Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The GOP and the Pope

Ever on the lookout for a fake scandal to distract attention from more weighty issues, the Republican Party is reported to have circulated  a petition reading, “President Obama plans to close the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican”, headquarters of the Catholic Church.

The party, which represents religious and economic fundamentalism in the U.S., is trying to claim that the closure represents “the latest anti-religion pursuit of this administration, a slap in the face to Catholic-Americans around the country that weakens America’s position as a global leader”.  Just what we would have expected from the Kenyan, Islamist, atheist, socialist, fascist, peace-loving environmentalist in the White House!
If our world standing depends on maintaining an embassy in the Vatican, we’ve got bigger problems than we’d like to admit.  That aside, the GOP is simply lying, because the embassy is not closing, but rather being merged with our embassy in Rome, in the kind of cost-cutting, security-oriented move the GOP pretends to support until President Obama implements it.  So this claim, like the others about the President’s anti-Americanism, or anti-religiousness (and religiosity should hardly be a presidential litmus test), comes to naught. 
But if the GOP wants to find anti-Americanism, or at least anti-the kind of Americanism the radical right-wing party stands for, they need look no further than the Vatican itself!   
Last week, Pope Francis himself launched a stirring and scathing attack on theideology of the Republican Party and the global plutocrats from which it takes its marching orders.  According to the Guardian, the Pope described capitalism as “a new tyranny” and wrote, “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality.  Such an economy kills”.
This is powerful stuff coming from one of the world’s most visible spiritual leaders, and while the Pope’s remarks indicate a break with his predecessors, he is working in a longer tradition of Catholic social teachings dating to the nineteenth century, which manifested themselves in later twentieth century Latin America when Catholic Church sought to defend its members from the depredations of the vicious neoliberal dictatorships (these efforts were undermined by the Pope and the Vatican hierarchy).
“How can it be”, the Pope asked, “that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? ... As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solutions will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems”. 
In the U.S., the GOP could learn something from the new head of the Catholic Church.  The party whines endlessly about the need to inject religion into our politics, but their hypocritical dogma has nothing to do with the justice which supposedly characterised its founding motives.  Instead, they cynically manipulate religion to divide people, the better to preach their own message of intolerance and hatred, a message which provides the platform for their grander project of engineering a cruel and unequal society. 
The Catholic Church remains in many respects an institution unfazed by the twenty-first century in its gendered hierarchies, but whether or not we are religious, we should be pleased that such a prominent global figure has chosen to speak out on one of the critical issues of our time.  The moral stature of our traditional political leaders has been much reduced by the knowledge that many of them march in lock-step with the world’s economic elite, for whom there can never be too much money, irrespective of the pain their greed causes others. 
Let us hope that the Pope’s words stir their consciences and ours, such that we demand more of our societies when it comes to addressing the growing and unacceptable gap between those with wealth and power, and those who struggle to survive. 

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