Pope Francis is Writing an Encyclical on the Environment, and Both Sides of the Political Spectrum are Sharpening their Knives

Pope francis

Copyright Thierry Ehrmann, Flickr Commons, used with permission.

So, Pope Francis is going to write an encyclical on the environment, and the right wing heretics, the left wing heretics, the corporatists and the nihilists are sharpening their knives.

It would be a hopeful sign, that so many of our culture warriors and mega money-men are seemingly besotted with the pope to the point of losing all common sense.

It would be.

Except …

They are not besotted with the Pope as the Vicar of Christ. They are interested in him and his every little word because he has power, and power is what they are all about.

Pope Francis does not have the power to push a button and melt down mountains. He cannot sign an agreement and send the industrial base of a great capitalist nation to a communist nation. He can’t raid a national treasury and put the coin in his own pocket. He can not write a statue or issue an order and with his terrible swift pen KO the family, human life at its beginning or the tenuous hold on respect held by our frail elderly and disabled.


Pope Francis can not do any of those things. What he can do is speak directly to the conscience of billions of Christians by telling them the plain facts of what Christ meant. He has the power to take the phrase “the least of these” and tell us who the least of these is and what we must do for them. He can remind us that Jesus said it more than once and He said it without equivocation that if we ignore “the least of these” we will not see heaven.

Pope Francis can define for us what, specifically, following Christ means in our world today. He can elucidate for us what the Scriptures mean when they tell us that we are our brothers’ keeper and that we have dominion over the earth.

We live in a time when corporatists are raping the American economy for their gain, while they also rape the planet on which we all live. At the same time, nihilists are selling us a cant of destruction of the family, the devaluation of human life and bloated social programs that not only do not heal the wounds our indifference to human beings have inflicted but are increasingly becoming a means to attack the rights and freedoms Americans enjoy.

Does anybody besides me see that these two things are not opposites? They are different verses of the same song, and that same song is the satan-inspired ballad of the pit, the cultural refutation of the value, dignity, worth and meaning of human life. The fact that one side does it for corporate interests and the other side does it for nihilistic interests makes no real difference. Dead is dead and we are killing ourselves in the service of these false gods of our politics.

Patheos writers from every quarter comment about this, each in their own way.

Frank Schaeffer recently published a passionate article in the Huffington Post in which he repented of and disavowed his religious right past. I think he got his politics a bit wrong when he said, … the American right is not about politics as most people understand politics but about religious absolutes. 

That may be the zeitgeist viewpoint, but from my vantage of having just completed 18 years in public office, it seems simplistic to the point of silliness. The right side of the political coin is not in any way about religious absolutes. Religious absolutes are what they use to sell their corporatism. Religious absolutes are their vote-getting machine.

Now, I know well that there are many sincere Christians who are part of the right side (let’s call them Republicans and stop the cuteness) of the political spectrum, precisely because they were chased out of the left side (Democrats) as punishment for their belief in God, in particular for their belief in His demand that we honor the sanctity of human life.

I’ve lived this nonsense, up close and personal, for quite some time. I can’t tell you how many times my fellow Democrats have uninvited me to be a member of their party because I am pro life.

I understand the flight of so many Christians to the Republican party. I also know that a good number of Republican office holders are devout and sincere Christians.

But, religious absolutes are not what the puppet masters who beam candidates into office on a beam of corporate money — in short the puppet masters who own and run the Republican Party for their own interests — are about. In fact, at least here in Oklahoma, a good many of the top tier Rs that I’ve known have been atheists, big donors to Planned Parenthood, etc.

Politics is not, ever, about religious certitude. It’s about getting power and keeping power and using power for corporatist purposes. It’s about raiding the treasury of public monies and public power which was built by the people and should be used for the people and putting it into the pockets of a few.

Buying a legislature or a Congress by putting them in office with a few million dollars is a cheap investment for controlling the American government and bending it to your own greedy and ruthless will.

On the other side, the side where Mr Schaeffer has found his new hallelujah, the vote-getting machine is aimed at the don’t-wanna-folllow-no-rules crowd. The Democratic Party, which was once the party of working people and the great builder of economic diversity and hope for this country, has become the purveyor of nihilism and the destruction of human life.

If it’s a bad moral idea, you can be pretty sure that the Ds will latch onto it and claim it as a human right before too long. Abortion, embryonic stem cell research, gay marriage, egg harvesting and the intellectual tyranny of political correctness are their vote getting machine.

Again, I know many people who still cling to the working-class roots of the Democratic Party. They truly are about a living wage and building an economy with American manufacturing, American labor and American know-how. I know a good number of elected Democratic officials, including, not so long ago, myself, who feel this way.

They/we are to the Democratic Party what the pro traditional marriage people have become to the Republican Party; someone to be tolerated and used, but also, when policy is made, ignored.

The American people are a bit like Mr Schaeffer in that they flip from one of these extremes to the other, in search of someone who will listen to them. Every few years they toss out whoever is in office and elect a new batch of wing nuts from the opposite political spectrum. Then, after the people they elect ignore the people who elected them and follow the the corporatist pipers who paid for their campaigns, we the people wearily, and with a deepening sense of hopelessness, toss them out and try again.

How does anyone keep putting their faith in princes in the face of this? More to the point, how does anyone keep chasing after what Elizabeth Scalia calls “Strange Gods”, in this case the false idol of political salvation, year after year, election after election?

What does all this have to do with Pope Francis and his as-yet unwritten encyclical on the environment? In truth, it doesn’t have much at all to do with the encyclical itself, and that is the primary cause of all the carrying on about it in the two wing-nut camps that seek to define Western society in their own image.

They are not dealing with the actual encyclical, and they never will. What they are doing now is rehearsing and readying. They are softening us up for the tsunami of propaganda that will be unleashed when the encyclical is published.

Right wing nuts are afraid that Pope Francis might write something that says that they (gasp, shock, rage) might be in need of conversion. Left wing nuts are hopeful that this is so. Both of them intend to ignore the actual encyclical and write their own version of it when it comes out.

What they both want out of the deal is political advantage in order to solidify their control of the American government to be used for their own destructive and America-destroying purposes.

Pope Francis has the power of speaking as the Vicar of Christ and these politicos and their mouthpieces want to harness that power to their own anti-Christ uses. That makes him the object of their hatred and delight, another person thingy to massage and lie about until they drain him of his relevance and can’t use him anymore.

Mark Shea wrote a post yesterday in which he noodled with what this might mean to Catholics like us who are living our walk with Christ in these times. He rightly notes that certain members of the clergy are infected with this disease of defining Jesus by their politics along with the rest of the populace. They veer to the left, or to the right, whittling Jesus down into a caricature of the R or the D, and teaching their hapless parishioners to do the same.

Mark is the writer Catholic righties love to hate. He’s fought the good fight of speaking against both both torture and abortion, of being against corporatism and socialism, of saying that the right to life goes seamlessly from conception to natural death and that hunger, poverty, corporate wars and nihilistic debauchery that kills are co-promotors of the culture of death.

That is a most Catholic position, and it is also the one position most likely to make everybody, everywhere in the political firmament mad at you.

Because the little g gods of political fealty require a serious jettisoning of Christian baggage as the price for that comfortable feeling of finding cheap grace and easy salvation in your voter registration card. It does not matter which party you chose. If you follow its teachings instead of Jesus, you are on the broad path that leads to destruction.

That is Frank Schaeffer’s mistake. It was his first mistake when he blindly took off after the Rs in the name of Jesus, and now it’s his second mistake when he blindly attacks them and takes off after the Ds. I do not know this man, but based on this article, it seems that he is making the same mistake, over and again.

What I call The Political Heresy, which is the practice of looking for God in your politics, is, in my opinion, the primary heresy of contemporary America.

I would put it above nonsensical claptrap such as claiming that killing people with abortion and euthanasia is a human right, or that harvesting women’s bodies for eggs is women’s rights. I would also put it above the other claptrap of claiming that Jesus was a corporatist, and that what He really meant all along was blessed are the rich.

I do that because The Political Heresy is a first cause of both these things. What makes it a first cause is that it shifts our loyalty and our followership away from Christ Jesus and places it on the propagandized musings of well-paid think tanks and media outlets who are designed and employed to confuse, delude, misinform and otherwise lead us away from Him.

Pope Francis is writing an encyclical on the environment, and both sides of the political spectrum are sharpening their knives. Because they don’t care about Jesus. And they don’t care about the future of this planet. And they don’t care about people.

They care about getting and keeping power.

And everything else they say is a lie.

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Run in Circles, Scream and Shout

When in trouble or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout. 

Based on conversations I have with Catholics in my private life, I’m guessing that what I’m about to say is big, unwelcome news for a lot of active, Jesus-loving Catholics in America today.

But, based on what I know is happening, it is long past time for someone to start saying it, and saying it often.

We are going to have to get used to the idea that the Church is under attack. I know that most Public Catholic readers are aware of this. In fact, I’m overdue in complimenting you on how thoughtfully you responded to last week’s media dipsy doodle over Pope Francis’ interview with America magazine.

Nobody tried to post any of the “run in circles scream and shout” comments I saw elsewhere on the internet. I think that I am blessed that this blog has attracted such an intelligent and thoughtful group of readers.

However, based on the things I read elsewhere, and more to the point, the things I’ve heard from my fellow pew-sitting Catholics, many of whom wouldn’t touch the internet with a stick, I would say that you are an extraordinary group of well-informed believers. That makes you important to the future of our Church.

Since you are the ones who have learned to think things through without taking a reflexive bite of whatever swill the media is dishing, you are also the ones who have the job of going into your parishes, prayer groups and families and setting things straight.

That’s a big job, and it’s going to get bigger as time goes by.

You see, the Church is under attack. As St Paul said 2,000 years ago, we are not dealing with the ordinary gossipy mealy-mouthedness of regular human communication. We are dealing with powers and principalities. In other words, the Church is being attacked by people who, without knowing it at all, are driven by a hatred for the Light that does not grow tired and will not stop until Jesus comes again.

The sad part is that the purveyors of Christian/Catholic/Church bashing claptrap are winning the information wars. People believe these folks, especially when they praise the pope for their false interpretations of his words. They fall right over the cliff of thinking that the Holy Father has pulled the moral rug out from under them.

Let me tell you something simple: That ain’t gonna happen. It won’t happen in my lifetime, or in yours, or in the lifetime of the Church.

The Pope will never obviate 2,000 years of Christian teaching to follow after what Elizabeth Scalia calls the “idols of everyday life.” No matter what bribery they offer him in terms of their praise and adulation for what he didn’t say, he will not do this.

The Church’s written teaching on abortion goes all the way back to the Didache, which is to say, to the beginning. The teaching on the sanctity of the sacrament of Holy Matrimony goes back to the wedding of Cana, which is to say, to the beginning of Christ’s public ministry. It was the first thing Our Lord did when He began to teach and preach.

The Vicar of Christ is not going to overturn these teachings.

At the same time, the teachings of the unfathomable value of every human being — young or old, gay or straight, man or woman, saint or sinner — goes back to that same Jesus and His words. The Christ Who told us that the very hairs on our heads are numbered by the God Who made us, is the same Christ Who instituted the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.

It is all of a whole; one cloth. That is what we have lost in our politicized message. We cannot chose between human beings and say that one is more worthy of life than another. We can not do this about any human life, including our own, for the simple reason that every human life belongs to God. By the same token, we cannot pretend and proclaim that two men or two women are the same as a man and a woman. If it wasn’t for the enormous pressure being exerted by the culture, we would all see this for the fantastical delusion that it is.

That does not mean that two men or two women are any less human and worthy of love than a man and a woman. But it does mean that just because you call it “marriage” that does not make it a marriage. It just makes you a fool when you say it.

The reason I am writing this is because I think most of the people who read it see this already. I want you to understand that you are graced by that understanding and that this grace carries a responsibility. Our brothers and sisters are being whipped around like flags blowing in the wind by media flimflam about the Church.

They absorb the constant dribble of malicious criticism without giving it perspective or taking the time to learn what is fact, what is exaggeration and what is an outright lie. By the same token, they buy the whole deal when the press tells them that the Pope has overturned bedrock teachings of the Church.

What I want for you is two things.

1. Do not lose track of the fact that the Holy Father will never repudiate Christ and His teachings. He will not do it. So when you hear the next new whatever that the press says about him, judge it by that simple fact.

2. Communicate this to the people around you. Evangelize a bit by telling the truth. It won’t be easy. The American public has been so beaten up by constant manipulation and propaganda that they behave like a 300,000,000-member herd of spot-lighted deer. But if I have learned anything in 18 years of public life, it is that steady persistence and consistency win out over lies. They don’t right at first. But in the long run, the truth floats and lies sink.

We’re going to have to get used to this. Things will get worse before they get better.

But that isn’t a tragedy. It’s an opportunity. It’s our chance to stand for Jesus.

My advice to you is, don’t miss it.

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Self-Aggrandizing Ego and Eternal Suicide

Bank robbers and drug dealers aren’t the only ones who turn their backs on God until they get in trouble. We’re all prone to do this.

Jail house conversions are the stuff of bad jokes and legend. Once in a while, one of these literal “come to Jesus” events holds up throughout the rest of a person’s life. More often, the repentant sinner reverts to their old selves as soon as the bad times pass.

The difference between the convicted felons and the high and mighty of the world in terms of conversion is a matter of circumstance, not righteousness. One thing I’ve learned in my life is that I find it much easier to deal with an alcoholic or a philanderer who knows that they are doing wrong than with a self-righteous, self-worshipping upstanding citizen who only sees the crimes and faults of others.

It is possible to work with the miscreant who knows they have faults. The person who is so sure of their rightness, not so much.

Pope Francis gave a homily yesterday that I think every successful and powerful person should hear. It doesn’t matter if you are an elected official, the head of a corporation or a doctor who is using the medical technology at your disposal to exploit your patients, your soul is always in great peril, precisely because of your successes in the arena of life.

It is too easy to become what the Holy Father calls “corrupt,” which is to say, self-sufficient to the point that you no longer think you need God. The first corruption is always, as Elizabeth Scalia wrote in Strange Gods, making a false idol of yourself. The first challenge of the high and mighty isn’t adultery or abortion or lying or stealing or any of the sins people commit with such reckless disregard for consequence. The first challenge is narcissism. 

Self esteem is not usually a problem for the lords of this world. Realistic self-assessment is. The harbinger of all internal corruption of the powerful is always self-referencing self-adulating self-worship. It is so easy to think that god (little g) is made in your image when nobody tells you “no,” when your jokes are always funny and lunch is always free.

It is, as Jesus told us, easier by far for a successful person to feel they have gained the world and in their smugness, lose their own souls.

Self-corrupted people like this are found inside the Church as well as outside it. Clergy get a heavy dose of unearned respect and adulation along with equally unearned abuse. This is unbalancing for anyone. They are talented people with the ability to persuade others. Their verbal skills are the equal of any politician’s and the temptations they face are often startlingly similar.

That’s probably who Pope Francis was zeroing in his homily this morning. I don’t know, but I would guess that he was talking directly to some of the people sitting in his audience. However the truth of his homily, like all truths about human nature, are universal.

We are killing ourselves spiritually with our self-aggrandizing egos. It is a form of suicide that can last for eternity.

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