What Pope Francis says about the idolatry of money | As It Turns Out

Just in time for some holiday soul-searching, Pope Francis’s first papal exhortation was released by the Vatican. In it, he writes of how he sees the church’s role in society.

One certainly doesn’t have to be of the Catholic faith to understand his messages, some of which I agree with, some I do not. Not surprisingly, I was particularly taken with the section critiquing the current economic structure of the world and how the Pope would like to see its moral compass adjusted.

The pontiff writes of his concern of the “new tyranny” of unfettered capitalism causing severe inequality. He wants the world to recognize and understand why this is of great importance, especially to those who follow the Gospel.

New idols. Pope Francis writes that “worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings.”

The world has created new idols through the worship of money, free-markets and consumer-based capitalism to the point where “human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded.” We are currently witnessing “a globalization of indifference” where the poor are intentionally ignored.

Trickle-down economics. The term trickle-down economics has been used by financial conservatives to mean allowing the wealthy to do business without obligation of regulation or taxation. The profits made by big business then supposedly trickle down to lower levels of the economic ladder.

“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world,” the Pope writes. “This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

Greed. Pope Francis points out that today’s economy sustains greed. “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. The thirst for power and possessions know no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.”

Indifference. Francis also points out that today’s economy creates a globalization of indifference. “To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed.”

And he prays that his 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide will be mindful of, and not dull their senses to, the sufferings of the poor. “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.”

Pope Francis writes as a theologian, not as a politician or economist. It’s fairly obvious that neither politicians nor players on the free market will drop all their ambitions to follow his lead.

However, as the world’s moral compass, Francis has articulated a powerful argument that is now loosed upon the entire world.

The bell has been rung, as they say, and cannot be unrung.

— Marylin Olds is an opinion columnist and may be contacted at marylin.olds@gmail.com.


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