Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pope Francis the Economist

Back at the beginning of December, Michael Gerson had an excellent op-ed piece for the Washington Post about Pope Francis' published exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel." (Side note: I'm in the middle of reading the exhortation myself. If you are interested, you can purchase it on Amazon or download a free digital copy for your e-reader here.) As explained in Gerson's article, part of the Pope's exhortation addresses the ethics of economic systems, warning against economic practices that turn people into commodities and value profit over human dignity. This quickly drew some howls of criticism from commentators who accused him of socialism and marxism, among other things.

Since I believe Gerson does an excellent job of refuting these accusations while simultaneously lifting up the themes of Advent, I won't waste time repeating his arguments. Instead, I want to pursue another thread of the debate that caught my attention.

In reading some of the comments and articles critical of the Pope's position, there was a theme running through much of the thinking that either implied or stated outright something like this: "Economics is not a spiritual issue and a pope has no authority to speak on this. The pope should stick to spiritual issues and let us deal with these real world issues." It was as if some were saying, "You stick to saving souls and let us save people's retirement accounts."

The problem with their line of thought is that money IS a spiritual matter. While we may think of the world in terms of spiritual and secular matters, the Bible doesn't. Everything is a spiritual matter because everything comes from and belongs to God.  And if we look at the Bible, it would seem that money especially is a spiritual matter.  

Jesus talks about money more than any topic other than the Kingdom of God. Yep. He has more recorded words on money than on prayer, heaven, hell, or sin.  Roughly 1 in 7 verses in the Gospel of Luke relates to money. (Or so I've read. I've never actually counted every verse to make sure.) In the Old Testament, much of the condemnation leveled by the prophets stems from people failing to do anything to help the poor, hungry, and unclothed.

Contrary to those who want to say economics is unrelated to "spiritual matters," it would seem that God cares an awful lot about how we think about and use our money. Pope Francis doesn't just have the authority to speak on economic issues, but as a spiritual leader, he has an obligation to address money issues. God expects to be Lord over our entire life, not just Sunday morning. If Jesus has redeemed our entire life, then that has an impact in how we spend our money, do our jobs, act in public, and so on. As Gerson points out in his article, the Pope doesn't hate business or money, but he rightly points out that they, like anything in this life, can be used for good or for ill and we need to be conscious of how we use them.

That's a struggle and I for one face it daily, but I cannot divide my life into two boxes called "spirtual" and "secular" and then hand one to God and say, "You can have this one, but don't worry about what's in the other one." That doesn't deepen my relationship to God. To use an economic term, that cheapens the relationship.

"That kind of luxe just ain't for us; we crave a different kind of buzz." -Lorde, "Royals"

No comments:

Post a Comment