial relief, “Whew! Now I don’t need to go line by line,” I started to really think and I realized, that this is EXACTLY to be expected, and, ironically, its EXACTLY what Pope Francis was talking about. Let me elaborate.
The latest bru-haha with Pope Francis that has the likes of Rush and Fox all stirred up revolves around the Document Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). Particularly his alleged “condemnation of capitalism.” Now, before we go further lets clear that up – Pope Francis did not outright condemn capitalism. He condemned the idolatry of money and rightly pointed out that idolatry of money and greed can be found within every economic system – including capitalism. Now does that sound scandalous? No more scandalous than “Man cannot serve two masters, God and mammon.” Nevertheless, Pope Francis is now being attacked by those who, while not necessarily the first to come to his defense, would at least normally give him the benefit of the doubt.
Before I answer that, I want to share an excerpt from the article by Mark Shea (bold emphasis mine):
And sure enough, it is the strategy of FOX who–swimming in money and able to pick from a vast pool of real talent ranging from Fr. Robert Sirico on the Right, to Fr. Robert Barron in the center, or John Allen, Jr. on the Left (all of whom have sufficient credentials to offer something like a serious analysis and critique of Francis’ thought)–instead tapped a young video game reviewer named Adam Shaw to pen the hit piece. Why? Because hit pieces need no qualifications beyond “I was raised Catholic and I can tell you…” The unthinking platitudes, shallow analysis and mendacity can flow, unencumbered by the thought process when your sole goal is to poison the well. Then all you need do is make sure Drudge links it (as he dutifully has) and the conservative Catholics FOX seeks to poison against Francis are sent the clear message that this is not some Outsider attacking the Church, this is a True Catholic defending the Church from our dangerous new pope.
Now, why in the world would Fox News act so nefariously as to want to “Poison the well” of conservative Catholics? And furthermore, what in the world do we do about it?
Americans (at least those with voices loud enough to be heard above, or at least amidst, the media noise) tend to see everything in political terms, ideologies and monikers. Liberals and Conservatives. Democrats and Republicans. Left and Right. Socialists and Capitalists, Communists and Patriots… The problem is, “Catholic” doesn’t squarely fit into any of those. Catholicism isn’t an ideology. Its a religion. Its a faith. It is who you are, not what you are. In America this is a problem. Its also grounds for a lot of misunderstanding and mistrust. “Christianity” in America has never included Catholicism. (This leads us to our second point, and makes it necessary for me to mention that Catholicism IS a Christian religion. It is “Christocentric” meaning, centered on Jesus Christ; however for the purpose of this post it is necessary for me to differentiate between Catholicism and the other Christian denominations in the US). In fact, Catholics in America were originally societal outcasts, being relegated to living only in Maryland, harshly persecuted, unable to find employment and subjected to extreme prejudice, and almost always at odds with American politics. American Christianity, however – starting with the Puritans, Quakers and early Episcopalians and Lutherans and developing into an evangelical, Baptist, and mainline Protestant conglomeration grew up largely along side the American political system. This morphing of Christianity and politics has created an uniquely American Christian experience where the majority of Evangelical Christians and several Christian Denominations practically identify Capitalism, patriotism, and national pride as important parts of their “religious identity.”
Herein, my friends, lies what is at the root of this latest “conservative” attack on Pope Francis, and by default, the Catholic Church. Pope Francis, in presenting the Truth (much the same as Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II did) and has stated that capitalism is not the be-all end-all of economics. In fact, he was so brazen as to actually say that unfettered capitalism can become a breeding ground for materialism and greed and that this is unhealthy for a society, because an economic system not focused on people – real people – is an economic system that will end up harming them. Now, for your average non-Catholic “bitter clinger” this is heresy! Capitalism and its defense have become such a part of mainstream Christian conservative culture that many are unable to separate it from their religious and political identities. So here we have Fox News, and Rush Limbaugh and the like experiencing a knee – jerk reaction to what is, and always has been a Catholic economic philosophy. The difference is that the “Left, Liberal” factions in America have been doing their utmost to claim Pope Francis as one of their own and twist his words to suit their needs. This tactic may have been working up until they couldn’t ignore his no-nonsense words on abortion, contraception, and homosexual marriage. They tried mightily to co-opt the new Pope to suit their liberal agenda when it came to sexual morals (which in their narrow world view, is all a Pope is really supposed to talk about). But then Pope Francis did the unthinkable! He kept talking! And about a lot more than just moral issues confined to the bedroom! The left, still bent on trying desperately to make him out to be “on their side” kept reporting. So now we have a left-leaning media trying to figure out why a Pope would talk about the economy and doing so while interpreting it all through their “American” paradigm, which we have already established, is a political one. This of course gets the right-leaning media all fired up. While correctly reporting how Pope Francis is – like his predecessors – holding fast to the teachings of the Church on sexual ethics, the right -leaning media starts having conniptions when they start reporting on his foray into economic theory. The problem is that Pope Francis is an “anomaly.” He isn’t fitting into a box! He doesn’t fit the mold of either ideology! The left could not successfully label him as a liberal, and the right is now terrified of him because he didn’t simply tout the glories of Capitalism. To those on both ends of the political ideological spectrum this is unthinkable, and since they can’t fit him squarely into their own small, ideological box, well, then he must be the enemy! So here we are, with the Left beating their chests and ranting over how he is a patriarchal, woman-hating man after all (but at least he understands the plight of the poor), and the Right grabbing their “Don’t Tread on Me” flags and snarking about how he “must” be a Marxist because he isn’t a die-hard Capitalist – which clearly means he isn’t a real Christian either and MUST be secretly supporting Obama (but at least he hasn’t backed down on abortion and gay marriage).
Truly, my friends, it’s laughable.
Pope Francis is doing exactly what Christ did all those years ago. He is shaking things up. He is challenging us. He is speaking the Truth, unencumbered by ideology or politics. He is speaking in love, about love, and for love of Christ. He is Shepherding his Church. He is walking the very walk he is calling the Church to. And the talking heads have no idea what to do about it. And that scares them.
Fear is a powerful motivator. Fear is what motivated the hearts of those who placed Jesus on the Cross, and what martyred the early Christians. Fear is what causes otherwise sane and conscientious people to lash out. Its what makes Rush Limbaugh yell “Marxist” and Fox news try to alienate Conservative Catholics.
It’s time to pray and it’s time to be bold, because, my friends if you want to follow Christ, if you want to seek His Truth, well you aren’t going to fit into a box either. Pope Francis is calling us to something much more radical than ideology. He is reminding us that all things – be they economics, sexual morals, or world hunger – MUST be centered first on Christ, and second, they must be at the service to the human person and his dignity. When anything – economics included – ceases to be about the dignity of the person and instead becomes focused on the acquisition of wealth or things, or prestige, or power etc. for its own sake, than it is no longer good for society – or for the human person. This philosophy, which is at the heart of Catholic social and economic teaching, isn’t going to mesh well with any American political party. It is going to challenge both the right and the left’s perceptions of reality. It’s going to be considered a threat by the mainline Protestants and Evangelicals who have adopted a political ideology as part of their faith.
Be Not Afraid.
You were born for this. You are part of the Church Militant! We have a Shepherd in Pope Francis who is sharing the Gospel in a way that is touching lives, opening hearts, and turning the status quo on its head. Be ready to have his back! Be ready to share the faith! Be ready to be a part of this New Evangelization and not only defend your faith, but invite others to come experience it! Truth is attractive, my friends! The media, and those in it would have us believe that the Truth is divisive. We know better. “The Truth will set you free.” Lets us join our Holy Father in proclaiming it.
****A note to my dear non-Catholic friends who may be a tad miffed at me.****
If you know me, then you know I do not judge. This post is in no way a judgement on the character or depth of the faith of any one of you. Rather, it is an observation of an unique American reality – the coupling of faith and politics that is part of our American culture. In other parts of the world this same sort of cultural phenomenon can be found – Poland for example and some of the old European nations have a vast cultural experience that intertwines an old world Catholicism into the fabric of their political systems. Granted they are becoming more and more secular, but the fact remains that many nations have built cultures upon a religious identity and have over time combined religious and political thought into an ideology. So please do not take my observations as disrespect or indifference. That, as you can see, is not how they are intended.
On another note, if you feel so inclined to learn more about Catholicism, I leave you with this thought from Ven. Fulton Sheen, “There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing.”
Catholic means “Universal” – our doors are always open!
(Sorry, couldn’t help it.)