Douthat, the “Conservatives,” and the Pope
November 30, 2013
It is difficult to get a grip on what Douthat takes to be the debate over Francis’ apparent agenda with regard to the Catholic Church. [See the link below to Douthat’s column in the NY Times.] And I think this is consistent with what is probably Douthat’s intention or his effect: To paint a picture of Francis that will blur the most significant differences between him and those Douthat labels “conservatives.” If that can be accomplished then Francis can be “tamed,” and his agenda can be made to look like merely a footnote to what is called “the teaching of the Catholic Church.”
What would this accomplish, you may ask? Well, if accomplished, then it short circuits attempts to create controversy with its inevitable accompaniment, questions about the way we humans have chosen to be in the world. That is, insofar as this works, then it would appear that there are no fundamental questions about the way we humans have arranged our world, especially “economically,” as we like to say.
[Whether there is such a thing as an “economy” I will leave to others to debate, but I will say that this is a legitimate question. For example, isn’t it interesting how many questions, like “What should wages be?” get turned into “economic” questions, rather than, say, questions of justice? “You want a just wage, you say? Well, that is idiotic. There is no such thing economically speaking.” But perhaps this is precisely what was the intended when the “economic sphere” was created.]
So, in order to short circuit any attempt to get people to think about “capitalism,” as it is conventionally called – although Aristotle might well call it “oligarchy” – what some are trying to do is to appear to embrace and then characterize Francis as little more than another traditional Catholic, whose agenda presents some wrinkles but no fundamental challenges to our conventional wisdom. That way, as noted above, no one will get the idea that it is legitimate and even reasonable to think that “capitalism” is a fundamentally flawed human arrangement. And if I am not mistaken, I think Francis is aware of this and, hence, he has undertaken to get “his message out” via interviews and other means available to him. Still, it will be a tough row to hoe for Francis insofar as the forces that be never roll over, unless it is to play dead. I can only hope that having opened what the “conservatives” take to be “Pandora’s Box” that Francis can keep it open and, thereby, challenge and even change our way of being in this world.