Rush vs. the Pope: 7 Quotes Answered

Rush Limbaugh let fly a barrage of criticism yesterday about what he called “the latest anti-capitalist proclamation from the pope.” He was talking about Evangelii Gaudium, but he was getting his information from the “drive-by media,” whose reporting on Republicans he treats with appropriate skepticism but whose words on the Pope he swallows hook, line and sinker.

rush and frankI have always like Rush. Yes, he is an entertainer; yes, his comic egocentrism is probably more “funny because it’s true” than “funny because he’s not like that at all.” But while most talk-show hosts just have a talent is for distilling conventional wisdom, his talent is for delivering a new take on a familiar subject. But he’s completely wrong on Pope Francis. Badly wrong. Dehumanizingly, disastrously, miss-the-whole-point wrong. Here are my answers to seven quotes from his radio monologue which his website titles “It’s Sad How Wrong Pope Francis Is.”

1. First, Rush gets the “idolatry of money” wrong:

Said Rush, “In [Evangelii Gaudium], Francis went further than previous comments criticizing the global economic system, attacking the ‘idolatry of money.’”

Actually, no, Pope Francis did not go further in criticizing the global economic system here. He went furthest in his May address to ambassadors. His new document merely raises a favorite theme of his in his favorite way. He has been criticizing the “idolatry of money” in forum after forum, to anyone who will listen.

The Pope does not have in mind just the out-of-whack worshipper of the market. He has in mind anyone who considers himself merely a material being in search of material pleasures — and that means state-worshipers as well as market-worshipers.

Early in the new document Pope Francis sums up in a poignant way what this idolatry looks like:

Wrote Francis, “The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too.”

What does idolatry of money look like? It looks like Obamacare and Black Friday, both.

2. Next, Rush gave us the old Protestant “rich Church” criticism.

“I have been numerous times to the Vatican. It wouldn’t exist without tons of money,” Rush said. And later: “The Catholic Church, the American Catholic Church, has an annual budget of $170 billion. I think that’s more than General Electric earns every year. And the Catholic Church of America is the largest landholder in Manhattan. I mean, they have a lot of money. They raise a lot of money. They wouldn’t be able to reach out the way they do without a lot of money. Anyway, that’s it. I’ve gone as far as my instincts tell me to go. Made the point.”

He is tiptoeing around the old “the Church is rich!” complaint that Protestants make about the Catholic Church. And any Catholic apologetics site will answer it:

VAticanIn 2011, the Vatican had a $19 million budget deficit; the latest of years of defecits. Diocese all over the world have been struggling financially. What we do have, we tend to spend on our mission: The Church is the biggest provider of non-governmental charity in the world. it’s the biggest provider of non-governmental education.

Yes, there are some prominent bad apples in the Catholic Church. But not as many as we have seen in the world’s Tycos, AIGs, etc. or the U.S. government.

Meanwhile his implicit criticism of Catholic extravagance in celebrating Christ (“I have been to the Vatican”) was raised and answered by Jesus himself.

3. Next, Rush gets the world outside America wrong:

Says Rush, “This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope. Unfettered capitalism? That doesn’t exist anywhere. Unfettered capitalism is a liberal socialist phrase to describe the United States. Unfettered, unregulated.”

Argenina depressionAhem … Rush has apparently never heard of the Great Depression: Not the Great Depression in America, the Great Depression in Argentina, which started in the 1990s, but hit a crisis point from 1998-2002. Unfettered capitalism? Maybe it doesn’t exist anywhere … but it came close to existing for some favored corporate interests in Argentina under President Carlos Menem.

No, Argentina’s example was not indicative of all capitalism, as current progressives there want the public to believe; but, yes, it does demonstrate that money does not regulate itself very well.

4. Next, Rush gets the call to generosity wrong.

Says Rush, “The pope ‘also called on rich people to share their wealth.’ We were just talking about the charitable donations and contributions that existed in this country, and they are profound. The United States is near the top of the list in the world of charitable countries, but even with all the charity, and it is tremendous, it cannot compete with capitalism in elevating people out of poverty. There is nothing the world has ever devised that has elevated more people out of poverty than capitalism.”

First of all, here (as elsewhere) much of what is taken as controversy in Pope Francis is just a paraphrase of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which also says love of money hurts our giving percentage:

“The Lord grieves over the rich, because they find their consolation in the abundance of goods,” says the Catechism (2547). It also notes: “All Christ’s faithful are to ‘direct their affections rightly, lest they be hindered in their pursuit of perfect charity’” (2545).

He is right that Americans are generous people. But we could be a lot more generous if more of us lived within our means.

He is also right that some forms of capitalism, namely entrepreneurial capitalism, help create opportunity in society. But even then, financial bubbles and periodic disasters plays havoc with lives and decrease giving, as in 2009.

5. But Rush is wrong when he assumes entrepreneurial capitalism is the only kind.

Says Rush: “‘Pope Francis said that trickle-down policy…’ We hear about trickle-down policies? ‘Pope Francis said that trickle-down policies have not proven to work.’ Oh, but they have. It’s exactly what Obama is trying to create, in fact, although he wouldn’t dare call it that.”

First of all, yikes. It took opposing the Pope to get Rush to use Obama as a positive example, but there you have it. According to Rush, Pope Francis is wrong and to prove it, he cites Obama. Does Rush dislike the Pope more than he dislikes Obama?

Rush is equating Obama’s Keynesian government trickle-down with the Friedmanian market trickle-down:

“Trickle-down is exactly what happens when you engage in economic activity,” says Rush. “You spend money and it trickles down to everybody you spend it with, and then it trickles down to everybody they end up interacting with economically.”

Except it didn’t in Argentina, with its 18% unemployment — and it doesn’t throughout Latin America, where the rich are as rich as the richest in the First World and the poor are as poor as the poorest in the Third World.

rushThat’s because not all capitalisms are the same. In state-directed capitalism like China and oligarchic capitalism like much of Latin America, trickle-down (or “spillover” as some of Rush’s listeners retranslated the Pope’s phrase) does not work.

Rush mocks what he takes as Francis’ indictment of the rich: “The rich hoard, and they abuse, and they impugn, and they take advantage of, and they steal!” But that would not sound like much of an exaggeration of what happened in Argentina with the rich who were on the right side of government corruption to the poor who were on the wrong side of it.

6. The Pope is wrong about Francis’ view of communism.

“I would be remiss if I did not point out Pope John Paul II, who had as his primary enemy, communism. Pope John Paul II largely credited Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher for the defeat of Soviet sponsored communism in Europe. … There has been a long-standing tension between the Catholic Church and communism. …. That’s what makes this, to me, really remarkable.”

Yikes. Rush thinks Francis is breaking from the Church’s anti-communism tradition to embrace it!

pope francisBut Pope Francis is no communist. In the book based on a 2010 interview, On Heaven and Earth: Pope Francis on Faith, Family and the Church in the 21st Century, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio shared his thoughts on communism.:

Man has no hope in communism, he says, because it denudes man of his spirit, and makes him merely material.

Says Francis, in communism “everything that is transcendant and points to a hope in something beyond, paralyzes the work here. Therefore, it paralyzes man, it is an opiate that makes him a conformist, it makes him bear his suffering, it does not allow him to progress, but this is not only the concept of the communist system.”

He hates unbridled capitalism for the same reason he hates communism: it also makes man believe he is merely material:

Francis wrote that capitalism can easily devolve into “a civilization of consumerism, of hedonism, of political arrangements between the powers or political sectors, the reign of money. All are manifestations of worldliness.”

This is not to say the Pope doesn’t “get it” that money is necessary and can be good. As reported by Vatican Radio:

Francis says that“Money contributes greatly to many good works for the development of the human race. The real problem is a distorted use of money, attachment and greed. Hence the Lord’s warning: ‘Take heed and beware of all covetousness’”

7. Rush gets “choice” wrong.

Rush said, “Buying is free will. By definition, people choose to buy. Except health care, then they’re forced to. There’s always a caveat to everything, isn’t there? But in an unfettered — ahem — capitalistic society, people choose to buy. A purchase is an act of individual sovereignty. And in order to succeed, a business must do something that makes their fellow man want to buy it, willingly part with their cash to obtain it. That’s capitalism. Government is compulsion, on the other hand. Capitalism is moral because it honors individual freedom, but government is compulsion.”

my-choiceAnd so, in the end, Rush makes a classic “pro-choice” argument. Human choosing makes things moral? Does the fact of my buying pornography make it moral? Does the fact of my buying an abortion make it moral? Does the fact of my paying a pimp for a prostitute make the transaction okay?

Rush makes a classic mistake. Men of the left tend to demonize the market and romanticize the possibilities of the state. Men of the right tend to demonize the government and romanticize the market.

Well, like it or not (and I for one don’t like it), Americans’ choices brought us Obamacare — in their choice of their representatives and senators and of their reelection of Obama himself.

And like it or not (and I don’t like this either), the market in America is not all about freedom. For one example, the market places so much debt on me as a home-owner that I am sure future generations will classify me as a wage-slave of my lender — working 8 to 5, five days a week to send them their interest payments while feeding my family. Many Americans are also wage slaves to credit card companies.

So, no, Rush isn’t right. Francis calls us to worship neither the state nor the market. He calls us to worship Christ.

He is the difficult but only answer to what we will see on Black Friday.

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  • Charlie

    The Pope said things which the far right clearly finds uncomfortable especially about the free market system. and the shift of wealth to the very few. Distort it all they want but that is what the Pope said.
    Rush is saying the very same thing that most rightwingers would say if Obama said the exact same thing,

  • Adriana Pena

    There is a Spanish saying “Doctores tiene la iglesia” “The Church has doctors” who are the ones who decide abour what is right and wrong about interpretation of doctrine. As far as I can tell, Rush is no Doctor of the Church. He is no theologian, he is no church historian, he is no Biblican scholar. Thus his comments come from ignorance. No need for the faithful to follow him on matters of doctrine. As for what he calls Marxism, well, Marx, like others, pilfered from the doctrine, only the parts he liked – like others, while forgetting others equally important – like others, including a lot of the current Pope’s critics.

  • Nancy D.

    The question is, why did the pope single out capitalism, and not make it clear that a Government that desires to serve God, desires to serve The Common Good? Why not mention those corrupt Governments that do not desire to educate their citizens and help lift them out of poverty? Why not mention the correlation between the break down of the family and poverty?

    • Charlie

      Nancy..why do you insist on talking about the stone in your brothers eye and not the stone in your own?

  • Andrew

    Oh, I forgot to mention one critical example of clarity of terms. It consists in the definition of “free” in free market capitalism. In the US the primary thrust of “free” among most Hayekian conservatives means freedom of participation, or access. Freedom which paves the way for the greatest number of citizens to participate in the productivity of the economy. Oligarchical captialism or any other crony version of it is not the “free” of free market capitalism. In such countries, the rule of law does not guarantee the maximum access of each and every citizen to the markets or protect its integrity in titling and exchange of goods as in the West/US. In fact, the rule of law with all of its anti-trust, anti- monopolistic protections is always presupposed in pro-free market commentary in the US, not so elsewhere where the inability to bring definitive title to assets and full open competition to markets is THE issue of reform. “Unfettered markets” is thrown out as a term which goes nowhere then, for the free market capitalist, since the rule of law is key to its survival. Oligarchical capitalism is something of an oxymoron, for it excludes access, and can do it precisely because the rule of law is not there to establish the guarantees of each citizen’s right to participate.

  • Andrew

    Fine analysis and some excellent comments here. But regarding the large number of Catholic apologetes defending the Pope against Limbaugh, do we have a situation of ‘methinks thou dost protest too much”? I mean all are trying to say what the Pope really said, (confirming that it is not so evident in the text), and defend its continuity with past teaching, etc.. but is not the real complaint with HOW he said it.
    I do not know if I can characterize the ‘Pope Francis style’ well yet, but it seems he prefers a more raw heartfelt commentary in place of the high sounding cultural reflection of previous pontiffs. It works well in some objectives, but may prove problematic in others.

    Clearly the purpose of the text is to bring Evangelization to the core of what the Church does. By throwing in the economics commentary, did he really do that objective a disservice? Yes, the passionate appeal he makes to break down the personal barriers to transmitting the faith outside of a comfortable individuality is well spirited and inspirational indeed. His new genre works there. But in economics, at a time in our culture where mere terms (e.g. trickle down economics, unfettered capitalism) carry ideological and partisan triggers to the n’th degree, where for decades the keynesian vs free market debate have become quite refined and sophisticated, where whole regions around the globe have there own particular history and stakes in this struggle- did the Pope really think he could throw out some drive-by paragraphs of raw and provocative considerations and come out unscathed? Did he not for some or perhaps a lot of his intended audience jeopardize his whole enterprise as they all stewed over certain disagreeable phraseology and byte-sized explanations of complex themes which they care deeply about? We are not speaking of merely being challenged- but genuinely confused and some just outright confounded.

    My point is that there is a prudential failure on two counts: 1) The Pope tried to handle a complex multilevel and intensely ideological theme as a side note in an Apostolic Exhortation. It should have been handled separately and in Letter not an Exhortation, where more time is given to understanding and framing the issues, giving the historical contexts and arriving to more precise terminology. Only then could he have dominated the philosophical and ethical landscape. 2) The Pope is pope, but some themes require gestation in a collegial context with a greater international reach to have their intended effect. I fear the Pope may be too much of a loner in forging his vision on certain issues, for one wonders if he truly ever widened his consideration beyond the Argentinian struggles with the IMF and Mafioso-life privatization of industry.

    In the end, I think this text poses a modest setback as far as style, but it still carries many enriching benefits for the Church.



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