Sunday’s New York Times profile of filmmaker Michael Moore, whose “Capitalism: A Love Story” opens nationwide Oct. 2, asked readers to view Moore as a modern-day embodiment of Charlie Chaplin:
… (In) films like “Fahrenheit 9/11,” “Bowling for Columbine” and “Sicko,” his hulking figure shambling toward company executives and bewildered security guards has become the postindustrial version of Chaplin’s Little Tramp.
But Moore is also a Roman Catholic, of one sort or another. So does this make him an incarnation of Dorothy Day? Writer Bruce Headlam told me less than I wanted to know about Moore’s Catholicism or his theology of social justice:
As much as Mr. Moore sometimes plays a comic-book version of class warrior–Left-Thing vs. the Republic of Fear!–his politics are not grounded in class as much as in Roman Catholicism. Growing up in Michigan, he attended parochial school and intended to go into the seminary, inspired by the priests and nuns who, at least until Pope John Paul II, inherited a long tradition of social justice and activism in the American church.
“The nuns always made a point to take us to the Jewish temple for Passover seders,” he said. “They wanted to make it clear that the Jews had nothing to do with putting Jesus up on the cross.”
Along with a moral imperative, Catholicism also gave a method. Mr. Moore idolized the Berrigan brothers, the radical priests who introduced street theater into their activism, for example, mixing their own napalm to burn government draft records. Their actions were a form of political spectacle that, conceptually, is Marxist–workers seizing means of production and all that–and it influenced some of Mr. Moore’s best-remembered stunts.
Trolling the web, one finds that Moore describes himself as both a recovering and practicing Catholic. In 2007 he told The Seattle Times:
I’m actually a fairly conservative person. I live a very conservative lifestyle. I try to go to church most Sundays. I was raised Catholic, so I’m Catholic–sometimes a recovering Catholic. I’ve been with the same woman for the past 26 years.
On Moore’s own site, one finds articles praising the Catholic Worker movement. And in “Jesus w. Christ,” a chapter in his 2003 book, Dude, Where’s My Country?, Moore skewers conservatives’ faith that they best understand God’s plan for our world.
Some of my evangelical friends say, “Moore may be a good Catholic but he’s not a true Christian.” Many of these folks would be equally dismissive of Catholic social teaching on capitalism and social justice for the poor.
I still don’t know the theology, if any, behind Moore’s critique of capitalism. Perhaps there’s an enterprising reporter out there who can explore that angle in depth with Moore during his press blitz for “Capitalism: A Love Story.” Can we have some factual details about Moore and his current life in the church?