Last night I discussed Ross Douthat’s commitment to his conservative ideology over his commitment to Christianity and the Catholic Church. And look, I know that I’ve been writing a lot about Pope Francis these days. But it’s important stuff. In a nation that is 80% Christian, it highlights not only our hypocrisy (not that interesting), it highlight the paucity of theological thought on the part of a people who claim that religion is very important to them.
As others have noted, Pope Francis is not the first Pope to talk about the immorality of our economic system. He’s just the first one who the media has paid attention to. Remember the last on, Pope Benedict, who everyone thought was just a mean old curmudgeon? In is encyclical Caritas in Veritate he wrote:
Oh my God, and I do mean that God—that Catholic God who made Pope Benedict infallible! The (infallible) man is talking about the importance of labor unions! Where was Stuart Varney when we needed him?!
But let’s be perfectly honest with no exaggeration: Stuart Varney is an idiot who no one with any sense takes seriously. Ross Douthat, however, is taken seriously. He’s one of the non-ranting conservatives who holds up his Catholic faith as a badge of honor. He even wrote a whole book about how we needed to get back to traditional religion, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. But as Michael Sean Winters, a writer for the National Catholic Reporter wrote in his devastating review of Bad Religion:
Ouch! But it goes right along with my argument that Ross Douthat should not be considered a Catholic thinker. Garry Wills he is not. He is first and foremost a conservative and then he uses his religion to justify that. Douthat’s big gripe is that religions are liberalizing to appeal to modern people. He is against such “accomodationism.” Winters calls him out on that issue:
If that is not accomodationism, I do not know what is. Collapsing Catholicism into capitalism is as much of an “accommodation” as collapsing it into the counterculture. Novak is so eager to pour the Scottish Enlightenment into the Gospels that he fails to note that it is a spirit of gratuitousness, not competition, that must characterize a Christian culture.
What I’m getting at here is not that Ross Douthat or any of the other conservatives who claim to be Christians are horrible people. And I’m not saying that a righteous Christian cannot be a conservative. But if you are a Christian, your religious should come first. But for most Christians I talk to, their politics come first and they use their religion to justify their politics—mostly with regard to reproductive and same sex marriage rights. And this to me means they are pretenders.
I like to think of myself as an interfaith atheist. I love the best that religion is and I take great joy in talking to peoples of all faiths about their beliefs and what they think of the great questions of life. But I have no tolerance for dogma. We are living through a dark ages of religion. More people than ever claim to have faith and all that, but it means less than it ever did. For most people, God is just the trump card, “I’m right because God says I’m right.” That’s all Ross Douthat does, although admittedly, he does it with much skill and obfuscation.
I may be an atheist, but I do have a creed: inclusion, equality, empathy, compassion. And my politics follow from it. I do not follow the teachings of the power elite and then justify them by cherry picking from a three-quarter million word tome. But I too can point to literature to justify my creed. Here is one by Emma Lazarus that you will perhaps recognize:
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand that
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
That is a real welcome, not a theoretical one. That is a sincere desire for equality, not nice words hiding the granite that separates them from us. That is real empathy because I and mine have struggled too. And that is real compassion and not the tidy platitude that all are equal in America. My creed may be wrong, but it is my creed. Ross Douthat’s creed is that of the American Enterprise Institute covered over with platitudes about peace and good will toward men.