We were killing time, waiting for a lane at the bowling alley, and I asked my buddy Al--short for Aloysius--what was up with this fuss over Rush Limbaugh’s comments on some new document the pope has come up with.
“Do you listen to Limbaugh?” he asked.
“Can’t say that I do. I don’t tune in much to radio--maybe a ball game while I’m driving, if I can find one.”
“What do you know about Pope Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium?”
“I know I can’t pronounce it. Aside from that, um, not much.”
“Okay, just checking. I figured I’d be starting from scratch with you, but I wanted to be sure.” He thought for a minute. “Evangelii Gaudium is the Latin title. In English it means The Joy of the Gospel. It’s a kind of dream or vision of the sort of church Francis believes is needed to carry the good news to the modern world.”
“What’s he have to say?”
“Well, a lot of things. It’s really long, with 288 numbered portions. But what set Limbaugh off is that Francis says the church should be in solidarity with the poor and be a driving force for peace. As part of his ‘solidarity with the poor’ message, Francis calls out predatory capitalism for treating people on the margins as if they were disposable. He goes even further and says that what free marketeers are doing amounts to economic tyranny. He looks at environmental degradation, hordes of unemployed people, and the widening income gap between a small elite and masses of poor, and says that all these things result from the ‘idolatry of money.’ He doesn’t mince words; he flat out says they’re unjust and unfaithful to the gospel.”
“Well sure, anybody can see that. So what’s the problem?”
“The thing is, it’s no problem for people who know and believe the message of the prophets in the Old Testament or Jesus’s teachings in the Gospels. Or for people who just believe in the common good, and in treating other people as you’d like to be treated yourself. But for Limbaugh, it’s a big problem.”
“Francis isn’t your ordinary do-gooder, Ace. And I wouldn’t call him a liberal either. He’s a man who actually believes all those teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, and is calling the church back to them. He’s become one of the most revered people on the planet, along with maybe the Dalai Lama. Limbaugh’s smart enough to know that going after Francis with the sneers, smears, and character assassination he normally uses would blow up in his face. So his problem is to find a way to undermine what Francis is saying without appearing to attack Francis personally. For Limbaugh, that’s uncharted water.”
“So how did he manage that?”
“I’d say he didn’t. He tried, and failed spectacularly. But you can judge for yourself. The full transcript of his show is on his website. Here, I’ll pull it up.”
He fooled around with his iPad, switching out of the program we keep our bowling scores on, and then handed it to me.
The transcript was headed It's Sad How Wrong Pope Francis Is (Unless It's a Deliberate Mistranslation By Leftists). I read... and read... and read. [Readers who want to check out the transcript themselves can see it at http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/daily/2013/11/27/it_s_sad_how_wrong_pope_francis_is_unless_it_s_a_deliberate_mistranslation_by_leftists].
“Holy Moses,” I said, “I can’t keep up with this guy. He’s bouncing around like a handball, coming at you from every angle and every wall. It’s just one piece of off-the-wall craziness after the other, nonstop. Before you can catch your breath and question or point out what’s wrong about one thing, he’s off to half a dozen others. I’ve gotta tell you, he’s absolutely a world-class bullshitter. He’s better than my brother-in-law.”
“Craziness is way more entertaining than some reasonable academic lecture,” agreed Al. “He’s like a venomous version of Mel Brooks in Blazing Saddles.”
“Mel Brooks is good,” I said. “I was thinking Sacha Baron Cohen in Borat.”
“So what do you think of Limbaugh’s attempts to undermine Francis, Ace?”
“They’re a hoot! They’re absolutely the best part of the show.” I thought for a minute. “Except maybe for the part where he says, ‘In fairness to the pope and in fairness to the Catholic Church, I will admit that communism years ago was much easier to see and identify than it is today. Communism today is much more disguised.
Communism today, in large part, is the Democrat Party. Communism today is in large part the feminist movement. Communism today is found in most of the AFL-CIO-type unions. It's just the Democrats, and it's a much tougher thing to identify and target, because it can be your neighbor.’ If that doesn’t make you bust out laughing, you’d better check your pulse and see if you’re still ticking.”
Al nodded. “I googled the numbers,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to get anything nailed down, but there seem to be over 70 million registered Democrats in this country.”
“That’s a lot of communists,” I said. “And it’s anybody’s guess how many Democratic sympathizers and fellow-travelers there are out there. Who knew?”
“Rush and a herd of Ditto Heads, from the looks of it.”
“I loved the part where he said, ‘Up until this, I have to tell you, I was admiring [Pope Francis]. I thought he was going a little overboard on the common-man touch, and I thought there might have been a little bit of PR involved there. But nevertheless I was willing to cut him some slack. I mean, if he wants to portray himself as still from the streets where he came from and is not anything special, not aristocratic.... okay, cool, fine’.”
Al looked thoughtful. “You know, there’s something telling about a man who’s so cynical that he can’t even entertain the possibility that the pope’s identification with the poor might be sincere. Or maybe he’s not being cynical. Maybe if you’ve chased after wealth and toadied to the powerful all your life, it’s actually unthinkable that anybody--even the pope--would be headed the opposite direction.”
I scrolled down the screen. “Limbaugh’s next move is to say that these denunciations of capitalism couldn’t be Francis’s own thoughts; ‘... somebody has either written this for him or gotten to him. This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope.’ What’s he implying there? That caring for the poor and wanting fair treatment for workers isn’t Christian? Is he suggesting that somebody else wrote it and the pope released it without reading it? Or that the pope was held hostage and forced to sign it? Or that he was brainwashed?”
“You can’t tell, can you?” said Al. “That’s standard Limbaugh. Inject paranoia, but keep it in the shadows, so you don’t know what you’re fighting--you just know that something scary is lurking there. It’s like the boogeyman in the closet. Limbaugh quotes pieces of what Francis has written, but he conveniently forgets to mention that the pope tells you flat out where his economic teaching came from, and it isn’t from Marx. Francis writes, ‘Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society. .... A mere glance at the Scriptures is enough to make us see how our gracious Father wants to hear the cry of the poor.’ And then he follows that with half a dozen quotations from both the Old and the New Testaments.”
In the background I could hear pins flying, followed by cheers. Somebody must have just bowled a strike.
“What about Limbaugh’s claim that Francis is some out-of-line maverick--that he’s way out on the fringes with his criticism of capitalism, standing all by himself?” I asked, pointing to a passage on the screen. “See here where he says, ‘I'm not Catholic, but I know enough to know that this would have been unthinkable for a pope to believe or say just a few years ago.‘ And down below here where he says, ‘... what has been attributed to the pope here doesn't make sense, with 50 years of the Catholic Church. It doesn't jibe. But it sounds exactly like what your average, run-of-the-mill leftist would say each and every day’.”
“Yeah. That is absolutely wrong. There’s a long line of authoritative economic teaching from the popes, running from Leo XIII on through Francis’s immediate predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and Francis’s teaching is consistent with it. Francis’s writing is clearly in the mainstream of Catholic teaching. Limbaugh is either just ignorant about it, or he is deliberately misleading people.” [Readers interested in tracing the history of Catholic social teaching can see the foundational documents on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website at http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catholic-social-teaching/foundational-documents.cfm]
“Okay,” I said. “So far Limbaugh has explained away the pope’s teaching as a PR move, or, alternatively, the Marxists ‘got to him,‘ or he’s some misfit off doing his own thing. But I like his fourth explanation too. He says people were telling him, ‘Hey, Rush, the pope was mistranslated.’ He admits he was skeptical, but then he realized the ‘worldwide left’ is ‘entirely capable’ of foisting a misleading translation off on us’.”
“That’s beyond bizarre, isn’t it?” said Al. “That’s some elite conspiracy-fantasy spinning right there--especially when in interviews and sermons the pope has been saying these same things, over and over again, for months. I think somebody ought to introduce Limbaugh to Occam’s Razor.”
“What? I use a Gillette myself. Does he need a new corporate sponsor? He already looks clean-shaven in the photo on his website.”
“No, no. Occam’s Razor is a principle, fittingly enough coined by a 14th century Franciscan friar. One of the common versions of it is that when you have competing explanations for something, you choose the simplest one that explains all the known facts.”
I thought about that. “So our choices are... ?
“We have a pope who has taken the name Francis in honor of a saint who renounced worldly aspirations and chose a life of poverty. The pope himself has chosen a simple life style, drawn guidance from scripture, and talked and preached extensively on our brotherhood with the poor.
“On the one hand, then, we could say that Francis’s economic teachings are consistent with his life, with scripture, with his own prior comments, and with prior teaching of the church...
“Or, on the other hand, we can ignore all that and assume that no pope in his right mind would criticize capitalism, and therefore Francis must either: A) be insincere and simply pandering to the public in order to create some positive PR for himself. Or B), he is the hostage--wittingly or unwittingly--of Marxists, who have managed to extort these criticisms from an innocent pope. Or C), he is an isolated deviant from the church’s historical teaching. Or D), his writing was hijacked by the evil worldwide leftist movement, which somehow substituted a fake translation for the pope’s original--which presumably was intended to be a hymn to the blessings of the capitalist system. Or E), all of the above.”
“Looks like a plain enough choice to me,” I said. “If Limbaugh were Pinocchio, his nose would be punching a hole through the roof.”
Just then the manager’s voice interrupted us: “Ace and Al, we have an opening for you in the far left lane.”
© Tony Russell, 2013