Dear Pope Ben (may I call you Ben? I'm not one much for titles; hope you understand),
So you've finally finished your long-awaited encyclical on "Charity in Truth," mostly about global economic issues, which is being characterized (by the New York Times, at least) as a call for a "New World Economic Order." The quotes are theirs.
That term? Truly unfortunate. Let's not feed the conspiracy nuts, OK? Especially because the phrase "New World Order" freaks out both anti-government types AND fundamentalist Christians of the non-Catholic variety, pairing up a call for a new economic parity with a call for central global economic oversight (through "world government" agencies, sort of like an über-UN) is a bit of a non-starter in terms of basic PR. (Especially when it's, you know...a guy originally from Germany making the call. Hey, I'm not saying you're like that other guy. I'm just saying, people will talk.)
The document is apparently so chock-full of CEO-style business speak, it would feel more at home in the business ethics section of Barnes & Noble than the Religion shelves. So much so that the Vatican had a bitch of a time translating it into Latin. (What is it with the Latin, anyway? I thought that went away with Vatican II. Oh, wait...maybe you restored that. I heard something about you being a bit of a traditionalist. My fault. I've been out of touch with you and yours for the past 25 years, so I've lost track.)
I actually kind of feel sorry for the translators, though. I mean, I figure they went into the priesthood and/or academic theology expressly so they could avoid spending their lives poring over passages like this:
Systems of social security can lose the capacity to carry out their task, both in emerging countries and in those that were among the earliest to develop, as well as in poor countries. Here budgetary policies, with cuts in social spending often made under pressure from international financial institutions, can leave citizens powerless in the face of old and new risks; such powerlessness is increased by the lack of effective protection on the part of workers' associations. Through the combination of social and economic change, trade union organizations experience greater difficulty in carrying out their task of representing the interests of workers, partly because Governments, for reasons of economic utility, often limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labour unions.
Dude, that's, like, something out of The Economist, not The Catechism. I got through three years of college Latin, and I don't know where I'd even begin.
In ancient Rome, they didn't even have vocabulary for ideas like "financial institutions" or or "labor unions" or "global financial meltdown" or "ethical capitalism."
Anyway, never mind about the Latin.
I won't lie; I'm never going to read the entire encyclical.
Instead, I'm going to do what everybody else does in modern journalism/punditry: I'm going to rely on secondhand summaries and abstracts and reports from other people who claim to have read it, and commentary on the commentary, to form a half-assed not-really informed opinion, and then kind of run with it. (I mean, really, it's apparently over 100 pages. Just that half-graf up there made my head ache, and that's without any footnotes or [gulp] references to scripture, or other previous encyclicals, like the one by Pope Paul II that this one was apparently first supposed to commemorate.)
Eventually I figure there'll be maybe six dozen theologians on earth who'll read and summarized the original document; a few hundred who'll comment on the summaries; a few thousand who'll read excerpts of the scholarly commentaries; and finally, millions who'll hear a gloss on it in bullet point form in church one Sunday. (Sort of like another long-ass document that very few people actually bother to read in its entirety but consider themselves experts on...The Holy Bible.)
So, here's what I know from the New York Times story, based on heresay and the random odd quote from people who say they've read it.
- Charity is good, because the poor really do need to be able to eat and stuff.
- The current global economic system shows "the pernicious effects of sin" and, oh, yeah, it tends to make the rich richer and the poor poorer, too.
- The widening gap between the rich and the poor is un-good.
- Environmentally friendly economic development is good.
- Ethical capitalism (whatever that is) is good.
- The next iteration of the global economy should be built around God. (As God does not issue quarterly reports or P&Ls or go through formalities like SEC filings, I'm a bit unclear about how this would really work, but I'll leave that to the headachy theologians who've made it through the encyclical to figure out. An IPO, maybe? Getcher shares in God, Inc. here?)
- Abortion, stem-cell research, and euthanasia are still decidedly un-good.
While I can get behind many of those ideas in a general altruistic way (well, except the "God" thing and that last randomly tacked-on "pro-life" bit, which I know you pretty much have to append as a footnote to everything you ever write, up to and including your shopping lists), I do wonder: Didn't the Roman Catholic Church engage in one of the longest, most protracted wealth-grabbing enterprises in the history of the world for well over a thousand years, give or take a few hundred?
Well, never mind about that, too.
Look, it's cool that somebody's sticking up for the poor, the workers, the have-nots. That somebody in a position of some kind of power (even if it's mostly symbolic, rather than real) is willing to point out that the way we're living as a species is unsustainable. That financial systems set up to generate and value profit above everything else are inherently...well, Evil.
I just kinda wish it hadn't been phrased in such a way as to start the Armageddon Alarmists up.
I mean, they're already convinced Barack Obama is the antichrist, and that we're living in the Last Days. Now you've gone and given them something else to sink their tiny, malformed little recessive-gene teeth into with this New World Order, One World Government stuff.
One of the Fallen