Pope Francis' recent encyclical is sending shock waves around the world. In addition to exhortations to the faithful, Evangelii Gaudium ("The Joy of the Gospel") packs a scathing critique of "unbridled" capitalism and consumerism.
Here's the flavor of the Pope's message:
Just as the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.
Today everything comes under the laws of competition and survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless.
A new tyranny is thus born ...
Human beings themselves are considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded.
Wow! For those who have been involved with the Occupy Movement, the Pope's surprising words ring familiar and true. One of the voices of early Occupy Wall Street was that of Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics, called by one reviewer "the most important book of the decade." A how-to manual, Sacred Economics is about transitioning from our failing economic model of unsustainable growth, extraction, and exploitation, to a sustainable, steady-state economy rooted in community. Many of Eisenstein's ideas motivated last year's four-page white paper of Occupy Harrisonburg: Rx 2012, a prescription for a viable economic future. By interleaving statements from the Evangelii Gaudium (PF) and Rx 2012 (OHB), one can easily construct a coherent conversation about economic justice. For example:
OHB: Do we want humans to serve the needs of the economy or the economy to serve the needs of humanity?PF:
No to a financial system which rules rather than serves. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?
OHB: Too many human beings ("the 99%") are being exploited to serve the interests of rapacious multinational corporations and/or the governments they have purchased ("the 1%"). Many of these corporations encourage excessive consumption with little or no regard for the damage inflicted upon the Earth or the viability of the future.PF:
Today's economic mechanisms promote inordinate consumption, yet it is evident that unbridled consumerism combined with inequality proves doubly damaging to the social fabric.
OHB: Economic "indicators" such as the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are supposed to measure the "health" of the economy. In truth, the GDP measures only the size of the economy. Wars, waste, oil spills, and disasters all contribute to the GDP but not to our economic health. Let's [develop new] indicators that measure true progress toward shared values: well-being, longevity, prosperity, happiness, human health, and environmental health.PF:
... [S]ome people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power. Meanwhile the excluded are still waiting.
OHB: Economies redesigned to serve human needs are called "living economies" -- because they promote health and well-being -- or "solidarity economies" -- because they consider the interests of every sector of society, not just the wealthy.PF:
No to an economy of exclusion.
And so on.
Contrary to what Wall Street and right-wing talk-show hosts would have you believe, most Occupiers are neither Communists nor anarchists. Most of us have a healthy respect for free enterprise, the kind where small banks, farmers markets, and local mom and pop stores can prosper. What today's free market evangelists want is something else altogether else: free-reign for the multinationals. Free of constraints, free of ethics, free of responsibility, and freedom to monopolize. Economist David Korten sums it best. "Wall Street has a simple rule: Capture the gains, pass the risk to others." Wall Street wants the freedom to gamble with your pensions, but a welfare state to clean up its messes. Sure enough, just look at the winners and losers of the 2008 economic meltdown. Main Street collapsed while Wall Street was bailed out.
At the recent Science and Nonduality conference (San Jose, CA, Oct. 24-27, 2013), I had the pleasure to speak briefly with Matthew Fox, a defrocked priest and American icon. Fox, a former Dominican and a champion of liberation theology and the oppressed, is among more than 100 theologians and pastoral leaders silenced, banished, or expelled for unorthodox views by former Cardinal Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI.
Having felt the heel of papal authority, Fox seems a bit stunned by the new Pope's encyclical. On Democracy Now (Nov. 27, 2013), Fox had this to say: "I think that he delivered a tremendous message yesterday with this document about justice in the world. I think it goes far beyond church reform."
This is great news for Fox, who recently published (2013) Letters to Pope Francis: Rebuilding a Church with Justice and Compassion. Perhaps the Pope has been reading Fox's letters -- and his recent collaboration with activist and homeless advocate Adam Bucko: Occupy Spirituality (2012). To many, the term "occupy spirituality" might seem a non sequitur. If so, then you don't understand the soul of Occupy. It is fundamentally a spiritual movement. Occupy says no to the idolatry of money, no to the illusion of scarcity, no to the economics of usury, no to the trickle-down economics of exclusion. Occupy says yes to community and the ecosphere, and yes to the power of sacred economics to heal and serve both.
How gratifying to find that the new Pope, at heart, is one of us.
The author has been active in Occupy Harrisonburg since its inception in Oct. 2011 and has previously blogged on this topic. He is grateful to his fellow Occupiers, Doug and Nancy Hendren, for thoughtful comments on a draft of this article.