Pope Francis, Christianity, and Marxism

77cb7cd5eWell, it’s been a rather long break on my end, but I’m back after a month off. It hasn’t really been a true break given that, rather than enjoying a vacation as such, I’ve been on the road a lot for academic conferences, Provincial Chapter, board meetings, and speaking engagements, which was the primary reason for the radio silence from the DatingGod.org blog. Thanks to all who have patiently waited and thanks to those who have expressed their support and desire for the return of posting — your wish has come true today.

Ever since Pope Francis was elected Bishop of Rome in the Spring of 2013 his actions and words have captured the attention of millions. Most seem to be struck by the genuine humanity of this man whose primary concern seems to be rooted in the Gospel call to care for those women and men most at the margins: the poor, the disenfranchised, the ill, the disabled, the sexual minorities, and so on.

Yet, in the spirit of Dorothy Day’s prophetic insight — “when I feed the hungry, they call me a saint; when I ask why people are hungry, they call me a communist” — Pope Francis has been labeled a communist by various self-styled “right-wing” commentators. The role call of accusers is pretty familiar, including the usual suspects Limbaugh and Beck. However, this week a new voice has entered the mix, a voice that has a far-more-respected reputation: The Economist magazine.

The blogger over at The Economist takes this misguided discourse to a new level, suggesting that: “By positing a link between capitalism and war, he seems to be taking an ultra-radical line: one that consciously or unconsciously follows Vladimir Lenin in his diagnosis of capitalism and imperialism as the main reason why world war broke out a century ago.”

Pope Francis is certainly not the first to make this connection. In fact, I was thinking about former US President and 5-Star General Dwight Eisenhower’s famous admonition to the United States and world about the “military-industrial complex,” which itself presupposes the intrinsic link between military action (war) and industrial/market interests (capitalism). I think many would be hard pressed to caricature Eisenhower as a communist or “one that consciously or unconsciously follows Vladimir Lenin.”  But that is a digression.

My real interest here is in part to disabuse those who think that “Marxism,” a term thrown around without much actual study or background by most parties already named, is somehow a bad thing. Those who think it is an actual reality are first and foremost disillusioned.  It is fair to talk about the historical reality of communist governments, the USSR, for example. However, Marxism is a political philosophy that bears the name of Karl Marx and is likewise tied to a number of other thinkers too.

Some have suggested that “Marxism” (I am using the scare quotes deliberately to suggest the accusatory styling of the term as opposed to the un-quoted, which references the political philosophy) is an evil that is antithetical to Christianity. This is not exactly true. While it is correct that certain strains of Marxist philosophy are represented by self-professed atheists, the principles are what is important to appreciate. Many of these principles, concern for the oppressed, the social structures of sin, the increasing gap between rich and poor, the condition of labor, and so forth, are all deeply Christian at their core.

Pope Francis is neither “Marxist” nor Marxist. He is not a political philosopher nor an economist nor an anarchist. He is, true and true, a Christian and to be a Christian, to take seriously the Gospel, means to hold the views that he expresses and demonstrates. Period.

I am not at all surprised about the backlash Pope Francis has received. The Bishop of Rome is, after all, following in the footprints of Jesus Christ who also received a backlash for pointing out injustices and announcing the Reign of God that sought a different reality for the poor and oppressed — that backlash ended with a crucifixion. Anyone who bears the name “Christ” as a Christian, anyone who is baptized should likewise find herself or himself in Pope Francis’s position. Imagine that, imagine if we all took our baptismal vocations seriously and had to face the criticism of those who either benefit or seek to benefit from the unjust structures of wealth and power.

I suppose that is, in part, what Jesus meant when he told us that we need to pick up our crosses daily and follow him. There are a lot of people standing around with crosses still lying on the ground.

It’s powerful and refreshing to see that at least the Pope has picked up his.

UPDATE: Correction: the quote attributed to Dorothy Day above should be attributed to the late prelate, Dom Helder Camara.

Photo: The Atlantic
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5 Responses to “Pope Francis, Christianity, and Marxism”

  1. It’s quite frustrating when politics takes over Christianity, is it not.

  2. Mark Yablonski Says:

    Thank you, Fr. Horan, for this excellent blog post. Often people erroneously conflate my critical appraisal of my favorite sports team with the notion that I’m a fan of the other team. It seems the blogger from The Economist and other commentators are also guilty of that erroneous conflation when it comes to Pope Francis and his critique of certain behaviors of practitioners of Capitalism.

    Rest assured that I am an avid fan of your blog, books and other writings. So, please do not conflate my slightly critical point about the Dorothy Day quote in your piece with a blanket disapproval of your work. I believe that the quote is correctly attributed to Dom Helder Camara and can be found in Peace Behind Bars : A Peacemaking Priest’s Journal from Jail (1995) by John Dear.

  3. The “prophetic insight” was Dom Helder Camara’s, not Dorothy Day’s.

  4. Yes, Thank you to Phil, Mark and Kevin Johnson (private email) for the correction on the quote attributed to Dorothy Day above — it is rightly attributed to Dom Helder Camara. Sorry for the confusion.

  5. Mary Ann Burke Says:

    It is good to see your blog again! Hope you enjoyed the time away for the Annual Meeting for the OFM’s of the chapter.

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