Economically, Pope Francis’ encyclical is an uninspired re-hash of the Marxist-Leninist diatribes against Western imperialism that have been the lingua franca of the international Left for 150 years. Worse than that, this shallow, cliche-ridden document is a betrayal of the Christian faith
Pope Francis is playing with fire. It seems that the converging crises engulfing the Catholic Church and the need to cultivate a supportive global constituency based on the Third World may have pushed the Pope to both ignore the free-market basis of functioning economic systems and desert the fundamental principles of Christianity.
Caught in a perfect storm of scandal and relevance, Francis appears prepared to capitulate to the neo-Marxist paganism that underlies the Deep Green ideology of the global environmental movement and assume a vanguard role in constructing a global welfare state, established to mitigate the alleged effects of climate change. This capitulation has two dimensions: economic and theological, as will be discussed below.
The Pope’s encyclical Laudato si’ (‘Praise Be to You’) on the environment has already attracted massive attention, and has been deliriously applauded by radical environmentalists, political radicals, moral utopians, failed states, kleptocracies, NGOs, and the innumerable other rent-seeking organizations and elites that stand to benefit if they are successful in imprisoning the productive forces of the world within a global straightjacket controlled by them.
It also has been criticized and even ridiculed for the inaccurate and alarmist claims it makes about the nature and extent of global climate change. Nevertheless, despite its weaknesses, the encyclical is widely seen in messianic terms. The Guardian sees it literally as a “miracle”. While Paul B. Farrell opines at MarketWatch that “Pope Francis’ historic anti-capitalism revolution is divinely inspired” and will launch an epoch-defining global upheaval:
Pope Francis has a grand mission here on Earth, and he gives no quarter … he is a revolutionary. Pope Francis’s call-to-arms will be broadcast loud, clear and worldwide. Not just to 1.2 billion Catholics, but heard by seven billion humans all across the planet. The fact is the pontiff is already building an army of billions, in the same spirit as Gandhi, King and Marx.
This is an astonishing claim to make about any Pope, but Farrell drives the point home:
These are revolutionary times. Deny it all you want, but the global zeitgeist has thrust the pope in front of a global movement, focusing, inspiring, leading billions. Future historians will call Pope Francis the “Great 21st Century Revolutionary”.
The delirium continues:
Watch the ripple effect … after Pope Francis addresses the UN General Assembly [and] how the revolution picks up steam after the UN’s Paris Climate Change Conference announces a new international treaty approved by the leaders of America, China and two hundred nations worldwide.
The propaganda impact will be immense, as “the revolution kicks into high-gear after the pope’s message has been translated into more than a thousand languages … and broadcast to seven billion worldwide.”
Tragically, at an economic level, the encyclical has little to offer the global masses. It is economically illiterate, perpetuating the myth that poverty can be overcome through moral exhortation, central control and income redistribution, rather than the promotion of free enterprise and individual effort. It also promotes a cargo cult mentality, according to which the ‘rich North’ of the global economy owes an ‘ecological debt’ to the supplicant nations of the ‘poor South’, as if this will be rectified by the gargantuan transfer of wealth from the tax-paying middle classes of advanced societies to the various corrupt and incompetent regimes that control these ‘victim’ countries.
It is hard to credit that Francis, or any person of intelligence and a presumed advanced awareness of the human capacity for wickedness, could imagine that a trillion dollar global fund could or should be created by pillaging the Western middle classes and then funnelling that swag to the masses in Botswana, Bolivia, Swaziland, South Africa, the Philippines and innumerable other supplicant nations without seeing corruption, incompetence, and maladministration on an utterly unprecedented scale.
In fact, economically the encyclical is merely a re-hash of the familiar Marxist-Leninist diatribes against Western imperialism that have been the lingua franca of the international Left for 150 years. Consequently, in its hysterical utopianism it invokes the same totalitarian ideology that provided a rationale for the catastrophic forms of centralized state economic planning that crippled the economies, devastated the environment, and systematically enslaved and killed scores of millions of people in the Soviet Union, Communist China, Cambodia, and other communist states.
Operating under the thrall of Marxism-Leninism, an earlier generation of economically illiterate ideologues attempted to run the economies of those benighted states (intended to be utopias of peace and social justice) via bureaucratic diktat and brought only carnage and disaster. Disturbingly, it appears that the Pope’s encyclical proposes that this murderous and dictatorial approach be pursued on a global scale, using the notoriously corrupt United Nations as its vehicle or model.
Such draconian action is justified, according to Pope Francis, because it is not communist or fascist (or Islamist) totalitarianism that has proven to be the problem of the modern world. Neither is it endemic corruption, or ethnic, tribal and religious hatreds, or theocratic Messianism and obscurantism that are stopping nations from achieving their potential.
Rather, it is free market capitalism that is the “root cause” of all of the world’s problems. Capitalism, inter alia, involves immorality, social injustice, “the greedy exploitation of environmental resources, [the] monopolizing of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water … climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation [and other] devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness.” What the latter are is left quite imprecise, but there is no recognition of the great human cataclysms wrought by totalitarian regimes based on the central planning of bureaucracies pursuing utopian fantasies.
In this context, the Pope’s recent acceptance (right) from the socialist president of Bolivia of a crucifix in the form of the crucified Christ nailed to a hammer and sickle is truly disturbing. Conflating Christ with the dread symbol of Marxist-Leninist oppression is not only an insult to Christians and the victims of Stalin’s purges it also promotes the notion that Christianity and communism somehow share the same ethical values — a falsehood providing the rationale for the same neo-Marxist Liberation Theology that Francis once opposed but now seems desperately anxious to embrace, as I discussed in an earlier Quadrant article.
According to Laudato si’, capitalism also promotes what Francis sees as the twin blights of consumerism and individualism: “excessive consumerism is killing our culture, values and ethics”, while “the conservative ideal of individualism is undermining the common good.” It also causes idolatry: “We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money.”
As these quotes illustrate, Francis has a particularly dire view of the role played by currency in society and the economy:
It is no longer man who commands, but money. Cash commands. Greed is the motivation … An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it.
Consequently, Francis calls for a “radical new financial and economic system to avoid human inequality and ecological devastation.” It appears that Francis has not bothered to look across the Adriatic at Greece to see how quickly a society and its economy disintegrate without properly functioning monetary and financial systems. Indeed, Greece is the perfect example of what happens when gigantic and centralized political and economic organizations pursue grand aims that entrap entire nations in their plans. Its fate also exemplifies the consequences for those countries of pretending that economic laws don’t exist.
In sum, according to Francis, global capitalism is the rapacious colonialism of our time, for which the West must make amends. It has made people slaves to greed, spread poverty, destruction, and death on a global scale, and “destroys Mother Earth” in the process. Money and capitalism, Francis declared in Bolivia, are “the dung of the devil.”
Francis made his radical ideological and political commitments crystal clear by embracing the views of anti-capitalist and Deep Green ideologue Naomi Klein. Indeed, it’s been observed that in Laudato si’ and his public statements Francis “sounded like Naomi Klein in a cassock“. Klein is a self-defined “secular Jewish feminist” who appears to fancy herself as a modern day Rosa Luxemburg, dedicated to leading the people into the golden age of communism. She has recently published a widely promoted polemical tome, immodestly titled This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, in which she advocates “managed de-growth” on a global scale, ostensibly to combat climate change.
In fact, Klein has made it clear that she joined the climate change crusade as a means to the end of mobilizing the global masses in a rebellion against capitalism. This followed a conversion experience in Geneva that she describes in This Changes Everything. There, a Bolivian economist explained how climate change panic meant his nation could now portray itself as ‘climate creditor’, morally empowered to demand money, technology and aid from the richer ‘climate debtor’ nations of the West.
Suddenly, Klein realized how the threat of climate change could be used to realign contemporary politics and serve as the basis of a populist campaign to reverse the neoliberalism that had reigned supreme since Thatcher and Reagan. In effect, climate change was to become the Trojan Horse through which the policies of deregulation, free trade, privatization, fiscal austerity, tax reductions, plus individual responsibility and a reduced public sector could be subverted and reversed, and a global welfare state established, financed by the Western middle classes.
After her book was published Klein was invited by the Pope to be a principal speaker in July at People and Planet First: The Imperative to Change Course, a two-day conference designed to shape an action plan around Laudato si,’ organized by the International Alliance of Catholic Development Organisations and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. In Rome, Klein promoted the radically interventionist and regulative nature of her strategy:
It means policies that directly regulate how much carbon can be extracted from the earth. It means policies that will get us to 100 per cent renewable energy in two or three decades – not by the end of the century. And it means allocating common, shared resources – like the atmosphere – on the basis of justice and equity.
“Justice and equity” (and access to the atmosphere), as defined by Klein and her supporters!
As with other totalitarian thinkers, Klein longs for the power to achieve the total mobilization of the earth’s people in the pursuit of her vision of a perfect world:
The stakes are so high, time is so short and the task is so large that we cannot afford to allow those differences to divide us. When 400,000 people marched for climate justice in New York last September, the slogan was ‘To change everything, we need everyone’.
Klein compares this level of mobilization to that achieved in total war, involving “the rationing and industrial conversions that were once made in wartime [and in] the anti-poverty and public works programs launched in the aftermath of the Great Depression and the Second World War.” This total mobilization, she explains in This Changes Everything, will right the wrongs of imperialism across the globe: “Climate change is our chance to right those festering wrongs at last – the unfinished business of liberation” from the historical depredations of the West. Co-opted as a vehicle for global socialist transformation, the climate change campaign will “become a catalysing force for positive change” in every area of life on earth. It will:
Demand the rebuilding and reviving of local economies … reclaim our democracies from corrosive corporate influence … block harmful free trade deals, [invest] in mass transit and affordable housing … remake our sick agricultural system … open borders to migrants … respect Indigenous land rights … bring jobs and homes [and] clean water [and] help to end … inequality within our nations and between them
The costs of remaking the world in this fashion will be carefully calibrated to target the global middle classes, demanding “sacrifice from those of us who can most afford to make do with less”. And their sacrifice will be justified because Klein’s strategy for a global economic shutdown will “save countless lives and prevent so much suffering”. Unfortunately, at no point in her massive tome does Klein even come close to defining “anything like an alternative economic system” to make any of this work, as even a sympathetic reviewer laments.
However, there is more to Klein than warmed-over Marxism-Leninism and reactionary welfare state policies, and it is here that Francis faces an unprecedented danger: theologically he appears to be capitulating to the neo-paganism of the environmental movement, the core of which is a radical devaluation of human life.
As Klein observes in a recent article in The New Yorker , “A Radical Vatican”, in Laudato si’ Francis asserts that “the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.”
You don’t get much more human-centred than the persistent Judeo-Christian interpretation that God created the entire world specifically to serve Adam’s every need. As for the idea that we are part of a family with all other living beings, with the earth as our life-giving mother, that too is familiar to eco-ears. But from the Church?
Klein sees the Pope’s concessions in this area as a great victory for neo-paganism and places it in the context of the Goddess worship that is endemic amongst New Agers, feminists, and radical environmentalists. For them, Christianity has always waged a war against both nature and women, violently subduing ‘the force of the feminine in nature’, conceived as Gaia, or earth goddess. Indeed, according to Klein, this hostility has historically been Christianity’s principle mission: “replacing a maternal Earth with a Father God, and draining the natural world of its sacred power, were what stamping out paganism and animism were all about.”
The significance of this shift towards neo-paganism was underlined by the forceful intervention at the Rome conference by the priest and theologian Seán McDonagh, who’d made his name with To Care for the Earth: A Call to a New Theology (1987) and The Greening of the Church (1990), which promoted the concept of ‘creation theology’. McDonagh was part of the team that had drafted Laudato si’ and, “his voice booming from the audience”, he urged the conference to recognize that “the love of nature embedded in the encyclical represents a profound and radical shift from traditional Catholicism.” Declared McDonagh, “We are moving to a new theology.”
The Deep Green orientation of this new theology has been defined by the Australian Catholic creation theologian Paul Collins, who applauds Francis for shifting from the ‘pale green’ compromises of his predecessors to a Deep Green stance:
Christianity’s basic problem (…) is its ingrained anthropocentrism … entirely focused on humankind and its needs and aspirations to the exclusion of all other species and priorities. It is the unconscious assumption that the earth exists for us and that its total meaning is derived from us.
The Deep Green view is that humanity is merely one more species among all the others, without any special claim to pre-eminence, based, e.g., on its sentience, possession of a soul, or its special relationship to God. Collins quotes Thomas Berry, who was McDonagh’s mentor, and complains that “we have become besotted with ‘the pathos of the human’ and take ourselves and our needs as the focus, norm, and final arbiter of all that exists.”
Casting aside any concern with ‘the pathos of the human’ as unworthy, these theologians advocate a shift in focus from humanity’s relationship with a transcendent God to an obsessive concern with the earth, conceived as a spiritual entity – a shift from anthropo-centrism to Gaia-centrism. The traditional Christian God is seen as the ultimate in patriarchal oppressiveness and rejected in favour of the nurturing, matriarchal Gaia. This is accompanied by a rejection of any particular interest in the traditional Christian concerns about sin, grace, redemption, or the soul, etc, in favour of agonizing about our relationship with the earth. The Gospel is re-interpreted to be Gaia-friendly and environmental issues are moved to centre-stage, with all social and political issues analysed in terms of humanity’s exploitative attitude towards the planet.
Unfortunately, aside from being fundamentally misanthropic, the neo-paganism of the Deep Greens with whom Francis appears to be aligning himself has its roots in Nazism and other forms of fascism. This is made clear in such recent books as How Green Were the Nazis?: Nature, Environment, and Nation in the Third Reich (2005), by Franz-Josef Brüggemeier, Mark Cioc, and Thomas Zeller. As they point out, Nazi environmentalists like Ernst Lehmann defined National Socialism in Deep Green terms, as made clear in Biologischer Wille. Wege und Ziele biologischer Arbeit im neuen Reich (1934):
We recognize that separating humanity from nature, from the whole of life, leads to humankind’s own destruction and to the death of nations. Only through a re-integration of humanity into the whole of nature can our people be made stronger. That is the fundamental point of the biological tasks of our age. Humankind alone is no longer the focus of thought, but rather life as a whole . . . This striving toward connectedness with the totality of life, with nature itself, a nature into which we are born, this is the deepest meaning and the true essence of National Socialist thought.
This close link between radical environmentalism and fascism is readily acknowledged by contemporary environmentalists. As Janet Biehl and Peter Staudenmaier, have warned in Ecofascism: Lessons from the German Experience (1995), the movement’s inherent authoritarianism could easily propel it into despotism:
An emancipatory ecological politics demands an acute awareness and understanding of the legacy of classical eco-fascism and its conceptual continuities with present day environmental discourse.
And as Peter Hay willingly observes in Main Currents in Western Environmental Thought (2002):
Ecological ideas appealed to the Nazis because they, too, believed that the laws of nature were immutable, and … with their economics of state-managed rather than market capitalism, they approved ecology’s opposition to the laissez-faire market.
As he points out, this attitude lives on not only among contemporary neo-Nazis, but throughout radical environmentalism. They all blame the ecological crisis (and most other evils in the world) on the United States: “American cultural imperialism is genocidal of other cultures … and its technological imperialism is destroying the global environment.”
This is a heady ideological concoction: eco-apocalypticism, global revolution, neo-Marxism, anti-Westernism, cargo cults, the politics of resentment, a global welfare state, economic illiteracy, neo-paganism, Goddess worship, fascism, and a betrayal of the Christian faith. Nevertheless, it appears an exhausted and demoralized Church is trying to re-establish its central position in world affairs by dumping its traditional faith to hook up with the neo-paganism and neo-Marxism of radical environmentalism.
Merv Bendle is a frequent contributor to Quadrant Online. He has a PhD in Comparative religion.