Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Why Pope Francis sticks out like a sore thumb in Vatican

Although Christianity as we know it today was a marginalized sect for centuries after Christ's death, Emperor Constantine soon turned it into the official religion of the Holy Roman Empire. For the ensuing centuries, the secular and the religious authorities formed steadfast alliances that have endured to this day. Despite that the doctrine of the Separation of Church and State is enforced in Western Europe and North America, Christianity remains a religion of the powerful and the privileged. The clerical authorities of most European countries enjoyed lifestyles of material comfort and often required the financial support of the secular elites.

Naturally, the Catholic Church seized the opportunity to turn its religious institution into a burgeoning enterprises. They have achieved considerable success by engaging in the practice of the sales of the indulgences. The ordinary Church members were led to believe that they could shorten their stay in Purgatory by making munificent donations to their religious leaders. Despite the Protestant Reformation, the American churches began engaging in similar practice. In a book that is now known as a classic of sociology, Max Weber explained how the elites have used Christianity to renege on their responsibilities to the poor.

The Protestant Ethic that Max Weber described was founded on the Calvinist principle of predestination which held that all people were selected by God either for salvation or eternal perdition. According to scripture, God's presence in ones life manifests in the fruits of the spirit and industriousness is one of them. Because it was also believed that affluence was solely a result of hard-work, the leaders of the religious establishment were inclined to presume that the rich were saved by definition. By contrast, poverty appeared to be solely a result of indolence and the poor were presumed to have been condemned to hell. In light of the premise that no-one could override God's will, the secular and the religious elites concluded that it was pointless to attempt to alleviate poverty. After all, they are poor just because they are lazy and they are lazy because God made them that way and no-one could change that, so no-one can stop them from being poor! Who could possibly argue with that!? Besides, colluding with the industrialists was a far more lucrative venture than abiding by Christ's dictum of a "rich man is just as likely to enter heaven as a camel is to go through the eye of a needle".

Conversely, the Latin American clergymen were much less fortunate because they were not able to procure the blessings of the financial elites. Naturally, they sympathized with the underprivileged and their concern for the underclass was codified in the tenets of Liberation Theology. The differences between the point of view of Christianity as interpreted by the South American religious establishment and the European are glaring: that is the reason why Pope Francis sticks out like a sore thumb in Vatican. To protect their alliances with the secular elites, the European and American Christian leaders have denounced him as a communist and inveighed Liberation Theology as heretical. Whether you support or decry the Pope's efforts, it is undeniable that his teachings are founded on one fundamentally Christian insight: followers of Christ must display compassion for their fellow human beings by fighting poverty.

This notion flies in the face of the neo-liberal dogma of unfettered free-markets. While countries with considerable labor-power such as India and China are able to benefit from globalization, that does not hold true for most of the underdeveloped nations. According to Paul Collier's "Bottom Billion", the poorest nations on this planet simply lack the fundamental resources needed to take advantage of the opportunities the international markets offer. There is no reason to expect Chad and Niger to compete with the economies of developed nations when half of their population can barely avoid slow death due to starvation and malaria. Jeffrey Sachs put it well, regardless of how many mosquito nets you try to sell them, no progress will be achieved in eradicating extreme poverty through market solutions: markets do things for people that have something and there is no sense in trying to sell things to people who have nothing. Our millionaire televangelists have no concept of what it means to have nothing and that is why they are simply incapable of understanding the Pope's point of view.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure that Pope Francis is that closely associated with liberation theology, its a pretty extreme doctrine in some of its incarnations, certainly during the cold war, some of its thinkers like Jose Miranda wrote about communism in the bible and were border line on giving guerillas and armed struggles their blessings.

    I've read books about the topic which are not communistic or marxist in content or perspective at all but they would still be much too radical for most, their consideration of "structural sin" as opposed to individual sin or consideration of social structures as being either causative or corrosive of more saintly or virtuous social character for instance. Although that said highlighting the need for structural adjustment per se doesnt mean anything, its like saying "here be poverty", a libertarian or a marxist could say that, they'd have different ideas about what needs to be done about it though.

    Francis is a Jesuit though, the society of jesus is pretty radical about living the message and being the change you want to see, they had set up settlements for escaped or liberated slaves (a lot of them children) in Latin America in the epoch before the french revolution or American independence struggle. Now there's mixed views about those settlements or reductions, the history is disputed, for some they are some kind of concentration camps, for others they were like the paris commune. The movie The Mission with Robert De Niro in it is about that.