BY ROBERT E. MEYER
A big pre-Christmas news story was that Roman Catholic leader Pope Francis was named TIME Magazine’s “Person of the Year.” That happening requires an interpretation. In my estimation, it is an ominous sign for cultural trends.
While I’m happy that the Pope was selected over entertainers such as Miley Cyrus, the very fact that Cyrus was even considered a finalist to begin with makes the selection criteria more than a bit suspect. While I am not a Roman Catholic, I recognize the Pope’s influence over multitudes of people world wide. That is why the way he is perceived is of vital concern.
Pope Francis has raised eyebrows for his apparently moderating the church’s positions on cultural issues during his brief tenure. Apologists for the Pope have often asserted that some of his statements were either misunderstood or taken out of context. Perhaps so, but one thing is abundantly clear: cultural secularists have perceived many of his statements quite favorably. To paraphrase Dan Barker, spokesperson for the Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation: the new Pope is more popular because he seems less Catholic that previous Popes were. What Barker means is that the current Pope has taken emphasis off doctrinal issues and focused more on policies promoting economic egalitarianism.
Whenever a religious leader gains accolades from those who are customarily opposed to anything remotely Christian in its orientation, I know it’s high time to scratch below the surface. The Pope has followed a theme that has been overworked by secularists for a long time, depicting the true Christ-like demeanor as one that is exclusively a soldier for economic social justice. At least that’s how secularists see it.
This posture is contrasted with a pejorative caricature of the classic religious conservative or “fundamentalist,” who is supposedly unconcerned about the well-being of people and obsessed with compliance to doctrines and moral strictures. The great culture hoax has been to present these contrasting personas as the true and counterfeit visages of Christianity respectively, setting up a false dichotomy. Seldom does anyone explain the necessity for emphasizing one over the other or why both humanitarian objectives and fidelity to traditional moral precepts come into conflict. They clearly don’t.
It has become customary to take one facet of the character of Christ and amplify it as though it reflected the totality of Christ, when it actually presents a false, truncated Christ. If one carefully studies the Gospel accounts depicting the ministry of Jesus Christ, he or she will see contrasting elements. He was humble and He was bold. He was encouraging, yet He was critical. He was mild but sometimes harsh. He healed the sick while allowing a friend to die of illness. He championed the plight of the poor, yet He used a parable where a servant exercising poor stewardship had his stipend taken away and given to a wealthier servant. On one occasion, Jesus told his followers to buy a sword if they lacked it, but later He chastised the Apostle Peter for using a sword in defense against those trying to seize Jesus himself. The remarkable aspect of these observations are that Jesus always exhibited the correct response at the appropriate time
Those emphasizing their vision of economic social justice through political or government mandates, make a virtual cottage industry out of quoting the scriptural text Matthew 25:35-36
35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.
What I find ironic is that the passage uses the personal pronoun “You” six times. That sounds more like a personal mandate rather than a call for collectivism. Nowhere is the state mentioned here and nowhere does it claim that charity is accomplished through forcible wealth redistribution. Yet elements within Roman Catholicism and mainline Protestantism alike have waded neck deep in the quicksand of encouraging socialist economic policies, while skirting or deemphasizing the issues of individual morality. The mistake they make is being errant on the issue proper jurisdiction. When the duties of the church and individual believer are delegated to the state, it won’t be long before religious liberty is in jeopardy, and the church finds its cultural influence fleeting. Roman Catholics should have learned their lesson based on their experiences with Obamacare.
Those who flirt with the notion that the proper economic paradigm of Christianity is socialism better ask why the icons of communism tended to be militant atheists. So if the Pope thinks we need less consumerism and more compassion, I’m the first to second the motion. If the argument is that our economic system must be transformed toward socialism, count me out.