By BRENDAN LEROY
I was once a Republican. Of course, the basis of my conservatism was an imitation of the values held by my family and by a blind, youthful optimism inspired by a patriotic President Bush. In 2008, I participated in a Costa Rican exchange program, at which time my entire view of politics, my patriotism and our standing in the world flipped upside down. It was at this time I realized calling America the “leader of the free world” was propaganda and I questioned the legitimacy of our militarization in the Middle East. My time in Costa Rica opened my eyes to the human wealth of compassion, community and family, a wealth eradicated from America, replaced by the idolization of economic wealth.
A couple years ago I became deeply spiritual after being an atheist most of my life. Eventually I became a Christian and ultimately returned to Catholicism, the religion in which I was baptized. I no longer had interest in politics that had served me no purpose but to cause me anger. I found solace in God and peace in the doctrine of the Church. I had a renewed hope for the future
Over the past few years I have maintained interest in philosophical theories but generally from a theological perspective. I largely dismissed my thoughts as political viewpoints but rather vague perceptions on how society should function. In the recent weeks I have begun to question myself: am I a liberal, a progressive, a leftist, a socialist, a collectivist? I have concluded that I am none of these; I am just a Catholic and I have begun trying to assess the application of Christian values on secular society.
In the present, the entire basis for my political ideology is my faith in God and in the Catholic Church. I have already written columns that are quite contrary to American values but I have perceived them as congruent to Catholic teaching. My second column advocated for unrestricted, open borders because doctrine states “prosperous nations are obliged… to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin.” My seventh column questioned democracy because I see both political parties entice Americans to support falsehoods. My fifth column criticized capitalism as being violently ruthless in countries around the world to support our insatiable greed at the cost of human dignity.
The Church has been vilified for its orthodox stance on social values by people who fail to interpret the full scope of doctrine. It is imperative to understand that the Church places heavy emphasis on Matthew 22 where Jesus proclaims the commandment of utmost importance to be unconditional love. It is through the lens of this teaching that even the most conservative of Catholics will execute all other teachings. It is the teaching of Matthew 22 that has propelled the Church to become the world’s largest charitable organization.
Last fall, Pope Francis published Evangelii Gaudium, his exhortation which aggressively criticizes modern capitalism. In fact, the condemnation of capitalism in the exhortation is so assertive that it eerily resembles the voice of Pope John Paul II against communism and the Soviet Union. Pope Francis denounces trickle-down economics as a “crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power” and calls contemporary capitalism a system based on “laws of competition and survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless.”
Pope Francis describes a development of a culture where “human beings themselves are considered consumer goods to be used and discarded.” The exhortation describes the product of capitalism to have led to the corruption of the human spirit, morality and compassion. We may not have inhibited the free exercise of religion, but we crowned money our God. Modern capitalism has corroded our ability to differentiate truth from falsehood. We are witnessing before our very eyes the collapse of the family unit, the objectification of females, the obsession with materialism and technology, the breakdown of community, we sexualize absolutely everything… and we call all of this liberalization.
Pope Francis asks us to consider why “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.” He further portrays his horror towards the human condition which is becoming increasingly “incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor… [or] feeling a need to help them, as though [helping the poor] were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.”
Pope Francis is not wrong, nor does he exaggerate. We live in a culture where giving to the poor is a ‘handout.’ We are not compelled to help the poor because the theory of economic mobility assumes the poor will achieve prosperity when they get a job. We live in a society that is enraged at immigrants coming from lands crippled by poverty and war. We are repulsed by the idea of having to pay for the healthcare of other human beings. A request that the rich contribute to help lift up the poor is labeled ‘class warfare.’ We outsource our businesses and exploit foreign nations so we can expand our useless mountains of rubbish.
It is wonderful when we donate to charities but there is only one organization in this nation that has the capability to reach every human. I have heard the argument that safety-net programs perpetuate poverty, that regulation kills jobs and that immigration disrupts the economy. These are lies; even if they were not, it is not a suggestion in Catholicism to provide for the poor. America has 25 percent of the entire world’s wealth yet we are 34th in the world for poverty, 50th for life expectancy and 48th for infant mortality. 1 in 6 goes hungry, 1 in 100 is incarcerated and 2.5 million in this country are homeless. Is Pope Francis wrong? Has America become “incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor?”