Cameron Conaway believes that if Pope Francis were Mr. Francis the junior high teacher, he’d be lambasted and ridiculed by about 35% of the US population.
Look, I’ve never been good at math. But I’m alright with finding equations in words and here’s what I’ve noticed when it comes to the mindset of about 35 percent of people within these great United States of America:
Anti-Capitalist(1) = Un-American(2).
(1) Anti-Capitalist doesn’t merely mean the headline-making radicals. If you even question any aspect of good ol’ American capitalism you are Un-American.
(2) You don’t have to be an actual American to be branded Un-American. The term basically means “stupid human.” America rules the world, silly.
By default, this makes all sorts of other things Un-American, such as:
Pro-Environment(3) = Anti-Capitalist = Un-American
Pro-Social Justice(4) = Anti-Capitalist = Un-American
(3) Those 35 percent of people may say this as though it’s a curse word.
(4) Supporting this may get you called a Socialist, kicked off the O’Reilly Factor, etc.
When President Obama — a leader far from perfect who has made his fair share of mistakes — or any noteworthy economist, or anyone at all for that matter, merely mentions one of the obvious ways in which our economic system has created an environment in which the United States of America, the “Wealthiest Country on Earth,” is also one of the world’s most economically unequal, they will be considered Un-American by a significant portion of our country’s citizens. The seemingly infinite peer-reviewed studies do not matter. Nor do the stories about the millions of working poor. In this group’s eyes, you’re Un-American for even suggesting that something about American-style capitalism might be harmful.
This group has bought so much stock in the myth of bootstrapping that despite all evidence to the contrary they still believe it’s true. If you’re poor, you are lazy. If you are rich, you made it. And the important variables like luck, race, gender, starting place and environment? Ha! That’s radical propaganda meant to make excuses for the lazy.
But there’s another idea that many of us Americans have bought into even harder: Religion. I don’t mean spiritual people who strive to lead good lives by adhering to the tenets of forgiveness and compassion that are found throughout The Bible. And I don’t mean those Americans who believe in God or fit somewhere under the umbrella term of Christianity. I mean those groups of people who have organized their beliefs not into a positive life practice but into a kind of patriarchal/political power structure that is perhaps the world’s worst form of groupthink. And wouldn’t you know it? Most of the aforementioned 35 percent who bought into the bootstrapping myth have also bought into the myth that being “Religious” in this sense is a good thing. That being told what to believe by a figure cloaked in traditional garb who knows little to nothing about politics or sex or science or economics or health or history or society in general is a really Good thing.
So when Pope Francis, the representative of the Catholic Church, mentions that terrible phrase “social justice” and says things like. . .
“The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.”
. . .many Americans bite their tongue. And when those comments spark articles like Pope Francis is a Flaming Liberal they bite down until there’s blood. You see, they are torn almost completely in half. If he were not the Pope, if he were a politician or a plumber, a trucker or a teacher, he’d be interrupted on certain television channels, he’d be spit at and bullied in certain communities. People would think of him as Un-American.
And when Pope Francis takes it all a step further, when he enters the equation and speaks about capitalism in this way. . .
“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.”
. . .he drips with so much Un-Americanness that he almost leaves no other room for all the other Un-Americans. Like President Obama. And Tammy Duckworth. And Bernie Sanders. And me. And like someone from some other country that ain’t America.
But the media that leads these 35 percent can’t say it. Nope. To attack the Pope in equal measure as they would ANYBODY else who said anything even remotely similar will entirely disrupt their viewership and their allegiance to the power dynamic.
The very values that make Pope Francis undeniably Un-American are the very reasons he is great for Americans. Here are three reasons of many:
(1) Economics. There are lazy Americans, no doubt. But they are not the reason we have one of the world’s largest gaps between the rich and the poor. Our country’s greatest minds continually roll out new studies and books stating precisely what the problem is. It’s a capitalism allowed to run absolutely rampant, with little regard for the general welfare of society. Many Americans know this, they’re living in the trenches of it, but a certain group refuses to get on board because their talking heads or party isn’t on board. So might articles with titles such as Pope Francis rips capitalism and trickle-down economics to shreds get a few to finally step out of their box? Maybe not, but maybe a few will cut a hole in the box and let in the air of reason.
(2) Social Issues. Conservative, religious America (I know many bright people who identify as such, so this doesn’t include everybody) is holding back our country from positively moving forward in this area. Some countries that “we the wealthy” refer to as “third-world” have healthcare systems that make ours look like a complete joke. Some have not just a tolerance but also an acceptance of and for other cultures, religions, races and sexualities far beyond where we stand. People from these countries are often in disbelief when they see the way we murder each other. My friends in Thailand just can’t understand it. “I always thought Americans were happy and free,” one told me, “. . .until I looked up your murder rates and did some research.” Truth is, though we value and sing about the idea of “freedom,” many of us — in part thanks to our radically dogmatic Church leaders and our willingness to blindly follow them — have become highly-opinionated slaves to basic falsities that other freethinking countries are beyond.
(3) Non-Separation of Church and State. The impact of “Church” in the United States, as it relates to politics, is too often one of separatism and of clinging on to antiquated values that many people outside of the Church have long accepted. The Dalai Lama advised that we need to get beyond religion and into secular ethics, but many Americans have already embraced this idea. We’ve got some of the world’s most progressive minds. But then I remember the time when I was told that I couldn’t attend the church down the road because I had a particular political candidate’s sign in my yard. And I realize how despicably common such moments are across our country. Well, if we aren’t going to separate Church from State (and we aren’t), then we might as well have a world leader of a Church who stands on a side closer to the right side of history.
Allen Ginsberg’s poem America opens with:
“America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.”
And it ends with:
“America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.”
May we remember that it’s not enough to give all until we’re nothing. What makes America great is that with our giving comes change. In Ginsberg’s sense it was putting his “queer shoulder to the wheel” and working to usher in an era of gay acceptance.
The road that Ginsberg drove on is the same road that Pope Francis spoke of when he said:
“This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.”
Enough of trying to thwart the expansion of Good ideas, America. Enough of thinking that questioning parts of something means wanting the entirety of it to collapse. Let’s drive brilliantly forward, America, even if that means putting our Un-American shoulders to the wheel.
–Originally published on The Huffington Post