The following commentary first appeared on the website of United Press International.
I thought it a remarkable turn of events that liberal news sources are complimentary of Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), while conservative news sources are critical of it. I sense this about-face will be the new trend in regard to Pope Francis.
Liberal media sources misuse his words to justify big government, higher taxes, more entitlement spending, increased regulation and income redistribution while conservative media sources criticize his message because they believe he is against capitalism and limited government interference.
My research convinced me that both sides are cherry-picking the pope’s words and misinterpreting his message, perhaps purposefully and thus disingenuously.
While reading conservative and liberal media views on Evangelii Gaudium, I noticed that both sides paraphrased the pope’s work as criticizing “unfettered capitalism,” yet the document contained no occurrences of “unfettered,” nor did it contain any form of “capital.” The pope has used the phrase “unfettered capitalism” in past speeches, but journalists have unprofessionally attempted to deceive readers into believing that the pope included it in Evangelii Gaudium.
The pope writes about the ravages of financial speculation, excessive national debts, child labor, unsafe working conditions, servitude and pollution. I found the majority of the pope’s message to be very sensible and, as one would expect, built on the Church’s age-old mission and message of caring for the poor.
Many people will inevitably read into the pope’s message what is not there, especially if they are not trained in the Catholic Church’s doctrines. For example, in paragraph 56, Pope Francis writes, “While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few.”
This and other parts of the pope’s letter have led many to think that he prefers socialism to capitalism. Not so. The church supports social justice but it has always spoken out against communism and socialism.
Many people interpret the pope’s words as a call for income redistribution at government direction, but I believe he is encouraging a change of selfish attitudes that many wealthy individuals have about wealth creation; attitudes which are often facilitated and exacerbated by government.
In paragraph 202, the pope writes, “Welfare projects, which meet certain urgent needs, should be considered merely temporary responses. As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems.”
This is far from a socialist statement; rather it is a statement about justice and fairness. In many countries, the rich have built their wealth on the backs of poor workers, who have no choice but to work just to survive. Many large U.S. corporations export jobs to these countries. The pope’s message is consistent with giving people fish when they can’t fish, but also teaching them to fish and building national economies that provide them with opportunities to fish.
In paragraph 204, the pope writes, “We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market. Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth: it requires decisions, programmes, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality. I am far from proposing an irresponsible populism, but the economy can no longer turn to remedies that are a new poison, such as attempting to increase profits by reducing the work force and thereby adding to the ranks of the excluded.”
Clearly, he is not implying that capitalism be scrapped and replaced with socialism. Rather, he is encouraging government, investors and corporate decision-makers to act ethically.
If you read only the media’s comments on Evangelii Gaudium, you would think that the pope is so progressive that he will change the church into something it’s never been. If you’re worried about his views, I encourage you to read it over. Below are examples of the pope’s steadfastness to church doctrine.
As one would expect, the pope’s letter speaks out against abortion, taking a swipe at progressives who support it (paragraph 214): “It is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life.”
At the end of paragraph 62, he writes about the degradation of traditional values: “… the negative aspects of the media and entertainment industries are threatening traditional values, and in particular the sacredness of marriage and the stability of the family.”
He also encourages a cultural change away from relativism and toward absolute truth. In paragraph 61 he writes, “We should recognize how in a culture where each person wants to be bearer of his or her own subjective truth, it becomes difficult for citizens to devise a common plan which transcends individual gain and personal ambitions.” Unfortunately, that is not the lesson our children are taught in politically correct schools.
Overall, I found far more to like about Evangelii Gaudium than to dislike. Let’s stop trusting the media to interpret everything for us. A little research often reveals a different story than the sound bites it provides.
We should educate our youth in ethics, logic and philosophy, ensuring that they learn to interpret for themselves what they read, hear and watch, rather than relying on the media’s interpretation.
Peter Lachance is an executive coach, writer and faithful Roman Catholic in Yardley. He holds degrees from Stevens Institute of Technology, Syracuse University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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