Berry: Rush Limbaugh, Pope Francis and drive-by journalismWritten by Thomas Berry | | firstname.lastname@example.org
On Nov. 24, Pope Francis released his first Apostolic Exhortation. Titled “Evangelii Gaudium,” or “Joy of the Gospel,” it is essentially a call for Christian revival predicated on overcoming what distracts us from the call of our faith to proclaim the Gospel.
One of the central distractions he cites is pervasive consumerism resulting in “the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience.” He warns that this way of living shuts others, especially the poor, out of our lives, and that it deafens us to the voice of God, stifles His joy, drains from us the desire to do good and spawns resentment, anger and listlessness.
In expanding on this, he sets off a bombshell in Paragraph 54:
“In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”
For days after the publication of this document, Rush Limbaugh, he of the “talent on loan from God,” condemned this. Or, more accurately, he condemned what he thought was meant by it. An ardent and highly successful capitalist, he railed against how, according to the news stories he cited, the Pope was criticizing unfettered capitalism. He even went so far as to claim on Nov. 27 that what was expressed in Paragraph 54 is “pure Marxism.”
That is stunning. What occurred here is that the news media took the Pope’s words out of context and published an erroneous interpretation of them. Limbaugh, instead of starting with the Exhortation itself, began his attack by seizing on what he found agreeable in what the news media claimed was said, and then cherry-picked snippets from the Exhortation as supporting evidence.
In short, Limbaugh committed an act of what he calls “drive-by journalism,” in which those charged with reporting and discussing the news shirk their duties of diligence and honesty to impose their own spin. As familiar as Limbaugh is with being taken out of context with injurious intent, it is shocking that he so readily engaged in such practice with Pope Francis.
So what did the Pope really say?: “In this context …” What context? He establishes that in the three preceding paragraphs’ discussion of the millions of poor, sick, fearful, desperate and hungry people whom the rest of us, wealthy or not, exclude, neglect and regard as goods to be consumed. Rather than condemning capitalism on its face, the Holy Father condemns, and very rightly so, any economic system that exalts money and prosperity over human dignity. In his own phrases, he damns the “idolatry of money” in which a “financial system rules rather than serves.”
Read again Paragraph 54: He criticizes the notion that “trickle-down” economics automatically result in “greater justice and inclusiveness.” He is absolutely right: People, especially the powerful and rich, are not inherently good, and wealth created in a moral vacuum will not necessarily benefit others. Pope Francis calls out the wealthy for profiting from the hardship of others, giving the example of eliminating jobs solely to increase profits, and names the wrong inherent in gathering riches to oneself while letting others suffer.
What the Pope is calling for, in part under the emotionally charged term of “distribution of income,” is scarcely the Marxist model of forced redistribution of wealth by the government, but rather for the wealthy to exercise moral responsibility in providing for the less fortunate. Indeed: He condemns the “welfare mentality,” and Limbaugh’s calling his ideas Marxism is all the more laughable given Karl Marx’s hatred of the very institution and faith the Pope leads.
But Limbaugh wasn’t done. When Time named Pope Francis its Person of the Year for 2013, Limbaugh immediately claimed that it was a reward for the alleged attack on capitalism. Once again, he ignored the facts.
Pope Francis was chosen for this honor not because of his stance on economics – although it was cited – but because of the context in which he holds it, one of profound compassion for the needy. He is not the Person of the Year for being politically correct, but rather because he lives out what he and the church teach. Ironically, he was also chosen for this honor because of his deep humility, an irony made even more cutting by his most prominent critic’s own reputation for arrogance, bombast and bluster.
Thomas Berry is a member of Children of Liberty.