Teaching the Pope About Christianity and Capitalism

So Glenn Beck, religious instructor, is at it again.

You may recall that back in 2010 the right-wing revisionist voice on most everything got himself into a bit of trouble for suggesting that Christians leave any denomination that preached the communistic doctrine of “social justice,” which he called a “perversion of the gospels.” Conservative Catholics in particular took exception, as I noted at the time at HuffPost:

Beck’s original remarks were treated by some as a thinly veiled attack on the Catholic Church, since, as the conservative religious journal First Things quickly pointed out, the very term “social justice” was invented by a nineteenth-century Jesuit theologian interpreting St. Thomas Aquinas. “Social justice” isn’t just a trendy contemporary slogan, and it certainly wasn’t pioneered by communists or Nazis: it was the central theme of the great Social Encyclicals of various Popes, most notably Leo XIII, whose 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum, is considered especially normative.

More basically, the idea that Christianity is opposed to state action in pursuit of the common welfare is highly alien to both Catholic and Protestant traditions.

Now that we have a Pope who has revived Leo XIII’s teachings with a very modern emphasis, Beck’s decided to take the patronizing approach to the Pontiff, according to this report from TPM’s Tracy Walsh:

Conservative talk-show host Glenn Beck said Thursday that he wants to give Pope Francis a lesson in free-market economics.

Speaking on “The Glenn Beck Program” on his own network The Blaze, Beck said the pope’s experiences in Argentina left Francis skeptical of “cronyism.” As a result, the pope “has not seen ‘let-me-serve-you capitalism,'” Beck said.

Beck said he wants to rectify that.

“I’ve asked the Pope’s people if I could put together a team of people who could actually teach the Pope, and find examples, left and right, and go visit the Pope and say ‘This is what capitalism is.”

I guess if Francis refuses the “lesson” it will be time for Beck to once again urge Catholics to leave their church altogether, and perhaps all the refugees from Social Justice teachings in all the churches can form a new mega-denomination, the Church of the Day Before Yesterday, where people can rightly be taught that patriarchal family forms and limited-government capitalism represent the Divine Will now and forever. Their Vatican can be a mock-up of Monticello where the ghost of an imaginary Thomas Jefferson can be conjured up to demand a theocratic realm of private property and zygote rights, just like America’s Founders intended.

But I digress.

Without question, holy scriptures and Christian tradition will always provide discomfort for believers who also tend to bend the knee to the golden calf of laissez-faire capitalism. They’re just going to have to live with that discomfort, or perhaps repent. But suggesting that a particular Pope who insists on a teaching tradition that actually pre-dates capitalism is just the product of a peculiar economic system in his home country is laughably ignorant, and offering to set him straight is laughably arrogant. I personally doubt that if Jesus Christ were on earth today he’d be hanging out at Davos or handling private equity accounts on Wall Street or speaking to Tea Party rallies. I have, however, a holy fear of making too many assumptions about WJWD. But I’d guess Glenn Beck would be happy to offer the Prince of Peace some capitalism lessons as well.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.