Yesterday I posted about Pope Francis’ recent comments critiquing the West’s idolatrous ‘worship’ of the free market.
No sooner did the post post than I got email after email lambasting me NOT (as expected) for praising the Catholic Church and its office of a Teacher among Teachers.
No, the emails all but tarred and feathered me for endorsing the ‘extreme,’ ‘fringe,’ and ‘anti-freedom’ views of ‘Marxist, Socialist liberalism’ seeking to ‘destroy the Tea Party.’
I won’t even take the time to note the discontinuity between those last three adjectives: Marxism, Socialism and Liberalism.
Pope Francis- I think we can all agree by virtue of being elected Pope- is definitely NOT liberal.
In fact, theological training has it uses. I can say with some authority that Francis was only speaking from the historic (Augustinian) Christian tradition.
According to Augustine, both the Protestant and Catholic Church’s most important thinker, we are creatures made to desire an end (telos).
As creatures, God and God’s Kingdom is the End to which we’re properly oriented. Because we’re end-driven creatures, human freedom is different than how we typically define it in modern America.
Culturally, civically and especially economically we tend to think of freedom in the negative; that is, freedom is the absence of coercion.
Thus, the ‘free market’ is a market without any external controls or values imposed upon it.
“Freedom,” in such a context, is not directed to any End.
Or rather, it’s directed to whatever End the individual decides.
For Christians, however, freedom isn’t defined negatively as something that exists in the absence of coercion.
Freedom isn’t freedom from something; freedom is freedom for something.
Freedom is freedom for the Kingdom.
In other words, as telos-driven creatures we are free only when we are directed towards and participating in the Kingdom, only when we’re wrapped up in God’s will, and only when our systems of life together- our politics and our economics- contribute towards that End.
When people and their systems are no longer directed towards or participating in God’s End, the Kingdom, you effectively strip the material things in creation from God’s goodness. They no longer have the purpose for which God gave them. They no longer have any meaning- like a paintbrush without ever having a canvas.
Think of the pervasive sin of consumerism and the praise of the ‘free market’ as an end in and of itself.
As modern Augustinian, William Cavanaugh says:
“All such loves are disordered loves, loves looking for something worth loving that is not just arbitrarily chosen.
A person buys something- anything- trying to fill the hole that is the empty shrine (by which he means our having been created to desire the Kingdom). And once the shopper purchases the thing, it turns into a nothing and he has to head back to the mall to continue the search.
With no objective End to guide the search, his search is literally endless.”
We tend to think of sin simply as a private act we do to break one of God’s rules. We think of sin as an individual free act that violates God’s honor.
Sin is anything but a free act and it’s not always or even primarily about individuals.
Sin is a disordered love that upsets the God-given trajectory of our lives. Sin is a privation of goodness in our lives. And sin is corporate and systemic.
In a very real way, the more we sin the less human we become, the less real.
And a free market system for its own sake, one that either exploits the global poor or turns a blind eye to them, one not directed towards the End for which we’re all created, will only succeed in reducing all of us to unreality.
A feeling, let’s be honest, we all feel a hint of every time we go shopping.
Only a market that is free not from controls but for the common good can point toward and participate in God’s Kingdom.
And I salute Francis (his chosen name should’ve been fair warning) for pointing that out.