Compassion = Communism?


1950s Anti-Comunist Poster

Predictably enough, the Pope’s encyclical, highlighting man-made climate change and poverty as moral issues which need to be addressed globally, has raised the hackles of Right-leaning politicians and media, particularly in the US.  Politicians, including Presidential candidates, have suggested that the Pope should refrain from meddling in politics. Devout Catholic Rick Santorum last week said:
The Church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists and focussing on what we’re good at, which is theology and morality.”    Jeb Bush has also called for the Pope to step out of the political debate, with a strange suggestion that politics and morality be disconnected. “I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting into the political realm.”

These are the same politicians who are happy to be openly driven by their religious faith on issues such as marriage equality and abortion. Bush has justified his stance against same-sex marriage through his believe in the need for “a child-centred family system” which is “at the core of the Catholic faith”. However, when their religious leader calls for a renewal of the Christian values of compassion for the needy and respect for our natural world, this is rejected as being outside the remit of religion.

Rick Santorum has famously called climate change “junk science” and suggested that it is merely a left-wing scheme and “an excuse for more government control in your life”, and here lies the root of the problem for many on the Right with the Pope’s views. Ideas of the rich and powerful taking responsibility for the future of the planet and fighting global poverty involve wealth redistribution, which raises the spectre of the country’s ultimate boogeyman, Communism. As such, Pope Francis’ critiques of the free-market economy, consumerism, global inequality and climate change have led some to label him as a ‘South American Marxist’

From the McCarthy witch-hunts of the 1950’s, through the Cold War, Communism, and it’s bedfellow Socialism, have been portrayed as an insidious, creeping danger, just waiting to take all your hard-earned wealth and give it to someone else. As a result, any suggestion that the world should be a more equitable place than it currently is, is shot down as ‘tree-hugging’, ‘bleeding-heart socialism’ and ‘communism in disguise’. Much of the Right’s vehemence against the idea of universal health care in the US was that it was viewed as a socialist redistribution of wealth, encouraging government interference and the start of the slippery slope towards a Communist state.

Another example recently was the reaction of Right-leaning media towards the CEO of Seattle company Gravity Payments, Dan Price. Price took a cut in his own $1 million salary in order to provide his 130 employees with a minimum salary of $70,000. Price believes that, in the long term, his happier, committed staff will help the company to become even more successful. He suggested that other CEO’s could afford to do the same and lead the way in tackling wage inequality (last year CEO incomes were 354 times higher than the average employee). Predictably, The Fox network, champion of the war on Communism, lampooned Price, with Eric Bolling’s show Cashin’ In calling him a “socialist” and a “tree-hugger”, and Stuart Varney, in an interview with Price, several times asking disparagingly, “Are you a socialist?”

Be it a businessman, a politician or a religious leader, has it come to the stage where any sign of compassion for others and concern for the environment in which we live is equated with Communism? Where any rejection of the amassing of personal wealth and unlimited exploitation of resources is seen as a cloaked attempt to bring down the economic systems as we know them? Or is it the case that those threatened by the ideas of equality and responsibility for each other and for our planet can find no other criticism of the idea than to invoke a monster under the bed which lost much of its menace somewhere back in the 1990s.

19th June 2015

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