By David E. Roy, Ph.D.
Most progressives are beyond tired of hearing how bad old government only interferes with universally good business, the boon of humankind. The opposition, ostensibly conservatives, come across increasingly as just plain heartless in their efforts to trash as many government protections and safety nets as they can.
So, we fight it out: Cut Social Security; increase Social Security! Cut food stamps to the hungry; restore them now! All of these many battles consume a huge amount of our energy, time and attention.
The opposition, strangely, has the support of some from our society who can and do benefit from what they are seeking to destroy. “Off with their heads,” screams the Queen and King of the Tea Party.
Meantime, most often in the unseen and unheard background, a whole different specter has been gathering more and more power, one that seeks to transcend and even subordinate governments. In this shadowy background, an unholy union between gargantuan business and governments has been developing for a long time.
This itself is not news to most of us, but little or nothing has been done to bring it to a stop or even slow it down. Plus, this subject can be complicated and boring, hard to follow and uninspiring. Give us a good O.J. Simpson‒type trial or a tragic missing airplane story anytime.
But now this union is reaching a point of development that will take it to a qualitatively new level. The corporate oligarchy is poised for a much more profound takeover, one what would leave the control of many facets of our life in the hands of a small number of individuals and the companies they control directly and indirectly.
The first part of this story is about the visible foreground of what is happening. Part II (next month) will focus on the less visible background. However, because things are unfolding rapidly on that front, I urge you to learn as much about the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership that President Barack Obama has been attempting to fast-track through Congress. It needs to be stopped. Good places to start research are at the Public Citizen Web site (www.citizen.org/TPP) and with Bill Moyers (billmoyers.com/tag/trans-pacific-partnership/).
Part I: Buffoonery vs. the Pope
In the foreground struggle, so much of what progressives are up against are endless streams of illogical arguments and baseless assertions and charges. Rush Limbaugh is one of the earliest such commentators and one of the meanest, making him a perfect example.
Unfortunately, in recent years many religious leaders who profess to be Christians have sided with the critical, condemning, contemptuous right. By contrast, last century much of the impetus for the civil rights movement and the opposition to the Vietnam War came from Christian religious leaders.
Today, fortunately, the newest pope of the Roman Catholic Church is leading his reforms from the heart of the Christian Gospel, the spiritual essence of the Beatitudes. Obviously, there remain many serious points of disagreement most progressives have with the Catholic Church’s traditional stances in several areas, including ordaining women, clergy celibacy and abortion. But the strong support for economic reform to reverse the growing gap between the wealthy, powerful few and the swelling number of hungry, ill, impoverished is enormously encouraging.
The Part of the Buffoon (Played by Rush Limbaugh)
I still get a grim chuckle when I think about Rush Limbaugh daring to call out Pope Francis last fall (March 27, 2013) as an old-fashioned Marxist. Orating from his own pulpit, Limbaugh said the pope was “regurgitating…pure Marxism.” This could only happen, suggested Limbaugh, if “somebody has…written this for him or gotten to him.”
Could the Pope possibly be that simple and naïve, unable to think for himself, reading a ghostwritten proclamation (Apostolic Exhortation) without understanding what he was saying?
Compared to some of Limbaugh’s vicious, crude, even vulgar, attacks, he was relatively light-handed that day, making it easier to see his buffoonery instead of his verbal and emotional sadistic side.
When he talks on the air, Limbaugh sounds strong and definite and more than a little pompous and arrogant. His views often come across as well formed, even if most are not well informed. But when one listens carefully to what he actually says, he frequently seems to be making things up as he goes. That was evident in that particular broadcast. Consider a handful of sound nibbles:
It’s sad because this pope makes it very clear he doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to capitalism and socialism. [The Pope is merely a Jesuit, reputedly the most learned of the Roman Catholic orders.]
I thought he was going a little overboard on the common-man touch…nevertheless I was willing to cut him some slack. [How generous, cutting the pope some slack!]
Now, as I mentioned before, I’m not Catholic. I admire it profoundly, and I’ve been tempted a number of times to delve deeper into it. But the pope here has now gone beyond Catholicism here, and this is pure political. [He’s not a Catholic, he has yet to “delve into it,” yet he knows what it is not, unlike the head of this 1.2 billion member church.]
Pope Francis attacked unfettered capitalism as “a new tyranny” and beseeched global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality…Francis [criticized] the global economic system…[and attacked] the idolatry of money. Unfettered capitalism is a liberal socialist phrase. [These actually are standard Christian criticisms. His ignorance, feigned or real, is appalling.]
That’s going way beyond matters that are ethical. This is almost a statement about who should control financial markets. He says that the global economy needs government control. [Clearly—and sadly—the essential Christian Gospel makes Limbaugh, and others like him, extremely uncomfortable.]
Limbaugh exposes his ignorance of the concept of ethics on an intellectual level let alone on a practical level. He does not understand the difficult ethical claim that compassion can put on those who, like Pope Francis, see and feel the pain of the multitude around the globe being dehumanized by the tyranny imposed by “unfettered capitalism.” It is reasonable to assume that the attitudes expressed by Rush Limbaugh are reflected in many of those who consider themselves to be conservatives today. This obviously is the case with the commentators on the Murdoch/Ailes Fox channel.
The fear Limbaugh exploits is that of being controlled by someone or something else, which he says is the government. Any doubt as to his meaning is eliminated later in the broadcast when he says, “Capitalism is moral because it honors individual freedom, but government is compulsion.” The underlying theme: No one better try to control me! This is a primal fear particularly among the extremely wealthy and those in the Tea Party movement.
Pope Francis: His Ministry Is from the Beatitudes (Love Is the Way)
Pope Francis has been moving and encouraging to many because he is modeling and giving voice to the heart of the Christian Gospel, the views and sentiments that are expressed most clearly and strongly in the part of the Bible called the Beatitudes. Jesus’ emphasis is on God’s concerns and desires for those in any generation and in any location who have the least food, clothing, access to healthcare, education, safe dwellings in safe neighborhood, political power and respect of the majority.
For those Christians and others who have not heard these sentiments proclaimed intensely for quite some time, the pope’s words and actions must be at times unnerving and even shocking. The overall Christian Church is in a sad state if so many people, especially those in power, feel that these millennia-old, biblically rooted perspectives are dangerously wrong.
Until recently, there have been few religious leaders who challenged those in control (and their spokespersons), who would speak out their opposition to oppressive and greedy people in power in a respectful yet forceful and direct manner.
Clearly, many who are not religious, or who even despise religion, work hard to oppose these inhumane institutions. But if one is a faithful Christian, acting to bring justice and to oppose violence, oppression, neglect, enslavement and profound dishonesty—these actions are an integral part of a living response to a god of universal love.
The Pope: I’m a Christian, Not a Marxist
The Pope, with a certain rational decorum, made it clear in a December interview in an Italian newspaper (La Stampa, Dec. 14, 2013) that everything he said was already reflected in church doctrine (which is true, and not just for Roman Catholics). He went on to expand his critique of “trickle down” economics: “The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefitting the poor. But what happens instead is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger [and] nothing ever comes out for the poor.”
This ends an account that has focused on the prototype of our foreground struggles. Next month will be devoted to a deeper look behind the government versus business deception to see the tremendous rise of the international corporate oligarchy that wants its way cleared to make money without any interference, including anything that might actually be destructive to human beings and human community.
Ordained in the United Church of Christ, David Roy is a pastoral counselor and a California licensed marriage and family therapist who directs the Center for Creative Transformation. He has a Ph.D. in theology and personality from the Claremont (California) School of Theology. Send comments to him at email@example.com or 5475 N. Fresno St., Suite 109, Fresno, CA 93711.