The Pope’s “Christian humanism”

For those who think Pope Benedict XVI is the Antichrist, the latest papal encyclical won’t come as a shock.  But for other conservatives who have come to rely on the Pope as a defender of right-wing orthodoxy, it just might.

Benedict’s encyclical, released on Tuesday, attacks global capitalism from the left.  He argues we need to do more to promote labor unions, corporate responsibility, and wealth redistribution.  To Benedict, the world economic system must be fundamentally re-thought — not nudged to the left per the Democrats or made even more free-wheeling per the Republicans.  He doesn’t call for outright socialism — that is, handing the means of production directly to workers or the state.  But he does envision a form of social democracy that, as E.J. Dionne points out, is far to the left of either major political party in the U.S.

This vision is far more radical than what pretty much any prominent clergy member in our country is willing to endorse.  And that’s coming from a leader who is almost the very definition of an establishment religious figure.  Is something wrong with this picture?

End-times fundamentalists who insist the Rapture will be preceded by a “one-world government” are doubtless buzzing over this new document, which suggests a “true world political authority” to promote “the common good.”  In truth, Benedict says elsewhere in the encyclical that global power should still be dispersed like it is today; he believes in greater international collaboration rather than in the abrogation of national authority.  Still, the point remains that the Pope has offered a vision for Christian economics that contrasts starkly with the one being presented by the religious right.  It’s a vision rooted in “Christian humanism,” as Benedict put it — affirming the absolute value of people rather than markets.  What a concept.

I’m not sure a new statement from the Pope will cause Protestant evangelicals to change their economic tune.  But perhaps it’s worth a good think.

Jesse Lava also blogs at

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