“With the possible exception of Nuclear weapons, capitalism is the most powerful of human inventions.”
Edward Luttwak, (Political Scientist and Historian)
There is a distinct fusion of Christian teaching with Socialism. I shall try to have a look at rudimentary evidence to such a claim if any and to assess its echoing responses in the light of Pope Francis recent preaching and moral theorising by many Catholics against an uncaring capitalism. A contentious position to an ideology profoundly entrenched in individualism. To many, it constitutes efforts to avoid altruism against a traditional Catholic; some will argue monolithic, teachings. In the same vein, I look at how far Capitalism is considered a sin in the eyes of the Catholic Church akin to Divorce or Homo-Sexuality.
Let us take morality as our starting point. Many people tend to think that morality springs from religion yet remain oblivious to ideas that before the advent of Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other religious denominations, people did not spend their time killing each other but learnt to live and hunt together as caring communities. Evolutionary theory as much as the history of money as embedded in the progress of the human race would not have you here reading this otherwise. An increasingly universal thought stresses that morality is a product of selfishness and an egocentric dictum. Controversially, Freedom of Will, according to many, is God’s greatest gift, primarily cultivated Man to differentiate between what is good and right and automatically discriminates between the evil and wrong respectively. For contemporary society, however, Free thinking creativity is the trademark of individualism, at the root of Liberal Democracy that provides much of the fuel of Capitalism. Although Man’s egocentric inherence obliges him to be competitive, that is always the paradoxical ingredient of the natural world - survival of the fittest!
These are the charges by the Catholic Church against Capitalism. Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his encyclical published by the Vatican released in July 2009, “where the pernicious effects of sin are evident,”. On May 24, 2015, Pope Francis encyclical on climate change included all aspects of human life with particular emphasis on a “better distribution of wealth”. Let us not forget; these Encyclicals are made under the auspices of Ecumenical councils making them irrefutable, underscored by the Pope’s infallibility. The doctrine of infallibility means there is never going back on them. Amongst other things they had this remarkable passage “The Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable but has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property”. Pope Francis also makes a bold statement calling upon world leaders to fight unrestricted capitalism, which he called "a new tyranny." The church explicitly advocates “a social mortgage on all private property, so that goods may serve the general purpose that God gave them.” With that in mind Catholicism has thrown down the gauntlet of its basic terms for social life and social justice challenging society to consider these ideas as fundamental; to implicitly endorse a transnational political culture. Such collectivist and paternalistic ideas are very hard if not impossible to adhere to in the face of non-existent or accepted universal doctrine. Comprehensive enough to legitimate such notions and much of it, despite religious obedience and spiritual ‘improvement’, goes against the grain of human instinct to trade as well as against an individual’s pathological greed.
Whatever colour, socialism, as an ideology, stands in sharp contrast to Capitalism’s fundamental concern with making profit and accumulation of capital, both principles that create progress within a dynamic environment. Despite the Popes’ encyclicals, although in many respects hostile to capitalism, they must not overshadow the fact that an individual, the entrepreneur, is the engine which ultimately creates wealth for society- poor and rich. Besides, there is no getting away from the fact that there are winners and losers in the global economy, but it has over the last two hundred years proved, despite its cyclical dips, the power behind an economic agility and elasticity of The Free Market. Time and again it proved amenable to necessary social change that is more often good than bad. Such an economic and social revolution cultivated its roots in Calvinist Laissez-faire and notions of the Enlightenment; both served to emancipate the Individual from the fetters of tradition.
Generally speaking, humans are not irredeemably self-centred, dogmatic, or driven by what Hobbes called, “a perpetual and restless desire of power after power”. But at the same time, maybe paradoxically, I accept the notion that man can be unreasonable. Without coercive conformity, tax concessions or self-status aggrandisement, it is doubtful whether he or she have altruistic intentions to society towards common benefit. In accordance to Keynesianism, State induced fairer share either through higher taxes on the wealthy or increase in welfare for a more even society to balance ‘the spirit level’ of unfair advantage, or to referee society so the lucky few do not take a bigger piece of the pie. Such a recipe would be music to the ears of Pope Francis but a view largely scorned by tax escapees. Among nations with sharp increases in top-heavy inequality, such as the U.S. and the U.K. they offer an especially revealing contrast. The top 1%’s income share soared in both countries, the UK and the USA, In fact, the wealthy minority have tripled their share of the economy. Since 1980 and through the mid-1990’s poor households made little progress because what is increasing evident is that the ‘glass keeps getting bigger’ mostly the effect of avaricious and self-interested consumerists.
Jesus preached; “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”, aside from possibly claiming the separation of Church and State but curiously to liberate ‘Pharisees and Herodians’ (the Elite), from spiritual and physical dependence on greed. Christ chased the moneylenders from the Temple …drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, he poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; “Take these things hence; make not My Father's house a house of merchandiseAside from establishing his authority, he was also showing his visceral disdain on Capitalism (today’s term) and his aggressive stance clearly marks out the different mixing of God’s spiritual demands (The Temple) to that of financial rewards. The term is loaded against both; personal interest for money and the eventual accumulation of wealth by the church. Such messages towards wealth creation are a grave indictment against the Catholic entrepreneur who in his or her daily routine has inadvertently prioritised making profits over the house of God and his commands.
The Vatican has a lot to answer. Starting chronologically from a historical perspective, collaboration with Fascist Mussolini regime in the 1920’s, The Lateran Pacts (a treaty, a financial settlement and a Concordat) established the Vatican City as a sovereign state. Mussolini’s Italy compensated the Pope for the loss of Papal authority and territories pre-1870 due to the Risorgimento. The compensation amounted to the tune of 750,000 Italian lire and an additional 1,000 million Italian lire in state bonds; and the Church was granted certain privileges, providing it did not encroach on the activity of political parties (see the previous paragraph). Meanwhile, during the later 1930s, the Church became concerned by Mussolini’s links with Hitler. Assets were quietly shifted abroad as the Vatican began to countenance a post-Fascist and post-Nazi world order with the United States of America at its hub. By the way, we are talking old money here.
Today, Bank of the Vatican’s figures, which apparently finances its ‘spiritual’ element shows profits “skyrocketed to €69.3 million ($77 million) from €2.9 million a year earlier” as at 20th of May, 2015 with a logical drive for profit maximisation. Apparently the Vatican with an estimated worth between $15 billion to $20 billion, a GDP per capita is $365,796 – making it the richest state on the planet. They do spend on charitable purposes but a paltry amount when compared to the $100 million spent by Turkey on one Mosque centre in Maryland, Washington from a $2billion annual budget set by a government directorate of religious affairs, or the ‘Diyanet’. Also there Saudi Arabia devoting billions of dollars in their relentless spread of Islam in Europe and The Americas.
As for the Catholic Church’s stand on Capitalism, it is evident enough “An economic system is good only to the extent that it applies the principles of justice taught by the Church”. Pope John Paul II clearly stated that “It is a strict duty of fairness and truth not to allow fundamental human needs to remain unsatisfied and not to allow those burdened by such needs to perish." – Tacit discouragement of Social Darwinist ideas. In other words, given the Catholic Church holding such beliefs, it holds a monopoly on both Justice and Truth. An implication that it is not up to the individual to be the final judge how much wealth to accumulate but this must remain within the church’s juridical reach; a prerogative of the Church to make that judgment and to rein in that greed. What this also seems to suggest that these guidelines are allied to impositions on freedom of conscious. A fact that appears to imply that business profits according to church teaching are incompatible with profit maximisation but equally has set an imperative that the benefits are of service of human freedom in its totality. Many of these principles I find very loose and desperately need qualifying but for now, can only be in the abstract.
How far, these encyclicals, banal ‘catholic’ directions of controlling the sins of desire, pride, envy, and greed sit comfortably with Capitalism of today amid the evolving concepts of freedom is debatable. This overview especially when viewed against the background that saw the eventual triumph of the individual over society so admirably translated in Liberal Democracy. This piece has attempted to discuss this issue from a layman perspective and examined how far-removed, or otherwise, social interpretations of Jesus’ sayings when applied to today’s way of life. Joining Christian social teachings with modern science and industry where many interpret, but invariably not publicly admit, that “greed is good”. Bearing in mind there are no hard and fast rules about the hermeneutical interpretation of The New Testament we, therefore, need to consider the implications that can inadvertently become paradoxical to an entrepreneurial Christian society. That while acknowledging an unrestrained greed, innocently enjoy a way of life that in a sense is incompatible with their sincere religious belief. After all, for many the ultimate goal of life is the accumulation of wealth, whether this is interpreted as a sinful act or at best a bad perspective on the rich is very much an individual effort when consummating his or her financial gains.