Archive for : January, 2017

Letter to the Globe and Mail January 17, 2017: Consultations and Helicopters

As printed:

Capitalism as Terrorism?

For this theme we credit Pope Francis:

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His remarks gained considerable news coverage, although he has stated that theme previously, with more rhetorical force. Consider some of the Pope’s remarks in 2015 to a congress in Bolivia:

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Let us entertain and explore this thesis. Accepting the Franciscan interpretation, ‘fundamental terrorism’ is capitalism that holds that money is more important than persons.

While the target of the Pope’s remarks is monetary avarice, we need to consider whether the moral challenge is more accurately but more generally directed against any belief or social organization which is considered more important than the welfare of persons.  Systems of religious belief have been considered in that light – i.e., as more important than the person – and indeed the Pope has apologized for the excesses of his own church’s savage and coercive evangelism in the past.  Systems of political belief have also asserted their primacy over the welfare of persons: forced collectivisations and the cultural revolution are immediate examples.

All those systems share the common goal of the betterment of the welfare of persons, whether betterment is understood as a heavenly reward, a proletarian paradise, or a general increase in prosperity.  It is also a common element that none of those belief systems work very well.

Each of the religious, political and economic systems has some tolerance for the other systems.  Capitalism and religion unite in the festivities surrounding Christmas.  The synchrony between politics and capitalism is apparent in Canadian tax policies for corporations and the wealthy.  Politics and religion unite in the declaration of our Charter of Rights that our country is “founded on principles which recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law”.  Less favourably, one might also note that politics and religion united in the establishment of residential schools for children of first peoples.  There have also been some attempts to create a religious/political (unholy?) alliance in various Charters of Values.

That tolerance among systems is, however, limited.  Scraps occur.  In Confederation, politics lost to religion in the provision of separate schools.  More recently, religion lost to capitalism in allowance of Sunday shopping.  Religion also lost to politics in the legalizations of abortion and same sex marriage.  For some time, politics was in the thrall of capitalism, through its tolerance of large financial contributions to political parties.  Capitalism is losing to politics in environmental issues, though the fight continues.

Public criticism from one belief to another is infrequent.  Religion is the more prevalent critic.   Criticism by church leaders against some political systems has been heroic, with mixed results – and sometimes much hurt to the church.  Criticism against capitalism is of much less risk, but also even less result.

So when the Pope suggests capitalism is a form of terrorism it represents, as it were, the usual kvetching. Is it a valid criticism? Of course it is! – depending on your definition of terrorism. The same definition which damns capitalism would also, I believe, indict religion and often politics.

This Pope has been a welcome breath of fresh air onto the discourse about our lives. But he still lives in a glass house.