Adam Pshaw of Fox News (he spells it Shaw) claims to be a “news editor” who “writes about Anglo-American and Catholic issues.” Or maybe it is just Fox News that makes the claim. Oh! thought I, if that is the case, let me take a look into what “Catholic issues” the twenty-something newlywed and father has tackled for Fox News. Here is what I found: Of the thirty-one articles on his archive page, twenty-four of them boast such titles as “Forget Xbox One: 2014 Could Be Nintendo’s Year” (here); “Duck Dynasty Video Game Offers More Gun Fun” (here); “Candy Crush Saga Gets an Overhaul” (here); “One Week With the Sony Playstation Four” (here); “Pokemon–Does it Still Have the X Factor?” (here). There is even an article (here) claiming to list thirteen reasons why Santa Claus is a conservative. Well, I could go on, but you get the point: Master Pshaw hath written a full corpus of wise theology, and every seminarian ought read it in depth before Holy Orders be granted. In truth if not in jest, dear reader, the young man has written—count ’em—two articles on “Catholic issues,” and both of them are histrionic rants against Pope Francis.
Read a sample, will you, of some of what the petulant Master Pshaw writes in his hit piece. He excoriates the pope’s “misguided snobbery” and “derisive attitude.” He claims the pope (who oft hath fed and cleansed poor souls in jails, hospitals, and nursing homes) does not understand the hopes of the poor. He says that the Holy Father, in his recent apostolic exhortation, “put[s] a boot in[to]” the rich (a stale metaphor so stuffed with political cock and bull that George Orwell should return from glory to smack the boy). He claims that the pope “has no time for nuance” and “blunders … without any clarification.” The pope, says this crack young gamer, is “crude” and “naive.” Master Pshaw writes off the pope’s ethical concern for the poor as no more than “noise,” “forced redistribution,” and “backward economics.” He ends, with all the deep wisdom of a man whose years have just now passed a score, by accusing the pope—the pope!—of being out of “conformity” with Church teaching.
I am surprised Fox News would publish such unreconstructed garbage and arrogant snipe and present it as the work of someone who “writes about Catholic issues.” No, sir. Fr. Z writes about Catholic issues. Mark Shea writes about Catholic issues. Pat Archbold writes about Catholic issues. Fr. Robert Sirico, who has some years on Pshaw and knows a thing or two about economics and Church social teaching, writes about Catholic issues. Did Fox News think to ask any of these esteemed men, or their compeers, to help them understand Evangelii Gaudium? Is Fox News unable to find informed and thoughtful sources? Why is it putting forward the temper tantrums and panic attacks of a gameboy, recently fired from Catholic News Agency, as a coherent commentary on a very complex papal document?
GET A GOOD JOB WITH GOOD PAY AND YOU’RE OKAY
Master Pshaw begins his remarkable hit piece with the following sentence:
Pope Francis has declared war on those who aspire to provide a better life for themselves and their families, expressing the misguided snobbery of a man for whom money has never been an issue.
When I taught freshman and sophomore writing, I often dreamed of a day when I could force any student who wrote sentences like that to copy, by hand, fifty times, the entire text of Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language.” Here is Orwell:
[T]here is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes on, take up the cudgels for, toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, no axe to grind, grist to the mill, fishing in troubled waters, on the order of the day, Achilles’ heel, swan song, hotbed.
And “declare war on.” What does it mean to say Pope Francis has “declared war on” those who hope for a better life? In what section of Evangelii Gaudium is this declaration of war? When are the Vatican troops going to march on Wall Street? Does Master Pshaw know? Does he care? Is truth his goal, or angry bilge? Are we to believe that, if Pope Francis gets his way, the Inquisition will resume and Romish stormtroopers will seize the assets of the Koch brothers and build electric fences around corporations to keep out anyone who aspires to an income of more than $3000 a year?
In fact, as I read Evangelii Gaudium, I find the pope to be on the side of those who aspire to a better life.
We can only praise the steps being taken to improve people’s welfare in areas such as healthcare, education[,] and communications. At the same time we have to remember that the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day, with dire consequences. … It is a struggle to live and, often, to live with precious little dignity. … [M]asses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape. (EG 52-53)
Where is the “declaration of war” here? It sounds as though Pope Francis loves those who struggle for a better life. It sounds as though he is their advocate. I can only guess what Master Pshaw might make of this part of the text, since he nowhere quotes from it—at least not in anything resembling context.
But do the pope’s words sound like “misguided snobbery”? Or does the snobbery belong to Master Pshaw? While the young gameboy was playing Candy Crush and dreaming of stacks of cash for wife and kid, Pope Francis was trampling upon his ambition by doing this. And this. And this. (Wait, was that last one published at Fox News? Master Pshaw must not have edited that one.)
And it is worth pointing out too, for the education of the lad Master Pshaw at Fox, that the reason money has “never been an issue” for Pope Francis is because he took a vow of poverty, so that he could spend his life serving the poor. The Jesuits supply his living from the generous (and very often sacrificial) offerings of those who support the Church’s mission, who love priests, and who have sterner and nobler goals in their heart than playing the next version of Candy Crush Saga. (Or Ring Around the Rosie.) But the way Master Pshaw phrases it, one would think the pope was born rich and has been an armchair economist smoking a pipe and resting his feet on the fender whilst ignoring the plight of those who dream of a better life. As we might so well see here.
THAT DO GOODY GOOD BULLSHIT?
But blind to the irony, Master Pshaw quotes these words from the Holy Father: “Oh how I long for a poor Church for the poor!” By sleight-of-brain, Master Pshaw seems to think that being “for the poor” means that the pope is “for poverty.” He seems to think it means the pope wants the poor to remain poor. Thus he quotes the pope: “The culture of prosperity deadens us.” It reads like a quotation Master Pshaw picked up secondhand, and without bothering to read the full context of Francis’s remarks. Which are these:
Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase.
Such as Duck Dynasty the video game perhaps?
In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us. (EG 54)
In context, the pope is not putting the stigma of sin upon prosperity or earning a better living. “We are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase,” he says. His concern is the sin of greed, which deadens the souls of both rich and poor. Both rich and poor see their salvation in terms of the things they can have rather than in terms of the God they can love. The solution, according to the pope, is not for the poor to remain chained to their poverty, nor for the rich to give up their wealth, but for all men be led to the Christ who tells us of our duty to the poor and frees our hearts to desire Him more than things.
Behind this attitude lurks … a rejection of God. … In effect, ethics leads to a God who calls for a committed response which is outside the categories of the marketplace. (EG 57)
The free market is a good, but it is not the highest good. Our first duty to the poor is to show them them the love of Christ, not to buy them a new Xbox. To say that is not to make threats or “declare war” against prosperity, as Master Pshaw in his rightist cocoon at Fox News seems to fear. Nor is it to claim that the poor do wrong to want to make a better living. The pope’s subject, in this section, is the things that keep Christ locked out of people’s lives. One of them is the blind pursuit of ever more stuff. The pope’s target is the state of mind that says a person is a success because of what he has rather than who he is.
Master Pshaw continues:
The pope’s snub of the struggle for prosperity is a typically derisive attitude toward the American quest for self-development, and an attitude that is often encountered among rich European liberals, or in this case, clergymen who have not had to work to provide a better life for their families.
Of course, it is the pope who is a snob, you see. Though, if I recall correctly, Jorge Bergoglio was once a chemist and a bar bouncer. Sounds like the job of a man born into privilege. But if Master Pshaw thinks that priests do not work, or that life among the poor in Argentina is comparable to the elitism of “rich European liberals,” then it is more than possible he does not know what he means, or what he is talking about, or where the sun rises, or where the grass grows green and the gentle lilies bloom, and is just aping something he heard from Mr. Limbaugh. Nor does he tell us where, in Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis links his critique of materialism to the “American quest for self-development.” Perhaps that is because Master Pshaw has not actully taken the time to read, let alone understand, the document, and is simply repeating what he has heard on talk radio.
THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL TODAY
But from this point, Master Pshaw, who looks like he just stopped being an altar boy yesterday, proceeds to play expert on Catholic social doctrine. He notes that “recent popes,” even the “liberal” John XXIII, “have focused on the dangers of socialism.” (As though Pope Francis got his ethics out of the Daily Worker rather than, say, the Catechism.) Here, however, are some words from Cardinal Bergoglio that Master Pshaw does not mention:
[In socialist theory] everything that is transcendent, and points to a hope in something beyond, paralyzes the work here. Therefore, it paralyzes man, it is an opiate that makes him a conformist, it makes him bear his suffering, it does not allow him to progress.
In other words, if I may translate for Master Pshaw, Francis says that socialism does not allow the poor to aspire to a more prosperous life. Sounds like something that could have come from the mouth of the great Mr. Limbaugh himself! Socialism, says the pope, “paralyzes” the poor in their current economic status. Pope Francis, in other words, does want the poor to have aspirations toward success, and does not want socialist theories to stand in the way.
Nor does Master Pshaw mention the following words—not from Francis but from Benedict XVI.
[T]he world is sadly marked by hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor, by the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism.
Am I to think that Benedict XVI is a dangerous liberal who does not understand the Church’s social doctrine quite so well as Candy Crush expert Adam Pshaw does? For very much like Francis, Benedict (to use Master Pshaw’s words and wit) “blunders in” with this homily, “slamming the market and its adherents without any clarification.”
But as Master Pshaw tells us, the Church (in contrast to the heretical ravings of Benedict XVI) has always looked upon markets as “the best way to produce prosperity and freedom.” Never mind that Pope Francis pointed out that very thing:
Business is a vocation, and a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life; this will enable them truly to see the common good by striving to increase the goods of the world and to make them accessible to all. (EG 203)
It is almost as though Pope Francis wanted to encourage prosperity through free enterprise. And that is what I would conclude from the above passage, were it not that I had Catholic expert Adam Pshaw to tell me otherwise.
The astute young man, in fact, goes on to tell us that Francis “won’t have his poor church for the poor unless there are rich people to fund it.” Now, here is where I really must call him out for pretense beyond measure. It is as if Master Pshaw thinks that, without capitalism, there would be no rich people. That is historical ignorance. The Church has been around for 1,800 years longer than capitalism has. It flourished quite well under feudalism, as Master Pshaw might recall from his history class. (Assuming history teachers are teaching history anymore.) But Master Pshaw, it is not rich people who fuel the Catholic Church, as though money were somehow a more powerful god than the Holy Spirit. It is idolatry to think so, and Master Pshaw speaks like a young man who has made an idol of money. The Holy Spirit is responsible for the Church’s continued existence. Christ said, I will send you the Holy Spirit; not, I will send you Mammon.
In the end, what Master Pshaw fails to understand about Evangelii Gaudium—a document I strongly advise him to actually read (tolle lege, Master Pshaw)—is that Francis does not attack markets so much as the consumerism that fuels them. “The causes of [social] breakdown,” the pope writes, “include … unbridled consumerism which feeds the market.” This is an attack on the market’s diet, not the market itself. It is an attack, not on having an economically successful life, but on the constant pursuit of material objects as opposed to spiritual depth. To that end, the Church has always challenged both socialism and the excesses of capitalism.
If Master Pshaw does not think so, or thinks that the pope’s words are at odds with Church teaching, then he ought to read paragraphs 2424-2425 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. He ought to read Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate. To say that, if the pope attacks the inordinate pursuit of wealth, he is therefore in favor of socialism and redistribution, is to think in the false dichotomies encouraged by the gods of the airwaves and intertubes. The expression “the love of money is the root of all evil” is in the Bible (1 Tim. 6:10). Everything else the Church has said is commentary.
Evangelii Gaudium is more nuanced than Master Pshaw would like to pretend. The idea that a boyish-looking scribbler about video games needs to instruct the pope to “bring himself into conformity with Catholic social teaching” is the true sound of snobbery.
Note: Master Pshaw has informed me, via Twitter, that I am under a misimpression if I think his list of writings at Fox News represent all he has written. I have invited him to send me a list of his other articles, so that I can see for myself how truly extensive is his writing about Catholicism. He has yet to send such a list. If you wish to extend the same invitation to him, you can reach him on Twitter @AdamShawNY, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Should I get the list, I will print a correction, and hope that Master Pshaw has the honesty to do the same.
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