The covetous heart: Pope 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. 

So begins the present pope’s welcome encyclical.

It has been a constant theme of mine that turbocapitalism, a capitalism run amok, one which has been overwhelmed by manipulation, advertising and the power of money, one which does not allow markets to work has almost permanently crippled the evangelical life.

It is  for this reason we hold to the wisdom of the gospels. The world of 2000 years ago was certainly radically different than ours but the human heart and the power of wealth have not changed. One of six of Jesus’s words as written in the synoptics (the first 3 gospels) are warning against what wealth will do to you.

Luke probably phrases it the best.

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” 16:13

Many prescient commentators, religious and secular, have pointed out the corrosion of values under this turbocapitalism. It simply breaks our solidarity with the poor, deflects our moral passion and we end up in Augustine’s words curvatus in se (bent in on ourselves)

It is an object of wonderment to me how those who most espouse the free market are blind to the depredations of consumer religion. Those in advanced capitalist countries who embrace Christianity and adore the market do not seem to understand that the Friedmanite principles they so vigorously champion in the end serve the purpose of “deregulating” the faith they say they love. In a commodified world where the advertising budgets advance seven times as fast the economy, the great hallowing out is occurring. Everything can be exchanged and consumed-even religion.

In the US the amount corporations spent marketing to children under twelve increased by five times between 1980 and 1990 and ten times more during the 1990s. In 2004 around $15 billion was being spent marketing to children. Conferences on the best ways to market to children are held all over the world. There are also awards for the best advertisements and marketing campaigns with hundreds of entries.The consumer virus is injected early and deep.

The economic juggernaut of the post war years (“The last man standing”) witnessed an explosion of consumption. 6% of the world consumes 30% of its resources. This stunning material advance however had its dark side. It turned a biblical faith into a “bland common civil religion.” With little prophetic power to analyze its own weakness or arrogance, the United States  ground zero of consumerism gradually emerged as an empire with a dis-graced culture, subverting foreign governments while ignoring the poor at home. Dogs had better diets than one quarter of the world’s poor. While critical education floundered, the majority were pacified by mass entertainment. Organized religion of all stripes  followed the people to a suburban captivity where the tribal flag had pride of place on the altar.

Catholics were not immune here. Post war abundance saw Catholics leave their immigrant status and join the economically privileged. Our  votes mirrored our location in the economic steeplechase. US Catholics  ended up voting for Reagan, the president who continuously robbed the poor and advanced the rich for whom he was a great spokesperson. Almost half the Catholic populace voted for another defender of wealth and privilege,George W Bush. And so it has gone.

The pope is on the right track here.Neoliberal RCs are about to pounce.



  1. 1

    Gosh! Finally, Ted has been vindicated! He was right all along! That one line in Pope Francis opens the floodgates of vindication for Ted–even though every other social encyclical the Church has ever put forth warns against “extreme capitalism” that neglects the very purpose of the economy and which has been influenced by a radical individualism. Oh, I forgot to mention, the most recent social encyclicals affirm the very principle of the free market and condemn socialism and extreme government intervention that stifles economies and creates poverty or perpetuates it. Ted forgot to mention that. You see, there is a hermeneutical problem here. Ted reads these encyclicals like a Fundamentalist Evangelical reads his bible. They take a passage, such as a line from the Letter of John about how God wants you to prosper, and they build an entire “gospel of prosperity” out of that line. Ted is doing the same here. He has no use for Papal Encyclicals that teach things that he disagrees with, such as the evil of contraception, the impossibility of same sex marriage, the non ordination of women, etc.,. But suddenly the Pope is worthy of citation when he teaches something that can be “read into”, something we can re-interpret to mean an affirmation of socialism or anti-capitalism or anti-free market, etc.

    Ted commits a common statistical fallacy called Selection Bias.

  2. 2
    wmgrace Says:

    Ed Pilkington writes today (Black Friday) in The Guardian;

    Thousands of Walmart workers and their supporters in the trade union movement have begun a nationwide series of Black Friday rallies against America’s largest private employer, protesting against wages and conditions they say are so low that many employees are forced to rely on government assistance…

    “I think we got our message across, and people listened,” said Isaiah Beaman, 21, a Walmart worker in Landover, Maryland, who travelled to Alexandria in Virginia to join about 200 protesters there. “All we want is for Walmart to give us a living wage and show us some respect – that’s not too much to ask from a multi-billion dollar company.”

    Norma Torres, a Democratic state senator in California who took part in a rally outside a Walmart store in her district of Pomona, said that the workers “refuse to live in fear and refuse to accept the scraps which they are being paid. They don’t want a hand-out, they want a decent wage for their hard work.”

    • 3

      “Hi Ted, my name is Francesco. I’m a student and I’m looking for work. I have something you might need.”

      “Oh? And what’s that?” asks Ted.

      “I have two good arms and lots of energy. I can shovel the snow that covers your driveway and walkway, and in the summer, I can mow your lawn.”

      “Well, Francesco. I can’t pay you much, because I have to keep my prices down. Semi-Marxist, left-wing, environmentally conscious newspapers are not willing to pay me that much for my semi-Marxist, left-wing, environmentally conscious, anti-conservative rants. So I have to compete. After all, they’re not banging down my door for articles. Just look, my two fans on this blog have not posted anything for ages. They might have died of old age, after all, they were active teenagers during the 60s, protesting the Vietnam war, smoking a little pot, and rebelling against that oppressive beast we call the Catholic Church and the U.S government. So, how about if I pay you $1 for every time you shovel my driveway?”

      “Well, I’m sorry, but my time, skills, and energy are worth more than $1. The conservative MP down the road is willing to pay me more than that. Thanks for your offer, but …..”

      “Okay wait! I am getting old and I do need young employees, and I can’t afford to hire Evergreen Plowing, so how about if I pay you $7.50 for every driveway? It’s still not much, but you can do other things when it is not snowing, like salt the walkway so I don’t get sued when someone slips and breaks something, you can bring in the mail, trim the tree in December, etc. It’s not as much as that brute Mr. Conservative MP will pay you, but you don’t have to walk as far to get to work, and I really could use your youthful energy and your two arms, etc. I know you got homework, because you are a young student, but this is the best I can offer you. Will you take it?”

      “Sure, I’ll accept. It won’t be as fast and thorough as Evergreen Plowing, but your semi-Marxist, left-wing, environmentally minded wacko friends will just have to live with it, just as anyone who wants to shop at Walmart will have to live with the fact that only young, inexperienced dough-heads like myself will be around to help them find things in that huge massive space.”

      “Well that’s swell, Francesco. You see, if I pay you $20 for every driveway you shovel, then the poor who need my articles, would not have access to them,”

      2 years later….

      “Hi Teddy! Listen, I’ve worked for you and it’s been great, you helped me get through 2 years of school, but I need to make more. I am here to ask for $15, instead of $7.50. I took a Social Justice Course and the teacher was ranting and raving about you and your total lack of a sense of justice. You are taking advantage of me, aren’t you?”

      “Well, not really. You agreed to this wage. If you no longer agree to this wage and demand more, then I’ll have to consider it. You’re still offering the same service, right? Nothing has changed?”


      “Peter, down the road, is in the same spot that you were in 2 years ago. He could use $7.50 for every driveway. To be honest, that’s all it’s worth. What you do is good and valuable, but I’m not willing to pay you $15 for it, just as I’m not willing to pay $500 for a new IBM laptop–I will pay $500 for the Ipad, since Apple is a better product, it lasts so much longer, is so much more reliable. I’ll pay $100 for the laptop; it’s just not worth anything more than that, at least not to me.”

      “You’re a greedy pig!” says Francesco.

      “No, I’m not, really, I’m a socially conscious social justice advocate. Harper is a pig, not me! I just can’t afford to pay you what you are asking. Well, that’s not quite true. I can, but then I’d have to buy less fair trade coffee, I’d have to buy less paper for my brilliant articles. There are trade-offs here. I’m trying to figure out the trade-offs.”

      “The conservative MP down the road is willing to pay me what I am asking for. He can afford the trade-off. Evergreen Plowing has increased its price, so he’s willing to take me on now. Do you want to match his offer?”

      “No, I’ll hire Peter, you take his offer.”

      “Capitalist Pig! You should be forced to pay me what I need.”

      “Not really. I’m not a Capitalist pig! I’m a kind, social justice advocate, the voice of the poor, who knows nothing about economics–but you don’t need to in order to belong to the “voice of the poor” club, you just have to be assertive, arrogant, and unwilling to listen to anyone, except those who agree with you. If the government forced me to pay you what you are asking, then I’d have to raise my prices for my articles, but no semi-Marxist, left-wing newspaper would buy them, because they are on the brink of bankruptcy. Just as, if Walmart started paying its cashiers the same wage that unionized school janitors get, then we’d have to hire less of them, and so we’d be forced to layoff so many of them, lines would be longer, there would be more unemployment, etc. Or, we could keep the same number, but raise the prices of jeans, shoes, tomatoes, rice, etc., but then people would have no reason to shop here, they could go to a Smallmart and shop there, where there are no silly senior citizens greeting them at the door because they have nothing better to do than offer us a cart and greet us with a smile, and where the people on the floor actually know where stuff is and have real advice to offer, unlike Walmart, which has chosen to make certain trade-offs to keep prices low. And then, if people realize that there is no reason to shop anymore at Walmart–since it is too damn big, and its prices are the same as everywhere else, then they’ll stop shopping here, and we’ll have to layoff others, perhaps close down, like Rona. Unless you’ve been in business and you know the details of what’s involved, you really shouldn’t be shooting off your mouth, there little Francesco.”

      “You know, you’re starting to make some sense, Ted. Are you sure you are a socialist? Are you sure you are not a conservative hiding behind a left-wing mask?”

      “I’m sure. It’s just that the more I think, the more I realize that maybe it’s not that simple. If Walmart employees are unhappy with their wages and conditions, they’re free to quit and offer their services to someone else, just as you are free to quit this job that I offered you and take the MP’s offer, or just as young people were free to not buy a Blackberry, but an iPhone instead, and in doing so, brought down the mighty giant Blackberry (the power is in the people). If Walmart wants to maintain a high turnover rate, that’s their problem. If they’re willing to settle for lower quality service in order to maintain their low prices, good for them. I won’t shop there, because I want a smaller, cozier place to shop–not a store where I feel I need a golf cart to get around–, and where people on the floor actually know what they’re doing. I’m willing to pay the extra cost that will be reflected in the higher prices. But not everyone can do that, and those who cannot are grateful for Walmart. I can’t believe I’m talking like this. Maybe I should take a sabbatical and really think about this some more. Maybe I too quickly embraced a left-wing ideology at a time in my life when I was young, ignorant, arrogant, impatient, reckless, thought I knew everything there is to know about these things, an ideology that gave my self-esteem a boost, because it made me feel like I was on high looking down my nose at corporate greedy pigs, that I had the intellect to see through their schemes, etc. Maybe it’s time I actually learned something about the complexities of business and economics. It’s just that I’m old, and you know the old saying: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. I’m too lazy to change. As Jesus said, you can’t poor new wine into old wine-skins. I don’t know, I think I’ll just stick with what I’ve been doing for the past 40 years. It’s too hard to change. Bad habits are hard to break, and good ones are hard to acquire. It’s been nice having you work for me, but it’s time to move on to better things and let me hire out another young student, so he can also get some skills, make a bit of cash, learn some responsibility, and then move on to better employment, like you are doing. Take care, Francesco.

      “I’ll see you next week with my new, socially conscious, social justice watchdogs who took that course with me, the one where we watched Michael Moore movies and the documentary on Walmart that is so well researched, so unbiased, that does not skew facts in any way, because the teacher said so, and he knows. We’ll be protesting with signs on the sidewalk here, in front of your house. So get ready!”

      “Gosh, he reminds me of me when I was that age. He’ll grow out of it. Or will he? I didn’t. Maybe he won’t. It’s easier to be an ignorant know it all, you don’t have to study, you just shout slogans. Oh, well, you reap what you sow.”

  3. 4

    Keep in mind, those senior citizens who work at Walmart are supplementing their income. At least someone is willing to hire them.

    Also, Walmart actually pays a decent wage. It does not pay to have an unhappy staff.

    Also, many people were very happy to have a job with Walmart. It wasn’t what they ultimately wanted, but it gave them incentive to take night courses and get another job, a better one. But they are thankful to have had that job.

    The story of how Walmart began is very interesting and worth looking at.

    But yes, that’s too much to ask these lefty bloggers.

  4. 5

    Has anybody begun to wonder why Saskatchewan is now lifting so many people out of poverty? And why, for the past 15 years, there was so much poverty, so many people leaving the province to find work, etc? What’s different? What’s the secret? It must be because, for the past 15 years, it was the rich, the wealthy 1%, who were making the profits, and that wealth never made it down to the level of the worker. But now all that has changed. Saskatchewan now has a left wing, NDP government who are assuring that the wealth gets shared. Right? Wrong. Complete opposite. The NDP governed for the past 15 or so years, and their wealth, that is, the salaries of the MPs, never made it down to the worker. They lost their jobs. But now a right wing government has come into power, and people are earning more now than ever before. Gosh! Doesn’t evidence count for anything?

RSS Feed for this entry

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: