Economics

You Can Be the President, I'd Rather Be the Pope

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I have no dogma in the fight over Pope Benedict XVI's new encyclical Caritas In Veritate, nor in the question of whether it's an anti-capitalist tract, nor in the question of whether it's a right-wing or a left-wing anti-capitalist tract. As long as the Vatican continues to sit on the real Third Secret of Fatima, we are under no obligation to care about any of its announcements.

But I have enjoyed the brouhaha over Ethics and Public Policy Center distinguished senior fellow George Weigel's critique of the new document (which at two pages is 142 pages shorter than the encyclical and recommendable on those grounds alone). Weigel sees the finished encyclical as a Frankenstein creation stitching together non-organic arguments from left-leaning members of the hierarchy with more recent and (supposedly) more pro-market arguments.

If you have ever participated in the not-dying-fast-enough ritual of committeeing together a newspaper editorial, you will find Weigel's hypothesis reasonable. And in a church where someone-should-tell-the-czar is a permanent state of mind, it's unsurprising that Weigel believes he can deduce the pope's true opinions in all the muddle:

Now comes Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), Benedict XVI's long-awaited and much-delayed social encyclical. It seems to be a hybrid, blending the pope's own insightful thinking on the social order with elements of the Justice and Peace approach to Catholic social doctrine, which imagines that doctrine beginning anew at Populorum Progressio. Indeed, those with advanced degrees in Vaticanology could easily go through the text of Caritas in Veritate, highlighting those passages that are obviously Benedictine with a gold marker and those that reflect current Justice and Peace default positions with a red marker. The net result is, with respect, an encyclical that resembles a duck-billed platypus.

A Gerard Manley Hopkins fan spoofs Weigel's argument from the left:

Justice and Peace was angry. Very angry. Skulking in the darkest corners of the Vatican, they plotted their revenge. With an evil cackle, they hatched their malicious plots. And when John Paul died and Benedict was elected pope, they saw their opening. "Your Holinessss," they whispered, "don't you think you should issue a document to mark the anniversary of that great encyclical, Populorum Progressio? We could help you, you know, it would be your greatest achievement ever, Holinessss,". Pope Benedict saw the evil gleam in their eyes and he was most disturbed. They gave him a document, but he said no. He did not trust them. They hissed in frustration, but held back their anger. They handed him a second document, and he rejected it again. They tried a third time, and again the answer was no.

Ever the kind old man, the pope did not want to hurt their feelings. So he told a little white lie. "My friends," he said, "the world is going through the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. We need to reflect more on that before we write the document". Of course, there was no such "economic crisis" (these things cannot happen in capitalism after all, unless the evil government messes it up). But the advisers were not very bright, and they believed him. And so they kept plotting.

Both sides are in the right pew but the wrong church, or something like that. Populorum Progressio was written by an impostor pope, and its primary interest to free marketers is the sly use that uncuddly mother of Objectivism Ayn Rand made of it in her great essay "Of Living Death." Rand asserted that there was no essential difference between Paul VI's vaguely economic-justice-oriented Populorum Progressio (which pleased the left and displeased the right, in broad terms) and his more famous birth-control-and-abortion encyclical Humanae Vitae (which pleased the right and infuriated the left). Both documents proceed from the same worldview: a determination that people should be both poor and numerous, a rejection (by a self-described pro-life institution) of life in all but its most meager, pleasureless forms.

More broadly, it is vain to seek anything like approbation of capitalism and enlightened self-interest from an institution founded on the rock of shame-based tithing. It is equally vain to seek a full-bore condemnation of even crony capitalism from an institution that is intimately dependant on modern finance, banking and (especially nowadays) insurance companies for its existence. You can look to the church for guidance on the liquefaction of the blood of San Gennaro. On finance and wealth creation, not so much.

Real reason for this post: Can anybody tell me whether the Catholic Church makes encyclicals available in in Latin anymore? The Vatican site has Caritas In Veritate in several modern languages, but not the language of the Roman church. That's enough to make Mel Gibson get a divorce.

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  1. Pope or President? Now this is a provocative question!

    Neither are constrained by morality – so throw that shit out.

    Going back in history – the real pussy grabbers were JFK and most any Pope before Innocent the Dickbreath… still a toss-up….

    hmmm – such consternation… I guess I would rather have been Frank Sinatra.

  2. “I have no dogma in the fight over Pope Benedict XVI’s new encyclical Caritas In Veritate”

    Bullshit

  3. Finally, a Prince reference in a reason blog post

  4. really, what was the nazi pope trying to do here? use the word ‘charity’ as many times as possible in his encyclical? cause that is what it felt like. i read the first few sections and that shit made absolutely no sense.

  5. But what does the Space Pope think?

  6. It is equally vain to seek a full-bore condemnation of even crony capitalism from an institution that is intimately dependant on modern finance, banking and (especially nowadays) insurance companies for its existence.

    Tim, you forgot the mafia.

  7. Both documents proceed from the same worldview: a determination that people should be both poor and numerous, a rejection (by a self-described pro-life institution) of life in all but its most meager, pleasureless forms.

    That is one masterful bit of Orwellianness. Credit where credit is due, I guess.

  8. To paraphrase Mother Teresa, there is no greater poverty than that which requires a child to die so adults can live as they wish. I know Reasonoids tend to prefer bloodthirsty obscene pompous blowhards such as Mr. Hitchens to the nun from Calcutta, but I thought I’d put it out there anyway.

  9. More broadly, it is vain to seek anything like approbation of capitalism and enlightened self-interest from an institution founded on the rock of shame-based tithing.

    Don’t be so hard on Reason, Tim.

  10. Both documents proceed from the same worldview: a determination that people should be both poor and numerous, a rejection (by a self-described pro-life institution) of life in all but its most meager, pleasureless forms.
    That is one masterful bit of Orwellianness. Credit where credit is due, I guess.

    Hey man, that’s what the Catholic church excels in.

  11. crimethink,

    Mother Teresa is not above criticism.

  12. Q: Was Mother Teresa a sadist?

    A: Is the Space Pope reptilian?

    (and what the fuck is an encyclical?)

  13. “You Can Be the President, I’d Rather Be the Pope”

    Well, in modern times, only GOP Presidents have to be celibate.

  14. “Go then,” said Jehannot, seeing that his mind was made up, “and good luck
    go with thee;” and so he gave up the contest because nothing would be lost,
    though he felt sure that he would never become a Christian after seeing the
    court of Rome. The Jew took horse, and posted with all possible speed to
    Rome; where on his arrival he was honourably received by his fellow Jews. He
    said nothing to any one of the purpose for which he had come; but began
    circumspectly to acquaint himself with the ways of the Pope and the
    cardinals and the other prelates and all the courtiers; and from what he saw
    for himself, being a man of great intelligence, or learned from others, he
    discovered that without distinction of rank they were all sunk in the most
    disgraceful lewdness, sinning not only in the way of nature but after the
    manner of the men of Sodom, without any restraint of remorse or shame, in
    such sort that, when any great favour was to be procured, the influence of
    the courtesans and boys was of no small moment. Moreover he found them one
    and all gluttonous, wine-bibbers, drunkards, and next after lewdness, most
    addicted to the shameless service of the belly, like brute beasts. And, as
    he probed the matter still further, he perceived that they were all so
    greedy and avaricious that human, nay Christian blood, and things sacred of
    what kind soever, spiritualities no less than temporalities, they bought and
    sold for money; which traffic was greater and employed more brokers than the
    drapery trade and all the other trades of Paris put together; open simony
    and gluttonous excess being glosed under such specious terms as
    “arrangement” and “moderate use of creature comforts,” as if God could not
    penetrate the thoughts of even the most corrupt hearts, to say nothing of
    the signification of words, and would suffer Himself to be misled after the
    manner of men by the names of things. Which matters, with many others which
    are not to be mentioned, our modest and sober-minded Jew found by no means
    to his liking, so that, his curiosity being fully satisfied, he was minded
    to return to Paris; which accordingly he did. There, on his arrival, he was
    met by Jehannot; and the two made great cheer together. Jehannot expected
    Abraham’s conversion least of all things, and allowed him some days of rest
    before he asked what he thought of the Holy Father and the cardinals and the
    other courtiers. To which the Jew forthwith replied:–“I think God owes them
    all an evil recompense: I tell thee, so far as I was able to carry my
    investigations, holiness, devotion, good works or exemplary living in any
    kind was nowhere to be found in any clerk; but only lewdness, avarice,
    gluttony, and the like, and worse, if worse may be, appeared to be held in
    such honour of all, that (to my thinking) the place is a centre of
    diabolical rather than of divine activities. To the best of my judgment,
    your Pastor, and by consequence all that are about him devote all their zeal
    and ingenuity and subtlety to devise how best and most speedily they may
    bring the Christian religion to nought and banish it from the world. And
    because I see that what they so zealously endeavour does not come to pass,
    but that on the contrary your religion continually grows, and shines more
    and more clear, therein I seem to discern a very evident token that it,
    rather than any other, as being more true and holy than any other, has the
    Holy Spirit for its foundation and support. For which cause, whereas I met
    your exhortations in a harsh and obdurate temper, and would not become a
    Christian, now I frankly tell you that I would on no account omit to become
    such. Go we then to the church, and there according to the traditional rite
    of your holy faith let me receive baptism.” Jehannot, who had anticipated a
    diametrically opposite conclusion, as soon as he heard him so speak, was the
    best pleased man that ever was in the world. So taking Abraham with him to
    Notre Dame he prayed the clergy there to baptise him. When they heard that
    it was his own wish, they forthwith did so, and Jehannot raised him from the
    sacred font, and named him Jean; and afterwards he caused teachers of great
    eminence thoroughly to instruct him in our faith, which he readily learned,
    and afterwards practised in a good, a virtuous, nay, a holy life.

  15. To paraphrase Mother Teresa, there is no greater poverty than that which requires a child to die so adults can live as they wish.

    Or to paraphrase Rand, there is no more evil a faith than that which requires humans to live in poverty and misery so that the Church can have more members and more power.

    Mother Teresa was a hateful bitch who condemned even voluntary birth control as a means to alleviate poverty. If there is an afterlife, I hope she is living in a hell that is at least as bad as the one her beliefs condemned others to live in on this Earth.

  16. …a faith than that which requires humans to live either in poverty and misery or shame and guilt

  17. To anwer tim’s question about Latin, it’s still the official language of the Roman Catholic Church. It’s likely that Pope Benedict XVI drafted the document in his native language, but I believe the authoritative text of any papal pronouncement would be the Latin one.

  18. “(and what the fuck is an encyclical?)”

    After a quick look at the contents I take it to be a document that talks in circles.

  19. It is equally vain to seek a full-bore condemnation of even crony capitalism from an institution that is intimately dependant on modern finance, banking and (especially nowadays) insurance companies for its existence.

    I seem to recall that back in the 70’s at least, the Church owned a bunch of stock in Bank of America as well.

  20. Can we *please* replace the tax code with shame-based tithing?

  21. I love how the pope demands a world political body to enforce “social justice” when it involves my tax $$, but is fine w/ jurisdictional games when a pedophile priest needs to flee Boston and hide out in Vatican City.

  22. Man, I’d love to be Pope. They’d have to change the rules to allow me to stay married and to not be Catholic; otherwise, I’d be great at the job.

  23. I seem to recall an SCTV episode where the king wanted to be pope, the pope wanted to be king, and some nobody wanted to be pope and king.

  24. what was the nazi pope trying to do here

    The Pope was not a member of the Nazi party.

    He was conscripted but deserted soon after. If he had been caught, he would have been executed.

    I’m guessing no one posting in this thread has ever done something nearly this brave.

  25. Please forgive my ignorance, but what does “someone-should-tell-the-czar” mean. Google and Wikipedia returned no useful definitions.

  26. Try googling “tell the czar.”

  27. So how many of you actually know how to read and actually read the encyclical in its entirety? And no, reading two sentences of the first chapter don’t count.

    I find it fairly odd that you all seem to be able to summarize your idea of what the pope thinks and what the Church teaches despite the fact that your cute little characterizations were directly contradicted in the encyclical. Grow up…and read.

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