WASHINGTON — We have reached a new level of political absurdity when the right is mad at the pope and the left wants to anoint his head with oil.
Everyone seems to have his own special version of Pope Francis. Liberals have declared him a crusader for social justice, especially regarding his comments about global inequality. Conservatives fear he just might be a commie.
To briefly recap, Pope Francis has hit two hot buttons: He has questioned the efficacy of “unfettered” free markets and has encouraged de-emphasizing the church's positions on such divisive issues as gays and abortion.
The latter message, while loving and refreshing, is more complex than an “I'm OK, You're OK” platitude. He never proposes changing church teachings but merely suggests that the church should be open to all. You can't minister to people if you won't let them in the door. And no one follows a wagging finger.
“Frequently we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators,” Pope Francis writes. “But the church is not a tollhouse; it is … a place for everyone, with all their problems.”
He also makes frequent reference to the unborn, but in the context of a throwaway culture that acts as though certain people don't exist or can be easily discarded, as in the unborn or the elderly.
The message relating to the financial world similarly targeted the collateral human damage of “unfettered” markets. This is by-the-book Christianity, hardly the moorings of heresy. Yet, these Christian sentiments have sent some conservatives reeling to the fainting couch.
Upon reading the pope's words about greed and inequality, Rush Limbaugh threw down the word “Marxist” like an overcooked rib-eye. The pontiff's words, said the man of many words, was “just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope.”
Now seems a good time to step back and consider what so often eludes us in our rush to pontificate: Context, context, context.
Both Karl Marx and Pope Francis may have critiqued our idolatry of money as creating an “economy of exclusion and inequality,” as Francis described the global economic system in his “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel). But Marx was making an economic statement and Francis was making a theological one. Christianity is based on Christ, while Marxism advocates abolition of religion and acceptance of atheism. One receives grace and performs acts of charity; the other abjures grace and systematizes penury.
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