Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
October 19, 2009
Capitalism — A Love Story pulls no punches
Michael Moore calls capitalism ' organized greed:' The Catholic film maker recalls nun's entreaty to share
Journey to Justice
Recently I was invited to the pre-screening of a film that is now hitting big screens across Canada. Produced and directed by a man the Toronto Star refers to as "a liberal, gadfly documentarian," Michael Moore's Capitalism - A Love Story presents a mixed bag of sarcasm and anger.
One year after the demise of financial services giant Lehman Brothers and the devastating economic collapse felt around the planet, Academy Award winner Moore calls capitalism "organized greed," resulting in "the richest one per cent of Americans having more wealth than the bottom 95 per cent combined, and one in eight Americans either in delinquency or facing foreclosure on their homes (with one foreclosure filing every seven and a half seconds.")
WE MUST SHARE
Readers may be surprised to discover that Moore was raised Catholic in Flint, Mich. He holds in high regard the nuns who taught him, as they convinced their young charge that possession of wealth comes with a non-negotiable responsibility to share.
But what was most revealing about Moore's movie was the filming of no less than four Catholic priests, including two American bishops, who have no difficulty at all in denouncing the evils of modern capitalism. When did you last hear a sermon on that topic?
The point is not that Christians must all run out to see this particular movie. But it does occur to me that if the followers of Jesus knew and accepted the social thought of their traditions, the churches would be in the forefront of movements for political and economic change to the currently unfettered market system.
The Church was not always a critic of capitalism, of course. In the 1830s, Pope Gregory XVI called Catholics to "unchanging submission to the princes," which, he wrote, "flows from the most holy precepts of the Christian religion."
Contemporary Catholic social teaching is often marked by the publication in 1891 of Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum. This encyclical ushered in a new era: defending the European working class, sanctioning the formation of unions and proposing the right to a living wage.
In 1931, in the throes of the Great Depression, Pope Pius XI railed against "the international imperialism of money" which had brought untold suffering to millions. Nonetheless, the pope opined that, "Capitalism as such is not to be condemned." He felt no such compunction to avoid a condemnation of socialism, however, which "cannot be brought into harmony with the dogmas of the Catholic Church."
In Canada in those Dirty Thirties, the Catholic bishops warned the faithful to beware "provoking the class struggle" and to avoid an "exclusively materialistic conception of the social order." Two cardinals in Quebec (where the CCF was not well understood) condemned this new party by name.
By 1943, however, the Canadian bishops freed the people "to support any political party upholding the basic Christian traditions of Canada, and favouring the needed reforms in the social and economic order which are demanded with such an urgency in pontifical documents." The next year, the CCF took power in Saskatchewan (earning an estimated 50 per cent of Catholic support there.)
With the Synod of Bishops on Justice in the World and the encyclicals of Pope Paul VI in the early 1970s, democratic socialist critiques of capitalism became officially acceptable.
Latin American bishops opined that their people did not suffer from "underdevelopment" but from an economic system of "exploitation" and "institutionalized violence against the poor." As in the biblical story of Exodus, liberation became their goal.
The Canadian bishops' 1982 New Year's statement was best known for its contention that economic decline and high unemployment was related to the larger structural crisis of international capitalism. The bishops pulled no punches: the economic crisis displayed a "moral disorder."
Pope John Paul II, speaking in Latvia in 1993, noted that "While the Church has vigorously condemned socialism, it has also, from Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum on, distanced itself again and again from the capitalist ideology, holding it responsible for grave social injustices. . . . I have not hesitated myself to raise serious doubts regarding the validity of capitalism."
Pope Benedict's most recent encyclical also noted the "grave deviations and failures" of the currently under-regulated international economy.
Michael Moore seems to have grasped this in his most recent film: that while the purveyors of the Christian message have often preferred to console the suffering victims of capitalist excess, the critique of unjust economic systems is also our duty.
As the Canadian bishops reminded us in 1976, "Unfortunately, those who are committed to this Christian way of life are presently a minority in the life of the Catholic community. Yet this minority is significant because it is challenging the whole Church."
(Joe Gunn is the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, www.cpj.ca, an ecumenical social advocacy organization.)
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