Another Critique of Capitalism

David Simon

Five days ago, Pope Francis was named Time magazine’s “Person of the Year,” just a few days after releasing the first major document of his papacy in which he criticized the economy of “exclusion and inequality.” Once again we say: “Pope, Yes!”

Relatedly, journalist and TV producer David Simon recently gave a speech at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. In his speech, Simon said that capitalism has “achieved its dominance without regard to a social compact, without being connected to any other metric for human progress.”

Both the pope and David Simon are simply pointing to the obvious chasm between the well-off and the poor, and asking: does this need to be?

Christianity has become a marginalized religion in North America. We might as well claim our spot on the margins, and join the pope (and David Simon, and others) in exposing the human cost of economic practices that separate people into winners and losers, and that increasingly make it difficult for those who have “lost” to have hope. As Paul Raushenbush has written, we who are part of the Jesus Movement would do this not because we are Marxists, but because we are followers of Jesus.

I recommend taking some time with Simon’s words. An excerpt and link follow below.

America is a country that is now utterly divided when it comes to its society, its economy, its politics. There are definitely two Americas. I live in one, on one block in Baltimore that is part of the viable America, the America that is connected to its own economy, where there is a plausible future for the people born into it. About 20 blocks away is another America entirely. It’s astonishing how little we have to do with each other, and yet we are living in such proximity….

via David Simon: ‘There are now two Americas. My country is a horror show’ | World news | The Observer.

Neutering the Gospel

Pope Francis

Jon Stewart recently skewered Fox News’ Stuart Varney. Varney disagreed with the pope’s recent critique of capitalism; Stewart’s sharp satire exposes the intellectual and moral vacuity of Varney’s protests against the pope’s comments. (If you haven’t seen it, you can find the link to Jon Stewart here.)

One of Varney’s moves is to attempt to separate the political from the spiritual. He says, “I personally do not want my spiritual life mixed up with my political life. I go to church to save my soul.”

In this context, separating the political from the spiritual is a way to nullify an essential part of Jesus’ teaching and ministry: the building of the Kingdom of God. Jesus was not strictly, nor even primarily, concerned with saving souls: the prayer that he taught his followers is, “… thy Kingdom come, thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven….” The Lord’s prayer expresses the desire that the world be put in order, and that that order be under the authority of the God who is always on the side of the widow and the orphan; on the side of the outcast and the poor.

Those who claim that the political and the spiritual do not meet may be, in fact, followers of one of the world’s great religions– but it isn’t Christianity.

There are good reasons why we have “the separation of church and state,” but Varney is not supporting the continued prohibition of state-sponsored churches. What he is supporting– and anyone else who dismisses the political dimension of religious conviction is also supporting–  is the tight-banded neutering of the gospel. It’s a convenient way to avoid the claims that God makes on our communal life together– of which the political is part– and thereby to avoid questions of conscience.

via AOL Mail – Message View.

More Pope Yes


In case you missed it, last week Pope Francis once again addressed a sickness within Christianity with words of truth. The sickness? The idolatry of ideology. The words of truth? That to worship our ideation of God is a corruption of religious faith. The idolatry of ideology (worshiping my idea of God, rather than worshiping the living God) promises certainty, whereas religious faith promises only a relationship with the quick and vital Holy One, whose continually-unfolding purpose is always at least one turn-around-the-next-corner further than we can see.

All moralistic, literalistic fundamentalisms lead us back to the safety of our own confirmed opinions about God, and judgment of others. Faith leads us into an openness to life as it unfolds– its griefs and joys alike– and into relationships with others.

Faith is harder and scarier than fundamentalism, and therefore rarer.

Much of the popular press turned Francis’ words (excerpt below) into an indictment of so-called “right-wing” Christianity, but that’s not what he said. More interestingly, Francis is putting into words the Christian vision of what humans are (we are limited), and the propensity we have, as humans, to think we’re NOT limited.

All ideologies, whether secular (political or economic) or religious, carry the danger that we will become convinced of their absolute truth– thereby giving us the rationalization to harm the people who disagree with us “for their own good.” Religious people– of all people– ought to know better.

I’m eager for what Francis will say next.

Speaking at daily Mass last Thursday, Pope Francis warned Christians against turning their faith into a rigid ideology. “The faith passes, so to speak, through a distiller and becomes ideology,” he said, according to Radio Vatican. “And ideology does not beckon [people]. In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. “And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements.” “The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people, distances, distances the people and distances of the Church of the people,” Francis added. “But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new, eh?”

via Pope Francis describes ‘ideological Christians’ as a ‘serious illness’ within the Church | The Raw Story.


Pope, Yes

When we were in college, a friend of mine did not call the fast-food chicken franchise “Popeye’s,” but called it rather “Pope Yes.” As in, “Let’s go get some fried chicken at Pope Yes.” In the mid-1980s, this was his intentional affirmation of John Paul II.

To affirm Francis in the same way now, is strikingly appropriate: Pope, Yes. To the dismay of some Catholics who seem to be motivated by the nostalgia for an imagined glorious past, this pope is hitting the right notes, as followers of Jesus– Catholic and Protestant alike– try to bring Christianity back from irrelevance. (Nostalgic Protestants have the same kind of dismay as nostalgic Catholics regarding church renewal, even if the details are different). The larger narrative of Christianity in Western civilization over the last half-century follows the Catholic storyline in North America and Europe: decline.

This pope does not seem interested in trying to force new wine into old wineskins. Indeed, Pope Francis invokes the metaphor that guides this blog– balance– as he calls for more humility and grace in the church’s dealings with both its own flock, and with the wider world. Confidence in the truth of the gospel and trust in the Lord Jesus should not add up to a hectoring, holier-than-thou moralism. In fact, such a confidence and such a trust should add up to something altogether different.

That “something different,” Francis indicates, should have “the freshness and fragrance of the gospel… simple, profound, radiant.”

This is good news for anyone interested in the Jesus Movement for our time. Pope, Yes.

Below is an excerpt from a Commonweal editorial on the Pope’s interview with the world’s Jesuit publications:

Even more refreshing was the pope’s insistence that “thinking with the church” does not mean thinking only with the hierarchy. “The church [is]…the people of God, pastors and people together. The church is the totality of God’s people.” It has been a long time since that bit of orthodox wisdom has been heard from Rome. In a similar fashion, Francis warned of the dangers of certainty in the life of faith. “If a person says that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good. For me, this is an important key. If one has the answers to all the questions—that is the proof that God is not with him.”

via A New Balance | Commonweal Magazine.

Go Pope!

Pope Francis Washing Feet on Maundy Thursday

“Love one another,” said Jesus on the night of the Last Supper, and as a sign of that love he washed the feet of his disciples. Pope Francis broke tradition and washed the feet of women last night. Given the great commandment of love, how could Jesus be displeased?

Go Pope!

HuffPost Religion’s report follows here:

ROME — In his most significant break with tradition yet, Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of two young women at a juvenile detention center – a surprising departure from church rules that restrict the Holy Thursday ritual to men.

No pope has ever washed the feet of a woman before, and Francis’ gesture sparked a debate among some conservatives and liturgical purists, who lamented he had set a “questionable example.” Liberals welcomed the move as a sign of greater inclusiveness in the church.

Speaking to the young offenders, including Muslims and Orthodox Christians, Francis said that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion in a gesture of love and service.

“This is a symbol, it is a sign. Washing your feet means I am at your service,” Francis told the group, aged 14 to 21, at the Casal del Marmo detention facility in Rome.

“Help one another. This is what Jesus teaches us,” the pope said. “This is what I do. And I do it with my heart. I do this with my heart because it is my duty. As a priest and bishop, I must be at your service.”

via Pope Francis Offers Holy Thursday Foot Washing To Inmates In Casal Del Marmo Jail PHOTOS VIDEO.