“If you aren’t a liberal when you’re young, you don’t have a heart; if you aren’t a conservative when you’re old, you don’t have a brain.” – Some Guy
Some Guy is a guy I work with who said this to me once. I’ve thought a lot about it, trying to understand what he meant by it. It’s clearly not a statement of fact. It’s not really an opinion, either – it’s more than that. I finally settled on the idea that it’s a statement of values.
I don’t know whether he would view it this way, but my interpretation is that the words “liberal” and “conservative” do not necessarily mean in the political sense that they are used these days in the United States. In this instance, “liberal” is more about social change; and “conservative” is more about social stasis.
Viewed through this lens, the statement is one about how young people, with little at stake, are more open to seeing the harshness of the costs of the existing economic and political system and, in particular, the harshness borne by certain groups disproportionately. Whether by compassion, thirst for wealth or power, or some other motive, young liberals are also more open to changing the status quo, which inevitably means a shifting of wealth and power from those who have it to those who do not. In this context, it is obvious why the older generations, with a lifetime of accumulated investment in the existing system, would rationally resist change and the resulting shift of wealth and power.
I suppose this tension is natural, and I don’t propose any fix for it. As I wrote above, I think the statement is ultimately a statement of Some Guy’s values. Maybe at one time he smoked pot, walked around naked at Woodstock and spoke of free love, but he now loves his couch on wheels of a Lexus and his fat 401(k). Maybe he feels guilty; maybe he feels like he got the best of both worlds; who knows? Anyway, to the Pope!
Pope Francis, it would seem, would disagree with Some Guy, with his call for a more equal distribution of goods to the world’s poor. In an earlier post I made the claim that my only problem with his statements was his faulty understanding of what a “free” market is. Well, I was wrong.
The more I thought about it, the greater the dissonance it suggested to my mind. Pope Francis, it would seem, calls for those with wealth and power to give some of it up for the good of all. That is all fine and good, and he can believe whatever he wants.
But my question now is this: is the Catholic church included in that? He moved out of the fancy papal digs to live in a hotel, he drives a beat-up Peugeot or whatever, and he’s been lauded for doing other such humble-ish things.
But I’m not buying what he’s selling. Imagine the vast wealth of the Catholic church – the church properties, the church residences, the cars, the furnishings, the jewelry, cash on hand and who knows what else. Has he done anything with them? Has he taken any of the savings that he’s generated personally (savings only in the sense of not spending so much money as his predecessors) and given it to the poor?
What would really impress me is if the Pope followed the instruction to “go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” Matthew 19:21, King James Version. I assume that is entirely in the Pope’s control, but is that what he suggests? Is he leading by example?
Or…or is it that he, the head of one of the wealthiest and most powerful organizations on Earth over the last 2000 years, has only called on all the other wealthy people and powers to give up some of theirs? Is it offensive of me to suggest such a thing? I don’t think so; after all, 2000 years gives you plenty of time to rack up a few skeletons in the closet – selling of indulgences led to Martin Luther’s revolution; what will priestly pedophilia and its cover up lead to?
So, if Pope Francis really cares for the plight of the poor and really believes that redistribution of existing wealth is the cure, I call on Pope Francis to put the church’s money where his mouth is, lead by example, and fulfill scripture to boot.