Before Laudato Sii was released this past week I was in the middle of a series of postings on the Enlightenment as it both is relevant to my series on the Church of England in regard to its effects on the C of E in the late 17th and early 18th centuries and it raises a number of questions I want to explore such as the issue of secularism in the public square. In the most recent of those postings last week I mentioned Adam Smith, the Scottish philosopher who laid the philosophical and ethical groundwork for modern capitalism. Smith lived through the very time of the American Revolution and our founding fathers very much subscribed to his theories. Liberty was a crucial value for him and he law liberty as one of the pre-requisites for individuals to be empowered to acquire wealth. Though born a Scots Presbyterian in the strong Calvinist tradition of that Church (or, as it is known in Scotland, The Kirk) Smith evolved throughout his lifetime to the vague non-dogmatic sort of ambiguous Latitudinarian Christianity characteristic of the genteel upper crust 18th century Brits. In his journey into that comfortable Christianity he abandoned the idea of original sin but clung to its anthropological foundations. Let me explain.
The doctrine of Original Sin is found only in Western Christianity and is absent from the Orthodox theological framework. This is because it is the construct of Western Church Fathers, especially Irenaeus of Lyons and Augustine of Hippo. The essence of original sin is the sin of concupiscence or inordinate desire. Unfortunately the emphasis has usually been places—falsely—on sexual desire but Augustine had a much broader understanding and it would better be seen as greed. To illustrate what he means, Augustine in one passage uses the example of the greed with which a child nurses. This example usually appalls modern readers and Augustine doesn’t mean that the act of nursing isn’t a beautiful gift of the mother for the child but only wishes to point out that the child, even in the pre-rational state of infancy, naturally seeks out his own self-interest. It is natural for us to wish to acquire and safe-keep those things which we need for our survival and our comfort. One doesn’t have to make a moral judgment about this in the pre-rational person it is just our nature.
Unlike the orthodox position of Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists—all of whom recognized this “original sin” as part of our “fallen nature;” Smith saw our natural inclinations towards greed as something good. Indeed, he saw it as the motivating virtue of a healthy economy. As I desire more and more and you desire more and more we will work harder to make our desires into realities.
I remember as a child that one of my favorite fairy tales was the fisherman’s wife. You may remember it. In it the fisherman seeks from an enchanted fish whom he has set free a larger house for his wife. She then sends her husband back to ask for a mansion. Getting the mansion, she wants to become a Queen. Becoming a Queen she then desires to be Pope. And so it goes. Ever more and more until her greed makes her demand to rule the earth and the heavens—to become God—and then she loses it all. This story is just a twist on Smith’s theory: we always want for more and strive for more. Whereas the Catholic tradition and even more Martin Luther and more yet, John Calvin, all saw this greed as sinful, Smith saw it as the foundation of a healthy economy.
Adam Smith’s writings are, as I said, that foundation of modern capitalism. James Madison and Thomas Jefferson were both huge fans. Margaret Thatcher allegedly carried a copy of Smith’s The Wealth of Nations in her handbag. (We still haven’t found out what the Queen carries in hers. Why do those British ladies all need such oversized bags?) Smith’s theories are that this natural desire of the human person for wealth will drive the markets and allowing the markets to be free of control is the tide that permits all boats to rise equally.
Pope Francis is not a subscriber to the theories of Adam Smith. Like Saint Augustine he sees greed as inherently sinful, and indeed the root of all other evils. Like his two immediate predecessors he subscribes to the doctrine of solidarity by which he means that we all have responsibility for the welfare of one another. These ideas come out loud and clear in Laudato Sii.
In fact, Laudato Sii is a major threat to the doctrines of Adam Smith and thus to our modern free market capitalistic world. And the troops have risen in rebellion. Ross Douthat, a columnist for the New York Times, wrote a stinging and far less than objective critique of the Encyclical in today’s paper. He betrayed his hand by labeling the Pope and his allies as “catastrophists,” while he and other disciples of Smith are the “dynamists.” Really? You don’t think this is prejudcing the argument in a way that wouldn’t pass the editorship of a junior-highschool newspaper?
Dynamists are people who see 21st-century modernity as a basically successful civilization advancing toward a future that’s better than the past. They do not deny that problems exist, but they believe we can innovate our way through them while staying on an ever-richer, ever-more-liberated course.
Thank you Adam Smith.
Catastrophists, on the other hand, see a global civilization that for all its achievements is becoming more atomized and balkanized, more morally bankrupt, more environmentally despoiled. What’s more, they believe that things cannot go on as they are: That the trajectory we’re on will end in crisis, disaster, dégringolade.
My heavens, Mr. Douthat, wherever did you learn a word like dégringolade? My spellcheck doesn’t recognize it. Given the remainder of your article and its level of argument I can only presume you own a thesaurus.
Francis X. Rocca wrote a somewhat more objective and more thoughtful reflection—though certainly not an endorsement—for the Wall Street Journal. What I want to focus on now, however, is not Rocca’s article but the response of readers to the article. The sharks are circling! I am not surprised that Wall Street Journal readers are not ready, by and large, to endorse the papal teaching, but I was amazed at the levels of both bias and stupidity so many readers—90% of the—displayed. Let me just give you a sample for your reading pleasure. I have cut and pasted (as well as edited) them so that the various spelling and grammatical errors remain in place. Of course, we all make mistakes in those realms so the mistakes are not meant to be indicative of the intelligence level of the writers. I will let their messages speak for them selves.
The words of despair from Commissar Pope Francis. Best stick to the moral angle and leave the political burden to politicians. He best not carry the political burden for worsening the very people he tries to save.
@bassam madany Just as our leader has re-written the Constitution, Pope Francis has taken on the task to re-write the scriptures.
By the way, has the Pope reviewed the results of Communist and Socialist control on environmental quality as opposed to free market countries? What type of foot print did the soviets leave, or the South Americans? Nothing good.
No wonder the Castro brothers and Obama like this guy so much. Put down the Communist Manifesto and read the Bible instead.
The Pope should stick to religion - what did Jesus say? "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and unto God that which is God's." I get enough political garbage stuffed down my throat by Obama and his sycophants. I do not need a "holy man" posing as a wannabe politician.
This is what happens when a liberation theologist from South America is elected Pope. He is anti-capitalism, pro-collectivism, ignores, nay tramples, the teaching of Jesus to give up to Caesar that which is Caesar's and to God what is God's. He is the equivalent of an Obama undoing what the Church's Reagan, Pope John Paul the Great, accomplished.
@Steven Chen "Still, his argument on this this issue commands a moral high ground that shows his concern for the future of humanity."
No. His argument is moral pretense, not moral high ground and it is not moral high ground because the theological view is not standing on either EMPIRICAL scientific or economic high ground to inform it. It is Marxist pretense, pure and simple.
I have always thought that all Popes were frauds, after all who can claim to be a deity on Earth. My conclusion about the Church and the Pope was just affirmed that again. He really confirmed that he is just another Maxist/Socialist Liberation Theology idealist.
The Pope's marxist slip is showing, He has no place in commenting on things other than religion and faith. I will ignore his encyclical as much as I would ignore a cyclical from him on surgical techniques.
Having been born raised and educated a Catholic, I am seriously considering a protestant conversion.
"Climate Change" is the excuse for taking over more and more control of our lives. The "inadequate distribution of resources" is the rationale for socialism/communism. This Pope would know that more than others coming from a South American socialist country.
Thanks for the tip, Pope. And thanks for telling the non Catholic world how to live its life, as if it's your business. Catholics can make up their own minds on how to deal with this document, others can be guided by their own beliefs in science. JNow that you have made this proclamation, what do you suggest we do? Do we All join some Commune and share each other's food, clothing, toilets, kitchens and diseases all under the careful and caring Argus eye of the Catholic Church, like in the Middle Ages? Live under Church control and believe in church approved science? Go back to the pre-industrial age without indoor plumbing, water purification or mechanized travel? I don't see the Church selling off its holdings and moving to thatch huts from grand Cathedrals. What I do see are a lot of empty churches all through Europe and simmering, crouching Moslem communities all over Europe waiting to pounce on the self emasculated Christian states and populations. The only thing overheated is the rhetoric contained in the document.
Not sure where this Pope is headed, embracing a vehicle invented in the old USSR to undermine capitalism. Concerned that next he will adopt the pagan Mother Earth doctrine.
it was only a matter of time before marxist liberation theology hit the vatican. hopefully this pendulum will swing back to normal before too much damage is done by this. Ask the Pope what other system of economic engagement has lifted more people out of abject poverty, subjugation, indentured conditions, etc., than the system that relies on free choices, open exchanges, respect for personal property and competition. lets see what he comes up with. of course, a cynic could point out that the church, like the democratic party of the USA and most left parties worldwide rely on a constant supply of poor and ignorant for their power.
Since when is the role of the Pope to pontificate politically charged issues from a strongly partisan aspect, an extreme left as such? The guy is nothing but a communist hack. How will the world's Catholics react to that?
The Pope is an espoused communist, what would you expect? His contempt for free market economics is belied by the fact that it has lifted more people out of poverty in the world in the last 40 years, than in all of human history.
The Pope should stick to religion——oh wait, he is talking about a religion. The religion of socialism and statism. Same church Obama attends.
He is sounding more like Obama everyday
The Pope speaks against abortion, 'gayness' in his encyclical and elsewhere, then invites proponents of precisely these and other of the revolting lib agenda to Vatican conclaves. The only reasonable conclusion to be drawn is that evil and disgusting politics is being played.
He stubbornly rejects capitalism, which obviously has many of the faults he enumerates, stupidly preferring instead thoroughly discredited socialism.
Things are getting pretty crazy, evilly destructive. It's little wonder there's such confusion.
Sadly, the Pope's thinking is so wrong headed that it is embarrassing to all rational people. All of the poor among us in this world aspire to be consumers. People need products for basic life, health and advancement. It is market capitalism that has provided the highest standard of life to God's creations. It is socialism and all of its forms that have brought misery. It is authoritarianism and the worship of the state that keeps entire continents at a constant level of poverty. The Pope's "moral content" is at best confused.
@RODGER POTOCKI You are completely right! This (second-string) pope is hoping to convince the world that we should all be brought down to the living standards of the "developing" world. Sure hope that doesn't happen in my life time.
First, there is nothing more "filthy" than then the running sewage, germ-infested drinking water, and toxic fumes of cooking over burning dung fires. Industrialization and human-inspired (not Gaia-given) ingenuity have freed people by the hundreds of millions the world over.
Second there IS NO catastrophic global warming, NO impirical evidence that human activity has any significant impact on climate. The "studies" are invented computer models.
Third, the Pope has a vested interest in condemning capitalism, the only political-economic system liberating ordinary people from abject poverty and repression. If the Pope is successful in keeping people poor, then the Church has greater sway.
This Pope and Climategaters have a core world view that human beings are subordinate to God & Mother Earth, which makes them perfect bedfellows. They view humans as vermin, imbued with sin. And they reject in principle the notion of the pursuit of individual happiness in life on earth
Here we go again. The "North", through exploitation, is responsible for all the ills of the "South". With this message, the South American dictators will have Vatican coverage to continue exploiting their own people.
If Catholic churches in the US start to "preach" this political victim/redistribution message, will the IRS revoke their religious tax exempt status and re-label the churches as political organizations? Just asking.
I was not ashamed to be Catholic till now. …
Free markets have raised the standard of living in just a few hundred years, from lives that were universally "nasty, brutish and short" to today's long life expectancy filled with good food, fantastic health care, and decades of family enrichment as grandchildren, children, parents and grandparents.
No Utopian society, and no totalitarian society, ever produced such advances. EVER.
Markets are not the problem - markets are the answer. Pronouncements such as this carry a great risk of moving societies toward socialist dictatorships, and we have seen over and over how badly those turn out. We miss Pope John Paul II more than ever.
Mr. Easterman, you are citing economic policy according to Easterman, not according to the Pope. He has given no indication he believes in capitalism. Every indication is that he is a redistributionist (or socialist or Marxist, if you prefer). Accusing the industrial North of "exploiting" the resources of the southern hemisphere is Marxist language. That the North owes an "ecological debt" to the South is anything but capitalism.
I am sorry, may be i am rude. But it seems Pope is busy with other people's business. He should serve God, help Christians do it. But he is busy with talks about business, markets and their impact on environment. This is Obama's deal to talk, talk and talk about climate change. And take some Muslims. Pope, cause of you we are losing Christianity in America
This Pope is very disappointing. He speaks of liberal "causes" of which he has no personal expertise nor scientific data to support his personal opinions and "pontifications." He clearly has no lucid knowledge of how capitalistic systems have enriched more lives than all socialistic systems combined -- which he clearly advocates. His anti-capitalistic comments are enigmatic and egregious.
This Pope would be far better prepared to condemn the barbaric activities of the Muslims in the world against Christians than to attack Capitalism--of which his comments indicate he is totally ignorant.
Based upon this Pope's perfidious comments and hubris, nothing he says in the future is worthy of belief.
"Pope Blames Markets for Environment’s Ills"
the pope is plainly stupid; markets are the voice of the people!
@MITCHEL GALISHOFF As a Christian since my Baptism 82 years ago and a former Roman Catholic I believe that the reason the Church is in existence is to spread the Good News; The Gospels. I do not know what this Pope has in mind about the former; but, I believe he is wandering around on unholy ground with his encyclical on global warming and economics of global markets.
Having come from a socialist society, the Pope is continuing to reflect on the socialist approach to solving the southern hemisphere's (mainly South America) economic problems. I'd suggest that he concentrate on trying to solve those economic problems by trying capitalism. In the meantime, maybe those of us from the "evil capitalist economies" should withhold our "ill-gotten" financial support from the Vatican.
@Joel Nicholas @Bernard Nachman The only really stupid people are those who voted two times for the current socialist in chief in the White House. Doubled the nations debt in less than eight years. Not sure who the bigger socialist is, the Pope or Obama.
To the Cardinals that elected this Pope...did you knowingly place a Marxist as Pope, because while his views may raise people spiritually...his political views will doom millions to poverty.
Honestly, being a practicing and HEAVILY donating Roman Catholic. This REALLY turns me off. I won't say more regarding this but this is really getting old. While he talks of Climate Change perhaps he needs to focus more on issues like Women in the Priesthood, birth control, and the litany goes on.
Truly the worst Pope in history
"He just need to go away"? HA! I think this is the best freaking Pope in modern history and I'm an atheist!
Well, thank you Ari. I have more respect for someone who will not put his faith in God than those who put their faith in Adam Smith.