Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

July 7, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI Would Make Marx Proud

by Stephen Littau

Pope Benedict XVI has decided to wade into territory which he has no understanding or expertise: the global economy. The New York Times reports that the pope is now calling for a “New World Economic Order”*

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday called for a radical rethinking of the global economy, criticizing a growing divide between rich and poor and urging the establishment of a “world political authority” to oversee the economy and work for the “common good.”

He criticized the current economic system, “where the pernicious effects of sin are evident,” and urged financiers in particular to “rediscover the genuinely ethical foundation of their activity.

I have to ask the question to my Catholic friends who believe in Papal infallibility that also happen to believe in free market capitalism: how do you square the two philosophies? (Argument withdrawn; I am by no means infallible and was lacking in my understanding of this concept)

The article continues:

In many ways, the document is a somewhat puzzling cross between an anti-globalization tract and a government white paper, another indication that the Vatican does not comfortably fit into traditional political categories of right and left.

“There are paragraphs that sound like Ayn Rand, next to paragraphs that sound like ‘The Grapes of Wrath.’ That’s quite intentional,” Vincent J. Miller, a theologian at the University of Dayton, a Catholic institution in Ohio, said in a telephone interview.

“He’ll wax poetically about the virtuous capitalist, but then he’ll give you this very clear analysis of the ways in which global capital and the shareholder system cause managers to focus on short term good at the expense of the community, of workers, of the environment.”

Indeed, sometimes Benedict sounds like an old-school European socialist, lamenting the decline of the social welfare state and praising the “importance” of labor unions to protect workers. Without stable work, he notes, people lose hope and tend not to get married and have children.

Sorry padre, you can’t have it both ways. If you truly believe the Communist/Socialist model is morally superior to Capitalism (an admittedly selfish system by honest supporters such as Ayn Rand) just come out and say so! If one honestly reads the scriptures, one will see that the teachings of Christ are much more in line with Karl Marx than Adam Smith.

But wait, it gets worse…

Benedict also calls for a reform of the United Nations so that there can be a unified “global political body” that allows the less powerful of the earth to have a voice, and calls on rich nations to help less fortunate ones.

In other words, the U.N. should force the citizens of the most efficient and productive nations at gun point to give money to people in nations who are less efficient and less productive in large part because they subscribe to the philosophy of the Pope: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” There’s a word for this; it’s called extortion.


*So does this mean that perhaps Pope Benedict XVI is the AntiChrist?

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  • http://www.belowthebeltway.com Doug Mataconis

    Stephen,

    To be precise, the doctrine of Papal Infallibility only applies when the Pope speaks on matters of faith and morals. This encyclical would not fall under that category.

    But, you’re right. Benedict XVI is a socialist

  • Matt Barr

    When a Senator, Congressperson or President cooks up schemes for the rich to help the poor, or prosperity to be “shared,” it’s usually a naked power grab by someone who doesn’t really give a rat’s ass about the poor or non-prosperous other than to the extent necessary to ensure they vote the right way next time. I think we err if we treat similar proposals by the head of a church the same way, particularly if the critique doesn’t really rise above snark and name-calling.

    My libertarian-ness comes from my belief that nobody other than me can or should be trusted to run things; that doesn’t mean that conceptually, a World Political Body spreading prosperity and lifting up the underprivileged and unwashed is a bad idea, it means I’ve never met or seen anybody I would trust to do it. Perhaps His Holiness has. In any event, slagging a Pope for encouraging stability, prosperity and charity seems silly. And anyway, you can go to jail if you don’t pay your federal income taxes, but your reference to Catholic friends tells me the Pope isn’t the boss of you, so what difference does it make?

  • Joey Brantley

    Stephen, I think you’re usually a pretty insightful guy but I think you’re dead wrong on this comment “if one honestly reads the scriptures, one will see that the teachings of Christ are much more in line with Karl Marx than Adam Smith.”. I’ve honestly read the scriptures many times and don’t get your viewpoint on this… Christ spoke of individual responsibility and choice. In my humble opinion I know of no better advocate of liberty. Help me better understand your view here… Maybe I’m wrong on this and you can better educate me. I am a Christian and Libertarian and happen to think that the two go together very nicely.

    BTW, totally agree with your comments on the Pope!

  • http://thelibertypapers.org/ Brad Warbiany

    Sorry padre, you can’t have it both ways. If you truly believe the Communist/Socialist model is morally superior to Capitalism (an admittedly selfish system by honest supporters such as Ayn Rand) just come out and say so! If one honestly reads the scriptures, one will see that the teachings of Christ are much more in line with Karl Marx than Adam Smith.

    Jesus was an anarcho-socialist (which was Marx’ end goal, if you really study him). The Pope is a one-world-government socialist.

  • jlb

    Let there be no doubt; consolidation and control of money, banking, trade, political influence, food distribution, power and if possible ecumenical unity backed by force is the Catholic desire. The Church of Rome has had it and they would like nothing more than to get it back. People forget that it was not until the 1870’s that free Italian armies, by force of arms, defeated and removed the Papal States from power and forced the Pope into self imposed exile in Vatican City. It was only in 1929 when Mussolini and Pope Pius XI signed the Lateran Treaty that Roman Catholicism was once again, by national law, the sole religion in Italy. Mussolini paid the Pope, 750,000,000 lira in cash and 1,000,000,000 lira in state bonds for the Papal territories seized in 1870. The Vatican bank began with some of these funds. Rome does not forget anything, but she hides almost everything about her history. The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, adjacent to the Vatican, had a former name: The Palace of the Inquisition. The office of the Inquisition is still inside that building. The former Grand Inquisitor of that office was the Archbishop of Munich, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, and he is now Pope. He is a very, very intelligent man, with a purpose and a vision, and a goal for his church. His desire to return every mass to Latin has a purpose. His outreach to unite all denominations under the Church of Rome has a purpose. His outreach to the Muslim world has a purpose. His desire to see all global organizations reformed has a purpose. The Church of Rome is his purpose, and his church has the wealth, numbers, global reach and influence to help bring this new anti-reformation to life. The millions and millions of Christians murdered by the Roman Church in its search for temporal power are dismissed as ancient history and may just as well be forgotten if you read the global press releases. The Pope knows it all and he has an agenda, and his agenda is the Church of Rome.

  • http://striketheroot.wordpress.com Eric Williams

    Pope Benedict has repeatedly emphasized the need to understand Church teachings according to the hermeneutics of continuity (c.f. his disregard for the notion that Vatican II represents a break from tradition). In that light, this encyclical cannot possibly be a call for socialism, for it has been rather vehemently denounced by previous popes, such as Leo XIII.

    I’ll be interested to read Tom Woods’ take on this encyclical (and those of other prominent libertarian Catholics).

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/ Stephen Littau

    Doug:

    Thanks for the insight. I am an outsider when it comes to Catholicism (I grew up in a Protestant home but have been atheist for more than half my life) so I am puzzled by some of these concepts. So if I understand you correctly, when the pope puts on his “faith and morals” hat (I’m guessing that’s the tall hat) he is infallible but when he puts on the “head of state” hat (not sure what that hat looks like) and talks about economic issues he isn’t infallible? I would guess that the pope would argue that economic issues are moral issues (and I would agree with him on that point). How is a good Catholic supposed to know which hat the pope is wearing at any given time?

    Matt:

    I’ll gladly acknowledge that this and most other posts I write are quite snarky and irreverent, but I think my criticisms of the pope were mostly on-point. As far as I’m concerned, the pope is merely a head of state; the leader of the Vatican. In other words, he’s just a man in a position of power subject to the same temptations as any other person in a position of power.

    And your right, he isn’t the boss of me so why should I care? I care because the pope is very influential and when he speaks people sometimes listen (sometimes people in positions of power). This isn’t to say I want to deny the pope his right to express his very destructive ideas but to merely express my opposition to those ideas which I disagree. The pope is not above criticism!

    Joey:

    I want to address your comment as well and I will do so whenever I have more time.

  • http://thelibertypapers.org/ Brad Warbiany

    Stephen,

    Wikipedia on Papal Infallibility

    I was confused on this for a while too (until I married a catholic). The Pope is not infallible unless he issues statements not of opinion, but of divine revelation. As the Wikipedia article shows, this requires certain specific conditions to be met. It is used rarely.

    So if the Pope says “2+2=5″ you can call him a dolt who doesn’t understand arithmetic. But if the Pope issues the statement ex cathedra as official Church Doctrine that “2+2=5″, then heretical mathematicians who disagree might be forced into house arrest like Galileo.

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/ Stephen Littau

    Thanks for that Brad! That is very interesting.

    You know what else I found interesting? I recently watched that Bill Mahr documentary “Religuous” and one thing he pointed out was the issue of Papal Infallibility passed by only one vote. Yeah, I don’t much like Mahr’s politics, but his take on religion is just about spot on. I highly recommend this movie to anyone.

  • http://fpffressminds.blogspot.com/ Stephen Littau

    Joey:

    I thought that my statement comparing Jesus to Marx would be the most controversial statement of the post and it appears I was right. I draw that conclusion from the various scriptures in the New Testament such as:

    “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mathew 19:24)

    “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…” (Mathew 6:19 – Not exactly a ringing endorsement of Capitalism)

    “Give to every one who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again.” (Luke 6:30)

    “[G]o, sell what you have, and give to the poor…” Mark 10:26

    Elsewhere, the Bible says that “The love of money is the root of all evil” (which if one thinks about carefully, is complete nonsense. The best rebuttal to this IMHO is “Francisco’s Money Speech” from “Atlas Shrugged”

    I believe it’s these very Bible verses that both Christians and non-Christians alike take to heart and assume to be moral. This is how politicians get by with saying such things as “making the rich pay their ‘fair share’ of the burden” and “greedy” businessmen, etc. But if these Bible verses were acted on by everyone, what would happen to innovation? Surly it would be the death of Capitalism, no?

    Finally, let me offer you two articles I found as a “point/counterpoint” on the question of Jesus being a Socialist.

    First, the point: “A Biblical Basis for Liberal Politics” by David Chandler. Chandler makes some good arguments – not all of which I agree with but makes a decent case.

    Second, the counterpoint: “No, Jesus is not a Socialist” by Tom Snyder. While Snyder does a fairly decent job arguing that Jesus was not in favor of government imposed wealth redistribution, he falls very short of arguing that Jesus was a Capitalist by any stretch of the imagination.

    My analysis is that I believe Brad put it most accurately: Jesus was an Anarcho-Socialist (AKA “Libertarian Socialist”) meaning he wanted people to “voluntarily” spread their wealth among the poor as opposed to by force (as the pope would like for the U.N. to do). As long as such activities are voluntary, I have no problem and as the Doobie Brothers used to sing, “Jesus is alright with me” on that. Then again, when I read “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s…” I might have to reconsider this conclusion.

  • JO

    Christ was not a socialist at all. All of those scriptures have explanations other than condemning money.

    The eye of a needle was actually a small gate that camels used to enter cities during Christ’s time. He was just saying that riches make it more difficult, not that anything is wrong with riches.

    The other scriptures have explanations as well.

    But besides that look at the application of socialism/marxism, it is essentially godless, religion is disouraged and often punished. The governments of socialism act by stealing all that a person earns, there is something in the Bible about thievry as well.

  • southernjames

    Taking Christ’s words out of context and twisting their meaning has been done throughout the ages, to justify all sorts of heinous behaviour and policies.

    If you get on a time machine and travel back to Spain, circa 1550, I’m sure you’ll be able to find gainful employment with its government, as a staff theologian.

    As you have so aptly illustrated, Jesus is so flexible, he could even be cited by those who justify a governmental system which, in every single instance where some form of it been attempted in reality as opposed to it remaining a bullshit pie-in-the-sky academic theory – it has resulted in a brutal atheistic totalitarian regime, where individual freedoms cease to exist, millions are murdered, and the practice of Christianity is essentially outlawed.

    Yeah, maybe that is what Jesus advocated in his teachings. “Don’t blame me, that’s what Jesus wanted – It’s right there in the Gospels”, says Castro, Stalin, Mao….

    On the other hand, perhaps it can possibly be concluded, when taking the scriptures in their entirety, that what Jesus condemned is the mind-set that pervades and dominates our culture today, and has always existed wherever secularism overtakes spiritualism.

    And that is “God” of Materialism. The love of, to the point of essentially “worshipping”…. money, stuff, getting shit, more shit, and even more shit after that. “The one who dies with the most toys, wins” right?

    Of course, I suppose I must stand corrected, because that can all be negated with an air-tight counter-argument from that famous historical theologian and biblical authority, Ayn Rand.

    Sorry – Gotta run now — I need to go get me an even bigger flat screen t.v. while they’re on sale, before football season starts. And if that homeless guy is still laying in front of the Best Buy entrance holding me up, I’m gonna kick that lazy son of bitch this time. America! F–k YEAH!

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/ Stephen Littau

    James:

    “Taking Christ’s words out of context and twisting their meaning has been done throughout the ages, to justify all sorts of heinous behaviour and policies.”

    You’re absolutely right. No argument here.

    “If you get on a time machine and travel back to Spain, circa 1550, I’m sure you’ll be able to find gainful employment with its government, as a staff theologian.”

    Umm…okay, if you say so.

    “As you have so aptly illustrated, Jesus is so flexible, he could even be cited by those who justify a governmental system which, in every single instance where some form of it been attempted in reality as opposed to it remaining a bullshit pie-in-the-sky academic theory – it has resulted in a brutal atheistic totalitarian regime, where individual freedoms cease to exist, millions are murdered, and the practice of Christianity is essentially outlawed.”

    Rather than re-hash my thoughts on this, let me direct you to a series of posts I wrote at my other blog (here, here, and here)

    “On the other hand, perhaps it can possibly be concluded, when taking the scriptures in their entirety, that what Jesus condemned is the mind-set that pervades and dominates our culture today, and has always existed wherever secularism overtakes spiritualism.”

    Actually James, I think the collective mindset is quite hypocritical and schizophrenic. When someone else is chasing the American dream or trying to earn as much as possible, that person is “greedy.” But somehow, each of us (for the most part) are not greedy when we do the same thing. The prevailing mindset seems to be that “greed” is bad but “envy” is okay. I happen to believe that there is nothing inherently bad about either; what is important is how an individual chooses to deal with his or her greed/envy. If an individual uses force or fraud to satisfy these emotions, this is evil. If, however; an individual decides to work harder, smarter, and more efficiently while respecting the life, liberty, and property rights of others…this is a very good thing. This is how the invisible hand works in free market capitalism. Enlightened selfishness helps everyone!

    “And that is “God” of Materialism. The love of, to the point of essentially “worshipping”…. money, stuff, getting shit, more shit, and even more shit after that. “The one who dies with the most toys, wins” right?”

    If that’s what makes you happy, who am I to stop you?

    “Of course, I suppose I must stand corrected, because that can all be negated with an air-tight counter-argument from that famous historical theologian and biblical authority, Ayn Rand.”

    IMHO, there is 10,000 times more wisdom in John Galt’s Speech than the entire Bible.

    “Sorry – Gotta run now — I need to go get me an even bigger flat screen t.v. while they’re on sale, before football season starts. And if that homeless guy is still laying in front of the Best Buy entrance holding me up, I’m gonna kick that lazy son of bitch this time. America! F–k YEAH!”

    I’ve got to hand it to you James, I enjoy your snarkiness even when I disagree with your point.

    Maybe we’ll have to agree to disagree on the whole Socialist Jesus issue (which was a minor point of the post). Would you not agree though, that the pope is quite the Socialist?

  • southernjames

    I would agree that the Pope (and prior Popes before him) are indeed quite the socialists. But somebody has already explained the doctrine of “Papal Infallibility” to you; this enables me to be a practicing Catholic and also a political conservative, and yet still manage to escape being burned at the stake – lucky me. The position the church takes on being societal “do-gooders,” which leads it down the “spread the wealth” socialist path politically, also helps to partially explain why so many Catholics are democrats. (That plus of course the historical demographics of Irish/Italians being union workers, etc.).

    As to that, and from the conversations with Priests that I’ve had, it has been my own personal observation that sometimes people who are very highly educated in one area, such as theological matters, and who have literally spent thousands of hours in study and reading of treatises, debating obsure points, etc., – end up assuming that they can also be easily well versed in other areas such as economic theory and finance, with very little effort. While in fact, their depth of knowledge and wisdom in that other area is not very thorough or as deep as they think. So they go for the “surface” understanding of economic theory and end up emotionally favoring the “do-gooder” aspects which they find appealing in socialism.

    I observe that it can also work in the opposite direction as well. All the countless times I’ve run across very smart, high IQ guys, who have spent years and years and thousands of hours honing their knowledge in e.g., engineering or computer science fields…and who then, so comfortable and confident, perhaps even arrogant in their intellectual prowness, say to me “I’ve READ the bible – three times cover to cover as a matter of fact, and it says X here, and Jesus said Y ther, and so what this MEANS is….”

    You can agree or disagree, but I assert to you that it is NOT that cut and dried and is not that simple.

    I also assert that positions such as — since Jesus made this or that statement “ABC” about wealth or money or treating poor people, and that statement seems to match up with political philosophy XYZ….therefore, Jesus was an XYZ-ist, are fundamentally flawed on their face. IMO. It reflects a profound MIS-understanding of Christian theology. Again, IMHO. Jesus was both intensely and intentionally APOLITICAL.

    However, I suppose it is understandable for atheists, who consider that Jesus, if they think he existed at all, MUST have just been some sort of policical activist (Didn’t the Obamba camp have the audicity to claim he was a “community organizer,” (eyes roll)) – and therefore, he must surely fit into some political philosopical pigeonhole – be it right, left, socialist, marxist, whatever. Whatever helps you get through the night – be my guest.

    Both ‘greed’ and ‘envy’ are a considered a bad thing, Stephen. Now, whether “chasing the American dream” is a good or bad thing all depends on how you define it. To me, there is nothing ‘greedy’ about working hard to excel and do my best and strive for professional and personal accomplishments in my life, and to enjoy the fruits of my labor. As long as while I am on that journey, I try to live the “right” way – honest, ethical, decent, straightforward, generous with both my time and my money to those less fortunate, etc. etc.

    “IMHO, there is 10,000 times more wisdom in John Galt’s Speech than the entire Bible.”

    Uh…..mmkay. Whatever you say.

  • http://hathor-sekhmet.blogspot.com VRB

    Stephen,

    I have been waiting.

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/ Stephen Littau

    Thanks for the tip VRB. This is the first I’ve heard of this particular case. It’s very compelling and very disturbing to be sure.

  • Andrew

    “Christ was not a socialist at all. All of those scriptures have explanations other than condemning money.”

    Please enlighten me.

    “The eye of a needle was actually a small gate that camels used to enter cities during Christ’s time. He was just saying that riches make it more difficult, not that anything is wrong with riches.”

    Please support this argument with a reference. Because as far as I have researched, this is just fundamentally wrong. This is a popular myth extolled by advocates of material greed.

    “The other scriptures have explanations as well.”

    Again, please enlighten me. Most “Christians” can find other explanations to excuse their immorality. Out of context, I do believe, one can Biblically support absolutely anything.

    “But besides that look at the application of socialism/marxism, it is essentially godless, religion is disouraged and often punished. The governments of socialism act by stealing all that a person earns, there is something in the Bible about thievry as well.”

    Just because State-Atheism has often been enforced in Totalitarian states, does not mean that Socialism is inherently Godless. What’s more, who said Marxism is Socialism? I am a Socialist. I am not a Marxist. I embrace Marx’s principles, but not his “Godless” premises.

    Anyway, as was mentioned earlier, Jesus Christ was more aligned with Anarcho-Socialism, which would respect religious diversity. I strongly recommend you read the book, “Practical Christian Socialism” by Adin Ballou.

  • southernjames

    “Most “Christians” can find other explanations to excuse their immorality. Out of context, I do believe, one can Biblically support absolutely anything.”

    Which is what non-Christians can, and chronically do too — find Bible quotes and take them out of context, to support anything THEY want – such as declaring that Jesus, who was 100% apolitical, was as an “adherent” to one political philosphy or another, or “would have been” a Republican or a Democrat or a Commie or whatever.

    Or to assert that Jesus supported (“respected”) “religious diversity,” which is laughable on its face. I mean, laugh out loud hilarious. I must have missed that part where he says “I (hmm, note the use of the word “I”) am the truth and the way and the light….but hey dude, if you want to choose Mother Gaia, or Budda or Ra the Sun God or whoever – that’s cool too, man. No sweat! – You’ll still be joinin me, just the same. Go ahead and say “ZEUS is the truth and the way and the light, if it makes you feel good. I’m DOWN with it.”

    DIVERSITY, BABY! Yeah!

    Hey – and since he LOOKED like a hippie, in addition to thinking like one, I bet he smoked weed too!. Dude!

    LOL.

    “Just because State-Atheism has often been enforced in Totalitarian states…” OFTEN? OFTEN?

    “…. does not mean that Socialism is inherently Godless.” Yeah – umm, except where it is actually, you know, put into practice as opposed to being a chin-stroking academic theory that insular (and invariably capitalistic when it comes to THEIR own personal finances, lifestyles and lives) tenured college professors discuss – that ends up being the end result – an “inherently Godless” society.

    Even in its “lighter” (as opposed to totalitarian) versions, such as in Western Europe, we see that as the State grows and displaces both family and traditional morality (and your precious “religious diversity” is the enforced polictically correct mandate – meaning even stuff like Wicca is on no different a moral plane than Christianity, and how dare anyone be a bigot and suggest otherwise!), we see what happens over time…..Christianity fades. The churches in England and France…sit empty. Who needs God, when you’ve got a cradle to grave Socialist Nanny watching over you, and caring for you. And if the God-State hammers home from cradle to grave, in its State-controlled schools and everywhere else, the ultimate amorality of the State. That’s your socialism in actual practice.

    “I embrace Marx’s principles, but not his “Godless” premises.” Yes, I see that you have decided that you can pick and choose the feel good parts of Marxism and reject those inconvenient and uncomfortable bits, just as you can do with the Bible.

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