Now that the pope’s trip to the United States is complete, I feel comfortable offering some analysis of it. The only problem is that everyone already wrote their “POPE FRANCIS IS AN EVIL LEFT WING PINKO” and “POPE FRANCIS IS A PROGRESSIVE HERO” articles, like, 14 minutes after his plane touched down in Washington, D.C., so by now you’re all poped out. There’s a short window to have opinions about a thing before everyone moves on to the next thing, and I’m outside that window. I get it.
Be that as it may, I feel the need to submit perhaps the 90,000 and last Pope Francis think piece, at least until the next pope-related occurrence renews the debate. As it happens, I don’t believe he’s a progressive — evil or otherwise — yet I don’t believe the criticisms from conservatives have been entirely without merit. Still, we should be able to disagree with the man without painting him as an enemy of our cause. That’s what troubled me the most over the past week; not what was revealed about the pope, but about conservatism.
Now, I’ll offer my critique upfront. The pope does deserves criticism, and has indeed received plenty of it, for failing to be more precise and straightforward in his condemnations of abortion, particularly in front of Congress. He was given the historic opportunity to speak to the entire House and Senate, and he fumbled this unprecedented chance to specifically and explicitly hold our lawmakers accountable for actively facilitating the ongoing slaughter of the unborn. Some apologists for the pope have reminded me that he didn’t need to say the word “abortion” in order to speak in defense of babies. This is true, and it’s true that he did speak eloquently and profoundly about the “dignity of life,” but none of these defenders have been able to answer this question: why not say the word? Why not condemn the mass killing of children in clear and particular language?
There is absolutely no question that the pope is against abortion. He’s spoken about it plenty of other times in plenty of other places, even on his trip here, and that is precisely what makes his approach on Capitol Hill so frustrating. Yes, he sermonized about abortion subtly with almost everything he said, but America is not a place for subtlety. America is a place where you need to occasionally come out and yell, “FOR ANYONE WHO IS CONFUSED, I AM TALKING ABOUT ABORTION RIGHT NOW AND SAYING THAT YOU SHOULDN’T KILL BABIES, OK?”
The pope can’t always cater to the oblivious sorts of people who could listen to a 60 minute speech about the dignity of human life and not understand that the man delivering it is avidly pro-life, but sometimes he needs to cater to them. In front of Congress was one of those times. If not for the benefit of the lawmakers then for the sake of the people watching at home. All because he made the defense of life a gentle underlying theme, liberals were yet again able to claim that he doesn’t really care that much about abortion. This is a false charge, but the more the lie spreads, the more it creates a moral scandal in this country. The pope should do what it takes to alleviate it. He didn’t while he was here, at least not during his two most prominent speeches in English, and that was a terrible and tragic error.
However, as conservatives, I don’t think this makes the pope our enemy, nor does it make it wise or right or prudent or honest to do as many have done and write him off as a bad guy. Usually for reasons that have little to do with what I just said, and more to do with the pope’s opinions on immigration, climate change, and the economy, many on the right have totally rebuked him, heaping upon him the sort of vicious hatred usually reserved for Hillary Clinton or Harry Reid. It should be possible to outline your differences with the pope while making it clear you’re still on the same side of the cultural battle, but a large number of conservative made no such attempt.
Conservatives I otherwise respect threw conniption fits last week, some going so far as to shout “f**k the pope.” While he was out kissing disabled children, providing lunches for the homeless, and preaching of Christ’s love and mercy, some on “my side” looked on with an embarrassing level of disgust and anger. George Will went ballistic, claiming the pope “stands against modernity, rationality, and science,” which is blather straight from the liberal playbook. As the pope visited with the nuns who are being targeted by President Obama’s contraception mandate, preached everywhere about the dignity of life and the family, and brought the Gospel to many millions, Ben Shapiro at Breitbart accused him of “slapping conservatives in the face.” Shapiro, who I respect, strained to find evidence to support this meme, falling back on blaming the pope for things other people did in his presence, like when an illegal immigrant child ran up to the Pope Mobile to give him a letter. GASP! LIBERAL! Contributors here at TheBlaze laughably labeled the pope “Obama in a white robe” and scolded him for his “ugly track record.”
And these sorts of comments were nothing compared to the vitriol that poured all over social media. It got to the point where I couldn’t even mention his name on Twitter without right wingers calling him a “piece of sh*t” and a “f**king communist.” For whatever reason, my email inbox became a sounding board for pope complaints, and most of them were downright unhinged. Here’s just one sample:
Dear Matt, WHEN are you going to finally come out and condemn this LIBERAL MARXIST PRO-ABORTION Pope? He is no better than OBAMA. He is a disgrace and any “conservative” who defends him is a DISGRACE too. I don’t usually use foul language… but to hell with this f**king Pope.
These are strange times.
I understand we disagree with him on a few things, but to make him out as the enemy of conservatism? That is a very confusing development, and it only gets more confusing when you consider that Donald freaking Trump has been lovingly adopted by right at the very moment the pope is cast aside and disowned. What kind of sense does that make?
Yes, it’s true that most conservatives love capitalism and this pope doesn’t, but why does that matter so much? He is far from the first Christian to feel this way. Many great Christian thinkers, especially in the 20th century, have expressed severe skepticism about an economic system that, they believe, consolidates wealth around a tiny fraction of the population. GK Chesterton once said “the problem with capitalism is not too many capitalists, but not enough capitalists.” I think this sums up the pope’s view on the subject as well, and it about represents the feelings of a large number of wise and godly Christians. Are conservatives in this country just now discovering the Christian criticism of free market capitalism? I’ve been reading similar ideas in Christian writings my whole life. Where have these people been?
Personally, I stridently dissent from the pope and other Christ followers on this subject. I think capitalism is by far the best system to care for the the poor and the downtrodden, and protect the liberty and freedom of us all. I also strongly disagree with the pope’s acceptance of the man-made climate change myth. But do these disagreements — despite all of the areas where the pope is fundamentally and crucially right, despite his evident character and integrity, despite his foundational love for Our Lord, despite his insistence that human society be ordered towards God and Truth, despite his crusade for human dignity — mean he is not on “my side”? Should I cherish Donald Trump more than Pope Francis merely because one spews the “right” talking points on immigration and the economy? Is “conservatism” really nothing more than a secular religion of capitalism and nationalism? Does it have nothing to say about goodness, virtue, dignity, and universal truth? If a man is right about what we should do with our souls but wrong about what we should do with our money, should I “condemn” him?
[sharequote align=”center”]If conservatism is more in line with Donald Trump than Pope Francis, I want nothing to do with it.[/sharequote]
If that’s what that conservatism is, then I would like to officially declare my emancipation from it. If conservatism is more in line with Donald Trump than Pope Francis, I want nothing to do with it. If conservatism does not see issues of life, dignity, and moral truth as primary, then I am not a conservative. Sure, I like capitalism, I want to close the border, I don’t believe in climate change, yadda yadda and so forth, but I have never seen these as fundamental to my identity. And I have never judged a person as an ideological opponent based only on these issues.
My attitude has always been this: if you are pro-life, if you are pro-family, if you believe in reclaiming the culture for God, if you reject moral relativism, if you are a truth seeker who knows that man’s ultimate goal and purpose is to find everlasting life in eternal union with our Creator, you are on my side. For a long time, I also thought you were on the “conservative” side. Maybe I was wrong about that.
Remember, no matter the label we use, Christ said “For whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40). Whether the person is the pope or the plumber, if they fall into the category I just listed, they certainly cannot be against us. They may differ on secondary issues, and they may differ on how best to achieve the primary end, but if they seek truth, goodness, and life eternal, then they are a friend and an ally in the fight against the forces of darkness. Period. This is what Christ plainly told us.
If “conservatism” is a system of thought that might still make an enemy of such a person, then “conservatism” works against Christ’s explicit commands. If your “conservative” leanings lead you to categorically denounce good and faithful Christians who “worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23) due to differences over financial policies and immigration law, then you have sculpted an idol out of an ideology. You have placed it above things eternal. You have made it your golden calf and your damnation.
So, yes, if conservatism is really just about protecting capitalism and the border — worthy causes, unless they are your only causes– then the pope is not one. But, for God’s sake, he certainly cannot be seen as a liberal. Liberalism — or progressivism, or secular humanism, or whatever label you use — is dedicated to the undermining of absolute truth, the eradication of religious faith, the instillation of moral relativism, and the deification of the self. It sees the pursuit of pleasure and comfort as the ultimate goal of existence. It is by definition against Christianity, and in fact the destruction of Christianity is its greatest mission. It worships death and sex and believes that the most vulnerable and inconvenient human beings ought to be executed and thrown in the dumpster. It does not recognize good or evil, sin or virtue, and at every turn it degrades man’s dignity and purpose. This is the enemy. Not the people themselves, but their ideology, their religion. This is what we should concentrate on fighting. And in that struggle, the pope is very much on our side.
Even the pope’s views that some consider “liberal” are, at their base, incredibly anti-liberal. Much was made of the pope’s “climate change encyclical,” Laudato Si — conservatives (who didn’t read it) accused it of being a screed indistinguishable from a chapter in an Al Gore book. But what they seemed to miss (because the media didn’t tell them) is that the document also condemns abortion, “transgenderism,” and feminism.
Liberal? I don’t see much “liberalism” there, just as I see very little that could be called “liberal” in his various remarks last week.
Personally, I was moved by many of his speeches, especially when he spoke so consistently about the dignity of human life and reminded us of God’s relentless pursuit of His lost sheep. “We are sought by God; he waits for us,” the pope said. I needed to hear that, I don’t know about you. And I think the culture needed to hear it. And I think it says something very troubling about American conservatism that so many of us must find reason to be cynical about it.
Have you gone back and read the transcripts of his speeches? Probably not. But I have, and I found little resembling modern liberalism in them.
Tell me, does a “liberal” preach about the “transcendent dignity of human life” which should inspire us to “protect life at every stage,” as Francis did in his remarks to Congress? Does an opponent of conservatism invite us to partake in the “feast of the Gospel” and speak about the family as a “domestic church,” as Francis did to World Meeting of Families on Sunday? Does a “piece of sh*t communist” remind us that God “never forsakes his loving plan or repent of having created us,” as Francis did at the White House? Does “Obama in a white robe” say that “the similarities between the civil institution of marriage and the Christian sacrament [should be] considerable and shared,” as Pope Francis did when speaking to bishops in Philadelphia? Does a liberal heathen invite us to “receive from Christ the power of the resurrection” and assure us that “Jesus will come to meet us [and] restore our dignity as children of God,” as Francis did in his address to inmates at a prison in Philadelphia? Would a “liberal” insist that government officials like Kim Davis have a “human right” to refrain from participating in gay marriages, like he did when speaking to reporters on Sunday?
Could you imagine Obama ever saying that “the limitation of power is an idea implicit in the concept of law itself” or that we ought to have “universal fraternity and respect for the unborn” like Francis did at the U.N.? Could you picture Nancy Pelosi suggesting that “all that is beautiful leads us to God” and that “in the family there is always light,” like Francis did during the World Meeting of Families?
Beyond his speeches last week, would a “liberal”, criticize the culture of death? Would a “liberal” compare left wing gender theory to the proliferation of nuclear weapons? Moreover, if Pope Francis is “moving the Church to left,” why would he reaffirm the ban on women in the priesthood and officially prohibit “transgenders” from being godparents?
Even the pope’s most famous “liberal” remark was actually a profound indictment of liberal thought. He notoriously quipped “who am I to judge?” when asked about homosexuals, but the rest of his response makes clear that he was saying he wouldn’t judge a homosexual who accepts and follows Christ, remains chaste, and doesn’t succumb to his inclinations. He said the the “tendency” is not the issue. It is the act, the choice, the sin that is wrong. This is not a “liberal” conception of homosexuality. It is a Christian conception.
The pope is not a liberal. He may not be a perfect man, but he is a very decent, honest, and God fearing one, and he has done nothing to earn the scorn and contempt of the very people who claim to desire what he desires: a culture centered around God and Truth.
Is that not our goal?
Are we not on the same side so long as we desire that same end?
I thought that’s what we were fighting for.
Maybe I was wrong.
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