Thursday, December 12, 2013

Why Pope Francis' Words Matter

There's been much hullaballoo these last two days over the fact that Time magazine has named Pope Francis its Man of the Year.  Some, like Glenn Greenwald, have lambasted the magazine for wussing out and putting Edward Snowden in the runner-up spot.  Others, like Glenn Beck, have been blowing their tops about the pontiff's supposed Marxism and the lamestream media's love of said Leftist subversion.  (He has also been uttering the Beckian oxymoron "progressive Fascism."  When are the men in the white coats finally going to come and take him home?)  I'm quite surprised that so many people still care about Time magazine.

All that said, I think now's a good time to reflect on Pope Francis' importance.  While he is known now more for words than deeds, I think his words are incredibly meaningful.  For the past forty years or so, the world has been in the throws of a vast neoliberal globalization that has funneled money into the hands of the wealthy at the expense of the many.  It has caused unaccounted misery in its rapacious, never-ending quest for lucre, the human and environmental consequences be damned.  Those who criticize this monstrous state of affairs have often found themselves to be lone voices crying out in the wilderness.  With the Occupy movement and various other rumblings, from Arab Spring to Chilean student protests, it is evident that there is a growing pushback against the neoliberal tide.

Behind the various critiques lies the belief that unfettered capitalism is fundamentally immoral.  The various religious and moral leaders of the world, however, have been much more interested in enforcing their very narrow standards of personal morality than addressing the moral economy.  Conservatives have feasted on this omission, since it has given their greed and avarice a free pass.  Pope Francis, by using his position as the most powerful religious figure in the world to criticize capitalism, has given critics of neoliberalism a tremendous amount of legitimacy.  If an institution as traditional and conservative as the Catholic Church assails economic inequality and laissez-faire ideology it gives moderates the courage they need go against the lying cant of "job creators" and trickle down.

This, by the way, is why the likes of Limbaugh and Beck wail and gnash their teeth at this pope's pronouncements.  They know, deep down, that unfettered capitalism is an affront to any real sense of fairness and morality, and that once the broader public is willing and able to see that fact, their political power is ruined.  And that is why Pope Francis' words matter.

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