Sunday school for atheists

The Pope’s latest invocation or whatever it’s called puts a bullet through the economic heart of present day conservative economic fantasies and doesn’t spare raw capitalism either:

Link — Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.

In this context, 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 naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.

I know there are readers here who might wonder why an atheist blogger would choose to highlight ethics forged to serve supernatural beliefs. There’s two reasons in my mind: bearing in mind Christianity still carries huge sway over the world, a Pope can choose what he wishes to emphasize within Christian theology. In the past, too often, too many religious leaders have chosen to divide us into gay or straight, man or woman, pro-choice or pro-life, left and right, and too often religious leaders provide cover, willingly and at times all too willingly, for the darker demons of human nature to operate openly and with impunity.

This Pope doesn’t appear to be playing that game. He has chosen to get back to the basics of the Gospel. Love, inclusiveness, where the rich and the poor, the gay and the straight, the old and the young, are all bound together in the spiritual community. And that’s one form of fundamentalism I can tolerate. Second, when people from varying fields of science or philosophy or religion or law come to the same conclusions, that’s evidence both their concerns and their prescriptions are built on a greater foundation than any one field can provide.

A financial reform open to such ethical considerations would require a vigorous change of approach on the part of political leaders. I urge them to face this challenge with determination and an eye to the future, while not ignoring, of course, the specifics of each case. Money must serve, not rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and a return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favours human beings.

I don’t think the Pope is saying capitalism is bad and I don’t think he’s saying regulation or socialism is good. What I take away is he is saying that capitalism without compassion produces poor results by most any measure of decency. That it is not the duty of the many to serve the few, but rather vice-versa. We seem to have no problem with that concept politically, democracy being one logical end manifestation.

Trickle-down economics was the financial version, first widely promoted by Ronald Reagan, of any number of dieting cons where the person looking to lose weight is told they can eat anything they want and become a lean, mean fighting machine. It’s appealing to rich people and those who serve them, but it doesn’t cure the economy any better than laying on the couch all day eating gallons of ice-cream cures diabetes. It is a pipe-dream dressed up in economic policy. And we know, no matter how appealing it sounds, trickle-down voodoo has been utterly demolished as a workable method for growing an economy and providing upward mobility, beginning around the time of the ancient Egyptians if not earlier. What has worked time and time again is quite the opposite, call it blossom up economics, where a large strong middle-class is nurtured during good times and preserved through bad times.

When a policy fails, bring in the shamans to insist its God’s Will. Because there are religious people, and there are and always have been those who, to varying degrees, would disguise their greed and power-lust in the trappings of religion, as if the powerful and wealthy needed more levers than they already have to move matters to their own advantage. I believe the Pope is pointing this out and advising that we as a community must resist it for both practical and ethical reasons.




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