One right-wing pundit was heard to say "Jesus Christ is weeping in heaven" over Pope Francis' recent declarations about the depredations caused by unfettered capitalism.
In addition to saying that, Jonathan Moseley, of the Northern Virginia Tea Party, also said "One truth shines out from the Bible: Jesus spoke to the individual, never to government or government policy. Jesus was a capitalist, preaching personal responsibility, not a socialist."
While we have had our own intense criticisms of the Catholic Church -- including its protection of pedophiles, its refusal to recognize the ability of women to be priests and its attacks on some of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (and don't get us started on the Inquisition) -- we have greeted proclamations from the new Pope like we welcome fresh air blowing away smog.
This is the one of the comments that twisted the knickers of the defenders of amoral capitalism:
"Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system."
And here is another: "Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless," said the Pope. "As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: Without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting."
Finally: "Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people's pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else's responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us."
Kaisa Snellman, writing for the Harvard Business Review, called the Pope's "slam against free-market capitalism ... bold and historical."
But Snellman noted that many pundits have missed the real import of the Pope's comments, that the ethics and ideology that underlie capitalism and the free-market economies built upon it are antithetical to equality of opportunity. And, added Snellman, it's not just about the developing world; inequality is right at home here in America.
"Occupy Wall Street brought discussion of income inequality into the mainstream, but when the movement fizzled so did much of the public debate," she wrote. "Yet, as economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty show, income inequality in the United States has only continued to grow -- and is now nearly as bad as it was just before the Great Depression nearly 100 years ago. Last year, the wealthiest top 10 percent took home more than half of the total income in the country."
Snellman points to findings that indicate while Americans are not overly troubled by income disparity, they are concerned about social mobility.
"The American mindset is built on the belief that anything is possible, and that it is up to each individual to claw their way up on the income ladder," she wrote. "(But) despite the belief that America is a classless society, two-fifths of children born into the poorest fifth of families remain at the bottom of the income ladder as adults. Children with wealthy, educated parents are more likely to engage in activities that broaden their outlook, deepen their social connections, and teach them important teamwork and leadership skills. In contrast, working class kids have become less trusting of other people are more disconnected from major social institutions of life, such as family, school, church, and the community. These trends coincide with growing class gaps in math and reading tests, college admission, and college graduation."
Snellman insists that equality of opportunity is not just a matter of individual kindness or compassion.
"We need to make it a collective responsibility and come up with an agenda that addresses the problem," she wrote. "We need policies and programs that benefit the working class, such as earned-income tax credits or early childhood education programs. Working class parents ... need stable jobs that pay enough, so that they can spend less time worrying about paying the rent and more time playing with their children. We need neighborhood organizations that can provide a social safety net for the children who need it, like the Catholic Church used to do a few decades ago."
Snellman encourages liberals and conservatives to work together, but it's comments such as "We need policies and programs that benefit the working class ..." that members of the right wing jump all over when screaming "socialism" and "Marxism."
"This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the Pope," screamed Rush Limbaugh. "Somebody has either written this for (the Pope) or gotten to him."
To his credit, Limbaugh is correct, noted Reza Aslan in the Washington Post.
"Somebody did get to Pope Francis. It was Jesus."
Aslan contends that "Self-styled 'defenders of Christianity,' like (Sarah) Palin and Limbaugh, peddle a profoundly unhistorical view of Jesus."
But this "profoundly unhistorical view" has been promulgated for a reason, notes Aslan, and it's not for the benefit of humanity.
"You can be millionaire megachurch pastor Joel Osteen, preaching a 'prosperity Gospel' that claims Jesus wants to you drive a Bentley. You can be Republican congressman Steven Fincher, citing Jesus to denounce welfare and food stamps. You can be libertarian icon Rand Paul appealing to Jesus' teachings to advocate ending foreign aid."
Aslan contends that if Jesus was in our midst today, he would be condemned by the very same people who use his name to justify their less-than-Christian ideology.
As proof, Aslan points to the many words attributed to Jesus that can be found in the Gospel.
"Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are hungry, for you shall be fed. Blessed are you who mourn, for you shall soon be laughing." "Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full, for you shall hunger. Woe to you laughing now, for soon you will mourn." "The first shall be last and the last shall be first." "How hard it will be for the wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God!"
And we will add a few paraphrased items of our own from the Gospel:
Love your neighbor as yourself. Do to others what you want them to do to you. Do not lie, cheat or steal. And the one the right wing will never be heard to utter: "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and render unto God that which is God's."
While we might disagree as to the share of responsibility for the welfare of the community that should be placed upon the government, individuals, social organizations or charities, Pope Francis' comments should be welcomed as an important and vital contribution to the discussion on inequality and opportunity. We will admit it's so much easier to toss around pejoratives than it is to actually engage in an intellectual debate about the roles we should take in alleviating injustice and inequality and promoting opportunity for all, it is a disservice to the grave challenges facing our nation and the world and to the future we hope to hand down to our children.