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Life Arts    H3'ed 2/28/18

The Pope's Service to American Liberals and Progressives (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) February 28, 2018: The Anglo-Irish Protestant cleric and satirical writer Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) heard the cry of the poor in Ireland and used his satirical talent to write his famous essay "A Modest Proposal" (1729). But let us note that Swift's satirical essay was clearly aimed at the pamphlet-reading public in Ireland and England -- not at Ireland's illiterate poor (who might hear about its satirical contents by word of mouth -- or perhaps by hearing it read aloud).

Today Pope Francis (born in 1936 as Jorge Mario Bergoglio) from Argentina hears the cry of the poor not only in his native Latin America but elsewhere in the world today where economic libertarians are making inroads with their relentless economic globalization, and he uses his talent for scolding to criticize them for their de-humanizing and de-personalizing practices. The scolding spirit of the ancient Hebrew prophet Amos thrives in Pope Francis today -- just as it also thrives in Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and other liberals and progressives who are concerned about economic inequality.

We Americans have a tradition of scolds delivering values-based jeremiads, as Sacvan Bercovitch of Harvard University delineates in his book The American Jeremiad, 2nd ed. (University of Wisconsin Press, 2012). Both Senators Sanders and Warren are part of the American tradition of scolds, and so are other liberals and progressives who are fighting the good fight against economic libertarians. Even though Pope Francis is not an American, he has done a tremendous service for American liberals and progressives who want to fight the good fight against economic libertarians by formulating and articulating a well-developed critique of laissez faire capitalism.

Occasionally, journalists report in various news outlets sound-bites of Pope Francis' criticisms of capitalism. Despite the sound-bite tendency of their reporting, he has no serious rival on the world stage today as a critic of economic globalization and economic inequality. Now, the United States is the home of many economic libertarians, including certain American Catholics such as Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. But are Pope Francis' criticisms being heard and understood by American Catholics and non-Catholic Americans of goodwill?

Now, in the book Pope Francis and the Theology of the People, translated by Phillip Berryman (Orbis Books, 2017), the lay theologian Rafael Luciani from Caracas, Venezuela, shows that the Jesuit Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio had devoted considerable time and effort to learning how to articulate the Argentine strand of Latin American liberation theology known as the theology of the people -- which emerged after and in response to the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) in the Roman Catholic Church.

See my OEN review essay "Pope Francis and Economic Inequality":

Over the course of his adult life following Vatican II, the Argentine Jesuit devoted considerable time and effort to learning how to formulate and articulate his thought in non-Marxist terminology -- before his fellow cardinal-electors elected him in March 2013 to be the new pope. Consequently, it is not surprising that Pope Francis' thought is well formulated and articulated in non-Marxist conceptual constructs. No doubt the cardinal-electors knew about Cardinal Bergoglio's talent for scolding before they elected him to be the new pope. Granted, they may have gotten more than they bargained for, but they understood who he was, where he was from, and what he represented, when they voted in March 2013 to make him the new pope.

Now, the journalists Cindy Wooden, Rome bureau chief of the Catholic News Service, and Joshua J. McElwee, the Vatican correspondent of the American newspaper the National Catholic Reporter, have edited the new book A Pope Francis Lexicon (Liturgical Press, 2018). As we might expect in a lexicon, the 52 main entries are arranged alphabetically. The lengthiest is the entry on Mercy (pages 126-134). Most of the entries are three or four pages in length. At the end of each lexicon entry, the author is briefly described. The lexicon entries involve, on the one hand, what I will refer to here as intra-church orientations and, on the other hand, what I will here refer to extra-church orientations.

Let's be clear here. Pope Francis wants practicing Catholics today to renew and upgrade their personal practice of their religion to incorporate the intra-church orientations that he delineates and to upgrade their extra-church orientations that he delineates for them. However, I do not expect to see a great leap forward in the psycho-spiritual development of practicing Catholics today.

But what if practicing Catholics in the United States today decide, instead of upgrading their psycho-spiritual development, to follow Pope Francis' example of scolding and start to scold him? For example, they might scold him for not yet revising the church's canon law to deal more effectively with the priest sex-abuse-and-cover-up scandal. In addition, they might scold him for not allowing women to be ordained as priests. After all, spirited Roman Catholic brotherly and sisterly scolding has been going on in the United States rather stridently since Vatican II, and it is not likely to stop anytime soon.

Now, of the 52 main lexicon entries that involve what I am here styling extra-church orientations that liberals and progressives from various religious traditions, and from no religious tradition, could use, they are tailor-made by Pope Francis for scolding economic libertarians. Consequently, I will here highlight only certain lexicon entries that I think might, or should, interest non-Catholic Americans who want to fight the good fight against economic libertarians such as the Koch brothers.

Pope Francis' thought is coherent and perhaps idealistic -- and perhaps even utopian, but being utopian would not necessarily rule it out from being used in American culture today. For example, decades before Latin American liberation theology, and the Argentine strand known as the theology of the people, emerged, the American Protestant lawyer and novelist Edward Bellamy (1850-1898) published the influential utopian novel Looking Backward: 2000-1887 (1888). When I say that Bellamy's utopian novel was influential, I of course mean that it was influential among people who were educated enough to read novels and had enough leisure time to do so -- in today's parlance, the elite. No doubt his utopian novel can be criticized today in a number of ways. Nevertheless, I want to draw attention to the character Doctor Leete's spirited and lengthy exchanges in the imagined future year of 2000 with the time-traveling character from 1887 Boston, Mr. Julian West.

Doctor Leete's repeated criticisms of nineteenth-century America are as spirited as Pope Francis' criticisms of our contemporary economic libertarians and economic globalization. If Doctor Leete's spirited criticisms represent certain currents in American Protestant thought, as I think they do, then Senator Sanders' and Senator Warren's spirited criticisms of our contemporary economic libertarians also represent certain currents in American thought. By contrast, Pope Francis' spirited criticisms of our contemporary economic libertarians and economic globalizations represent certain currents in Roman Catholic thought that have not yet been sufficiently integrated into our American tradition of thought -- that is, not sufficiently integrated into the prestige culture that the non-Catholic educated elite are expected to be familiar with, and certainly not sufficiently integrated into the non-Catholic thought-world in general. But can Pope Francis' thought be integrated into our American tradition of thought?

Now, my favorite scholar is the American Jesuit polymath Walter J. Ong (1912-2003; Ph.D. in English, Harvard University, 1955). He characterized his thought as phenomenological and personalist in cast. I would characterize Pope Francis' thought as phenomenological and personalist in cast. The personalist cast of the pope's thought is most obviously expressed in his attachment to Jesus (pages 100-102).

But the personalist cast of the pope's thought is also expressed in his invocations of Satan (pages 167-170). In the prologue to the story of Job in the Hebrew Bible, a character named Satan (meaning "adversary") appears in God's court. God's court is portrayed as something like a law court, and the character known as Satan plays the role of the adversary in the context of God's court, challenging certain things God says -- in other words, Satan plays what we might think of as the role of the devil's advocate. But God does not silence Satan. Later on, in the Christian tradition of thought, Satan was further developed in the Christian imagination. In the Christian imagination, Satan became a larger-than-life character. Pope Francis invokes Satan as the larger-than-life spirit that no human person can avoid.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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