Religion, the Pope, and Moral Capitalism

The First Amendment to the US Constitution mandates that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The religious right, embodied by Kim Davis at the moment, is specifically concerned with the second part of that; they don’t believe that the government can infringe on private religious practices, even when they might run contrary to federal law or basic human decency. Social liberals, on the other hand, worry more about the first part; Congress cannot take the side of any particular religion and try to impose the beliefs of one particular group on the whole of America. What Ben Carson said this week about Islam being incompatible with the Constitution, and thus a devout Muslim being ineligible for the office of the Presidency flies in the face of both sentiments. While he’s certainly not in favor of criminalizing Islam (though nearly 1/3 of Iowa Republicans are), he’s still echoing the sentiment, rooted in religious exceptionalism, that only the Judeo-Christian belief systems are compatible with a document that was essentially written directly by God.  The fact that Islam is also a monotheistic, Abrahamic religion notwithstanding, Carson is showing the inherent hypocrisy in the supposed war on Christianity. Remember, here’s a guy who believes that evolution is the literal spawn of Satan, that the Big Bang is a lie, and the God created the universe in 6 24-hour days, and who believes, in spite of that, that his faith is constantly being persecuted by the “PC police” (who are a lot less interesting than they sound. Think more Dave Franco in 21 Jump Street and less RoboCop wielding a 4K display and unlimited download speeds). The attempts by the religious right to outlaw abortions, to outlaw same-sex marriage, to ensure creationism is taught on equal footing with the actual science behind the theory of evolution, and to label America as “a Christian nation,” all indicate, on top of blatant civics and history errors, that they have no fucking clue what they’re talking about. Seriously, the same people who want to outlaw Islam think that Christians are the most persecuted group in America today, all because they’re not being allowed to establish their religion as the religion of the state.

See, religious liberty is a funny thing. It means that you’re free to believe basically whatever you want, within basic standards of federal law. The recent progress that America has made with regards to LGBTQ rights, respecting all beliefs, and protecting a woman’s right to choose does constitute, to a certain extent, an attempt to scale back Christian involvement in the government’s affairs. I would argue, however, that instead of discriminating against Christians, these changes are just putting them on more equal footing with everyone else. Less second-class citizens than being removed from a deeply entrenched position of superiority over everyone else. The right of a Muslim to worship what they want to worship is a hell of a lot more important than Kim Davis’s right to discriminate based on an inherent position of Christian privilege.

Which brings  me, somewhat loosely, to my second point: Pope Francis. He’s basically the man. While I obviously don’t agree with everything he says (gay marriage is an abomination, so is contraception and abortion, overpopulation has no part to play in climate change etc. etc.), he’s definitely taking some important steps in the right direction, notably with regards to climate change and denouncing reckless capitalism. He’s also getting some really bad press on behalf of the conservative right who see him as something of a pro-life Obama, as he discusses social and economic inequality as moral issues. I’m not a biblical scholar, nor am I going to say that one interpretation of the Bible is correct or incorrect. What I can safely say, however, is that Francis’s position is more in line with that of a certain Jesus of Nazareth. I’ll let the gospel of Matthew take it from here:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (5:3)

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.”(5:5)

“Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.” (5:42)

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal.” (6:19)

“No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (money/wealth).” (6:24)

“If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” (19:21)

“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (19:24)

Needless to say, there’s no real place in the Bible for investment banking, Wall Street speculation, or even amassing large amounts of personal wealth in general. And yet, many of the most influential and outspoken American Christians do exactly that. No wonder they hate this guy. Pope Francis is essentially heightening contradictions on the American Right. On the one hand, the very rich like having a lot of stuff, using government policies like supply-side economics to get even more stuff. On the other hand, they say a whole lot of stuff about Christian morality, usually with regards to abortion and same-sex marriage. With this Pope, they can’t have it both ways. They can’t, on one hand, have no legal safeguards against rapacious bullshit like raising the price of an HIV pill 5,000% for entirely profit-based reasons, and then claim to be acting on Jesus’s behalf here on earth. Money does tend to speak pretty loudly in these matters, so this very well might be the beginning of the end for conflating supposedly Christian values on one hand and not-so-Christian economic practices. I suppose God only knows.


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