On progressive news sites, Pope Francis is all the rage. Not only has he taken on the bishops, now he is taking on the ruling elites of the world. In his first major statement to the world, his “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), the Pope addresses issues of trickle-down economics, runaway inequality, and the idolatry of money. His statements pull no punches. He says that for the rich not to share their wealth with the poor is nothing less than theft. The entire document is devoted to an effort to reverse the horrors brought on the world by unrestrained capitalism. The one concern one might have with his statement is that he does not mention the sexual abuses of his own priests. But, let us not quibble. What he does is valuable enough that we can leave for another day the retribution that the bishops and priests so richly deserve.
I will leave it to the interested reader to pursue a closer examination of the Pope’s statement. My purpose is to follow up on articles I have written previously about the revolution in progress. The Pope is perhaps the most prominent of those who speak our language. Here is my take on how his words dovetail with our wishes for the revolution.
The Pope speaks to the wealthy of the world, admonishing them for their callousness and greed. But, at no point in history have the powerful readily given up their loot. In the past there has been much blood shed as the rich used every means at their disposal to protect themselves and their stolen goods. We are hopeful for a bloodless revolution. Very few people are willing to rush to the barricades with handguns to face the well-trained armies, the modern weaponry and the brutal, soulless mercenaries and militias that the wealthy will be able to marshall to protect them. This revolution must be different. It is not to be fought, but to be persuaded among those who have lost much and stand to lose a great deal more.
The problem that the revolution faces is that too many people have bought into the adulation of the rich and their riches. Even as the former marginal citizens have been left homeless and destitute, even as the former middle class citizens are now poor and working menial jobs for less than a living wage, even now the newly bottom rung rich are plotting how they can protect their gains by fawning over the next levels up. In the meantime, the super rich have morphed into cretins who believe that their riches are self-justifying. That is, the very fact that they are so rich means that they are super beings who have no need to acknowledge the existence of mere mortals. Those rich people who feel secure, like Bill Cosby, are filling the airwaves with their counsel for the poor to “clean themselves up, get an education, get a job and stop depending on handouts.” They ignore the abundant evidence that the college graduates who did all of those things are living with their parents or crashing with friends because the rich people are hoarding their loot in offshore accounts, hiring mercenaries and forming militias to protect their riches and defend themselves against the inevitable.
For the revolution to be bloodless, it has to build in the minds of those who are no longer mesmerized by the glitter of fool’s gold. The tragedy of broken lives and the carnage wrought by unfettered capitalism are open for all to see. The greatest tragedy is that US citizens no longer trust each other. In my lifetime, I have seen a society in which a gentleman’s word was as good as a contract. I have lived in a world in which loyalty, honesty and integrity were not just words, but visible characteristics of real people. As the US has grown to be the richest and most powerful country in the world, the seeds of its destruction were being sown in the slick deals of small time charlatans, in the small print of contract lies, in the get rich quick schemes of the real estate agents, and among the technological whiz kids and the mega-church preachers selling the gospel of greed while pounding bibles of gold. As a result of these culturally condoned practices, people began to realize that the trusting ones were victimized at will by criminals who laughed all the way to the bank. Most of all, this country has been sold by greedy politicians who openly sell their votes to the highest bidder. The politicians will tell any lie and authorize any criminal action as long as their despicable supporters help them to retain their cushy jobs at taxpayers’ expense. The highest bidders have bought a functioning democracy and transformed it into a cesspool of oligarchy. We have, as a nation, sold the land of the free and the home of the brave into penury and despair for less than the price of a lottery ticket.
The path we have been on as a nation has been a smoothly paved road. Concrete now covers the spaces where people used to congregate; the town halls, the open air markets, the village dance halls. They were the places where neighbors could discuss with each other how they were fairing in the society for which all were responsible. As the nation grew richer, the slick ones began to devise schemes to bilk their neighbors and move on to the real action. People, once neighbors, became strangers, enclosed in brand spanking new houses, in sterile subdivisions and all afraid of other strangers…who are now their so-called neighbors. Now, the concrete builds super highways leading to massive malls with acres of parking spaces where the only discourse is based on buying and selling. Most contact among people is now in cyberspace using technology only the marginally successful can afford. The people who have the most opportunity to interact with others are the homeless, the desperately poor and the few remaining caregivers who have retained perhaps the last vestiges of humanity. It is the caregivers, the most admirable of human beings, who willingly sacrifice their own chance at comfort to relieve the suffering of the victims of a society gone mad.
This world we have built cannot last. The only chance for a peaceful revolution has begun. It has to have begun because if it has not, the world will not be able to contain the fury that a violent revolution will unleash. A peaceful revolution depends on understanding what is happening right now. Capitalism, consumerism and the adulation of the rich and powerful have produced the world that we see. Undoubtedly there are rich people who have retained their humanity and their integrity. But, all too often for a peaceful world, unrestrained riches only leads to unrestrained inhumanity. The richest, most powerful country in the world has shown abundantly where such riches and power can lead. The horrors inflicted on the world’s people, including Americans, by this country’s rulers and their alliances with the ruling elites of the world must end. It is time for a peaceful revolution of knowledge, understanding and mutual support to bring us back from the brink of disaster.
Long live Pope Francis! Peace be with you, my good brother.