Monday, July 13, 2009

Popes and Kings: Benedict XVI Calls for New Financial Order

On Tuesday, Pope Benedict XVI issued an encyclical statement, the most authoritative papal statement, challenging the current economic principles which led to the recent, global, economic recession. His document, Charity in Truth, was released one day before the Group of Eight economic summit. Pope Benedict even gave a copy of his treatise to President Barack Obama.

In his encyclical, Pope Benedict blames the economic decline on a totally free market and called for a new, global, financial order to give oversight. He suggests that this monetary oversight committee should be given authority to ensure compliance and suggests that it mandate redistribution of wealth. Before digging into these weighty topics, a few of his other statements should be regarded.

"The conviction that the economy must be autonomous, that it must be shielded from 'influences' of a moral character, has led man to abuse the economic process in a thoroughly destructive way." He continues, "In the long term, these convictions have led to economic, social and political systems that trample upon personal and social freedom and are therefore unable to deliver the justice that they promise." He also said, "Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty."

These latter statements are completely true and wise. "Capitalism," without any restriction, slides into sinful selfishness, not beneficial self-interest, very quickly. Of course Capitalism itself is not the problem. The Pope hits the nail on the head when he says that the current economic crisis is "clear proof of the pernicious effects of sin." Sin is at work in both the individual and corporations (conglomerations of individuals).

I have mentioned Adam Smith before. The author of Wealth of Nations lived in the upswing of Enlightenment, during which morality was being philosophized, measured, and systematized. This would eventually lead to its removal from its Christian Scriptural moorings. But, in his day, almost all philosophers were still card-carrying members of "Christendom." Adam Smith's brainchild, the unseen hand of Capitalism, could not have been conceived apart from its Christian underpinnings. Capitalism only works when married to personal, individual, restriction, and divorced from governmental restriction. This is the inherent fragility and ultimate downfall of the system. As people move away from notions of faith, morality and individual responsibility, and begin looking for government to dictate lifestyle and law, Capitalism gives-way to something different; something that bears only a passing resemblance to its namesake. This bastard of Capitalism, and not Capitalism itself, is the philosophy to which the Pope is objecting.

I am so glad that the Pope rightly said that what he has seen is wrong. But, to return to his original suggestions, his solutions are very wrong themselves. I suppose I don't blame him, he is a church leader and not an economist, but he wields great power and misplaced suggestion with such a platform is dangerous. It is obvious that he has not seen the difference between Capitalism and what I have previously labeled "unbridled consumerism."

There are several things wrong with the Pope's proposal. First, it smacks of the same foolish pride that has infected our political figures and CEO's - that having the "right" individuals or developing new programs will solve the problem. Recently Barack Obama was quoted as saying, "the winds always blow in the direction of human progress."* President Obama and Pope Benedict never learned the lessons of WWI. Humans are not inherently good and we are the same creatures we always were. Every time we bask in our own glory, we will be sure to learn the ugly truth the hard way (remember 9/11). We are infected with sin . . . every one of us. To put key people in control of the world's money is of utmost foolishness. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. A program of this nature is doomed to misappropriation (theft), greed, and envy. Likely, it will bring with it all sorts of other deadly sins. Further, those whom the Pope associated with the suggested program (the U.N., industrialized nations, etc.) are Darwinists who believe things completely in opposition to Scripture. They will not uphold his suggestions. The Pope should know this!

Second, the Pope suggests that this oversight committee should mandate redistribution of wealth. This flies in the face of all Christian teaching. Scripturally, only in the nation of Israel was giving to the poor commanded. Excess was to be left, offerings and alms to be given, and hospitality was to be shown. These actions were tied to national blessing. Even then, God placed safeguards to keep wealth within each family. In the New Testament, however, these actions are spiritualized and are made voluntary. Remember in Acts 5, when Ananias and Sapphira sold their property and were killed by the Holy Spirit. They were not killed because they held money back, but because they lied to the Holy Spirit, saying that they had given the full amount. Peter asked Ananias prior to his death, "Didn't [the land] belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal?" God loves a cheerful giver, he does not enforce redistribution of wealth. The Pope should know this, too!

Finally, I found a comment that the Pope made very disturbing. He said, "The economy needs ethics in order to function correctly - not any ethics, but an ethics which is people centered." It is the "people centered" part that strikes me. Because humans are sinful and are in need of a holy God and that God's Word, the world has need of ethics which are God centered, not human centered. I catch his drift, that many are suffering because of the greed of a few. But human, governmental, oversight over global markets is not the solution, rather it is a guarantee of further misery later. What the Pope should have suggested, is that the world, which is obviously languishing in sin, needs Jesus more than ever. The Church should be responding not with encyclicals but with missionaries. The Pope should know better!


Source articles associated with this post:

* The Courier-Journal, Obama Affirms Africa's Promise, Louisville, KY, Sunday, July 12, 2009.

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