First up from the God Machine this week is a story about some wealthy Roman Catholics in the United States who are not at all pleased that Pope Francis criticized economic inequality and the adverse of effects of trickle-down economics.
In fact, Home Depot founder and devout Catholic Ken Langone told CNBC this week that the pope’s criticism of unfettered capitalism has made potential “capitalist benefactors” in the U.S. reluctant to donate to their own church (via Xenos).
According to Langone, an anonymous, “potential seven-figure donor” for the Church’s restoration of St. Patrick’s Cathedral is concerned that the Pope’s criticism of capitalism are “exclusionary,” especially his statements about the “culture of prosperity” leading to the wealthy being “incapable of feeling compassion for the poor.”
Langone said he’s raised this issue with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who yesterday praised Pope Francis for “shattering the caricature of the Church.”
“I’ve told the Cardinal,” Langone said, “ ‘Your Eminence, this is one more hurdle I hope we don’t have to deal with. You want to be careful about generalities. Rich people in one country don’t act the same as rich people in another country.’”
By any measure, this is a strange argument. According to the Home Depot founder, Pope Francis hurt wealthy American Catholics’ feelings when the church leader rejected trickle-down economics. But the pope’s perspective was hardly shocking – as Jeff Spross explained, “The idea that possessing significant wealth inherently makes it harder to behave morally is a bedrock part of Christian ethical thought. In a well-known passage from the New Testament, a rich man asks Christ what he must do to fully follow God’s law. When Christ responds ‘sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor,’ the man walks away dejected, prompting Christ to observe that ‘it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’”
Presumably, Langone and his associates would urge Jesus to be “careful about generalities,” too.
But I’m especially struck by the underlying hint of retaliation. Langone referenced a “potential seven-figure donor” who may hold back after the pope suggested the wealthy are “incapable of feeling compassion for the poor.”
In other words, this unnamed rich donor is prepared to demonstrate his Christian compassion by cutting off his or her church, thus indirectly helping prove Francis’ point.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* The New York Times this week ran a lengthy piece on President Obama’s general reluctance to attend church services: “Mr. Obama has gone to church 18 times during his six years in the White House, according to Mark Knoller of CBS News, an unofficial White House historian, while his predecessor, Mr. Bush, attended 120 times during his eight years in office.” Joshua DuBois, the former head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, added that Obama “has a serious practice of faith even though he doesn’t necessarily wear it on his sleeve.”
* This will probably be interesting: “Bill Nye the Science Guy plans to visit Kentucky next month for a creation-vs.-evolution debate with Creation Museum founder Ken Ham. Ham wrote on his blog that the museum will host Nye, the star of a long-running science show for kids, on Feb. 4. Nye has been critical of creationists for their opposition to evolution and their assertions that the Old Testament provides a literal account of the earth’s beginnings. In an online video that has drawn nearly 6 million views, Nye said teaching creationism was bad for children.”
* On a related note, the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer argued this week that those who believe in modern biology should be “disqualified from holding political office in the United States of America.”
* And every year, TV preacher Pat Robertson begins the year telling his “700 Club” viewers that God has given him a sneak peek into world events for the coming year. In general, these divine predictions turn out to be wrong – the host explains this by saying he misunderstood God’s messages – but Robertson gave it another try this week.