December 16, 2013

"Why Is Pope Francis Promoting Sin?"

There's a click-bait headline that seduced me. It's an op-ed at Bloomberg.com.
By dwelling on inequality, the pope is promoting envy. The Catholic Church, I had always understood, disapproves of envy, deeming it one of the seven deadly sins. I would have expected Francis to urge people to think of themselves in relation to God and to their own fullest potential. Encouraging people to measure themselves against others only leads to grief. Resenting the success of others is a sin in itself.
Obviously, one can say the Pope is promoting virtue, notably charity. But the pitch comes from a Harvard professor, Lant Pritchett, whose expertise is in alleviating poverty, but hear him out. This next part may win over even the Pope fans:
While Jesus repeatedly preached against the love of riches, he was urging people to respond to a call to God and to become “rich to God.” It was not an appeal for people to resent the riches of others and obsess about material inequality. Jesus, when asked to remedy inequality, turned the focus back on envy and greed.

“Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.’ He replied to him, ‘Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?’ Then he said to the crowd, ‘Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.’” (Luke 12:13-15)

I am all for reducing poverty... What I’m against is talking about “inequality” as if that term denoted any of those concerns. Poverty matters; injustice matters. Mere inequality is beside the point.
Mere inequality is beside the point.

49 comments:

Bob Ellison said...

I try to understand leftism and socialism, and I probably fail. But I think leftists and socialists would say that inequality is indeed the point. From each according to his ability, to each according to his need. The inequality itself is the evil to be corrected.

That is why humans are a scourge on the planet. We use too much, and polar bears die. That's why it doesn't matter that the air is cleaner in Los Angeles than it was decades ago; we're still polluting it. We use too much. Make me one with everything.

Inequality is evil, leftists would say.

Shouting Thomas said...

Methinks the progressives, who actually hate the Church and want to destroy it, are whistling out their asses about the pope's liberalism.

You want to destroy the Church, Althouse. Well, the destructive attack on the Church is a side effect of your loony gay BS. The attack on the Church that begins with Obamacare will accelerate as you and your friends attempt to force the Church to accede to your plot to pussify men.

Interesting, isn't it, that your fight for "freedom and equality" for gays has to be enforced by giving the Fed the power to undermine and co-opt the Church. This is a feature of your confused ideology, not a bug.

You will lose over the long haul. Reality will defeat you. My effort in this fight will be to ridicule your goofball ideals. And to support the Church.

What the hell is a expert on "alleviating poverty?" Sounds like shorthand for "con artist."

Bob Ellison said...

"whistling out their asses" is an interesting turn of phrase. Consider the ass as a physical object. Maybe a donkey-like thing, or maybe a butt. Perhaps just a sphincter, in which case it's not an object but the absence of an object, or maybe the flesh around that which it describes.

So if you can whistle it out, you're talking about a fantastic trick. I've probably whistled out a seed of popcorn in my day, but never a whole donkey.

Shouting Thomas said...

The real expert on "alleviating poverty" is the Catholic Church.

I see it every day.

In northern Jersey, the pews are full of Filipinos who embrace Catholic school education for their children, and Catechism as the means to direct their children to a productive and moral life.

In upstate NY, one of the churches I work for occasionally serves an almost entirely Salvadoran congregation. These people escaped from the nightmare of the Salvadoran civil war and made their way to the U.S. Same as Filipinos, they look first to the Church to solve their social, educational and economic problems.

The discipline of faith, prayer and confession is the way out of poverty.

rhhardin said...

Inequality is where seed corn comes from.

Bob said...

Envy is indeed one of the Seven Deadly Sins, but so is Greed. The fundamental question, though, is who determines what level of wealth is greed, the individual who accumulates the wealth or those around him who are less wealthy? And if you allow the non-wealthy to dictate wealth levels, at what point does Envy apply?

David Aitken said...

So why do leftists (and others of their ilk) act as if the only way to get wealth is to steal it from someone else? Do they believe there is a fixed amount of wealth on the planet?

John Vaci said...

There are only two religions in the world; one requires our "good" works, the other depends on Christ alone. One of these religions is susceptible to charlatans, hypocrites and tyrants who manipulate emotions and play on our guilty heartstrings.

El Pollo Raylan said...

I have a tag for "inequality" long before the current fad. Some thoughts are economic, some are political, some are scientific, but all are related: link.

Andy Freeman said...

Envy is the only one of the seven deadly sins that provides no benefit to the sinner. Envy is the only one that is not an extreme version of a good thing.

Strelnikov said...

This writer probably thinks he's a genius who has hit on an all-purpose shut-the-hell-up for the religious: No matter what they are talking about, accuse them of promoting sin. He's probably still giggling with delight. To himself, of course.

EDH said...

Once you recognize that every policy theme raised by Obama, like inequality, is a political strategy, it all makes sense.

Paddy O said...

"the pews are full of Filipinos"

Who escaped the poverty of Catholic Philippines?

Paddy O said...

That last point has been my standard response to people who emphasize the wage inequality. That is missing the point and often is more about the insecurity of the speaker's own sense of worth.

Address real and present poverty. If I have enough, if my neighbor has enough, then I don't need to worry what someone else has. Of course, that doesn't mean that that person who has too much isn't themselves trapped in sin by their wealth.

But, Jesus didn't promote an ethics for others, he emphasized an ethics of self.

At the same time, that envy language has a bit of an unfortunate history. That's the sort of thing that the Church told the poor in South America for centuries, that they should embrace their poverty and not be envious. Give them just enough to subsist, keep them docile. The same sort of strategy much of the Left has for government.

If the Church is not addressing the powerful, those who maintain structures of power that feed into greed, enable corruption, and actively work against people's access to progress, then it becomes anti-Christ.

That's the context the Pope is speaking out of.

Where inequality isn't just a gap between the fine and the ultra-comfortable, it's a gap between the destitute and the prideful powerful.

One medicine isn't meant for every disease and so using the rhetoric of wage gap for America does all too often play into envy rather than real care.

YoungHegelian said...

@Paddy,

Where inequality isn't just a gap between the fine and the ultra-comfortable, it's a gap between the destitute and the prideful powerful.

I wish I could give the Curia that much credit. Pronouncements like this from the Vatican are heard in Europe & the US as a condemnation of "Anglo-Saxon capitalism", a term much abused in the non-Anglo-Saxon world. Also, when someone from the Vatican uses the term "neo-liberal", when no free-marketer uses that term to describe themselves anymore & hasn't for years, I really start to suspect that we're hearing the same Euro-socialist conventional wisdom on economics we've heard from the Vatican since the late 60's.

The questions of economic justice internal to 1st world countries & 3rd world countries are very different indeed. 3rd W countries have this big problem with "rule of law", and such corruption destroys initiative at its root. I wish the Vatican would speak to this, rather than speak in "1st world guilt-trip" language which gives undo comfort to the socialists.

InsaneSanity said...

John Vaci - you are creating a false dichotomy. Christianity is a religion of both faith in Christ and good works spurred on by grace. As James says, "Faith without works is dead."

Carol said...

the Pope is promoting virtue, notably charity.

"Charity" doesn't mean United Way or almsgiving. It's more like love thy neighbor and an antidote to hate, disdain, resentment and so forth.

Peter said...

The assumption that economic growth will continue forever is suspect. Economic growth in the USA presently is anemic, but that just might be the "new normal."

Meanwhile, globalization tends to equalize wages between rich and poor countries (in the short run it reduces demand for low-skill labor in rich countries as jobs are offshored). And automation wcontinues to reduce the value of routine work (sometimes to less than zero).

The result in the USA is, low-skill labor has significantly less economic value than it did decades ago yet labor markets for many types of highly skilled labor has mostly remained robust. As have returns to capital.

No doubt declining wages at the bottom combined with increasing returns to capital and (to some extent) increasing wages for those with still-valuable skills will produce some degree of political conflict.

Unfortunately some of the populist "solutions" are fantastically destructive. Such as, confiscatory taxes on wealth (capital will flee). Or laws that minimum wage be set higher than the economic value of that labor.

What we're learning is that the period after WWII in which semi-skilled work could earn a good wage and in which one could expect ever-rising real earnings was an anomaly.

In time we will (must) adjust to a world in which low economic growth is normal, as well as a world in which the work many of us can do is work that has little economic value.

I'd expect the best political solution would be modest increases in some transfer payments, especially ones like EITC which encourage continued attachment to labor markets.

n.n said...

It is odd that the Pope has set a priority for money over the so-called "social issues", especially the preemptive termination of a human life when it is most vulnerable.

YoungHegelian said...

@Peter,

What we're learning is that the period after WWII in which semi-skilled work could earn a good wage and in which one could expect ever-rising real earnings was an anomaly.

Good post. What we forgot about the post-war economy was that 3/5 of the world's workers were essentially taken off the world labor market by various forms of socialist autarky (e.g. Warsaw Pact, China, post-war India). Strangely enough, when all that labor comes on line in a short period of about 20 years in the 80's forward, wages start to fall.

Honestly, with all that labor coming on the market, PLUS the addition of women to the 1st world workforce, I'm amazed that the market price for labor hasn't fallen even more than it has in our lifetime.

Michael said...

Peter/Young Hegelian: Post WWII there was no place for the workers to go to work. The factories of Europe and Asia were demolished, gone. It should be no surprise that we enjoyed a couple of decades of competition-free manufacturing and the economy that came with it.

Sigivald said...

I am all for reducing poverty... What I’m against is talking about “inequality” as if that term denoted any of those concerns. Poverty matters; injustice matters. Mere inequality is beside the point.

Damn right.

Mere inequality is very much besides the point.

Alex said...

Progressives don't really care about poverty, it's the inequality that matters most to them. We must all be equally in poverty.

Robert Cook said...

"'Charity' doesn't mean United Way or almsgiving. It's more like love thy neighbor and an antidote to hate, disdain, resentment and so forth."

And what does "love thy neighbor" mean? Love without commitment or action is not love, but self-satisfaction.

Alex said...

Cook - I knew that Christianity in it's purest form is Communism. That is why I reject religion. It gets in the way of my making ridiculous amounts of filthy lucre.

SOJO said...

I love Pope Francis. I love this hysterical reaction he's getting from all corners for stating the blindingly obvious. (Come on, these are the very basics of the brotherhood of man.)

It's like watching Dorothy pour water on the Wicked Witch of the West - like watching a kid pour salt on a snail, like watching - oh I don't know - Jesus Christ shine a light on the evil.

Ha ha ha.

Inga said...

SOJO, I so agree, it's amusing to watch the anti Pope sentiment building up and it IS.

hombre said...

"Obviously, one can say the Pope is promoting virtue, notably charity."

When the Pope couches his argument in terms of the shortcomings of capitalism and inequality, he is not promoting charity, but an alternative to capitalism.

He, like Obama, is appealing to covetousness.

Eradicating inequality is not part of Christian doctrine.

Alex said...

Inga - I find it hilarious that the left is suddenly latching onto the Pope and ignoring his anti-gay, anti-abortion stance.

El Pollo Raylan said...

SOJO, I so agree, it's amusing to watch the anti Pope sentiment building up and it IS.

Such sentiment is no more "anti-Pope" than your side's "anti-Pope sentiment" expressed towards Pope Benedict. Goose/gander

hombre said...

Ah. Here come the lefties, SOJO, Igna, Time Magazine lining up behind the Pope while he promotes their silly secular dogma instead of Christian theology.

We can remain confident that in the long run he will disappoint them. He is, after all, a man of God.

n.n said...

The Pope is reminiscing about the church's brush with left-wing ideology. He remembers the good old days when consolidation of capital and control happened through an authoritarian decree. He seems to be largely oblivious to the extraordinary violation of human rights executed under that fatally flawed ideology. Not even the abortion of several hundred million human lives will temper their libertine behavior and lust for money.

AReasonableMan said...

Alex said...
I find it hilarious that the left is suddenly latching onto the Pope and ignoring his anti-gay, anti-abortion stance.


The anti-gay stance is apparently not take seriously by anyone. Is there a major organization anywhere in the world with a larger fraction of gay members than the Catholic priesthood?

Gay bathhouses and Broadway productions do not count as major organizations.

Michael said...

ARM;: Notwithstanding the snark, the Roman Catholic Church is not down with gay marriage, women as priests, homosexual activity, abortion and birth control. So cheer the Pope on!!

AReasonableMan said...

It wasn't really meant as snark. The pope is surrounded by gay men. He can hardly deny their existence or that some accommodation with reality must be made.

His larger point is that obsessing about a tiny fraction of the human condition(gay marriage, abortion) is a distraction from the broader function of the church. He is right.

Michael said...

ARM The Roman Catholic Church considers homosexual activity, abortion, birth control and the consecration of women as priests as sins. You can go on and on with your homophobic rant about gays in the clergy but their presence does not obviate the church's position on their practice.

The Pope rightly pointed out that obsessing about these matters does us no good but that is not the same as saying they are hunkydorey. I believe he is suggesting that people like you might be better off if you did not make a big deal about gays in the clergy. It betrays your homophobia. Ugly.

Bob R said...

In regards the deadly sins, I've felt for a long time that the excessive desire for power over others is as deadly a sin as the excessive desire for sex, money, fame, or adoration. Of course, it's not listed by the Catholic church. I wonder why.

Bob R said...

I think that Mickey Kaus's take on inequality has a lot of merit. (Short version: Income inequality is a force of nature and can't be stopped. But the problem is not income inequality but social equality. Forget income inequality. Fight social inequality.) The refusal of the left to address it is a sign that they LOVE social inequality, cf. e.g. Palin, Sarah.

wildswan said...

I've heard that art treasures worth millions are being stored in transit areas in airports so as to avoid taxes. The owners are not enjoying their masterpieces, neither is anyone else. It's all a tax deal. It claims to be a part of capitalism and so protected. This odious practice has slipped in under the protection of laws protecting better practices such as banks which develop town economies. contracts which are honored, factories which are efficient, politicians who are also statesmen. But hiding art is not capitalism, it's piggery. My point is that it's important not to be so attached to "capitalism" that anything done by any capitalist is OK. That in my opinion is what the Pope is saying.
I don't resent rich people having art on their walls but hiding art from taxes and from anyone's gaze in airport warehouses is piggish and sinful and quite typical of the time. And I'm glad someone is speaking up against these kinds of things. Though I will still vote Republican because at this time the Democrats are more destructive than the people hiding their art acquisitions.

Donald Sensing said...

The complete pericope of Jesus that is cited is this:

Luke 12:13-21
New International Version (NIV)
The Parable of the Rich Fool

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

R.C. said...

Well, Frankie got us all talking about important topics, like he meant to do.

Oh, with one exception: He doesn't consider himself an important topic. So, doubtless, he's a bit disappointed about how much HE is the focus of attention in all this talk.

But that's a small downside. What we have here is a heck of a lot of people talking about:

1. What real "inequality" is;

2. What real "poverty" is;

3. What else an economy needs other than "trickle-down theories" to have the wealth produced by healthy economies result in assistance to the poor;

4. What constitutes "unfettered" capitalism, and whether such a thing exists;

5. What the duty is of an individual to the needy;

6. What the duty is of governments to the needy, and how that differs from individual duty;

7. How to avoid one deadly sin while not actively fostering another;

...and so on.

Yeah, I'm sure it's DESPERATELY upsetting to the Pope to have huge swaths of the mass media suddenly, urgently, participating in THOSE conversations.

If the man were getting paid decently for all this, I'd say he was laughing his way to the bank.

But I guess that's not where he keeps his treasure.

Jeff said...

@Peter

The assumption that economic growth will continue forever is suspect.

No, it isn't. The most important source of economic growth over time is people coming up with new inventions and better ways to do things. So long as people are free to reap the rewards of such creativity, there is no reason to think this will ever stop.

Advancing technology is the story of civilization. Everything else pales beside it.

R.C. said...

Of course the economy will keep growing forever.

(Unless, of course, one of the things happens which causes it to shrink. (And, sadly, all of those things are likely.))

Economic growth automatically happens when you have a stable or growing population with a stable or improving education level and a stable or improving culture.

For, of course, in such a population, there are always more free-and-informed exchanges and more acts of creating new intellectual and cultural capital.

Since free-and-informed exchanges (such that each side ends up better off, in its own view, than it was before) and the creation of intellectual and cultural capital are how wealth is created, a populace which does such things gets wealthier, and its economy grows.

So far so good.

But here's the catch:

If you undermine the cultural capital of a populace enough -- say, their marginal propensity to raise their children in stable, two-parent homes -- you can trigger a preference cascade which replaces a healthy culture with a sick one. And cultural capital matters: It is a form of wealth, and produces more wealth. Replace a good culture with a bad one, and you've just destroyed a lot of current and future wealth.

Ooops.

And if you take a large segment of your economy and make trade in that segment blind and unfree instead of free and informed, then the result is that people regularly will make trades which, had they known what they were doing and had the freedom to choose otherwise, they would not have otherwise made. By definition such trades leave one side or the other less wealthy when they're done. Make all the trades in a large segment of your economy work this way, and you've turned that economic segment from an engine of wealth creation to an engine of wealth destruction.

Ooops, again.

Oh, and the more educated a person is, generally speaking, the better he is at generating intellectual capital. Mindless drones don't invent stuff; invention must come from minds teeming with the activity of healthy cognition. Undermine your education system with perverse incentives and value-free segregationist grievance-mongering under the name of "multiculturalism," and you'll wind up not only with a population of mindless drones with brains full of mush, but drones who're ignorantly proud of their loyalty to the mush!

Ooops, yet again.

Well, you can still keep your economy growing if, at the least, your population is stable or growing. Get enough youngsters flooding into the system every year, and all that youthful mental and physical energy will generally be enough to carry the mindless bulk of aging Lesbian Critical Theory professors. Just so long as you don't abort and estriadolize the next generation down to less than the size of the previous one, you'll probably be okay....

Oooooooooops.

The economy always keeps growing.

It does.

So long as you don't torpedo its ability to do so.

We have. We ate all that cultural seed corn, and the fields are pretty much fallow at this point.

El Pollo Raylan said...

*Applauds R.C.*

AReasonableMan said...

Michael said...
You can go on and on with your homophobic rant about gays in the clergy


This is unhinged.

Point to where I make a homophobic rant or retract your slander. Either way you will end up looking like a fool.

There are a large number of gay clergy. No sane person disputes this.

fit2post said...

Because there was no room for Him, Jesus was laid in a manger charitably donated to His family. God did not give half the inn to the Holy Family to resolve income inequality. This is how we meet Jesus and see the beginnings of Christianity.

fit2post said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
hombre said...

"There are a large number of gay clergy. No sane person disputes this."

No, but insane lefties dispute the relationship between gay priests and homosexual molestations. Soon they will be disputing the relationship between gay scout leaders and homosexual molestations - that is if the Boy Scouts survive the gay lawsuits.

Bandit said...

We'd all do well to remember the 10th Commandment. Modern secular socialism is not the equivalent of Christian doctrine and advocates of redistribution who claim to know the will of the Lord are blaspemers.