Featured Post

The Stress of Left Regard

Pope Francis has been named Time Magazine’s person of the year for 2013. Even the most diehard supporters of Edward Snowden and Miley Cyrus’ candidacies couldn’t possibly have been surprised: the stir around Francis, especially since the release of his recent and much-quoted apostolic exhortation, has been profound.

Part of what makes the buzz around Francis so interesting is that, unlike most contemporary Christian leaders, much of it has been generated by the left. Chris Hayes, for example, declared Francis the ‘best pope ever‘, and Obama praised the exhortation as ‘eloquent.’ A quick nose through the left blogosphere reveals similar praise pretty much in that same vein: the left has responded well to Francis’ humility, honesty, and forwardness on the Church’s position on poverty and inequality. And I think this is all pretty well deserved.

That the right wing has been less than pleased with Francis could go without saying. Ross Douthat critiqued his exhortation rather delicately in the NYT, while Fox News’ Adam Shaw tore more intently into him online, and Rush Limbaugh accused him of Marxism on his radio show. It makes sense that right wing commentators would oppose Francis: he’s opposed to the sort of wealth distribution scheme they favor. What’s a little more puzzling is the leftist backlash against Francis.

In many ways the leftist backlash contra Francis appears to be an outgrowth of much initial leftist praise of him, as if to remind us that though Francis may appear to be a bold, inspirational figure, he doesn’t actually support an entire itinerary of leftist goals, and we should therefore be wary (if not scornful) of praise directed toward him. This thesis has popped up all over the place, from The Guardian (“Thanks for Nothing, Pope Francis“) to the LA Times (“Pope Francis’ Woman Problem“) to the manifold hollows and warrens of the blogosphere. By and large, the complaints against Francis spinning off the left that he is too conservative on matters concerning women in the church (e.g. women’s ordination as priests) and/or on matters concerning LGBT issues.

In other words, the criticism of Francis that has developed on the left (which is not to say that everyone who identifies as a leftist has acclaimed/criticized/developed any opinion whatsoever of him) goes like this: Francis, though initially impressive, is actually inconsistently good. I’m troubled by this argument.

I don’t mean to propose that the criticisms aimed at Francis by the left are inconsequential or trivial, but I do mean to point out that their argument is not that Francis is inconsistently good by Catholic standards, but rather that he is inconsistently good by secular leftist standards. Why is this a problem?

In my view, the most meaningful impact Francis has had so far has been to successfully de-couple Christian ethics and economic conservatism somewhat in American discourse. Though the image of devout Christianity in the USA tends to come along with right wing approaches to the economy (a la Michele Bachmann, Paul Ryan, Rick Santorum, and so on) Francis offers another approach: one that is not only Christian, but thoughtfully and powerfully so. This goes a long way to severing the right wing’s total claim to a big chunk of its voting bloc. Catholics have tended toward more lefty policy for a very long time, but the fact that Francis is so incredibly inspirational to Christians across the board means that his potential for re-popularizing a kind of vigorous Christian leftism is even greater. This is possible because he demonstrates an approach to politics that includes leftist projects (such as establishing distribution schemes aimed at alleviating poverty) that is consistently and robustly Christian, grounded in Christian theology and proposed in Christian terms.

Hence I can imagine harm in the suggestion that Francis is inconsistently moral in some sense, as it’s rare that such criticisms involve a discussion of the frame by which he’s being measured, and could leave interested Christians with the sense that he’s disingenuous in some way. He isn’t: he’s just being measured by a moral framework he’s never made any claim of submitting to.

That in itself is another issue: it’s troubling that some folks on the left evidently have a hard time adopting as cooperative parties members who don’t submit to a total programmatic leftism. So what if Francis isn’t immediately attending to women’s ordination? That’s not an issue to be pressed by secular leftists, it’s an issue to be sorted out theologically by faithful Catholics, who have knowledge of and interest in the first principles at stake in the policy. But the fact that Francis could rally Catholics as allies in the push for more equitable distributions of wealth shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand just because he hasn’t been helpful as of yet in other secular leftist projects. In a pluralistic democratic society, it’ll never be possible to systematically dismantle every comprehensive doctrine that underpins participation in various political projects, and in my thinking that shouldn’t even be a goal. When a coalition in favor of something as fundamental as the alleviation of poverty is readily available, it seems bizarre to me to prod particular members of the coalition on other issues in order to produce some kind of ideological purity on the left.

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
TwitterFacebookRedditEmailPrintFriendlyMore options

152 thoughts on “The Stress of Left Regard

  1. By and large, the complaints against Francis spinning off the left that he is too conservative on matters concerning women in the church (e.g. women’s ordination as priests) and/or on matters concerning LGBT issues.

    So it turns out that the Pope is in fact Catholic. Now that that’s settled, we can start searching the woods.

    Report

  2. some folks on the left evidently have a hard time adopting as cooperative parties members who don’t submit to a total programmatic leftism. . . . When a coalition in favor of something as fundamental as the alleviation of poverty is readily available, it seems bizarre to me to prod particular members of the coalition on other issues in order to produce some kind of ideological purity on the left.
    I’ve brought up this point several times regarding gay marriage. There is a very broad natural coalition available, were the predominant rhetoric to strike a different direction.
    Any decent paralegal program will teach you that the fastest growing area of law (along with electronic discovery) is geriatric law. That’s not inconsequential, because the lion’s share of arguments I hear in favor of gay marriage are probate law issues.
    States do, in fact, have the right to invalidate, and even criminalize, certain heterosexual marriages. I don’t believe some “right to marry whoever I please” exists within that framework.
    Also, several of the district courts have recognized exceptions to the domestic relations exception. That is extraordinarily significant, because once judicial review is removed, courts tend to act as if judicial review was removed.

    I have to question the degree to which predominant rhetoric directs popularized woes. For some reason, not being able to visit a loved one in a hospital becomes more of a marriage issue than a probate issue.

    Similar in a way to the issue of a special class of worker visas has been long-forgotten in favor of a “path to citizenship,” under the premise that marriage brokers are incapable of satisfactory performance of ordinary job duties.

    I have to wonder if this is somehow related to a two-party system; that in a parliamentary system, expanding the number of affected persons to build a broader coalition would seem quite natural, while what we have instead is “interest groups” largely uninterested in anything else. Odd, that.

    Report

    • When a coalition in favor of something as fundamental as the alleviation of poverty is readily available, it seems bizarre to me to prod particular members of the coalition on other issues in order to produce some kind of ideological purity on the left.

      Odd, that.

      It’s not that odd if you think that maybe it’s not all about poverty alleviation after all. It’s partly about status signalling, being seen as the sort of person who says the right things on poverty alleviation. It’s partly about using poverty as a reason to transfer more and more power to your preferred political bloc. And it’s also a little bit about actual poverty alleviation.

      Report

      • “it’s all about signaling” has become an easy knock at everybody. How can it ever be wrong, so everything is always signaling. While the observation that people engage in signaling behavior is true and useful, it isn’t the actual answer for every human behavior.

        Report

  3. So… leftists are at risk of making the perfect the enemy of the good… and are claiming the “perfect” label from His Holiness? I find that delightful in a uniquely selfish way.

    Report

    • Fights over making the “perfect the enemy of the good” are rife in partisan politics.

      I am sort of inbetween on this by being to the left of neo-liberals like Matt Y but not as left as full on anti-capitalists and anti-consumerists and the Occupy crowd.

      Report

  4. “He isn’t: he’s just being measured by a moral framework he’s never made any claim of submitting to.”

    Yowza! It’s like you read my mind. I’ve long believed that people should be primarily judged based on the goals they set out to achieve. Yes, there ought to be room to discuss the legitimacy of those goals. But that is a separate conversation.

    “That in itself is another issue: it’s troubling that some folks on the left evidently have a hard time adopting as cooperative parties members who don’t submit to a total programmatic leftism.”

    Boom goes the dynamite!

    Report

    • Yeah. Like he’s not trying to be left, or right: he’s trying to be Christian. This atheist, while not necessarily liking everything about Catholic Christianity, is nonetheless well impressed with Francis’ humanity, humility, and emphasis on the moral goodness of his faith.

      Report

      • But the “left” isn’t judging him as a Catholic, they’re judging him as a human who has an incredible amount of influence on an incredibly large number of people. I don’t think they’re pretending they’re judging him any other way, and if people are confused by the fact that he’s been both praised and criticized from the left, it’s their own fault.

        Report

      • Except I think you can’t quite divorce the views and the statements entirely from the political context.

        What I am trying to say is that I think its significant that the last two popes rose through the ranks in the organization with the background of the Cold War *as fought in Europe* – while this pope rose through the ranks & experienced the Cold War *as fought in Latin America*.

        Two very different experiences, resulting in (in hindsight) two very different worldviews.

        Report

      • What I’ve seen from the “left” has basically been this: Well, this is noticeably better than his predecessors, and it gives us a modicum of hope that he will be different from his predecessors (who were generally seen as pretty damned horrible by much of the non-Catholic “left”), but he still has a long way to go, and these other issues (particularly women’s issues) are still glaring sins.

        Report

      • If Francis isn’t conservative enough for you, or liberal enough for you, or capitalist enough for you, then that suggests that being conservative, or liberal, or capitalist, is more important to you than being Christian. Which is fine, of course.

        Just don’t call yourself a Christian and then say there’s something more important than being a Christian, should you prioritize conservatism, liberalism, capitalism, etc., higher than Christianity. If so, then you are a conservative etc. first, and a Christian second.

        As for the rest of us, who don’t call ourselves Christians at all, well, it’s a cafeteria. We can pick the things we like and pass on the things we don’t.

        Report

      • If Francis isn’t conservative enough for you, or liberal enough for you, or capitalist enough for you, then that suggests that being conservative, or liberal, or capitalist, is more important to you than being Christian.

        Catholic. The whole point of being a Protestant is that you get to tell the Pope to stuff it.

        Report

      • What I am trying to say is that I think its significant that the last two popes rose through the ranks in the organization with the background of the Cold War *as fought in Europe* – while this pope rose through the ranks & experienced the Cold War *as fought in Latin America*.

        This is a fascinating observation, and one that I boneheadedly admit I didn’t think of until you mentioned it.

        I mean, I’m more than middlin’ aware of some of the differences in social thought (inspired by the Cold War) between Africans and Europeans and Latin Americans, and I’m more than middlin’ aware of some of the theological branches of the RCC as reflected in continental groups, but for some unfathomable reason I didn’t stitch those two together in the person of his current Holiness.

        Report

      • I was in a class that happened to be taught by a Pope John Paul II scholar at the time of his death. This guy was a heavy hitter in the field of PJP2. He ended up giving us a 90 minute lecture on the life and legacy of PJP2 and what was likely to come next for the church. CNN came to film it, in fact. His hope and anticipation was that the Church would continue the progress they made in selecting a Pope from a (then) second world country and choose one from a third world country. When he learned of Benedict’s selection, he was rather dismayed.

        I don’t know where Argentina falls on that spectrum, but it imparted a really valuable lesson on how the context for the Pope really mattered. For whatever reason, I sort of figured a Pope was a Pope was a Pope. But (religion aside) they are men just like us with their own perspectives, context, biases, and viewpoints. That the current Pope would deviate from his predecessor should not be surprising when one looks at the context of their upbringing, both as clergymen and as men.

        The question I have is how conscious were the Cardinals of this. Were they looking for a leftward shift?

        Report

      • Argentina isn’t a super-poor country, but it’s not wealthy. Buenos Ares is wealthy, and heavily European (about half its population is of Italian descent, mostly immigrated in the last 50-100 years), but the rest of the country is middle to poor. Depending on when and where you look at it, it’s GDP per capita is one of the top 3 or 4 in South America — sometimes listed as the highest, though most numbers have it below Chile, Uruguay, and Venezuela, and a bit above Brazil and Peru. Though I don’t think it has slums on the scale of Brazil’s (it does have slums, though), there is definitely real poverty there. Closer to third world than the country of any other modern Pope.

        Report

    • Regarding:

      “He isn’t: he’s just being measured by a moral framework he’s never made any claim of submitting to.”

      and

      “I’ve long believed that people should be primarily judged based on the goals they set out to achieve.”

      I’m trying to determine what you mean here, Kazzy. Do you mean we should judge him by the achievement of goals within the context of his moral framework? Would that mean we can’t/don’t judge the moral framework? That seems problematic to me.

      Or, do you mean that we should judge the goals, themselves? That would mean that we should judge the moral framework, no?

      It would be silly to say he’s a bad pope because he doesn’t measure up to non-pope status, but that doesn’t mean he should be absolved of criticism for being too pope-y. It’s just more a fundamental discussion, rather than an issue-by-issue debate.

      Report

      • I was probably less than clear, . I think we can — and should — judge both. But we should be clear what we are judging. If the Pope is seeking to promote a certain Catholic view, than telling him he is taking the wrong steps because they fail to achieve a particular secular view isn’t particularly useful criticism. It’s like telling someone they should get on I-95N to go to Florida because you think they should go to Canada. To the extent that they are committed to going to Florida, advising them to head north is useless. Now, if you want to critique their decision to go to Florida — or critique the Pope for his particular goal — there definitely ought to be space for that. We just shouldn’t confuse the two, is what I was trying (and probably failing) to say.

        Report

      • I think you’re expecting a LOT more clarity and logical thought out of what is an amalgamation of views. After all “criticism/praise by the left” isn’t the work of one guy taking pains to be clear over each and every critique or thought, but everything from an entire political spectrum mixed together.

        It’s a summation of views, the averaging of a million voices all with their own priorities.

        I think it’s pretty easy to say, however, that praise and criticism for the Pope proper will be mixed with praise and criticism for the church he leads and it’s theology. They’re pretty tied together, after all.

        Report

  5. “That in itself is another issue: it’s troubling that some folks on the left evidently have a hard time adopting as cooperative parties members who don’t submit to a total programmatic leftism.”

    Despite the “some folks” qualifier, this seems overly general. Are Sadhbh Walshe (The Guardian) and Diane Winston (LA Times) the “some folks” you had in mind or are there others?

    At any rate, I don’t think this is unique to the left or the right. The lefty who applauds the Pope’s economics while denouncing his stance on, say, gender equality are really no different than the righties who applaud his stance on “culture of life” stuff while rejecting his economics.

    They are both engaging in critical thinking — weighing not just the pros, but also the cons– from their own unique perspectives. That’s not “troubling.”

    That’s people.

    Report

  6. the most meaningful impact Francis has had so far has been to successfully de-couple Christian ethics and economic conservatism

    Numerous economists have criticized the Pope for just bring flat out wrong in his economic claims, and rightly so, I think. But those economists are not necessarily “conservative.”

    That said, I agree that Christianity needs to be decoupled from conomic conservatism. That weird, in-Christlike, linkage was one of the factors that initially began driving me out of the church.

    Report

    • I haven’t read the pope’s economic argument, nor the arguments against him, but I agree with J@m3z that the critiques go far beyond “conservative” economists. And (I know I shouldn’t do this), but judging by the snippets, I’d likely agree more with the critiques than the pope.

      However, I (again) agree with J@m3z that the more significant aspect of this is the de-coupling* of Christianity and conservative economic thought. Even if he gets the economics wrong, challenging the existing dynamic is more important. Hopefully, it makes others reflect on how their economic views do or do not jibe with their religious views.

      *This seems more an American Christian thing than a Christian thing-yes, it happens everywhere, but the degree to which it happens in the US seems to be disproportionately large.

      Report

      • Even if he gets the economics wrong, challenging the existing dynamic is more important.

        The existing dynamic is working out pretty well now. Which is not to say that everything’s just swell, but it’s getting better, Global inequality, and much more importantly, global poverty, are declining. It would be great if we could eliminate poverty by next Tuesday, but no one actually has a viable plan for that. There’s a real danger that a challenge to the existing dynamic could result in something much, much worse. As was the case when Mssrs. Lenin, Mao, and Hitler challenged the existing dynamic.

        Report

      • Oh, I see. You meant the existing dynamic of the coupling of free-market economics with Christianity. I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing, either. No good can come of making it easier for Christians to embrace redistributionism or redistributionists to embrace Christianity’s social values.

        Report

      • James, of course not, but if we agreed on whether an alternative were better or not, this wouldn’t be an issue. Put differently, it would be equally true, and much more relevant, were one to say, “It is possible that we will do real harm if we don’t vigorously critique the status quo.”

        Report

      • Brandon,

        First, you’re assuming that I support the Pope’s economic position, which I said I don’t think I do.

        Second, you’re looking at this from an economic perspective rather than a faithful perspective. There are far more layers here.

        Third, you’re being incredibly America-centric in this. Christianity isn’t completely tied to “conservative” economics, and prosperity isn’t completely tied to the economics and politics of the conservative-Christian coalition. Look north, dude. We’re doing fine without all that stuff.

        Finally, the biggest point is that this questioning should bring in a bit of humility. Humility is good for one’s faith, one’s politics and one’s economic preferences.

        The point is, from a perspective of faith, the nature of the existing dynamic is not working well, even if the economics are.

        I’m looking forward to which single sentence of this comment you’ll read, ignoring the overall thrust of the comment. Maybe we should start a guessing game!

        Report

      • Chris,

        Agreed, it would be more relevant. But that’s not what Brandon said, and I’m not sure how a focus on something he didn’t say supports a critique of what he did say.

        Or to put it this way, how did you get “not question at all” out of a statement that included “not everything’s swell” as a qualifier?

        Report

      • James, I took his point to be that the critique could be more harmful, because the status quo is making things better slowly but surely. If that doesn’t suggest that we should avoid critique, at least unless we’re absolutely sure that we have a better solution (which is rarely the case, particularly when dealing with the status quo, because changes to the status quo generally haven’t been tested), then I don’t know what it suggests. I mean, if we think we’re going to do harm, what should we do?

        Report

      • I don’t think it’s that Christianity and patriotism and right-wing economic theory are linked in the American mind.

        I think it’s more like the people who reject any of those things tend to reject all of them. That “right/patriot/Christian” are correlated is more the result of being separated out than the result of inherent connections between those things.

        Report

      • Yes, Chris, that part that you quoted is something I said, and something I stand by. What I don’t stand by is that completely different thing that you said I said. My point was that a challenge to the status quo is not inherently good, particularly when the challenge is rooted in the sort of economic ignorance that’s fueling the Pope’s challenge to the status quo. I didn’t say that a challenge to the status quo is inherently bad—only that it’s not inherently good.

        Report

      • I’d argue that a challenge to the status quo is inherently good, even if the challenge ultimately fails, because challenges to the status quo allow us to continually evaluate it. However, as I pointed out in my reply to James, your position implies that unless we already know the outcome of a change to the status quo, it s better not to challenge it.

        Report

      • @chris–I’d say that’s a bit uncharitable.

        @brandon-berg–“challenge” may be too broad a term here, encouraging uncharitable readings. An intellectual critique of certain specific aspects of capitalism is a challenge, as is a military coup that replaces the current system with a national commune or a system of slave labor.

        Report

      • James, considering that his statement was in response to the Pope’s critique, I don’t think it was an uncharitable interpretation. If it’s not what he meant, that’s fine, but it still looks to me like he’s suggesting that intellectual critique is dangerous since the status quo is slowly making things better. And the only reasonable conclusion to draw from that is the one I’ve drawn — if it’s dangerous, then unless we’re reasonably sure of making it better, we should refrain.

        Report

      • The existing dynamic is working out pretty well now.

        It depends on to which dynamic you are referring. The advance of free markets has certainly done lots to speed up the convergence of the developing world to developed world standards. No force in history has done as much for the global poor as capitalism.

        However, capitalism is itself just a type of economic organization and not a complete moral and ethical system (unless you are an Objectivist). Lots of the problems we face right now are technical problems (how to effectively manage risk in a complex financial world, for instance), but lots of our problems are ethical ones.

        The Pope would be on stronger ground if he stuck to offering ethical critiques on the margins of capitalism as opposed to trying to take on the entire system.

        Report

      • Chris:
        However, as I pointed out in my reply to James, your position implies that unless we already know the outcome of a change to the status quo, it s better not to challenge it.

        This is kind of a moot point, since Jonathan wasn’t actually saying what I thought he was, but…no, not at all. My point is that the content of the challenge matters. If the challenge is rooted in bad economics, as the Pope’s is, then it’s more likely to make things worse than to make things better, and is therefore a bad thing.

        Yes, you probably disagree, because the Pope’s ideas about economics are much closer to yours than to mine. But pretend that you agree with my analysis of the economics. Would you still say this is a good thing?

        The reference to Lenin et al was an absurdum. If a challenge to the status quo is inherently good, then their challenges to the status quo were good. Since they were pretty clearly not good, the premise must be false.

        James:
        An intellectual critique of certain specific aspects of capitalism is a challenge

        I was referring to that kind of challenge. A lot of libertarians like to talk about “the marketplace of ideas” as though a good idea will inevitably win out over a bad one, but the reality is that bad ideas win out over good ideas all the time, and sometimes those bad ideas do real harm when they inspire harmful actions.

        When one of the single most influential people in the world endorses bad economic ideas—ideas that, if put into practice, could make us all worse off in the long run—that has the potential to result in real harm, even if he himself never does more than talk and write. This is not a good thing.

        Report


      • “An intellectual critique of certain specific aspects of capitalism is a challenge”

        I was referring to that kind of challenge.

        Hmm, then I’m less than fully on board with you.

        A lot of libertarians like to talk about “the marketplace of ideas” as though a good idea will inevitably win out over a bad one, but the reality is that bad ideas win out over good ideas all the time,

        True enough, but I don’t think we can necessarily distinguish pre-emptively good ideas from bad, at least when they’re new. That is, I don’t think it would be good to simply refuse to listen to all arguments, just become they generally tend to follow Sturgeon’s law. Granted, though, that I think you’re right that the pope’s argument evinces a poor understanding of economics, so we can certainly critique the ideas his argument is based on.

        Report

      • One could make a practical argument that Lenin’s challenge was good, for many of the same reasons that people argue that the current status quo is good. In fact, it rapidly improved the lives of tens of millions by rapidly speeding up the industrialization process. And it was violent, but it was part of a war that was brutal on both sides, including the anti-challenge to the status quo side (or at least the side that included those folks). That’s not to say that I think it was ultimately good, just that many of the same consequentialist arguments could be made to conclude that it was.

        I think critique is inherently good, but I don’t think change is inherently good. They are two different things.

        Report

      • One could make a practical argument that Lenin’s challenge was good, for many of the same reasons that people argue that the current status quo is good. In fact, it rapidly improved the lives of tens of millions by rapidly speeding up the industrialization process.

        And if I were drowning a man in a river and i suddenly took my foot off his head, you could make a practical argument that I just saved him from drowning. I don’t know why you would want to do such a thing, though.

        People don’t need psychopathic homicidal strongmen to achieve industrialization and economic development. Economic development is almost always the result of ratcheting back authoritarian measures and not the result of imposing them. Had the liberals prevailed or had the provisional government has the foresight to see who the Bolsheviks really were and the gumption to take them out of the picture early, Russia would have likely made economic progress at an even faster rate than it did under Lenin and Stalin.

        The initial economic program of the Bolsheviks was an unmitigated disaster as evidenced by the fact that the United States, and Herbert Hoover in particular, had to step in in 1921 and save millions of Russian from dying in a famine.

        Report

      • In fact, it rapidly improved the lives of tens of millions by rapidly speeding up the industrialization process.

        It’s hard to disprove a counterfactual, so I can’t say with 100% certainty that this is wrong, but the stark differences in standard of living between neighboring countries on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain (or the Koreas, or China and Taiwan) suggest that the lives of said tens of millions would have improved more, and more quickly, had the Bolsheviks just sat on their hands a century ago.

        Report

      • I missed your comment earlier. I think you have a bit of a point, but I think you’re over-playing it, as well. There is a definite sub-set of American Christians (and maybe Canadian Christians, I just don’t know them) who link their faith and their patriotism, but there are others who clearly reject such a link. Personally, my faith puts a limit on the type of patriotism I might have. Further, the denomination that I am involved with refers to itself as the Presbyterian Church in Canada rather than the Presbyterian Church of Canada. This distinction was made quite intentionally.

        Report

  7. I think that the association of Christianity and economic conservatism in the United States has more to do with a really poor understanding of Calvinism and complex political developments in the last part of the 20th century. It was the Protestants who associated Christianity and capitalism for the most part. Our conservative Catholics always seemed more into law and order social conservatism than economic conservatism.

    As to leftist disappointment with Pope Francis, its similar to leftist disappointment with any leader in charge of a large and complex organization. It stems from a combination of not quite understanding the leader and not quite getting the fact that even in a non-democratic body like the Roman Catholic Church, where the Pope is theoretically supreme, there is a lot of red tape and negotiation to go through before even small changes happen let alone big changes. I suspect that many of Francis’ leftist critics wanted him to go blasting through and reform everything by decree rather than going through the process. I think that Pope Francis is actually changing things in a way that would make reforms longer-lasting.

    Report

    • It stems from a combination of not quite understanding the leader and not quite getting the fact that even in a non-democratic body like the Roman Catholic Church, where the Pope is theoretically supreme, there is a lot of red tape and negotiation to go through before even small changes happen let alone big changes.

      Well said.

      Report

  8. I will put aside for a moment the very real and, I think, justified distrust and dislike on the Left (and much of the “left”) for the Catholic Church as an institution, despite my thinking that distrust and dislike are actually quite relevant. For now, I’ll focus on the two main points you make, because I think you’ll find, if you look at them closely, that they are actually incompatible.

    The first point you make, with which I agree to some extent, is that the “left” is, as someone else put it upthread, making the perfect the enemy of the good. People on the “left” should recognize that this Pope has the ears of a billion people, many of whom, particularly in the U.S., are both social and economic conservatives. If he is able to move the economic positions of many American Catholics to the left, that is a good thing, and we on the “left” should be happy about that.

    The second point is this one:

    Hence I can imagine harm in the suggestion that Francis is inconsistently moral in some sense, as it’s rare that such criticisms involve a discussion of the frame by which he’s being measured, and could leave interested Christians with the sense that he’s disingenuous in some way. He isn’t: he’s just being measured by a moral framework he’s never made any claim of submitting to.

    With this I simply cannot agree. If we are judging the Pope as the leader of the Catholic faith, by which I mean as a keeper and promoter of that faith, then it would not make sense to judge him by any grounds other than those of that faith. Granted, even were we to do so, it would be possible for us to judge him, as you say, “inconsistently moral,” arguing perhaps that he has brought the Church’s economic teachings back to their roots (roots that have only recently been abandoned in order to make it more convenient for Western capitalists), but that his teachings on other matters of faith were wrong. I suspect you will find many within the Church who will do just that, or the opposite (he is right about abortion, say, but wrong about economic matters). Most of the “left,” however, at least as I’ve seen it, is doing something else entirely. They are judging him by the only moral standards by which we should judge someone morally: their own.

    I don’t think I have to argue the point that it makes no sense whatsoever to judge everyone morally by their moral standards. That sort of extreme moral relativism is absurd. The “left” is, again in my experience, judging the Pope by their standards, because those are the only standards that they should judge him. If, by the standards of the “left,” it is immoral to oppose reproductive freedom and social and cultural equality for women, then the Pope is immoral, regardless of whether those things are immoral by the Pope’s standards. If this immorality is in contrast with the fact that his positions on economics are at least more moral than those of his immediate predecessors, then he is, in the eyes of the left, “inconsistently moral,” by the standards of the “left,” the only standards by which the “left” can and should judge him morally.

    The Catholic Church’s position on women is fundamentally inconsistent with the tenets of Western political liberalism, progressivism, and leftism. This is not simply a matter of whether the Church allows women to be priests, and I suspect that if you looked around and the people on the “left” who are not eager to jump onto the Pope’s ship, you’ll find that this is not their primary worry, or even their secondary or tertiary worry. Their primary concern with the Church, and therefore the Pope, is reproductive freedom. The Church has been one of the foremost enemies of reproductive freedom in the U.S. and the world, and again, the Pope has not deviated from this. As such, the “left” has no other choice but to temper its enthusiasm for his leadership, because reproductive freedom is a central component of economic and social equality for women, and economic and social equality for women is a central tenet of Western liberalism/leftism, a tenet no less important than the treatment of the poor. If it were not so, then there wouldn’t be a question of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, because there wouldn’t be a question of the Pope’s being perfect or merely good.

    All of that said, I will come back to the distrust and dislike for the Church on the “left.” Given that dislike and distrust, the “left” will be wary of allying itself with the Catholic Church, or even primarily with its leader. The Pope has made strides towards alleviating some of that dislike, if not that distrust, but he hasn’t made sufficient strides for the “left,” and particularly the Left, to embrace him with open arms. The “left,” in remaining true to itself and its goals, has no choice but to continue to praise the Pope for his statements and behaviors consistent with the “left’s” moral and general world views, but to criticize him for his, from the perspective of the “left,” extremely immoral views on women. Were they to do otherwise, they would be betraying their own goals and views.

    Report

    • This probably covers what I was planning to say better than I could have.

      But, let’s change our way of looking at things (and this isn’t directed at Chris): the “left” is wary of the Catholic Church, and, thus, popes in general. Perhaps it should be argued, then, that Francis isn’t inconsistently moral, but inconsistently immoral, which would actually be praise, if a bit backhanded.

      Report

      • Perhaps it should be argued, then, that Francis isn’t inconsistently moral, but inconsistently immoral, which would actually be praise

        I’m cool with that. In fact, I think the general view on the left of Francis is that, unlike his two immediate predecessors, he’s not all bad. The Catholic Church, except in South America and in some cases East Asia (and the central Church has ignored or even disavowed its leftists in those places, for the most part), and the Left (and to a lesser extent the “left”) have never really gotten along, and given the abuse scandals, abortion, gay marriage, and other topics on which the Church is not only wrong from the perspective of the Left, but one of if not the worst offenders, that’s unlikely to change soon. So as a “lesser evil” is pretty much how most people I know see him.

        Report

    • Chris, when it comes to religious and religious institutions I find that Leftists have a tendency to be inconsistent. The criticize the Catholic Church for their stance on women, the LBGT community, and more because they find those teachings contrary to their own beliefs. You can find similar attacks launched against other conservative Western religions.

      Yet, when it comes to Islam, Leftists seem incredibly reluctant to criticize it for its patriarchal values. Its not even that Leftists do not feel that they can’t denounce Islam because they are not of Muslim background. Muslim liberals or atheists of Muslim background have a tendency to get denounced by Western Leftists as neo-con imperial sell-outs at worse or not taken very seriously at best. Many western Leftists seem to actively faciliate the most patriarchal and reactionary Muslim leadership at times.

      Report

      • I’ll post an article latter but this but as an example Ian Buruma has praised Tariq Ramamdan as an exemplary Muslim intellectual. Tariq Ramadan has argued that it is imperialist to expect Muslim societies to approach Western standards when it comes to the treatment of women or minorities because the idea of equality is not organic to Muslim thought, it comes from Western thought.

        Report

      • Lee, I have seen that as well, though I think it is in part a backlash to anti-Islamic sentiments in much of the West, rather than to that critique in particular. And I know some Muslims women on the left are critical of outside critiques of their culture, which I understand on some level. However, many on the left are deeply critical of the way women are treated in Islam, and have been for some time.

        There’s also an issue of what we critique: do we critique norms of dress, or do we critique honor killings and the fact that women have fewer rights in many Muslim societies?

        Report

      • I’m more concerned about honor killings that modes of dress. The American establishment/free exercise clause liberal in me dislikes attempts to ban the burqua and veil. No one should be forced to wear it but if a woman chooses to because she believes it than that is her right.

        Honor killings and other treatment of women go towards what Scalia called “neutral rules of general applicability” in the Smith-Native American Peyote smoking case.

        Report

      • Chris, there are also Muslim women who find the inabilty of Western leftists to critque the patriarchal tendencies in Muslim majority countries or even in Muslim communities in the Americas and Europe frustrating to a maddening degree.

        I am not entirely sure if your right about the source of Leftist reluctance to criticize Islam. The dynamic seems to have existed quite a bit before 9/11 and you can see it emerging in the post-WWII era. Islam even in its most reactionary form had a sort of revolutionary cachet; it was seen as inherently anti-imperial, anti-West, and anti-Capitalism. A revolutionary faith if you will, while other religions are inherently reactionary.

        Report

      • I think there is some general truth to what says here. I think there are a variety of reasons for the apparent hypocrisy on the left vis a vis religion — some legitimate, some not. As such, my feelings on the matter are conflicted.

        Some of the more legitimate reasons:
        1.) The Catholic Church is somewhat unique in that is has a centralized authority. The fact that we can refer to “the Catholic Church” but not “the Jewish Synagogue” or “the Muslim Mosque” demonstrates this. When I level criticism against the Church, I try to focus it on the Church, not on Catholics at large. While the reality on the ground says otherwise, the fact remains is that there are official Church teachings on certain matters in a way that there aren’t necessarily in other faiths. Thus, we can criticize this particular faith as a whole in a way that isn’t appropriate of other faiths. The Church’s stance on homosexuality is clear. Islam’s stance? Not so much… depends on which Muslim you ask.
        2.) Christianity is a dominant religion in this country. Muslims are not. And since 9/11, Muslims have become a persecuted minority in many ways. So I think there is legitimate concern among some liberals that saying, “Islam’s teachings on women are abhorrent,” will put them in bed with the folks that are saying, “All Muslims are immoral terrorists. Just look at how they treat women!”

        Some more illegitimate reasons:
        1.) Tribalism. Bashing Christianity is accepted among the left while bashing Islam is accepted among the right. This is related to #2 above.
        2.) Paternalism.
        3.) Too much moral relativism.

        For me, who tends to focus on criticism of Catholicism first and foremost, my reasons are thus:
        1.) I was/am? a Catholic. It is my house. I am more comfortable criticizing my own house than the houses of others.
        2.) I do fear that my critiques of Islam will be misconstrued as an anti-Muslim sentiment.
        3.) I know enough Muslims to know the diversity of the faith but don’t know enough about its structure to know how to discuss the institution. I know who the Pope is, but I don’t know who the Muslim equivalent is.

        But the hypocrisy is real and does deserve attention. That said, there is also something hypocritical about certain conservatives becoming champions of all-things-women when it means they can shit on Muslims while simultaneously promoting their own anti-women agenda.

        Report

      • Mark, thats right. To a large extent this is much more of an issue among European leftists than American leftists for a variety of reasons. The more reactionary Muslim leaders tend to be more prominent in the European Muslim communities than the American ones. The European Muslim communities also seem more radicalized than our American ones for various reasons. I think European leftists are a bit jealous of this.

        Report

      • and

        That sort of stuff bothers me. It happens in schools, too. I don’t think that liberalism or its focus on inclusion and acceptance demands that liberals abandon their values and acquiesce to all comers. I do think it demands that we reflect on those values and not reflexively reject values that differ from our own. At least, that is the sort of liberalism I seek to practice.

        Report

      • I find it interesting that issues and concerns Western nations have regarding Middle Eastern nations necessarily stem from their Islamic belief systems, while issues and concerns regarding Eastern European nations necessarily stem from a history of communism rather than some manner of issues with the Eastern Orthodoxy.

        Report

    • Agreed on all points. I would add, from the “left” that we’ll gladly welcome His Holiness to help us deal with the income inequality ans social distortion that he has rightly called our society out for. But Just as the “left” shouldn’t give President Obama a pass on his drone-based surveillance state or his willingness to eviscerate social welfare programs to get more tax revenue simply because he campaigned as a Democrat, it would be folly for the “left” to disingenuously dismiss the Pope’s moral failings.

      Afterall, Jesus welcomed tax collectors, lepers, children and prostitutes to his tables and his ministry as full partners. At some point, the Church will have to do so as well.

      Report

      • President Obama… his willingness to eviscerate social welfare programs

        Citation?

        (And yes, that debate, were we to actually have it which I do not intend, would come down to a discussion of whether “eviscerate” is the correct word to use for what he has in fact been willing to put on the table. That’s the point I’m raising.)

        Report

    • Chris,

      On judging by our own standards. Ultimately, yes, if judging people morally is a thing you feel is important for you to do (and I don’t take issue with people feeling this way), your ultimate guide for what standard people should (but likely are failing to) meet will be those you’ve developed for how people should act in general. But between that and just capitulating to judging people only by whatever standards they claim to espouse lie leagues of hilly, bumpy territory. We make allowances for historical context: we give credit to those in history who dimly saw the moral imperatives we now recognize as bright “Do”s and “Don’t”s before they were so clear to everyone, and we don’t hold those who failed to act pursuant to them in their time as morally culpable as someone who committed the same failure today.

      Surely there is room for some similar, if much more constrained, allowance for people in vastly different social environments, with different prevailing moral outlooks, than we find ourselves in today. It’s not just as simple as saying to ourselves, “What would I do if I were Pope,” is it? Who would you be likely to be if you were Pope? What are the institutional constraints and inertias you would have to overcome to conform to the moral standard you have in mind?

      I think you probably agree with me, but my point is not that we make those allowances for the size of task we ask of people in positions of power (if constrained power given the inertia in the institutions they have power over and the people that the route to assuming that power has made of those who assume it). My point is just to observe that you view that it’s perfectly clear that we judge people by our moral code and not theirs is not so clear at all if we allow for these perspectival allowances. If we say that, yes, ideally we’d like (or have liked) them to do X, but that we understand how difficult that is given their situation and given the actual person we understand them to be, then in fact we are to some extent making an allowance within our own standard for the existence and relevance of their standard. Anyone who takes this ‘allowance’ approach to moral judgement (and not everyone does, it must be said) is exactly judging people in part by the object of that judgement’s code rather than his own, or more precisely, by his own code as filtered through an understanding of the moral perspective of the object of the judgement. Most people do take that approach, and so in fact most moral judgement really is done via a combination of one’s own moral code and that of the person being judged, not just by the code of the judge with no reference to the context of the act.

      Report

  9. “That in itself is another issue: it’s troubling that some folks on the left evidently have a hard time adopting as cooperative parties members who don’t submit to a total programmatic leftism.”

    Lefter than thou v. pragmatic left has a long and tangled and complicated history. I’m generally against the lefter than thou types but my general stance is that I want Clement Atlee and not Reverend Billy but that is an issue for another day. Or if you want to ask me about it :)

    I suppose I scratch my head here because I come from a very decentralized religion. There is not one Judaism. There are multiple branches. There are Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative, Modern Orthodox, Traditional Orthodox, Ultra-Orthodox, Haredi, etc. I’m from the Reform Branch of Judaism. We were founded in the 18th and 19th century with specific goals to show that someone can be Jewish and fully participate in secular life. There were many controversies and still are but now Reform Judaism makes up the bulk of American Jewish religion. As the times changed, the Reform movement changed to allow the ordination of women as rabbis, gays and lesbians as rabbis, gay marriage, etc. The Reform stance (as I understand it) is that humans wrote the Torah in search of the Divine/Greater meaning. This places things up to interpretation and change.

    There are seminaries in charge or ordaining rabbis but every congregation chooses their own rabbis and cantors via a search committee at least in the Reform movement. I don’t get the “You are going here” nature that seems to dominate Christianity. Though many of the more successful evangelicals seem to form their own ministries. Possibly the unsuccessful ones as well.

    This just doesn’t seem like my fight as a Jewish person over something in Reform Judaism. I like Francis because he seems to be a true Jesuit and care about the poor. People like him for his stances on income inequality and that he is plain and compassionate like his namesake Saint.

    Report

    • That is the theoretical Reform stance. The actual Reform stance was to abandon not only the ritual laws but the form of Jewish worships in order to greater faciliate asssimilation into gentile society without having to give up Jewishenss. Not only did the Reform Rabbis get rid of the dietary laws or the purity laws; they made the Jewish service more orderly so it resembled a High Church Protestant service rather than the more disorganized and joyous serivces in the Orthodox community. In Germany, the Reform Rabbis basically remade Judaism in the mold of Lutheranism. In America, it created Episcopal Judaism.

      Report

      • Based on our services growing up that would seem correct. Temple Emanuel-El in NYC used to do services on Sunday if I recall correctly but changed back to Saturdays eventually.

        Younger rabbis and congregations seem to be going for a more impromptu and joyous ceremony in a somewhat folky-hippie mode.

        Report

      • Orthodoxy != Chasidim.
        The german congregations were never “disorganized and joyous”…
        There was a large split in “How Judaism was practiced” well before Reform came along.

        Report

      • Kim, one of the most common Reform criticisms of Orthodox Judaism, even its German variant, was that there was no decorum in the synagogue. They might not have been dancing like the Hassidim but Orthodox services were more loosey-goosey than Christian ones.

        Report

  10. In my view, the most meaningful impact Francis has had so far has been to successfully de-couple Christian ethics and economic conservatism somewhat in American discourse.

    A figure with the bully pulpit of the pope certainly has the ability the change the conversation in a way few can, and arguably has, but I feel you may be a little premature here. (iow, the ‘somewhat’ is doing a lot of heavy lifting).

    As you said elsewhere in the piece, the Catholic church is not as reliably right wing as other religious affiliated politically active groups in the US. And it’s only abortion and vestiges of anti-communism – including antagonism from the too cool for school left that’s the focus of your piece – that keep the Church in the right wing camp (from time to time).

    There are plenty if Catholic Democrats, some of which the Church already made a (very quiet) truce with on the subject of abortion and others, like the Casey family in Pennsylvania, where no such truce is necessary. (but there is indeed inevitably the quadrennial archbishop that would deny Communion to the Catholic & Democratic candidate for the Presidency if he ascribes to the Democratic Party Platform)

    Of course, the other big factor (the biggest really) in the American political context of all this is that the (non-hispanic) White population of the Church is either secularizing or moving to the (non-Catholic) evangelical ranks, while the Church is sustaining its membership through latin american immigration. And due to multiple reasons, these church members are already voting Democrat, regardless of what the Pope is saying about social justice.

    (and that’s sorta true in the global context too. Population is steady in the Global North, and church attendance is stagnant or dropping – as it has been for years. In the Global South however, population is still growing, and conversions, particularly in Africa, are happening at a brisk pace. So, it makes perfect sense for the Pope to throw the Church’s lot with the Global South, to where the center of gravity is shifting, and ensure a Church for another thousand years)

    Report

      • It’s anecdotal (and almost always has a lapsed Catholic transition period) and may in fact be numerically inferior to the number of mainstream protestants (particularly in the Episcopal/Anglican church, due to their minor civil war over homosexuality) that are converting into Roman Catholicism these days – and in any case is dwarfed by the secularization trend – i.e. lapsed Catholics that stay that way.

        Report

  11. Why does the secular left care about the ordination of women in a particular religion? Isn’t there a church state issue there? Or am I looking at it too much from a Rawlsian political liberalism angle?

    Report

    • Why does the secular left care about the ordination of women in a particular religion?

      It’s not that issue explicitly, but the second-class status of women in the Church in general, that the secular left cares about, because the Church is huge and influential.

      Isn’t there a church state issue there?

      No, not at all. How would it be, unless the secular left were asking the state to intervene?

      Report

      • I’ve pointed this out above but the Secular Left has no problems bashing some religions over their sexism and patriarchal tendencies like the Roman Catholic Church or Orthodox Judaism. They do seem to have a problem when it comes to pointing out the patriarchal tendencies in Islam even when its done by other Muslims.

        Report

      • @jonathan-mcleod

        What bothers me is that its like Progressive Non-Catholics seem to expect other communities to conform not only to liberal standards in the public sphere (which is only right and proper) but to progressive standards in places closer to the personal end of things.

        I think part of what justifies or at least motivates church state separation is keeping the personal separate from the political. And while you expect conservatives (Sorry Tim, Dennis, Kyle) to want to ignore such distinctions (because they don’t necessarily agree with as robust a church state separation as is proper) you expect liberals to do better. There is a certain extent to which it seems reasonable to expect liberals to confine their personal standards to their own communities and organisations. So, the way they treat women in ecclesiastical matters can be a deal breaker with respect to becoming Catholic. And certainly a liberal catholic can legitimately exhort for change within the Catholic organisation to be more in line with liberalism. But someone who has no intention of becoming Catholic seems to be unreasonable in expecting Catholics to conform on non-political matters.

        Report

      • , Since the ultimate issue is the treatment of women in society, and since the Catholic Church has such a wide influence, I’m not sure I agree with your assessment. Now, if the issue were women in the clergy exclusively, I’d agree that non-Catholics have no skin in the game. However, Catholic positions on women in general, particularly related to reproductive freedom, have an impact not only on Catholics but on society at large, and as such Catholic positions on women are not strictly a Catholic issue. Women in the clergy would be a means towards changing those positions. Women in positions of power within the Church would mean a greater voice for women there, which would be a step towards the sorts of change that do affect non-Catholics.

        Report

      • :
        I believe you mistake the historical significance of our First Amendment.
        The separation of church & state was not to protect government from encroachments of established religion, but vice versa.
        Certain states were established by various faith groups (e.g., Connecticut by the Baptists), but those were highly regionalized, whereas the power of the state was centralized.

        Now, at present, much of the debate centers on what constitutes an “establishment of religion.” Some would seem to believe that to engage in economic activity where the currency bears the wording, “IN GOD WE TRUST,” are to be somehow construed as such an act of faith that it would constitute the establishment of a religion; much in the same manner that it is necessary that I should subscribe to each and every view expressed in the writings of Alexander
        Hamilton as a pre-condition to passing a ten-dollar bill.
        I happen to disagree.

        This bit:
        There is a certain extent to which it seems reasonable to expect liberals to confine their personal standards to their own communities and organisations. . . . someone who has no intention of becoming Catholic seems to be unreasonable in expecting Catholics to conform on non-political matters.
        I believe, states a lot of the issue. The Catholic church is a world-wide organization, and it seems to me an error to view its leadership in particularly American terms. It’s as if we have become so megalomaniacal, we can’t even acknowledge the existence of the rest of the world; much less its validity.

        Report


      • I was not referring to any particular historical instantiation of laws on church state separation. Even if the first amendment was meant a certain way, that doesn’t mean that there could not have been a better constitution. On my view church state separation is a two way street. If religion A influences government and government passes a law favourable to A. Then government by passing a law favourable to A has interfered with religion B which that pro-A law disadvantages. For example if Evangelicals get a law against gay marriage, that amounts to establishment which interferes with the free exercise of Unitarians, Agnostics and Atheists who approve of gay marriage. I’m a bit more radical than mere separation of church and state. Why should we treat religious conceptions of the good any different from secular ones? Consistency requires either confessional government or separation of conceptions of the good and state.

        Report

    • I’m neither secular nor left (nor Catholic), but may I offer a suggestion:

      If a powerful institution sets up a power structure that inherently favours men over women, that is both inherently unjust and likely to bleed into society, hurting Catholics and non-Catholics, alike.

      There’s no church-state issue here if the left is merely putting pressure on the church to change. Is anyone suggesting legislation that would force the ordination of women? That would probably be a church-state issue.

      Report

      • Well, I was speaking more generally as to why non-members of an institution might worry about the activities of the institution (hence all my caveats), so I don’t, personally, see it happening–or, what is likely, I see the effects, but as an outsider, I don’t see the causes.

        However, I do see the sexism of a lot of other Christian denominations bleeding into the rest of society, with men and women making pronouncements on the proper role of women (and to a lesser extent, the proper role of men). I see the way these people impart gender norms and expectations on their children, and attempt to impose them on other children and other people they interact with.

        Report

    • What makes you think it’s the secular left that cares (or just the secular left)? Why not the religious left? The Catholic left?

      Perhaps I’m over reading your statement, but it seems to have shades of the weird but thoroughly American belief that religious people are conservatives (ie: Republicans) and non-religious people are liberals (ie: Democrats) and vice-versa — that is anyone who is an avowed liberal must therefore be highly secular, and anyone who is a strong conservative must therefore be very religious. (Which does a disservice to everyone).

      Report

  12. Where does the idea come from that a leftist, or any moral actor, should judge Francis only by the moral framework within which he lives? If his moral framework includes arbitrary and inconsistent rules (e.g., that women should be denied certain opportunities because they are women), the critique isn’t some oppressive application of external rules onto the Catholic worldview. The critique goes to reason and logic, which should be universal languages in which religious and non-religious members of society can cooperate in the same project. Church members aren’t only church members; they’re also members of society. So, for example, a Catholic woman’s moral framework spans both spheres.

    And that a leftist offers such a critique based on reason doesn’t, at least it shouldn’t, prevent him or her from cooperating with Catholics on issues of common concern. I think–I hope–most leftists have a bit more intellectual subtlety than to completely dismiss a potential ally because of a single point of disagreement.

    Report

    • And that a leftist offers such a critique based on reason doesn’t, at least it shouldn’t, prevent him or her from cooperating with Catholics on issues of common concern. I think–I hope–most leftists have a bit more intellectual subtlety than to completely dismiss a potential ally because of a single point of disagreement.

      You say this like there’s no such thing as a Catholic leftist. Ever heard of Nuns on the bus? Or Catholics for Choice?

      Lefties come in many flavors. Including Catholic.

      The trick is getting lefties to play nicely together toward larger sociopolitical goals. Easy as herding cats, as the saying goes.

      Report

      • From the data I’ve seen, polls indicate that anywhere from 74% to 92% of Americans believe in God; probably depending a lot on how the question is asked.
        Roman Catholics and the various Baptist groups are the predominant religious affiliation, far dwarfing all other groups.
        Yet the actual voting habits of various religious groups fall more along lines of national origin than religious affiliation.

        Report

      • You’ve misunderstood. I know that there are Catholic leftists. But the author here said specifically that there is a problem with judging Francis by secular leftist standards, supposedly because he should be judged by Catholic standards. So my response is aimed at this point specifically.

        Let’s stop putting people in further demographic groups for a second. Catholic or not, one of the central tenets of leftism has always been the belief in reason as a strategy for achieving a better society. To say to any leftist, Catholic or not, that this sort of critique is harmful because it unfairly judges Francis by secular standards is a bit like arbitrarily moving the goal posts to fight the wind.

        I understand Elizabeth’s point, and I agree with much of what she says. I just wanted to make clear that there are even Catholic leftists who would insist on Francis being fair game for secular (which really means reason-based) critiques, because they value that principle over many of the other arbitrary beliefs of Catholicism.

        Report

      • there are even Catholic leftists who would insist on Francis being fair game for secular (which really means reason-based) critiques, because they value that principle over many of the other arbitrary beliefs of Catholicism.

        I think this is correct, though I’m not sure. But it’s an interesting question, and one which thoughtfully raises in the thread, where exactly that leaves those Catholics in terms of their status in the Church or as Catholics in general – and also, regardless of where it leaves them, how much evaluative purchase on the decisions of the Church such Catholics believe their criticisms are likely to have. After all, outside critics of the Church don’t claim to be fitting their criticisms into a Catholic moral framework, or even trying to reconcile them. They simply claim that the Church is bound to a secular moral framework, whatever its claims, just like everyone else. IS this what Catholic critics who advance secular criticism think? Or do they believe that those criticisms are consistent with or even reinforced by a Catholic moral understanding as they conceive (perhaps in dissent?)? I think it is a valid question, though not an impossible one, what it means to both *be a Catholic* and to believe that the Church is subject to secular moral imperatives that the Church says Catholic reasoning may make them unaccountable to, or even command disobedience of.

        Report

  13. You see something similar among a subset of Catholics who denounce the Church for giving support to anti-poverty programs and institutions that, not being Catholic organizations (and usually socially on the Left), do not share the Church’s beliefs and goals on matters they feel are of decisive importance. This subset is also very vocal each election season about whom their fellow Catholics may and may not support for elected office.

    Report

  14. The Pope isn’t being criticized by the Limbaughs of the world only for his economic views (though that’s a big part of it), but also for not being the sort of scold they can use to bash the entire liberal agenda. If he’s going to talk about Christ’s love for humanity instead of railing about abortion and gay marriage, what good is he?

    Report

  15. I meant to write a quick Welcome on your intro post, but life happened and the moment passed me by. (In the main, I have to sacrifice reading time in order to make time to comment — trust me, no one wants that — so mostly I’ve ever been a lurker here at The League with only occasional bursts into the comment thread.)

    Anyhoo. Welcome!

    Me, I’m an atheist UU & Liberal by way of a fundamentalist Christian & activist Conservative upbringing. Despite all that bizarreness, I’m no anti-theist. And I’m tickled that OT has recruited a lefty Christian for the front page. This is gonna be fun.

    Report

  16. I know this wasn’t your main point, but I think your measurement of the American Right is a little off. Of the three names you chose to depict the right, two of them (Ryan and Santorum) are Catholics who have supported, even expanded, the safety net. And there isn’t much that a right-winger would have a problem with in the Pope’s writings, if read in context. I wouldn’t say that the church in America tends toward lefty policy either: as you note, such appearances are an artifact of the means by which we analyze them.

    Report

    • Ryan has been hostile to the safety net unless you want to count saying we should get rid of almost all of it and let charity handle it as positive. He has a fairly Randian view by his own admission.

      Report

      • Ryan voted for Medicare Part D, TARP, the first stimulus package, and the GM bailout. He has presented budget plans that would increase entitlement spending. He has written about his budgetary approach in light of Catholic social teaching. He was influenced by Rand’s work when he was younger, and still recommends reading her books for their economic perspective, but rejects her philosophy.

        Report

      • umm yeah Medi Part D is an interesting case in R’s voting for HC for a subset of people that vote for them but thinking similar HC for younger folks is fascist socialism. He voted for things, it is true, that he has also said he is against in principle. I’m not sure where you are getting his plans increased entitlement spending. Is that about SS? Rand’s econ perspective was most of her work. He was far more favorable towards Rand before Romeny noticed him. his openly expressed views changed a lot during the last election.

        Report

      • Ryan has had a lot of plans over the years, with varying degrees of fleshed-outiness, but the tightest I’ve ever seen had entitlements growing at the rate of inflation. As for Rand, I’ve never had the “pleasure” of reading more than a few paragraphs of hers, but I’d say that she was an atheistic philosopher whose beliefs had economic implications. Ryan and others on the right have been inspired by her defense of economic freedom, but not her underlying reason for promoting it, which was the “virtue” of selfishness. Not an invisible hand; more like an invisible middle finger.

        Report

      • I hate to be the one to do this, but . . .
        I believe that’s a terribly uncharitable reading of Rand.
        First, the term “selfishness” to indicate acting in one’s self-interest (and she made no secret of adhering to the term for its provocative effect). The term “self-interest” as disregarded, as she believed that most people are completely unable to determine where their self-interest lies.
        I believe she considered herself to be primarily an “ethicist;” though it’s been years since I’ve read any of that stuff, and the memory may be mistaken. The econ stuff is derived from her views on ethics.

        Much like Lovecraft, Rand could write really good stuff in the space of five pages, and the dialogue left much to be desired; any more than eight pages, and you may well regret having begun to read.
        She did much better arguing against a point rather than in advancing a concept.

        To refer to herself as a “philosopher,” implying that she was on the level of Aristotle, Hume, or Kant, was more an act of self-aggrandizement for the sake of ad copy. Maybe she really believed this; in which case, the ability of the obvious to escape the attention of an Objectivist should be taken as resolved.

        Report

      • Maybe I should have fleshed out her use of the term “selfishness”, but I thought is was enough to point out that it differed from Smith.

        Rand’s metaphysics were the result of her epistemology. In my mind, that’s enough to qualify her as a philosopher. Maybe I toss that term around too freely. I’m guessing that you’d side with me against Greg over whether her economics was the majority of her work.

        Report

      • I see her econ stuff as being flawed in more obvious ways than the body of her work. Her love of the gold standard jumps out as a giant flub, but there are plenty of the lesser variety.

        And yeah, I think you use the term “philosopher” a bit loosely.

        Report

      • Why is the gold standard a flub?

        When gold bugs start going on about how only commodity money is “real” money, I just tune out. However, the gold standard itself, as a monetary policy regime, exists apart from the hyperventilations of the ‘Fed is evil! Debt is slavery!’ crowd.

        Personally, I think that a monetary authority with the authority to expand and contract the money supply as needed is the way to go. You could, however, probably design a sensible gold standard with the potential to work as well or better than what we have now.

        Report

      • jr,
        gold standard is too easily gamed, and for too much gain.
        Know why we don’t pull gold out of seawater?
        Because. It’s. Bloody . Expensive.

        Now, ask yourself, how much would China be willing to pay to be able to crash America’s economy at a moment’s notice?

        Report

      • I believe the arguments against the gold standard are more something along the lines of gold tends to flow out of a nation in times of war.
        That’s what I remember from the collapse of Bretton Woods II anyway.
        Could be mistaken.

        Report

      • Like I said, I’m not advocating a gold standard. I’m just pointing out that there is a non-crank case to be made for it. Nixon took us off the gold standard for a number of reasons. Expansionary fiscal policy, namely spending on Great Society and Vietnam, had led to an overvalued dollar. Normally, the Fed would have intervened and attempted to cool down the economy and fight inflation through monetary policy. However, Nixon partly blamed the Fed for his 1960 loss to Kennedy, so he pressured Fed Governor Arthur Burns to keep monetary policy wide open and tried to fight inflation with wage and price controls. This is when Nixon famously declared, “I am a now a Keynesian in economic.” Nixon apparently believed that declaring himself a Keynesian had some magic powers, the way Michael Scott declared bankruptcy out loud.

        And China can already crash America’s economy. They can stop buying our Treasuries and stop exporting things to us. Of course, those types of actions would be none to good for their own economy either.

        Report

    • What is the relevance of Ryan’s support, as you see it, of safety nets to what Elizabeth has written here? Where she mentions Ryan she says the following: “Though the image of devout Christianity in the USA tends to come along with right wing approaches to the economy (a la Michele Bachmann, Paul Ryan, Rick Santorum, and so on) Francis offers another approach: one that is not only Christian, but thoughtfully and powerfully so.”

      So… what are you contesting exactly? That Ryan is right-wing on the economy? (That he give the image of devout?) That the approach Francis offers is different from right-wing approaches to the economy? That it’s different from Ryan’s? Are you saying that if Ryan and Francis sat down and talked about the economy (in the world or the U.S.), they would broadly agree?

      Is it possible that even if this turned out to be the case, it would be because it’s not the business of any Pope to get down to the gritty details of any country’s welfare arrangements – that he always speaks on these matters at the level of broad policy motivation and empathy for individuals in need? It’s always been the case that it’s easy for the right wing to embrace those kinds of teachings and simply claim that their specific policies are the best (or good enough) ways to put them into action. It’s another question entirely whether we think that the overall thrust of Francis’ statements on poverty and inequality are not a departure from the specifics of the proposals for social spending that someone like Paul Ryan has put forth when considered in the American context (or for that matter in the context of advanced economies in general).

      There’s necessarily an interpretive element here; anyone who’s motivated to will always be able to trace a rough consistency between his ideology and the specific words of the Pope. It’s not a Church with a billion members for nothing. If you want to affirmatively interpret Francis’ stated views as an endorsement of the economic worldview of a figure like Paul Ryan, that fair enough, but to simply say that you find them roughly not inconsistent is a bit of an evasion of the way Popes tend to communicate about matter like these, as far as I can tell. I’m not a Catholic, in fact I’m an atheist, but my experience as an observer tells me that Catholics don’t look to the strictest literal meanings of the words in Popes’ issuances of these kinds (overall statements about values meant for general consumption, as vice more technical decrees about doctrine meant for clergy) to get the intended message, but much more to the overall thrust of the words and to implications that it may have for one’s own particular circumstances (or that of one’s country).

      One other note: Elizabeth didn’t say that the Church has been tending toward more lefty policy, she said that Catholics have.

      Report

      • Elizabeth didn’t say that the Church has been tending toward more lefty policy, she said that Catholics have.

        Good pickup. My mistake.

        Elizabeth’s paragraph seven implies, as I read it, that redistribution schemes don’t have a place in Ryan’s, Bachmann’s, or Santorum’s approaches. I don’t know enough about Bachmann to speak to her case. As for Ryan and Santorum, I consider both of them to see a stronger role for government than a libertarian would, and I think that the economic passage in Francis’s exhortation is more directed at the libertarian. To my ear, Elizabeth’s description sounds off. Something like a comment about the left wing (such as Hillary Clinton, Howard Dean, and Barack Obama) being anti-war.

        Report

  17. “It makes sense that right wing commentators would oppose Francis: he’s opposed to the sort of wealth distribution scheme they favor.”

    Oh, Jesus. Okay, here’s a quick quiz: Who said the following?

    “It is alarming to see hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor, by the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism.”

    “Starvation and ecological emergencies stand to denounce, with increasing evidence, that the logic of profit, if it prevails, increases the disproportion between rich and poor and leads to a ruinous exploitation of the planet.
    Instead, when the logic of sharing and solidarity prevails, it is possible to correct the course and direct it towards an equitable, sustainable development.”

    “The tension between East and West is an opposition… between two concepts of the development of individuals and peoples, both concepts being imperfect and in need of radical correction… This is one of the reasons why the Church’s social doctrine adopts a critical attitude towards both liberal capitalism and Marxist collectivism.”

    Francis is the Steve Jobs of religion. He’s selling the same stuff as everybody else but in a prettier package.

    Report

      • The complaint is not with the truth value of the statements, it’s with the delusion that Francis is any different on this issue than previous popes.

        The first two quotes were Benedict, the third John Paul II. It sometimes stuns me that people can have such poor memories. Popes have literally been saying basically the same thing as Francis is saying for decades. So it’s a big deal now, why? I swear to God, pardon the expression, the main difference is that Benedict had beady eyes. What else could it be?

        Report

  18. Above writes,

    If Francis isn’t conservative enough for you, or liberal enough for you, or capitalist enough for you, then that suggests that being conservative, or liberal, or capitalist, is more important to you than being Christian. Which is fine, of course.
    Just don’t call yourself a Christian and then say there’s something more important than being a Christian, should you prioritize conservatism, liberalism, capitalism, etc., higher than Christianity. If so, then you are a conservative etc. first, and a Christian second.

    I don’t think any of us outside the Church can stand here (outside the Church) and tell those inside it that if they feel or say that their leader is not X enough where X is a non-religious quantity, then they are something other than Catholic first. That seems like a matter to be litigated inside the Church. After all, are you sure even the Church itself makes this claim on Catholics’ judgement and conscience? I’m actually fairly confident they clearly affirm the opposite, in fact. I may be mistaken, but my impression has always been that, even according to the Church, you can disagree strongly with aspects of Church doctrine or even large parts of its overall doctrinal orientation, and still be a good Catholic – first. Perhaps Elizabeth can set us to some extent straight, or at least straighter, on this point.

    Report

    • I make no bones about being on the outside. And you’re right to call my ambitious statement out as such. But it sure looks like cafeteria Christianity to me, and it sure looks like prioritizing something above religion. Saying “The Pope is a good man but he doesn’t understand economics” seems to me to miss the point of a Papal exhortation about what it is to be a good Christian. Or, for that matter, a good person.

      Report

      • I understand where you’re coming from. Being an outsider, my impressions shift over time about what it means to be a religionist of various faiths (I have familiarity with what it is to be one stripe of Lutheran from my youth and family, but that’s about it). My impression of Catholicism has in the past tracked yours, but lately my impression is one of considerably more toleration for dissent on questions such as these, and even more basic theological ones, than I had sometimes perceived in the past. Keep in mind it’s one thing for the Church to say that if you do X, you’ve sinned. All Catholics and Christians sin by the reckoning of their church – it’s basic to the concept of the religion. It’s another thing for the Church to say that if you do or say or think Y, you are thereby only secondarily a Catholic for it. I certainly don’t have the impression that having dissenting views from the Pope on various of these hot-button issues that the Church, of its own decision, takes positions on means, in the Church or among parishioners, that a person is any less a member of the Church or the faith.

        As far as I can tell, the line is, The Pope is right, but you have a right to be wrong (up to a point?) within the Church as a full member in good standing. As I suggest elsewhere, any other approach seems like an impractical one for a Church with a billion members.

        Report

      • …Hmm, realizing that I initially say my impression “has always been” what I describe, and then here I say that my impression has changed to something like it. I’m actually not sure which it is, to be honest. I’ll have to think about that.

        Report

  19. The Church has had a long and tangled history with the left- Pope Leo wrote Rerum Novarum in part to blunt the thrust of Marxism, and succeeding Popes have aimed their encyclicals at the twin audiences of Western and Eastern powers, embracing and rejecting parts of each in turn.

    And this dynamic of leftward criticism isn’t new either- John XXIII and Paul VI were very leftward, yet were criticised for much the same dilemma- writing so eloquently about the inclusion and participation of women in governmental and societal structure, but unwilling to accept that same logic within the Church itself.

    I think part of the issue is that religious leftism and secular leftism arise out of different sources.
    Religious leftism arises out of a desire to advance the “right order” of creation- that there is a revealed truth about how things ought to be.

    So it values the liberation of the self, but only as a means to the correct end. So theology tends to be nuanced and ambivalent, praising individual liberty here, promoting communal responsibility there.

    Whereas American and European leftism, especially since the 1960’s has tended to stress favored liberation as an end itself, arising out of the desire for a spontaneous order, sensitive to the politics of identity and grievance.

    Report

Comments are closed.