I write this week of three things that have little to do with me, though, perhaps they might a little.
I am considering the last two cover stories of Time Magazine, the arbiter of our nation’s news priorities. First, the new Pope of the Catholic Church is Francis has all sorts of news about him. He wants to align himself with the poor, and as such, he pays his hotel bill, rides the bus, and shuns overly fancy clothing. The Cardinals have decided, in this manner, that the church should get with the times and represent its people, and they looked to Argentina and South America as that is where so many of its members live. What a breath of fresh air to see the Pope boils down the theological message, to serve the needy. And the Jesuits were created to be a sort of rescue organization, as a response to the Protestant Reformation, and to be in the trenches doing actual church work.
But wait, he said a little more than that! "The church exists to communicate this: truth, goodness and beauty personified. We are all called not to communicate ourselves, but this essential trio." This is his link with his predecessor, Benedict. There will be limits to the church’s progressivism. Serve the poor, recognize the commoners? Yes? Celibacy, gays, abortion, birth control? Doubt it. And we have yet to see what will happen with the abuse issues.
The world must admit that the Catholic Church has gained its size through a sort of coercion; the State Church. It’s the system where every citizen must also be a member, and therefore a believer. It doesn’t really offer people a choice. Constantine was the first to implement a Christian State Church; the Creed and much of Western Civilization as we know it has come from it. I suppose many people actually develop faith through this system, though it’s hard to tell. State religion – we know all too well – has also been the vehicle for so many atrocities: the Crusades, the Inquisition, Nazism and the Holocaust, Muslim extremists. God gave the world Jesus, the best humans could do was give the world the Church.
Next, here is a book by a Catholic author, Mary Eberstadt, How the West Really Lost God, A New Theory of Secularization. She argues that it is orthodoxy and moral strictness that actually grows faith, and compromise and progressivism that dull and shrink it. There is ample data to back up her claim. Few movements that propose alignment with the existing world get people excited to join them, but charismatic leaders who admonish people to get their act together; that’s where the excitement and growth is.
And third, I am thinking of Sheryl Sandberg. Born into privilege and private elite schools, collected a few Harvard degrees, and employed by Google and then Facebook, worth a billion or so, mother and wife. Her new book, Lean In tells women to go for it, get what they deserve, and for the rest of the world (namely the male-dominated culture in which women live) to let them. Effectively, ‘Want to be like me? Well, to start, be courageous and realize your potential.’ Well, she has a noble and relevant message; I am all for it. But sheesh! She gets on the cover of the magazine a week before the book is out. Every major news outlet and most minor ones are interviewing her, and somehow, she has seized the public’s attention from seemingly out of the blue. You don’t get this coverage simply because it is news. Sheryl is also the news. And really, is the message so novel? Articulated well and legitimate, yes. News, no.
The irony of these current events is that they smack of an age-old issue: the haves are – from honest motives or not – telling the have-nots. On this subject, we see a good essay in the Washington Post.
An excerpt: For most of the past 30 years, the world has been moving in the direction of markets. The grand experiment with communism has been thoroughly discredited, a billion people have been lifted from poverty through free-market competition, and even European socialists have given up on state ownership and the nanny state.
Here at home, large swaths of the economy have been deregulated, and tax rates have been cut. A good portion of what is left of government has been outsourced, while even education is moving toward school choice. In embracing welfare reform, Americans have acknowledged that numerous programs meant to lift up the poor instead trapped them in permanent dependency and poverty.
But more recently, we’ve seen another side of free markets: stagnant incomes, gaping inequality, a string of crippling financial crises and 20-somethings still living in their parents’ basements. These realities are forcing free-market advocates and their allies in the Republican Party to pursue a new strategy. Instead of arguing that free markets are good for you, they’re saying that they’re good — mounting a moral defense of free-market capitalism.
Free markets seem to largely work, but they often go awry, when power and money are amassed and used not to employ people and trickle down wealth, but to game the system and protect that wealth. How much free enterprise is good for us? We are told that if we work hard and be moral, good things will come to us.
Jesus said, blessed are the poor. Despite some of these modern preachers, Jesus was not deluded into thinking that everyone who follows the Code will receive their material share. Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. The Bible Jesus read does say a fair amount about prosperity, but it says a lot about treating others as well. And there is the slavery thing, the subservient women thing, and the war and destruction thing too. Somebody – either the individual or the Church – must do a little interpreting, which is another way to say picking and choosing what God really wants of us.
Here is one way to look at it, and I think it’s a good one: "A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence." – David Hume. Following is a list of facts. The Church exists partly to help the poor, but mostly to help itself. Orthodoxy grows the church. Churches too large are hotbeds for corruption. Pure capitalism leads to a gilded uber-class that protects itself. Societies with a healthy middle class are largely healthy in general and sustainable. Regulated capitalism leads to a healthy middle class.