Is It Jesus You’re Following Or Ayn Rand? (Thoughts On Pope Francis And The Economy)

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A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about how blown away I have been by the response to Pope Francis, particularly by those who have no faith and those who are typically hostile towards religion.

I pointed out that the comment sections of the articles and blogs about Pope Francis, which typically are filled with vile, hateful words, were instead overflowing with support. But I also mentioned that I feared drawing attention to the unprecedented support he was receiving would probably backfire.

I closed the post by saying, “I can’t wait to see what he does next.”

Well, it didn’t take long for my wish to be granted and my fears to be realized.

Earlier this weekend Pope Francis shared his thoughts on so-called “trickle down economics,” the economic philosophy that believes the success of the wealthy will trickle down and eventually benefit everyone else. To say the Pope isn’t a fan of this economic theory in which the rich are flooded with wealth while the middle class and poor must settle for only a trickle (if that) would be an understatement. Of course, why anyone in the middle or lower class would support such a policy is itself beyond baffling, but that’s an argument for another day.

The Pope let his displeasure at the current state of the global economy be known in no uncertain terms using phrases like “idolatry of money” and “a new tyranny.”

To anyone paying any attention to Pope Francis since he took office or during his tenure as Archbishop, his disillusionment with an economic structure that overwhelming favors the wealthy shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. This is, after all, the pope who has gone out of his way to identify with and support the poor and oppressed. From his insistence on living a modest lifestyle to his literal embracing of the marginalized to his secret habit of sneaking out of the office at night to break bread with the homeless, Pope Francis’ love and support of the poor have made headlines throughout the world.

So, to hear him utter critical words of an economic structure that only offers a trickle to those most in need shouldn’t come as any surprise.

Unless, of course, you’re a member of the Tea Party or some other right wing branch of the Republican Party who, inexplicably shocked that the pope isn’t an ardent capitalist, have come out to denounce Pope Francis as an extreme liberal. Some have even gone so far as to claim that Jesus was a capitalist and is now “weeping in heaven” over the pope’s words.

As I said before, I knew, well we all knew, it was only a matter of time before the honeymoon period was over for Pope Francis.

What I didn’t expect was that it would end like this – with the pope being labeled too liberal and denounced for his support of the poor.

Look, if you’re branding the leader of one the most conservative organizations on earth as too liberal and claiming Jesus was a capitalist, then you’ve jumped the shark.

That’s not to say you’re not entitled to your political beliefs – conservative, liberal, or otherwise.

But spewing vitriol against the pope, or anyone else, for defending the poor just makes you sound ridiculous. Actually, it makes you sound anti-Christ.

Now, to be clear, Jesus was no more a capitalist than he was a socialist as both economic policies were centuries away from creation.

However, what is not up for debate is Jesus unconditional love and support for the poor and his deep skepticism, to put it nicely, of wealth and the wealthy. You might recall phrases like “Blessed are the poor,” “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter heaven,” or “Sell everything you have and give it to the poor.” It was Jesus who said those things and they’re not exactly slogans for capitalism, let alone trickle down economics.

And that’s to say nothing of the early church who took Jesus seriously and claimed nothing as their own, sharing everything in common, and giving to the poor as they had need.

In other words, biblical Christianity may not be antithetically opposed to free market capitalism, but it’s not its biggest supporter either.

Which means you can rant all you want about how these were individual mandates and not government ones, but you’re grasping at straws. When Jesus asks “I was hungry, did you feed me?” he doesn’t put conditions on it. He’s not asking about the manner in which it was accomplished as if it mattered whether the poor are fed through a private sector non-profit or a taxpayer funded program like food stamps. All Jesus cares about about is whether or not they get fed.

And besides, in both cases it is individuals doing the work because as much as we might like to pontificate otherwise our government is made up of people. It’s a collection of individuals. It is as Abraham Lincoln once said a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Again, that’s not to say Jesus stood for any particular economic policy or political structure.

It just means that as a church we have a calling in no uncertain terms to take care of the poor and defend the oppressed in whatever way we can – individually in small ways or collectively in big ways.

Pope Francis gets this.

It’s why he lives the sort of life he lives, does the sorts of things he does, and says the sorts of things he says.

So, if you find yourself in shock and angry that he would have the audacity to question the free market, call attention to the injustices inflicted upon the poor, and demand that more be done to care for the least of these, then you need to stop and honestly ask yourself….

Is it Jesus I’m following or Ayn Rand?

 

Grace and Peace,

Zack Hunt

 

  • Joshua Shope

    Yes yes yes yes yes! I’m pumping both fists so hard here at my desk.

  • Douglas Humphries

    Yes to this. So glad someone else is as shocked as I am about these responses. Well done. Thank you.

  • http://www.africankelli.com africankelli

    Our call as Christians is to help the poor. Jesus couldn’t have been clearer on this message. Thank you for reminding us! (And thank God for a Pope who is socially justice minded.)

  • revjfletcher

    The branding of the Pope as “liberal,” should help us realize we rely on our labels to identify, or pick fights with each other. We just have to know what side of the aisle people are on so that we can hide behind our judgments.

    • Jim

      Why would we actually talk about ideas when we can call each other names?

      • Melissa

        ha!

  • Brandon Scott Thomas

    So good, Zack. SO GOOD

  • Jon

    Wait a second. Are you saying Jesus is not an American in pursuit of the American Dream?! You are saying America and Christianity are not Synonyms?!

    ….the audacity :)

  • marciglass

    Amen!

  • Rebecca Erwin

    Even Ayn Rand was not a fan of American Capitolism. She felt it was close, but had gotten distracted with wealth along the way. Her issues were value, not wealth and society’s entitlement to what a person has. Treating everyone with equal value should be the focus. In that ideal (her ideal) there would be no wealthy or poor. People would exchange equally because it is in their best interest. Tea Partiers irritate me because they misquote Rand ALL the time.

  • Emily Fridenmaker

    YES! Ridiculous (not to mention heretical) that America equates Christianity with current American conservatism. Props to the pope.

  • pastordt

    Amen, bro. Thanks for this.

  • http://mrodor.blogspot.com/ Micah

    I agree with lots of this. The God portrayed in the Bible definitely has a heart for the poor. With that said, is there a better economic system for the poor than capitalism? Nothing in the history of the world that has helped so many people leave poverty. It’s not even close.

    I will say that what we have in America (crony capitalism) exists primarily to enrich insiders and those well-connected at the expense of everyone else. That’s a serious matter of injustice and it’s right to oppose it.

    But don’t tell me about replacing capitalism unless there’s something better to replace it with. Everything else is worse.

    • Ryan

      The top 1% has more wealth than the bottom 40% combined. I wouldn’t consider that helping the poor.

      • http://mrodor.blogspot.com/ Micah

        So it’s your opinion that the material condition of the poor is immaterial, but only their relationship to the rich? Good to know.

        But you’ve misunderstood my point. I’m not talking about America. There’s lots of stuff “The 1%” does that’s anti-competitive and thus anti-capitalistic. I’m not defending those actions. I’m saying that globally and historically, every time large numbers of people move out of poverty it’s a direct result of capitalism.

        If there’s a better system, what is it?

        • Jon

          Strict Capitalism is basically just Survival of the Fittest. That is not Christian. What is Christian is what we see in Acts as ZACH discussed

          • http://mrodor.blogspot.com/ Micah

            Acts is pure capitalism coupled with radical personal generosity. Peter’s words to Ananias: “Didn’t it [the land] belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?”

            I’m in favor of radical generosity. Ayn Rand is not.

          • Christopher Miller

            I agree. To state that Jesus is American, socialist, capitalist, etc. misses what He visited us to accomplish. Jesus calls us to be disciples in whatever circumstances. He calls us as bosses, employees, 1%, 99%. In our walk with Him, our circumstances may change but the calling does not. Discipleship requires us to be kind, compassionate, generous, and humble. These characteristics are dependent on circumstances.

          • Rebecca Erwin

            Rand also defined “value” radically different than our current capatilsitc structure. After reading some of her things and listening to her interviews, I feel more empowered to be radically generous because I am valuing the person and the skill set they offer.

            Rand’s big pet peeve was entitlement. Which is a whole different topic.

          • Drew

            I think this is the important distinction. It is not merely about what system is in place, but what is the church called to be/do regardless. This of course changes the conversation from what the gov’t ought to do/be and to what the church ought to do/be. A very important distinction.

    • spirituallogical

      Capitalism, the best system to help the poor? How is that even remotely possible? The countries where capitalism is predominant provide the WORST care to the poor, while countries with more socialism have better programs for helping the poor. In the Industrial Revolution, we were absolute, pure capitalists. Our unemployment rates were as high as 25%, more than twice as bad as Obama’s worst unemployment rates while he has been in office. Do you even know what real Capitalism is? Do you know what the ideas of Capitalism are founded upon? Social Darwinism from a man named Herbert Spencer. His belief was applying survival of the fittest to human beings. The rich deserve to live and the poor deserve to die. This is what Capitalism is founded upon. Do you even realize that? Do you realize that any sort of assistance to the poor is going against true Capitalism? Any programs we have for the poor are socialist programs, because true Capitalism believes the poor should not be helped because they will just be enabled. Did Jesus ever say “Help the poor, except if you think they will be enabled with food stamps” or “Help the poor, unless it involves government assistance”? Did Jesus ever say “Help the poor, unless…”? No. He did not leave open room for excuses. You want a better system than Capitalism? A moderate amount of Socialism that keeps the corruption and greed of Capitalism in check. And no, Socialism is not the same as Communism. Get over the Red Scare and the Cold War and educate yourself on the differences between Socialism and Communism. Also, educate yourself on U.S. history and learn how Capitalism has DEVASTATED the poor. Learn about the horrors of the Industrial Revolution and how the rich oppressed the poor, with no government involvement. Learn about how Capitalism and the corruption of private banks led to the Great Depression. Learn about how workers’ comp, disability assistance, the GI bill, etc are all Socialism and are GOOD. If you think that Capitalism is the best form for helping the poor, you are truly ignorant and uneducated. If you think that, you would have to either have zero concept of the history of Capitalism in the U.S. or have to blatantly ignore all the corruption and horrors of Capitalism over history. What makes you so sure that Capitalism is the best system? Fox news? Or actual historical knowledge?

      • http://mrodor.blogspot.com/ Micah

        Great gravy, man. Let’s cover one or two points at a time. That shotgun blast means it’s impossible for me to answer everything.

        It doesn’t look good when you claim that Herbert Spencer is the “father” of capitalism when he’s two centuries after Adam Smith. It doesn’t look good when you pretend that I’m saying I hate the poor, when in fact I’ve said repeatedly that I’m pro-capitalism because I think it offers the best chance for the poor to leave poverty. It’s ok if you disagree, we can have a discussion about that. But weird ad hominem attacks don’t make your point very well. If it matters, I’ve not watched a minute of Fox News this year. I don’t even have cable access. I do read a lot, though.

        It’s clear that you want to label me, but your labels aren’t very accurate. To ease your effort to stereotype, just lump me in with whoever it is that you lump in Bono. You know, singer from U2, dedicated to helping the poor in Africa? Google “Bono poverty capitalism” and read a couple of those articles.

        Keep in mind: not everyone who disagrees with you is evil or an idiot.

    • Melissa

      “Absolutely not” is the answer to the question “Is there a better economic system for the poor than capitalism?” What brings people out of poverty except a system that allows freedom to rise, and allows for the creation of jobs, businesses, wealth? In third world countries, freedom and capitalism is what produces industry, jobs and upward mobility.
      You are right about “crony capitalism,” which I would simply call “cronyism,” because I believe that it is not capitalism!
      Not only is capitalism the best system, it is the only moral system. It protects the life, liberty and property of individuals. Each individual- each one valuable, made in the image of God– is protected from force. Jesus told US to love and serve the poor, not steal from others in order to give to the poor.
      We also must use the reason God gave us, and refrain from appeal to emotions. Knowing history and economics, it is impossible to advocate another system of economics for the actual purpose of helping the poor. Here is one cool article that challenges some preconceptions. http://www.npr.org/2013/11/15/243717512/what-are-the-lives-of-chinese-factory-workers-really-like

      • http://mrodor.blogspot.com/ Micah

        Excellent post; thanks for the link.

  • Dr. Chondra

    Biased, and filled with false premise. The 1st being that the author offers-up a straw-man, by not differentiating between God’s childrens freewill to to distribute, or not, that which is theirs, as opposed to the government [generally poor] distribution of same – the governments interference with the ‘invisible hand’. Others being an argument built on the assertion that the Catholic Church is conservative, and other that the tea-party is a branch of the Conservative party – What is so heretical about a small, solvent, held-to-account, government? So I see a typical ‘progressive’ slant here, that as usual, does not hold-up to close scrutiny – as a Christian, I wonder that the proponents of this known failure of idealogy, seem unaware that the ‘democratic’, liberal, ‘progressive’ bent, leans to freedom. Hey, I could eviscerate this commentary, but I am not inclined to spend the time to do so… ‘Progressives’ wake-up. And beware the sold-out church that will party to the antichrist.

  • Dr. Chondra

    Edited / Correction

    Biased, and filled with false premise. The 1st being that the author offers-up a straw-man, by not differentiating between God’s childrens freewill to distribute, or not, that which is theirs, as opposed to the government [generally poor] distribution of same – the governments interference with the ‘invisible hand’. Others being an argument built on the assertion that the Catholic Church is conservative, and other that the tea-party is a branch of the Conservative party – What is so heretical about a small, solvent, held-to-account, government? So I see a typical ‘progressive’ slant here, that as usual, does not hold-up to close scrutiny – as a Christian, I wonder that the proponents of this known failure of idealogy, seem unaware that the ‘democratic’, liberal, ‘progressive’ bent, is contrary to freedom. Hey, I could eviscerate this commentary, but I am not inclined to spend the time to do so… ‘Progressives’ wake-up. And beware the sold-out church that will be party to the antichrist.

    • http://Www.theirishatheist.wordpress.com/ The Irish Atheist

      I grew up in a very conservative country that had little to no government interference, the Church was linked to the government in the Constitution, gun control was virtually nonexistent, there were no social programs to speak of, and virtually everyone identified as Christian.

      A lot of people were shot.

      • Dr. Chondra

        Another straw-man… 1st, we (U.S.A.) are not a theocracy, nor did I advocate that – 2nd, your anecdote lacks specificity. Thanks for playing. Deceit and obfuscation are the hallmark of liberalism, ‘progressivism’. And I, for one, am tired of both.

        • http://Www.theirishatheist.wordpress.com/ The Irish Atheist

          What straw man? What deception? I merely stated facts about my own homeland. It’s up to you to decide whether or not there are parallels between what you are advocating in America.

          • Dr. Chondra

            It is up to me to make your ‘case’? LOL.

            You simply confirm that which you have not actually responded to.

  • Ardsgaine

    I thought Jesus said “Give YOUR money to the poor,” not “take your NEIGHBOR’S money, and give that to the poor.”

    Also, my understanding is that Jesus was a pacifist, but socialism requires the initiation of force at all levels of society. Each individual is forced to sacrifice his wealth and happiness for the good of the collective.

    Is it Christian to steal the wealth that someone else has created and pose as a philanthropist by giving it away? Why can’t you allow people to decide for themselves how generous they want to be with their wealth? Why can’t you urge them to share by persuasion, instead of trying to convert them by the sword? Why must you be so violent? Why can’t you advocate a system of law that only uses retaliatory force in order to protect people from the initiation of force?

    That is what Ayn Rand believed in, that each individual life was sacred, and that no man should be sacrificed for another.

    If Jesus truly opposed using violence against one’s fellow man, then I think she was more “Christian” in that respect than you.

    • Melissa

      I can’t believe what I just read! Sometimes I feel like the only Christian who thinks stealing is wrong, even if the government does it, and even if they give it to the poor after they steal it.

      “Socialism requires the initiation of force”!!!! YES! Thank you. Jeez. Thank you.

  • Nicholas

    Why doesn’t Pope Francis command that all churches stop taking ‘tithes’ (since the Catholic organization already has billions in accounts) and instead give it to the poor?

    Or how about part with half of the wealth that the Vatican has stored? I don’t get it. Put your money where your mouth is.

    • Jon

      Show me a charitable organization that does not have money in the bank. It is because they give so much money away that they have money in the bank. As far as giving away art and such, why should the church not be a caretaker of art like a museum? The Vatican is open to everyone especially the poor. Just as GOD commanded the temple to be lavish for his glory, why should his opinion now change.

  • http://Www.theirishatheist.wordpress.com/ The Irish Atheist

    Pope Francis vs. Rush Limbaugh.

    I feel like Harry Potter when he watched Umbridge take on Snape. I’m not sure who I want to win.

  • BrendtWayneWaters

    “What I didn’t expect was that it would end like this – with the pope being labeled too liberal and denounced for his support of the poor.”

    Dude, what rock have you been under? Most people were still calling him Jorge when that started.

  • Karen

    Pope Francis is right to point out the priority of care for the poor–there is nothing intrinsically “liberal” about this message. On the other hand, socialism strikes me as something different than just another way (i.e., a “collective” one) to do this, Zack. Others have pointed out that a truly Christian approach to care for the poor, by definition, cannot compromise the personal freedom of the giver. The giving away of wealth and holding things in common among the early Christians was completely voluntary. Taxation by the government is something else entirely. You can’t hold up part of the Christian message (love, care for the poor) at the expense of something as intrinsically necessary to the existence of that kind of love (freedom of the will), without distorting the gospel and bringing equally disastrous results.

    Crony Capitalism is a huge problem in this country, but greed is also an issue in socialist governments. Do you think there are not those who benefit unjustly from socialist systems or that croneyism isn’t at work amongst those in power there as well? Meanwhile, the poor get poorer in those economies, and the overall economy tanks, thrusting a much larger proportion of the population into poverty. Just talk to any common, everyday Russian or Chinese who lived through the last century in those nations (or British citizen, for that matter). I disagree, however, with American conservatives who think the answer to this problem is in trying to leverage our political system. The time for that, I fear, has come and gone. It appears to me that ultimately, Republican courting of the Evangelical vote has only served as a huge distraction from attention to the real source of satan’s toehold in our nation. The real source has been the worldliness and greed of the majority of professing Christians (who in this country are mostly Evangelicals), who have essentially been living as practical atheists in terms of their actual lifestyles and values (if some of Barna Research can be believed).

    I’m totally with you in supporting this Pope’s call to care for the poor and to oppose inordinate greed. I think it is totally naive to suppose socialism and government programs are as good an answer to this problem as gov’t policies that promote the true freedom of its citizens coupled with individual Christians and church communities rising up with genuinely changed and willing hearts to answer the call of Christ.

    • http://www.anamericanhousewifeintexas.com/ Leslie Loftis

      Practical atheism from Pride and the Prosperity Gospel–I like the phrase. And good comment.

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  • milehimark

    Very well stated. I think this position summarizes and articulates the variety of thoughts and feelings I’ve had about the issue. The other inauthentic rebuttal that I repeatedly from conservatives is that the government is absolutely ineffective at administering social justice, but I never seen an example of a private group servicing the pooe on the same scale as the government sector. Until the private sector can prove that the public sector is obsolete, out-dated, and unneeded, it’s one of the most effective tools we have for feeding, housing, and educating the poor on a massive scale.

    • JohnDonohue

      “Effective.” Hmmm.

      Would you care to speculate how much of the billions the Fed Gov spends on “care” has actually been funded justly? In other words: how much waste is involved, tax money going to either outright freeloaders or what I call “soft cheating.” Soft cheating is: “well, i could go out looking for a job today, but I still have two months of benefits plus my new food stamps, so I’ll take my time and wait for someone to offer me a good job.”

      • Jaybone

        I love this argument. Even the unemployment benefit guidelines suggest one shouldn’t take the first or only job available, if the job isn’t in your field. For, say, an out of work engineer (and there are a lot of them) it would be detrimental to their cv and overall prospects if they ran out and got a job at McDonald’s simply because it was available. And how can a person, receiving benefits, be a freeloader? If they worked, they paid into the system, and who knows for how long. I worked for over twenty years before I received cent one from the government. And I’m single with no children. Still had to pay for schools, yet never complained. And as for waste or just funding, the defense budget has always been an enormous black hole into which tax revenue simply vanishes. And then there’s the billions IN CASH that couldn’t be accounted for in Iraq. For that kind of waste to be compared to the pittance of funding going directly to families, it’s ludicrous if not downright criminal.

        • JohnDonohue

          Do all of the above on your own dime, do not force others to take those positions.

          Unemployment? You did not “pay into the system.” Your employer was coerced into paying it.

          The defense budget is not an enormous black hole. It comprises only 19% of the Federal Budget. Social payouts comprise 65% of the Federal Budget.

          • Jaybone

            I haven’t a clue as to what you mean. Do what on my own dime? And how am I in a position to force others to do anything? And then you ignore the facts and come back with meaningless figures. You’re the one who brought up waste and now you’ve nothing to say about it? Why do I even bother to reply to comments on these sites? I always end up talking to people who insist they’re always right, when in fact they’ve got a lot to learn. I’m gonna go ahead and ignore you now…okay?

          • JohnDonohue

            I gave you two enormous facts. Here, let me number my facts: 1) you did not pay into the unemployment system; 2) the military is a small part of the budget, just 19%.

            Got it? Okay, here are more:

            3) the government-run “caring” system you are promoting is all based on force, so if you champion it over providing your own safety net on your own dime, you are advocating force.

            4) there are some freeloaders. I did not say you were. I said there are many freeloaders and soft cheaters. I was asking the poster (milehimark) to speculate on how much of the 65% of the Federal Budget earmarked for social payments involves this type of waste. He/she has not responded. Would you care to guess?

            5) waste in the military: I support finding it and eliminating it.

    • sean601

      1.) Family. Before the welfare state when someone was in need they looked to their family for help. Now they look to Uncle Sam.

      2.) Mutual Aid Societies. Same result, a fraction of the waste.

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