As long as there have been political movements, people have tried to use religion to shore up support for their side. In the November 1984 issue of reason, Antony Flew lamented that churches were "forever issuing anticapitalist statements and aligning themselves with all manner of socialist and even specifically Marxist-Leninist causes."
Luckily, wrote Flew, there was now The Kindness That Kills, a collection of essays edited by Digby Anderson. According to the book, one need only look to the Parable of the Talents, a story from the Gospel of Matthew that celebrates the use of commerce to increase one's wealth, to see "how mistaken it is to draw socialist conclusions from the Bible." Of course, proponents of Christian socialism in turn could point to the Magnificat, a story from the Gospel of Luke in which "Mary speaks of God sending the rich away empty and filling the hungry with good things," using the same texts to validate a wildly different worldview.
This year, when Pope Francis visited the United States, politicos scrambled to use his statements to bolster their positions. But they found it harder to stop their opponents from doing the same. Some on the American right were chagrined when the pontiff called for an end to capital punishment and for better treatment of immigrants who "travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities." Likewise, many on the left who had extolled Pope Francis for his critiques of "unfettered" capitalism cried betrayal when, shortly after his departure, word leaked that he had met with a county clerk previously jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. "No more Mr. Cool Pope," quipped The Washington Post's liberal humor blogger, Alexandra Petri.
A spokesman eventually walked that last story back, saying the meeting "should not be considered a form of support of [the clerk's] position in all of its particular and complex aspects." But days later, when a Polish priest who sat on an important doctrinal council revealed he was in a gay relationship, the Vatican stripped him of his duties. "It's time the Church opened its eyes," said the priest, Krzysztof Charamsa, in an interview. "Monsignor Charamsa will certainly be unable to continue to carry out his previous work," read a statement from the pope's press office.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "The Bible Probably Isn't on Your Side".