Pope Francis Isn’t A Lefty, He’s A Christian
One individual who has been in the news quite a bit lately has been Pope Francis. Everywhere His Holiness goes he makes the headlines, whether it is by being mobbed by nuns or drawing massive crowds in the Philippines. It really is quite remarkable. I certainly can’t remember the last time a Pope held this much command of the media. And to his credit, the Pope seems perfectly prepared to use this celebrity as a soapbox to preach his message to a wider and wider audience, having perhaps realize that if the Church wishes to remain relevant in the modern world it must make itself heard and actually speak to issues that affect the lives of its parishioners.
And the message that Pope Francis has been preaching has only furthered the mania surrounding him. From saying “whom am I to judge” on the issue of homosexuality, to proclaiming the preservation of the environment a Christian duty, to condemning the income inequality of capitalism, the Bishop of Rome has on many issues appeared to be taking a stand that would not be at all at odds with the views espoused by Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. Indeed it has been quite amusing to watch the great conflict so many progressive figures of the left seem to feel when the topic of the Pope has been raised. On the one hand, there is a tangible sense of delight to see such a prominent religious figure siding with them to the utter consternation of the religious right. On the other hand, the Pope does remain a religious figure (and not a kinda-sorta acceptable one like a Buddhist or a Wiccan but a Christian at that), and one who has resolutely enunciated such inconvenient views as abortion being murder and large families being good. One can practically see the mental battle playing out across their faces “Oh he says such nice things, why couldn’t he be anything but a Christian”.
If the left has been conflicted, the conventional right has at times been utterly apoplectic. Even a casual search of Pope Francis’s name on Twitter will reveal a near endless list of one-line philosophers denouncing him as a commie-socialist lefty plant destroying Christianity from within. I can partially understand the reaction. In this soulless age of the post-modern, progressive secularist, the right has been the one unwavering public ally of Christianity against the hordes of moral relativists and militant atheists who wish to destroy it as weregild for perceived sins past. It’s somewhat understandable that seeing no lessor a figure than the Pope come out and denounce the excesses of free markets would come across as somewhat of a betrayal.
But to the reluctant left and offended right I have the same message. The Pope is of neither of you. He is neither of a socialist or a conservative, he is a Christian. The Pontiff is but the latest in an ancient and long line of men who have worn the shoes of the Fisherman and held it as their duty to safeguard the souls of mankind. That is what has been forgotten by both the progressives and the conservatives as they debate whether to embrace His Holiness or denounce him. The Pope is the guardian of the spirit, not the secular, and it is through that lens that his statements must be viewed.
In that light, the Pope pontificating on the needs of the poor in a capitalist world is speaking not as an economist but as a moralist. In that sense I find myself in total agreement with the Holy Father, even being the conservative reactionary High Tory that I am. Indeed, care for the poor and compassion for those less fortunate for yourself is a central tenant of Christianity, so in speaking so the Pope is only reaffirming the basic principles of the faith he represents and I ascribe to. Love one another as I have loved you were the Lord’s words, and it should not be surprising when the Lord’s representative on earth chooses to advocate precisely that.
Now, in case any of my readers are beginning to wonder if I have taken leave of my senses, let me reassure I have not suddenly morphed into a paler version of Barack Obama. I completely support capitalism, if for no other reason than as a historian I recognize no other system that has ever been tried has ever worked. More importantly, I will also argue that one can reconcile the Pope’s message to a conservative outlook on life (though perhaps not a militantly libertarian one). To show love and compassion means one is conscious of others and willing to extend a helping hand to those in need. My apologies to anarcho-capitalists, but letting someone starve in the street isn’t making them “learn from their mistakes” or promoting personal responsibility it’s just being cruel. I donate to charity, and if I pass a homeless person asking for change I’ll give some if I have it (unless I really get the impression that they’ll run straight to the liquor store with it).
However, love and compassion has limits. A parent should love their children, but we all agree there is nothing loving about spoiling them. Offering a hand up to those on hard times who have fallen through the cracks is entirely different than giving an endless stream of handouts to the lazy, entitled and ignorant. One can simultaneously hold the view that we should help those who need it, while also believing the best way to do that is by empowering people to help themselves. I believe absolutely in a basic social safety net, but I also absolutely believe that there are basic limits to the charity one can demand from others. More importantly, while individual morality is something to be encouraged, one must remember that the individual is not the state. Render unto God what is God’s, and Caesar what is Caesar’s, so while one must always be mindful of the morality of one’s personal actions one must not seek to control the actions of others through the power of the state in the name of morality.
Indeed the greatest issue I have with the progressive left is that I see many of them as being motivated not so much by compassion and a desire to help the poor but envy and an urge to tear down the rich. That is not an appeal for charity as much as it is a need for revenge. The revolutionary is motivated not so much by his wish to help those in need as his desire to get even with those who are perceived to have hurt him. Make the rich pay their fair share! Force some responsibility on corporations! Put bankers in jail for the financial crisis! Off with the King’s head! The first three sentences are not so far removed from the last, and a path begun out of a demand for justice can easily end at the guillotine. While love is certainly a virtue, the Pope would doubtlessly agree that jealousy is a sin.
Ultimately, it is not surprising that stalwarts of both sides of the political spectrum have such difficulty grasping the truth of the Pope’s words. Liberalism has triumphed over our political discourse, and much of what we call debate is really bickering over whether to put sprinkles or chocolate flakes on the same vanilla ice cream. Consequently, our dialogue has been restrained to the confines of liberal thought as well. Happiness is equated with one’s ability to obtain more material possessions. Charity is measured by how many proverbial dollars one puts into a metaphorical hat. Equality is advocated via the forced levelling of socioeconomic statuses and the deliberate extinction of differences in material standing. Trying to decipher the Pope’s words in this dialect is like trying to describe a painting in terms of its physical components of canvass, frame and paint.
The Pope is ultimately head of the Catholic Church, the vessel of faith for the living in this world. His concerns are with the spiritual not the material. He is there to be a voice for the voiceless, a source of hope for those bereft of it, and a giver of comfort to those in need. He represents no political party’s agenda or petty manmade ideology, only the words of God. A God that made has all in his image and loved us all equally, but still raised up a King to rule over Israel before all others. A God that gave man stewardship over the world but also the free will to do with it as we saw best. A God that gave love but also promised judgement. That is the true message of the Pope, can we bring ourselves to listen?