On November 26, Pope Francis released a apostolic exhortation entitled Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel, read it here) which was received by some as a radical document. In fact, Rush Limbaugh devoted a portion (not sure how much off hand) of his November 27, 2013 show to the document. He (laughably) called the Pope a Marxist and said other things. I'll get back to this a little later. I did want to post this link which is a reply to Limbaugh before I gave my thoughts about the exhortation and Mr. Limbaugh.
First off, nothing in this document was particularly radical if you are in the least bit acquainted with the social teaching of the Catholic Church. The Church has always taught, in line with what both the Old and New Testaments teach, that one obligation of all Christians is to care for the poor and weak among us. In the Old Testament, the Israelites were commanded to care for the poor and widowed (see the book of Ruth). In the New Testament, Jesus often speaks about the need for the care for those who are not as well off (see the parable of the rich man and Lazarus for one example).
Second, Evangelii Gaudium does not deal exclusively with social teaching. The Pope also deals with church organization, evangelization, enculturation, preaching, ecumenism, and inter-religious dialogue as well. The document (which is approximately 50,000 words or 224 pages) is nothing new in any regard. Rather, it is a restatement of old teachings and ideas by a pope who is very focused on social justice and equality.
I had a chance to read the exhortation over the past week and wanted to offer up my own thoughts on the controversial portions. I am deliberately not going to quote directly from the exhortation, but will instead write a little bit of what I thought about what Pope Francis had to say. After that, I will compose a short reply to Mr. Limbaugh's laughably pathetic attempt to critique what the pope had to say.
The most quoted parts of the exhortation are from the section entitled "The Social Dimension of Evangelization" (paragraphs 176-258). With a total of 288 paragraphs, this is approximately 28.5% of the total document. In this section, Pope Francis expounds upon the reasons why we should care for the poor, downtrodden, and powerless. There are some practical reasons (potential radicalization of the poor) but mostly he talks about how Christians are called to care for everyone among us. He condemns unrestrained capitalism because it reduces people to commodities and things, thereby diminishing their individual dignity. This section is the only one Mr. Linbaugh talks about, so I will discuss him at this point.
Mr. Limbaugh says, "If it weren't for capitalism, I don't know where the Catholic Church would be. Now, as I mentioned before, I'm not Catholic. I admire it profoundly, and I've been tempted a number of times to delve deeper into it. But the pope here has now gone beyond Catholicism here, and this is pure political." If the first point weren't so sad, I would be laughing really hard right now. To say that the Church would be no where without capitalism is a statement that is beyond ridiculous. The Church depends as much on capitalism as I depend on a gynecologist; in other words, not at all. The Church predates capitalism and has opposed capitalism's excesses for over a century. As for the last part about the pope going political, the statements that the pope made are (as noted before) a retread of older Catholic social teaching and there is nothing political about it. As far as the American political spectrum is concerned, the Church lands on different sides of the fence depending on the issue.
Mr. Limbaugh's main problem is that he has a simplistic black and white view of the world. You are either for the free market, conservative, and "godly" (these quotation marks are mine, not his) policies that he espouses or else you are a socialist/communist/Marxist. There is no in between for him. If you think I am exaggerating, please read this:
Now, by the way, in fairness to the pope and in
fairness to the Catholic Church, I will admit that
communism years ago was much easier to see and
identify than it is today. And the obvious evil that was
communism was easy to see. Soviet-sponsored
communism, the gulags, the First World military with
the Third World economy, the blustery behavior of
Soviet Communist Party bosses, the constant Soviet
expansionism into Cuba and Sandinista land and
Nicaragua and everywhere.
Communism today is much more disguised.
Communism today, in large part, is the Democrat Party.
Communism today is in large part the feminist movement.
Communism today is found in most of the AFL-CIO-type
unions. As such, it seems just a political point of view. It's
just an alternative political point of view. It's just the
Democrats, and it's a much tougher thing to identify and
target, because it can be your neighbor. It's not some foreign
country easily identified as "the Evil Empire." Communism
has a much different face today.
Identifying it is, I think, much more difficult today and takes
much more guts to identify it today than in the past.
I don't know about you, but this really scares me. I don't think I am exaggerating much when I say that this is on the verge of McCarthyism. In this blog entry, I talked about the danger posed by this sort of uncompromising, myopic point of view. The sort of thinker who requires a Great Evil in order to validate themselves as part of a Great Good is not someone who is amenable to logical arguments. Rather, Mr. Limbaugh expounds his ideas with great fervency and expects people to simply follow along with them. In answer to this, let me provide this link to an article about distributism, which is based on Catholic social teaching and stands in opposition to both capitalism and socialism.
Mr. Limbaugh other main problem is that he has no grasp of Catholic social teaching. Rather, he simply views this through a political prism without grasping the idea that the Catholic Church cannot be defined by modern political ideologies. It predates them, and to a large extent, actually transcends them. To try and analyze the writings of the pope in a political manner is guaranteed to cause problems for the translator. This has been a part of the problem that many people (myself included) have with the American bishops. They seem (stress *SEEM*) to want to yoke the Church to the Republican Party or to a conservative ideology which does not work at all.