Serving People, Not Ideas
Posted on September 22, 2015
“We do not serve ideas. We serve people.”
That is the true nature of free market capitalism and American democracy in the 20th century, especially in the context of its battles with the twin scourges of communism and fascism.
When Pope Francis made that comment in Communist Cuba over the weekend, his intended audience might have been the Castro brothers, who have run that island for 50 years.
But that message resonates here as well.
Francis has been accused of being a Marxist by some on the right, although anybody who knew him in Argentina would laugh at that description.
I think the Holy Father is a deeply practical man, who understands that his Church needs a heavy splash of bracing reality in its collective face.
Yes, he is concerned about the poor, but shouldn’t we all be concerned about those who can’t get enough to eat, don’t have a bed to lay down in, don’t have clothes to cover their body and don’t have a chance of ever getting a job?
Yes, he is concerned about the climate, but this is not some theory he pulled out of thin air. The climate is changing, and it is the consensus of almost every climate scientist that man has played a role in it. Shouldn’t we all share that concern?
And yes, he has expressed concern about the vast gulf between the rich and poor, about a throw-away culture, about triumph of materialism over morality, about excesses of unbridled greed. Isn’t that his job as the moral leader of a billion Catholics?
And can’t we take a step back and accept that maybe the Pontiff has a point?
We don’t have to get all defensive about it. We can strive to do better.
We can become better stewards of the environment, better protectors of children, better helpers to the poor. We can become less greedy, more balanced, less enthralled with material goods and less narcissistic. We can worry less about our feelings and more about the feelings of our friends, neighbors and family.
We don’t have to pray at the altar of the free market. It’s not a deity. Sometimes the free market, made up of imperfect human beings, doesn’t work and needs to be adjusted.
That doesn’t mean that we ditch the marketplace. It means we use the tools available to make adjustments. Sometimes, we use our government, as envisioned by our Constitution, to make those adjustments. Sometimes, the marketplace adjusts itself.
It’s not perfect. But nothing in this world ever is.
Pope Francis once said, “God is in the tension.”
And in American life, there is tension between the right and the left, between the market and the government, between Democrats and Republicans, and in all kinds of other places.
In America, we don’t put ideas over people. In America, the people rule.