Lesson 10: Market Totalitarianism

Pope Francis with the poorI decided to begin this series with industrial capitalism, because I thought it would be the least emotional of the issues Christians should be addressing in the present democratic society. Right off the bat, Lupe challenged me by reporting she was growing more and more angry about the “substitution of money for God…the elevation of wealth to a godlike status.” Others immediately expressed the same concern with the same intensity of feeling. Finally, this week, I read Pope Francis claiming that our world’s greatest problem is making money an absolute, a god above human life itself.”

Let me conclude the discussion of this issue with the pope’s observations. I often remark that Francis speaks for me, meaning I agree with his interpretation of Christianity. It is far more accurate to recognize he really is speaking for the poor. In order to fully understand what he is saying and doing, you must note that he sees things from the perspective of the Southern Hemisphere.

Unlike those of us who live in the affluent First World, he and the Argentinian theologians who share his views speak of the dangerous growth of poverty in our world that they have seen firsthand. Many around me rationalize we need some poor as a collateral effect or necessary condition for our wealthy society. The Southern Hemisphere theologians respond that increasing poverty and levels of inequality are not the result of natural trends but rather decisions made in the Northern Hemisphere that benefit the few who possess great wealth. They point to the huge, new deep-poverty cities populated with people dispossessed of their land because of foreign exploitation of their nation’s resources and to the gigantic, permanent refugee camps filled by those fleeing wars waged by the affluent to preserve their wealth.

Francis speaks of this as a “market totalitarianism” that amounts to a new form of global colonization in which the imperial nations impose their priorities on others and crush all local cultural values. The assumption is success and even salvation results from becoming like the First World. Because this involves imposing a particular economic system, the Southern Hemisphere theologians see this as trying to buy them. You feel Francis’ passion when he speaks of this kind of economy killing people.

Political changes in the North Hemisphere suggest the breakdown of this situation. Not that long ago, these nations spoke of trying to spread their way of life to the Third World. It began talking about being missionaries for freedom and became purveyors of capitalism. Now the approach has turned to protecting what we have from those who want to be like us. The Make America Great Again people do not talk about sharing what we have with the rest of the world but, rather, defending ourselves from those who want the take it.

Francis calls for a different response that does not try to make the church “great again” by imposing ecclesial power or parochial ethics on others. Instead, it proclaims the gospel as good news for the poor. The pope believes this calls for encountering the poor where they are just as Jesus did. Because they are outside of all of our present day systems, this means going to the periphery of our society just as Jesus went to the outcasts of his world. In other words, Francis believes our economic theory and practice must be based on our solidarity with the poor that sees Christ as the model of humanity that recognizes all as our brothers and sisters. Over and over, he and the theologians illustrate their position with the picture of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25. It speaks of caring for Christ when you care for the least of his brothers and sisters.

The pope repeatedly claims his position does not advocate for or against any specific economic program but rather calls for including all people in the decisions. Any meaningful proposal put forth in the church’s name must listen to and respect all members of the community. By placing Christ’s Gospel first, it enables us to put our priorities back in proper order and care for all God’s people.

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  1. John Myers says:

    I have enjoyed this series. I believe it is important to examine our actions in this area. Our thinking will not matter, but our actions will – the equivalent of a social club congregation versus one who lives to find the next opportunity for mission.

    I am frustrated by our societal influences and how difficult it is for anyone to accept suffering and sacrifice in the midst of such affluence. Our current MAGA influence is especially dis-heartening. We are expected to accept that all that is needed is to negotiate better, and to negotiate better …….we must create straw-men, never show a weakness, create toll-booths, lie to others, and throw a temper-tantrum. Sad. There is no compassion in this rhetorical clown show. There is no serious attempt to create sound policy – only showmanship. The World Wrestling Federation is now in charge of our society. To see how this turns out, I’d suggest the movie ‘Idiocracy’.

    As I ponder this final lesson, I am left finding that I agree with the conclusions fully but ask myself……. how do we do this? Yes, we do this one-on-one as the opportunity arises – but, how do we move entire economic systems – and the people who are cogs on the wheel – to change their hearts. Certainly, our best example is Jesus Christ. But, of course it was a Roman world then and very different time geo-politically. It could be argued that it was a more difficult time for change. And, then I consider – Mother Teresa, MLK, Gandi…..these people did it in our current society. They serve as excellent examples. If you consider how these people made that difference, many times it just means taking a stand……and having the courage to stick to it.

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