Only a small portion of the more than 200-page papal document “Joy of the Gospel” dealt with economics. But the pope raised the issue of how inequality can isolate people and harden hearts to what any Christian knows is among Jesus’ central teachings: that we must help those in need.
“To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed,” Frances wrote. “… (W)e end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.”
Not surprisingly, Rush Limbaugh was among the first to spit back. Limbaugh called Francis’ views “pure Marxism.”
Others took a condescending tone, arguing that Francis is ignorant of American capitalism.
Catholic Congressman Paul Ryan said: “The guy is from Argentina, they haven’t had real capitalism in Argentina. They have crony capitalism in Argentina. They don’t have a true free enterprise system.”
Francis is doing exactly what a religious leader is supposed to do: challenge followers to examine the lives they are leading. The fact that he’s broadening the conversation to include aspects of life that go beyond throwing a few shillings into a collection plate is a good thing.
He’s framing the message of the church in a modern context: discussing inequality, the legal and social institutions that exclude the poor and that permit the wealthy to be indifferent.
The problem conservatives have with the pope is that what he’s saying threatens well-codified systems of power, esteem and privilege. But Pope Francis has long been about challenging power, esteem and privilege.