Radio show host Rush Limbaugh accused Pope Francis of Marxism after the release of “Evangelli Gaudium” or “The Joy of the Gospel,” a 50,000-word statement on proclaiming the gospel which begins with the pope’s hope for “a new chapter of evangelization marked … by joy.”
“[I]t’s sad. It’s actually unbelievable. The pope has written, in part, about the utter evils of capitalism,” said Limbaugh. “If it weren’t for capitalism, I don’t know where the Catholic Church would be.”
He said, “I’m not Catholic. I admire it profoundly, and I’ve been tempted a number of times to delve deeper into it. But the pope here has now gone beyond Catholicism here, and this is pure political.”
Limbaugh added, “This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope.”
Then, he trailed off into a rant about a host of issues related to the pope’s exhortation.
The left immediately attacked Limbaugh. Catholic News Service did a piece explaining the pope’s statement. Conservative Catholic thinker Michael Novak wrote an extensive piece, noting some translation problems and saying that he agreed with the pope.
So, what did Pope Francis actually say?
“I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day,” said the pope in the document’s third paragraph.
Chapter One began: “Evangelization takes place in obedience to the missionary mandate of Jesus: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (Mt 28:19-20).”
Not until Chapter Two did the pope turn to “certain factors which can restrain or weaken the impulse of missionary renewal in the Church.”
One of these factors is economic inequity and exclusion.
“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? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality,” Pope Francis wrote bluntly.
“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,” continued the pope in his social critique of the global economy.
“[S]ome people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naÃ¯ve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting,” he wrote.
Pope Francis warned about the idolatry of money, “self-serving tax evasion,” corruption and the “thirst of power and possessions.”
“Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God. Ethics has come to be viewed with a certain scornful derision … It is felt to be a threat, since it condemns the manipulation and debasement of the person,” said the pope. “In effect, ethics leads to a God who calls for a committed response which is outside the categories of the marketplace.”
Then, Pope Francis said, “Money must serve, not rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and to the return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favors human beings.”
Having read many portions of “The Joy of the Gospel,” including the rather short section on the economy, what is clear is how Christian it is to the core.
Having read Limbaugh’s transcript, what is clear is how little he knows about Catholicism, about Christianity.
The pope’s economic exhortation tracks not only with traditional Catholic social justice teaching, but is faithful to the moral critique of the Hebrew prophets and Jesus’ concern for the poor.
At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he spelled out his moral agenda in Luke 4:18-19, drawing from the prophet Isaiah. At the end of his earthly ministry in Matthew 25, he said that evidence of authentic faith appeared in how we treat the “least among us.”
In between these moral bookends, Jesus warned about those who neglected justice for ritual religion. He fed the hungry, honored the faithfulness of a poor widow, and engaged a tax collector who upon conversion promised to give half his goods to the poor and restore fourfold his ill-gotten gains.
And, of course, Jesus’ moral agenda was offered almost 2,000 years before the advent of capitalism and Marxism.
Only those suffering from myopia and afflicted with terminal dishonesty would fail to see the dark-side of capitalism – or the shadow side of socialism.
The Bible acknowledges both the light and dark sides of money, as Quaker Richard Foster has pointed out.
Pope Francis reflects Jesus’ special concern about the poor and powerless. He adds to that the recognition that the church – as an institution – has the moral responsibility to critique the dark side of economic systems that accumulate wealth and power at the expense of the least of those among us. He follows the God of justice and mercy, not the false god of money.
Limbaugh, on the other hand, serves the golden calf of capitalism. He is simply engaged in idolatry – worship of a false god – and a very dangerous one.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.