Believe and Obey

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Catholic Agonistes

Recently I saw shared on social media a story that detailed some criticisms that the Catholic Church has with the evangelical right.  The original story is here and a decent synopsis is here.  That this was published by a newspaper officially tied to the Vatican and authored by two individuals close to Pope Francis tells us that it is an official Catholic statement, at least a journalistic one.


I am going to forgo a discussion of whether the authors are overestimating the influence of the right and focus instead on the fact that it seems that the Catholic Church is in conflict with its better instincts.


To sum up, the article levels many criticisms at the fundamentalist right.  Among them the tendency of the fundamentalist right to “submit the state to the Bible and to promote a simplistic Manichean view of the world which leads to divisive attitudes toward others, particularly non-Christians, especially Muslims.


Agreed, although it is more a case of submitting the Bible to the state, but I take the meaning.  However, the Catholic Church, Francis in particular, does the very same thing.  They have forever tied their statist ideology and socialistic policies to Scripture and theological teaching.  Does anyone think Francis is not moralizing from a Scriptural understanding when he speaks on policy issues?  Why is it legitimate for the Catholic Church to do this but not the fundamentalist right?


This reality puts to shame the author’s claim that “the religious element should never be confused with the political one”.  Clearly that is what Francis is and has been doing all along.  It’s not that there is not a social/political component to Jesus’ ministry.  Great work has been done on this topic convincingly making the case that His ministry was political.  Francis clearly buys into this, which is what makes this article such a transparent attempt to shut down any debate at all.  For the record, I would hold both sides in error that there is any Scriptural basis at all for moral acceptance of any government at all.  While I agree with the ideals the authors bring forth (defining politics narrowly here as the practice of statecraft), I object to the divergent reality of Catholic action.


Francis, the author’s claim, wants a very different view of faith and politics and ecumenism.  Francis, they claim wants “to break the organic link between culture, politics, institution and Church. Spirituality cannot tie itself to governments or military pacts for it is at the service of all men and women.”  As well as to institute an “ecumenism that moves under the urge of inclusion, peace, encounter and bridges.”  They are arguing that Francis wants to end the confusion of spiritual with temporal power.


This claim, is a false one.  It should be.  To sever such a link (defining politics here very broadly) is to denude Jesus’ ministry of its relevance for His faithful.  The Catholic Church has not severed this link any more than the Christian right. They, like the Christian right, just get the theology wrong.  Furthermore, the claim that Francis believes that “Spirituality cannot tie itself to governments or military pacts” (again good rhetoric) is belied by Catholic action for the last 2000 years as well as today.  Catholic social(istic) and “just war” teaching has seen to that.


Also inconsistent is the objection that we should reject a Manichean view of the world.  Yes, we should (Jesus does not need to but we’re not Him) but I am waiting for Francis to embrace this as a practice.  He has done nothing but offer a black/white moral view that all state action is good and all market action is bad and anyone who disagrees is selfish and sinful.  This would be silly in any case but given that Francis can’t distinguish between a true market and a state rigged one this viewpoint becomes nonsense.  On everything from trade to climate to wage policy Francis and the Catholic church consistently offer judgmental certainty that should make Christians cringe.


The authors also crack on the “Theology of Prosperity offered by the religious right stating that they believe God desires his followers to be physically healthy, materially rich and personally happy.” as contrasted with the sounder view that we should focus more on salvation and eternal life.


I find much of value in the concerns of the authors regarding this topic. The prosperity Gospel is an empty one, as whether any of us are materially successful has nothing to do with an eternal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  There is much here for a former Catholic to agree upon.  However, I will note that I don’t think God wants us to live in grinding poverty either and the last time I checked neither Francis nor Catholic teaching in general suggest that their socialistic policies will produce penury, nor do they suggest that they should.  I guess “prosperity” is in the eye of the beholder.  In any event one can offer policies that will produce wealth in a moral fashion without that wealth creation being confused with salvation.


In the end, there is some good rhetoric in this piece and some sound ideas.  It is unfortunate that the rhetoric does not match the reality of Catholic teaching and action.  Given the many issues that the Roman Catholic Church faces; declining membership, shortage of priests, a still smoldering sex abuse scandal, it would seem an ill-advised time for the Church hierarchy to pick a fight when their own positions are so obviously inconsistent with the ideals presented.  The Christian community needs a focused and vibrant Roman Catholic Church not one that is in conflict with itself.


Praise Be to God

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