Although I have other issues with Catholicism, one thing that’s always bothered me about it and virtually all Christian religions is the tendency to pick and choose what tenets to apply. Catholicism often seems far more interested in political issues like contraception, abortion, and gay marriage than what I gathered to be the essence of the New Testament during my time in a Catholic elementary school. The chasm between the book Christians loudly cite and reality is perhaps best seen in the growth of the “prosperity Gospel,” something even Christianity Today calls “[a]n aberrant theology that teaches God rewards faith—and hefty tithing—with financial blessings.”
So my jaw dropped yesterday when I heard about Pope Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium (“Apostolic Exhortation”). Granted, I haven’t read
a lot of any papal directives over the last few decades so I could well have missed something from his predecessors. But this Pope seemed to catch on to something that Christianity — at least in America — never seems to treat as a “hot button” issue.
Pope Francis expressed concern about what he calls “an economy of exclusion and inequality.” “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?,” he asked. “Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”
The “culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase; and in the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.” He later observed, “The dignity of each human person and the pursuit of the common good are concerns which ought to shape all economic policies.” Absent an attack on structural causes of economic inequality, “no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems. Inequality is the root of social ills.”
What concepts! Who would ever think they fit within Christianity? After all, it isn’t like Jesus told people to sell what they have and give the proceeds to the poor (Matt. 19:21; Mark 10:21; Luke 18:22), that a rich man will have a hard time entering heaven (Matt. 19:23), or to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked and take care of the sick. (Matt. 25:34-36). (As an aside, Matthew is frequently cited in this area because most Biblical scholars view that gospel as the one most concerned with the ethics of how Christians are supposed to act.)
True, I am probably guilty here of the cherry picking I see Christians doing. And I am equally guilty of preaching but not necessarily practicing. Without doubt, there’s more in the Pope’s “exhortation” that I would disagree with but it’s refreshing to hear this come from the peak of the Catholic hierarchy. Whether it is window dressing or actually produces change is another question.
Nor does true peace act as a pretext for justifying a social structure which silences or appeases the poor, so that the more affluent can placidly support their lifestyle while others have to make do as they can.
Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, ¶ 218