Why Are So Many Pundits Trashing the Pope?
When Pope Francis recently wrote an encyclical letter condemning the polluting impact of global capitalism, conservative maven Michelle Malkin was offended. “Holy Hypocrisy!” she declared:
“While the pontiff sanctimoniously attacks ‘those who are obsessed with maximizing profits,’ Carrier Corporation — a $13 billion for-profit company with 43,000 employees worldwide (now a unit of U.S.-based United Technologies Corp.) — ensures that the air in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel stays clean and cool.”
I’m normally not a big fan of the Catholic Church, or popes in general. But if anyone should be allowed to adopt a “sanctimonious” tone, it’s probably a pope, right? Isn’t an air of moral superiority part of the job description?
Malkin might have been joking, but she doesn’t usually go for Art Buchwald-style funny in her prose. Moreover, it came in the middle of a passage in which she unironically called the pope a hypocrite for criticizing global capitalism and using air conditioning at the same time.
This is the same bizarre argument that right-wing columnists pulled out during Occupy Wall Street, when, for instance, Charles Krauthammer called protesters hypocrites for complaining about corporate capitalism even as they drank Starbucks, wore Levis and used iPhones.
At first glance, the Francis encyclical seems like Typical Pope Stuff, full of organized religion’s usual sour grapes over various new altars humanity has chosen to worship before – in particular, technology and profits. Francis repeatedly argues that the sweeping changes of humanity’s recent past (which of course include a dramatic reduction in the influence of religion) haven’t been all they’re cracked up to be.
“The growth of the past two centuries,” he writes, “has not always led…to an improvement in the quality of life.”
The pope also manages to bootstrap a collection of old Catholic grievances into the hipper, more millennial-friendly conservationist argument. He insists that “the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion,” and somewhat implausibly complains that consumerism is a bigger threat to our supply of natural resources than overpopulation.
The passage on overpopulation is particularly odd. The pope seems to argue that instead of trying to offer “reproductive health” services to poor nations, we should just throw away less food. Francis in other words wants us to be better stewards of the environment, but only if we can do so without using condoms.
So there’s a lot of the familiar churchy terror of progress in here. But some of the Francis diatribe is more urgent and political. In parts it reads like a Bernie Sanders stump speech, denouncing wastefulness and greed. One passage is striking:
“The economy accepts every advance in technology with a view to profit, without concern for its potentially negative impact on human beings. Finance overwhelms the real economy….Some circles maintain…that the problems of global hunger and poverty will be resolved simply by market growth….For them, maximizing profits is enough. Yet by itself, the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion.”
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