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The Egalitarian Pope Francis

So, if we achieve maximum redistribution of resources, we will have eliminated “social evil,” whatever that is? Yes, and that’s why the Soviet Union was the Garden of Eden.

Seriously, what does this even mean? What is “social evil”? How does it differ from evil evil? I’m going to take a guess and say that “social evil” is sinfulness that primarily affects the common good — an artificial distinction, I think, but let’s go with it.

I know Dante was not the pope, but he was deeply interested in sin and the common good. He saw the injustice and discord of his day as rooted in private sin. In Dante’s conception, selfishness is the root of what I think Francis means when he talks about social evil (and, for Dante, all evil). In Dante’s scheme, you can be damned if you hoard money and deny resources and help to those who are in need — but you can also be damned if you hate those who have more than you, because they have more than you. The root of sin in both cases is egotism. As Dante points out, egalitarianism is impossible, even in Paradise, because egalitarianism is not true to nature. The more natural model is harmony. In the Purgatorio, I believe it is, but maybe it’s Paradiso, Dante says that so much of the discord in the world comes from people being forced by customs or circumstances into taking on a role that doesn’t suit their natures. Men who ought to have been priests are made to be princes; priests who ought to have been merchants were instead forced into holy orders. Et cetera.

I was talking over the weekend with two different friends, both of whom are having trouble in their jobs, and trying to figure out what they should do in terms of staying there and gutting it out, or moving either to a new job in the same profession, or into jobs in a different profession — especially jobs that pay more. One friend is a teacher; the other is a writer. I told them, based on what I know about them and on my personal experience, that neither would be happy unless they could be, respectively, a teacher and a writer. Given your natures, I told them (separately), you could be receiving twice the salary you are now, and you would be unhappy if you couldn’t teach, or write.

Nobody gets rich teaching, and virtually nobody gets rich writing. But knowing both of these men, and knowing myself, I know that they would rather be struggling financially and doing what God made them to do than to be rich but in jobs that force them to distort their own natures so badly. Some jobs pay a lot more than others. Had I a gift for the law, I would have become a lawyer, and would probably be making a lot more money now. I don’t envy my lawyer friends their superior incomes. Had my late sister had a gift for medicine, she would have been a doctor or a researcher, and definitely made a lot more money than she did teaching middle-school math. But she was a great teacher; she did what God made her to do.

I think Twitter pronouncements like the Pope’s are simplistic and confusing, and make it sound like there is a political and economic solution to sin. Inequality is not the root of social evil. Greed is. Envy is. Injustice is — and unbounded egalitarianism can bring on just as many social evils as unbounded elitism.

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81 Comments To "The Egalitarian Pope Francis"

#1 Comment By J_A On April 28, 2014 @ 3:17 pm

I just keep saying the same thing over and over again”, “conservative” Catholics (let’s not discuss what conservative actually means for a moment) wanted a Thrirld World Pope, they got a Third World Pope. Now they realize they actually didn’t want a real one, they wanted their idea of what a Third World Pope would look like.

Again, I am not surprised at all. This is standard fare for the Church in the Third World, where inequality and social justice are at the core of the Church activity, and the cultural fights about sexual and purity issues are, if not an afterthought, at least not much more than proper housekeeping for a Church tht sees much bigger issues and challenges in the life of their flock

#2 Comment By Andrea On April 28, 2014 @ 3:19 pm

My take on this is that he’s talking about institutionalized evil, evil that is caused more by the structures of institutions that lead to the inequality of the top 1 percent and the poor schmucks at the bottom. Probably, in the case of the United States, he also means something about immigration law that means illegal immigrants are at a higher risk of being raped or abused and shipped home, splitting up families. It is an evil that is not caused by any one person’s greed or hated or hubris. It’s bigger than all of us.

#3 Comment By Andyra On April 28, 2014 @ 3:24 pm

What EngineerScotty said.

RD: “Yes, and that’s why the Soviet Union was the Garden of Eden.”

Communism was a horrifically wrong way to address the problem of desperate poverty, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be addressed. It’s also immoral when a person who is willing to work,and work hard, cannot make a living wage and where the children of the poor go to bed hungry.

We don’t have to choose between the world of Stalin and the world of Charles Dickens. The Scandinavian countries have made a serious attempt to eliminate dire poverty, and last time I checked they had no gulags.

NFR: ” I have a big problem thinking of any group — Christians, Muslims, the poor, the rich, racial minorities, any group — as more morally safe than any other group.”

As religious conservatives frequently point out, condemning a group based on identity is different from condemning a group based on behavior. Nobody thinks Bill Gates is immoral: he acquired an immense fortune,and he has dedicated most of it to highly effective charity. A person who acquires an immense fortune in a world filled with hunger and poverty, and either keeps it for themselves, or contributes only to upper-class stuff like ballet and think tanks… and who lobbies congress to cut their tax rate and pay for it with cuts to food stamps and Medicaid… that’s behavior, not identity, and from a Christian perspective it’s immoral. “Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of my bretheran, you have done it to Me.”

By the way, I think this applies even to middle class people who have more than they need, especially those like myself who have no children to provide for.

#4 Comment By HeartRight On April 28, 2014 @ 3:24 pm

[NFR: I was thinking the same thing just now. I almost never tweet without putting a link to the article — written by myself or somebody else — giving context to my statement. If whoever is tweeting from the @pontifex account were to start doing that, it would be a service both to the Pope and to his followers. — RD]

I don’t think there is any problem of comprehension here.

However, I do think that there is a problem of denial. A failure to accept that if you do not seek to reduce the gap between your own standard of living and that of an average individual on this planet. And mind you, not by pointing at those better off than you, but by looking in the mirror.

#5 Comment By HeartRight On April 28, 2014 @ 3:26 pm

A failure to accept that if you do not seek to reduce the gap between your own standard of living and that of an average individual on this planet, then you are the problem.

#6 Comment By Chris 1 On April 28, 2014 @ 3:33 pm

[NFR: Got it. I do wonder, though, if it’s such a great idea to put out statements like this on Twitter, absent all context. He’s not a parish priest, he’s not even a college theologian; he’s the POPE. — RD]

You seem to expect the POPE to be clearer than the Apostle Paul, or Jesus.

#7 Comment By Barley On April 28, 2014 @ 3:39 pm

Actually the Gospel clearly indicates the poor are superior to the rich. Ever heard of the Beatitudes? It’s somewhat mystifying, though quite obvious if viewed cynically, that people deny this clear position

#8 Comment By James On April 28, 2014 @ 3:40 pm

The idea that Pope Francis’s tweet is in harmony with “Rerum Novarum” or “Quadragesimo Anno” is pretty silly. Yes, both encyclicals condemn liberalism, but they are just as harsh when it comes to socialism. One should also keep in mind that both Leo XIII and Pius XI apparently had a great deal of sympathy for corporatism, which seems hard to reconcile with any form of social egalitarianism.

Anyway, I don’t think this makes Pope Francis a “Marxist” or “Liberation theologian” or whatever it is some of his conservative critics accuse him of being. Unfortunately, I doubt that he is devoted to much of anything other than maintaining and cultivating his own popularity.

#9 Comment By William Dalton On April 28, 2014 @ 3:50 pm

“I was talking over the weekend with two different friends, both of whom are having trouble in their jobs, and trying to figure out what they should do in terms of staying there and gutting it out, or moving either to a new job in the same profession, or into jobs in a different profession — especially jobs that pay more. One friend is a teacher; the other is a writer. I told them, based on what I know about them and on my personal experience, that neither would be happy unless they could be, respectively, a teacher and a writer. Given your natures, I told them (separately), you could be receiving twice the salary you are now, and you would be unhappy if you couldn’t teach, or write.”

Why would those who want to teach or write, but hate the jobs they have doing so, yet have the possibility of taking better jobs paying more, hesitate to do so? Teaching and writing are two things anyone can do whether employed by someone else to do so or not. I can tell you there are as many people with law degrees unemployed as any other, and it’s hard to be a lawyer on your own without the income to employ a staff and resources needed to maintain a legitimate practice. If you want to teach, volunteer to work with kids tutoring after school. If you want to write, take your free hours to do so. No need to give up a day job with good compensation to do either one.

#10 Comment By CatherineNY On April 28, 2014 @ 3:54 pm

Pope Francis appears to be interested in evangelizing people who might not normally pay attention to Catholic teaching, and to be willing to be misunderstood or criticized while doing so. He is also clearly doing his best to “walk the walk” with respect to Catholic teaching on embracing poverty. And guess what? He is getting through to a lot of people through the methods he has chosen. With this tweet, he has sparked a discussion here and elsewhere in which people are eagerly sharing readings from Scripture and from papal encyclicals that underscore his point. By choosing to live outside of the papal apartments, and staying in communication with ordinary people to the greatest extent possible, he has caused a revolution in how people view the papacy — IMHO, in a good way. He’s getting people’s attention. If, in the short term, his actions and statements are causing consternation in some quarters, and are forcing people to read the Scriptures to understand where he is coming from, too darned bad. It’s not his job to keep the Church and the world on an even keel. Jesus said a lot of shocking and seemingly contradictory things during His time on earth.

#11 Comment By Frater On April 28, 2014 @ 3:58 pm

I’ve read the justification on catholicculture, and frankly, it does not convince me. Indeed the Latin version could be translated in such a way that it expresses only a tautology (and indeed I’ve heard there are some issues with English translations), but the other versions are not like that.

And of course what is expressed in the tweet and in the Evangelii Gaudium is not the same as the money quote of I Timothy. Admittedly, to desire money is usually a desire for power, and thus a desire of inequality, but then the root would not be inequality itself, but the desire to dominate violently. And of course, St. Paul is not saying there that inequality is itself a bad thing (this seems to assume a rather modern or postmodern ontology that sees difference as violence), and if not from the Evangelii Gaudium, from the tweet itself this is what it seems to be saying (one should ask oneself what happens to perception when a statement that is in the context of practical exhortations is intentionally isolated and blown out of proportions like this – that is why I hate twitter and just think its silly and dangerous in almost every context).
Finally, implicitly from the tweet and explicitly from the Evangelii Gaudium, the solution proposed is to end inequality, but that’s not at all what St. Paul proposes for the solution, he proposes (indeed commands Timoty) to love righteousness and pursue holiness. And while addressing the rich he does not command them to be more equal, but not to trust in their money (this is not to say, I haste to add, that a rich person should be indifferent to the poor).

So really, I don’t see how anyone could square these things. Pope Francis might have good intentions, but he is operating, it seems, on some other non-Christian paradigm. I myself agree with the Pope that without any real morals capitalism is indeed cruel, so I don’t regard all critic of capitalism to be anti-Christian, but statements like this, even when made in the context of the Evangelii Gaudium, are just too vacuous.

#12 Comment By Elijah On April 28, 2014 @ 4:06 pm

“BTW, if inequality is so evil , why should I treat the Pope’s office as greater than the local Baptist pastor?”

Thomas Aquinas wins. The Pope’s tweet makes for a good bumper sticker, but little else without a heck of a lot of explanation.

#13 Comment By David J. White On April 28, 2014 @ 4:11 pm

What is “social evil”

same as “social justice” ie something that can’t be defined

I follow the pope’s Latin Twitter feed, and in Latin this “Iniquitas radix malorum.”

That is, “Iniquity [or, possibly, “inequality”] is the root of evil(s) [not “social evil”].

Now, I realize that Latin is no longer the working language of the Vatican — but I wager that English isn’t, either. The original was probably drafted in Italian or Spanish.

***

I just checked the pope’s Italian Twitter feed, and it reads: “L’inequita’ e’ la radice dei mali sociali.” That is, “Inequity is the root of social evils.”

Now, in English, there is a difference, I think, between “evil” and “evils”. I think we can all think of examples of “social evils” without trying to define an overarching concept of “social evil”.

Morever, “iniquita'” means something more like “inequity” or “injustice” than “inequality”.

In the Latin feed, “iniquitas” *can* mean “inequality”, though it could also mean “unfairness” or “inequity”. Or, for that matter, “iniquity”, which is how it is usually used in liturgical Latin.

Such are the vagaries of translation. But I think whoever wrote the English version has deliberately chosen to stack the deck towards a particular interpretation. It wouldn’t be the first time.

#14 Comment By Jason On April 28, 2014 @ 4:12 pm

You needn’t answer this, Mr. Dreher, but I can’t help thinking the two individuals you counseled really want to keep their jobs, but they have two wives breathing down their necks to make more money! Really, a difficult situation, that I’m sure hundreds of thousands of American men are now experiencing being hounded as they are by their significant others (on occasion for legitimate reasons, although I suspect for the most part: not). If these two men (assuming their men) do decide to remain writer and teacher, they perhaps need to be prepared to accept the fallback.

[NFR: Totally not true, in both cases. Not even close to true. — RD]

#15 Comment By Turmarion On April 28, 2014 @ 4:19 pm

Rod: Is it un-Christian to regard the poor as more morally safe than the rich?

No, I don’t think so. I assume the rich and the poor both start out with the same palette of human sins. But consider: The rich, because of their resources, have more opportunity, and can protect themselves against the consequences more; thus, they are able to sin more. Second, the sins of the wealthy often have massive ramifications. If a wealthy businessman puts hundreds out of work by outsourcing a business, and pays the remaining workers barely enough to keep of welfare, his sin has a much greater scope than the sin of, say, the owner of a mom and pop store who unjustly fires his sole employee. One of the “sins that cry to heaven for vengeance”, defrauding the worker of his wages, in fact, is obviously going to be committed disproportionately by the wealthy.

One doesn’t have to idealize the poor as saintly to argue that the rich are much worse sinner and much farther from the Kingdom. Despite all attempts to argue that Jesus said a “rope” was easier to go through the needle than a rich man into heaven, or that there was some gate called the “eye of the needle” (neither of which propositions has ever been demonstrated), his stark words remain, as do his “woes” (see Luke 6:24). It’s worth pointing out that the “ [2] is a part of Catholic social teaching.

Me: “Of course, [Chesterton’s] not the Pope”

Jamie: Yeah but how’s his canonization going?

I said that in reference to Rod’s statement about Dante, whose canonization is progressing about like GHC’s. As I said, I never said a thing about the sinlessness of the poor. If you think that, you’re misunderstanding me. I’ve taught them too long to have such illusions. However, while a patient with a bad flu and one with Stage IV cancer are both sick, one is obviously worse off. I think one can cogently say that there is a strong tradition in Christianity that the sinfulness of the wealthy is much worse and more pervasive than that of the poor.

No, at the end of the day, I stand by what I’ve said.

#16 Comment By Fulton On April 28, 2014 @ 4:46 pm

I think the Pope is probably talking about the social evils of envy and jealousy that people have for very rich and successful men like the Kochs, Adelsons and other decent, hardworking entrepeneurs. Truly it is a shame and a sin. At least that’s what I get from it, and since there isn’t much room for ambiguity in 140 characters or less, I’m confident that’s what he meant.

#17 Comment By J_A On April 28, 2014 @ 5:12 pm

The word used in italian, Inequità, means essentially unfairness, injustice, nepotism.

Iniquity in Italian would be inIquità. One letter difference, but an important difference.

BTW, the same difference exists in Spanish between Inequidad (esentially unfair or unjust differences) and Iniquidad.

So I do not think you can try to say taht the Pope meant to talk about Iniquity and Evil. He was really focused on unfairness

#18 Comment By Jason On April 28, 2014 @ 5:29 pm

Well, they’re very fortunate then, Mr. Dreher, assuming they’re men with good wives. My point was that being bourgeois in the American context, while mostly a good thing, does have its dark side – especially the desire individuals have for all kinds of status, notably the material kind which can prevent individuals from embracing their true vocations. Actually, Tocqueville predicted this problem years ago in his Democracy.

#19 Comment By picky On April 28, 2014 @ 5:47 pm

I just checked the pope’s Italian Twitter feed, and it reads: “L’inequita’ e’ la radice dei mali sociali.” That is, “Inequity is the root of social evils.”

Social ills, not social evils.

#20 Comment By picky On April 28, 2014 @ 5:48 pm

ooops

I just checked the pope’s Italian Twitter feed, and it reads: “L’inequita’ e’ la radice dei mali sociali.” That is, “Inequity is the root of social evils.”

Social ills, not social evils.

Apparently the Pope has been reading Rod’s columns on “urban schools” and disagrees.

#21 Comment By Prof. Woland On April 28, 2014 @ 6:20 pm

I’m a bit surprised at the reaction to this statement. It’s a tweet.

It’s pointing out that inequality can cause various social problems.

This statement is true–but also not super specific or all that controversial. (I don’t hear that many people–except maybe Ayn Rand Libertarians–arguing that Inequality is the root of Social Good..).

I guess I’m also confused as to why being an “egalitarian” is somehow a bad thing.

Jesus spoke to the poor and talks about people trying to help each other–and treat each other as equals..

ISN’T THAT KINDA LIKE BEING AN EGALITARIAN? One doesn’t have to be a soviet commisar to believe in equality and relatively equal measures of prosperity for people.

Why the reaction? I don’t get it.

#22 Comment By Marc On April 28, 2014 @ 6:23 pm

Fulton says:
April 28, 2014 at 4:46 pm
I think the Pope is probably talking about the social evils of envy and jealousy that people have for very rich and successful men like the Kochs, Adelsons and other decent, hardworking entrepeneurs. Truly it is a shame and a sin. At least that’s what I get from it, and since there isn’t much room for ambiguity in 140 characters or less, I’m confident that’s what he meant.

Well, there is the 10th commandment, which states “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.” There are no commandments against making too much money.

#23 Comment By Mark Logsdon On April 28, 2014 @ 6:26 pm

>>Pauline says:

April 28, 2014 at 11:53 am

The Social evil and inequality He speaks of is what allows you to post pictures of tasty looking food without a care in the world while somewhere else a child is starving.

[NFR: Oh, for heaven’s sake. Ridiculous. If this is your position, and if this is his position, then I say it’s a victory for Cosimanian Orthodoxy. — RD]

Be of good cheer, Pauline. This is just Rod being Rod. You see, it’s actually a reformulation of 43-Man Squamish, and if you take it for coherent, much less responsive to critique, you have missed the point altogether. For instance, had you chosen to say that his line of attack on Pope Francis suggest that he considers the election of Bergolio to be Pope was wrongly made, he would have written that your comment was “loony” *because he is not even a Catholic*. Which of course is true, now. And in no way stops him from routinely praising some positions and people in the Catholic Church and criticizing others.

It’s Rod’s blog, and he writes what he wishes. He also chooses what comments to print and when to do his best to humiliate someone with whom he disagrees (rather than, say, simply not passing the comment through, or even allowing the readers to draw their own inferences). In short – he makes the rules, and if they involve the proper and improper roles for an Inside Grouch, then they do.

We can decide to try to play, or not.

[NFR: It is also just Rod being right. — RD]

#24 Comment By Andyra On April 28, 2014 @ 8:08 pm

Marc said: “There are no commandments against making too much money.”

Try Isiah 5:8- “Woe unto him who adds field to field and house to house, until there is no more room and he is alone in the land.”

#25 Comment By Roland de Chanson On April 28, 2014 @ 8:18 pm

re: la radice dei mali sociali:

It means the root of social evils.

Some Italian expressions for comparative purposes: un male necessario — a necessary evil; mali sociali — social evils; il minore dei due mali — the lesser of two evils.

J_A is, I think, right about “inequità”. “Inequality” strictly would be disugualianza. But there are other words discriminazione, disparità, inequalianza.

I think the English version expressed what the pope meant in Italian. Of course whether the pope “tweeted” what he meant is another question. In fact, whether he has a clue what he is saying half the time is moot.

Kudos to David J. White for the exegesis of this papal pipilation. I’m not quite sure how to find the tweets of the twit, so to speak, but I will google it. But with Reggie Foster retired to the former beer capital of America, who can say who is Latinizing the pope’s extemporaneous outbursts.

I’ve checked the website of the Holy See to see what I could see about the voluminous vociferations of Papa Porteño; I expected to find among the Letters Apostolic, Motu Proprio, Encyclicals, Homilies, Exhortations Apostolic, Discourses, etc, etc, etc, a canonical magisterial list of tweets, facebook postings, google+’s, tumblr’s, mobile calls, emails, shout-outs and thumbs-up in the Piazza San Pietro, etc, etc, etc, but there is a lamentable lacuna of these insights into the pensivities of the papal pate.

We will just have to await patiently his next encyclical, ghost-written no doubt by the pope emeritus — the only true papal saint present at that farcical folk festival yesterday. San Papa Pacelli, prega per noi e per la Chiesa di Gesù Cristo perduta.

#26 Comment By Another Matt On April 29, 2014 @ 1:22 am

Drew Brees and I were created equal by God, and are seen as equal under the law.

I doubt the latter very much. A rich athlete can get away with a lot more than you or I can, if he wanted to. By now it’s almost banal to point out that the law — especially in criminal justice — definitely does play favorites. Everyone knows it; nobody can do anything about it.

#27 Comment By FrancisP On April 29, 2014 @ 9:40 pm

He is getting through to a lot of people through the methods he has chosen.

I love how defenders of Pope Francis say things like this with no backing. The Holy Father has made himself the object of much discussion, but there is nothing to indicate that his actions and words have led to more conversions to Christ; i.e. people repenting of their sins and changing their lives for Christ. And this is what evangelization actually is, not just being popular or getting people to talk about you. In my own experience, as well as in a recent Pew study, it has been the case that Pope Francis has caused people to think less of their individuals sins and thus made them less likely to go to Confession. Not exactly evangelization, at least in the Catholic sense.

#28 Comment By Glyn Tutt On April 30, 2014 @ 3:32 am

It is simple – just how much money do you think you need?

Then go to church and during Mass open your heart to God and tell him the rational basis for why you came up with that figure.

Go on – try it……..

#29 Comment By happy On April 30, 2014 @ 1:54 pm

“Seriously, what does this even mean? What is “social evil”? ”

He explains here: [3]

#30 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On May 1, 2014 @ 9:07 am

The Soviet Union never achieved real equality of resources… which is one of the reasons it collapsed in cynicism. On the other hand, being plunged into kleptocratic capitalism, many citizens of former socialist nations became nostalgiac… ever see that t-shirt “I Want My Wall Back”??? (To keep the West German plague OUT?)

#31 Comment By Dan C On May 1, 2014 @ 11:59 pm

I claim this is obvious what he means. For those haters of liberation theology, who think they earn their fiscal rewards, not realizing how strong the hand of God is in their very fragile precarious existence (I recommend the psalms, in a good Benedictine way), you still have to be very willfully ignorant to avoid understanding what Francis means.

My claim is that this is understandable, but you hate what you are understanding him to say.

At least, like Rick Garnett, in a moment of truth, acknowledge you are very very different politically than this pope.