This is a contemporary match between apostasy v. faith: Of pronouncements on greed (acquisitive desire beyond reason) by the Mayor of London and a disparagement of capitalism by the new Pope. Francis’s teachings on faith and morals were in direct opposition to Boris Johnson’s (hereafter to be referred to as Borisconi) rather unexpected entry into the ranks of “The Good Book” revisionists. According to Borisconi, such basic sins as envy and greed are now to be hailed, along with the avaricious billionaire bankers of The City who have prospered in dubious ways and have skillfully avoided most of their taxes through multiple offshore accounts. I could not have been more surprised if Borisconi had declared his unstinted admiration of the bunga-bunga parties of Italy’s former prime minister.
Pope Francis, in marked contrast to Borisconi, goes back not only to The Bible for his perspective on the importance of human values and virtues but also very much to Plato and Aristotle who viewed the greatness of the human soul as based on absolute and supreme non-earthly values. Greed and envy are most definitely not in good standing in The Bible nor in the Pope’s heart. Ovid, writing at the time of Christ’s birth, described envy as “the meanest of vices, creeping on the ground like a serpent.” That is close to how the Pope views envy as well.
In his first written apostolic exhortation The Pope urges Christians to pay attention to the poor — which capitalism largely ignores. The Gospels have little to offer the free-market capitalism which Pope Francis describes as “tyranny.” The Pope does not mince his words in denouncing the greed and envy at the heart of the economic system now dominating not only the world but even our souls. In capitalism “profit” is the driving motivating force. The enormous social inequalities which this system is producing are of no direct concern to such capitalist enthusiasts as Borisconi.
In his lecture, the mayor said: “I stress — I don’t believe that economic equality is possible; indeed, some measure of inequality is essential for the spirit of envy and keeping up with the Joneses that is, like greed, a valuable spurt to economic activity.”1 While his admiration for the hedge-fund kings was unabashed, he claimed it was “futile” to try ending inequality.2 According to this wannabe leader of the Tory party, the pursuit of material gain is an essential contributor to our basic values.
Borisconi’s approach to poverty is to take a rather mean-spirited approach towards the “undeserving poor.” The Victorians had a motto: “The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, God made them high and lowly and ordered their estate.” This outlook has been brought up to date by the mayor’s first dabbling into the field of genetic inheritance: “It is surely relevant to a conversation about equality that as many as 16% of our species have an IQ below 85, while about 2% have an IQ above 130.” To be fair to Borisconi, he added that more aid should be given to help that 2%. But his reference to “our species” aroused loud hoots in the British media.
Pope Francis counters that wealth and income inequality tend to soar where capitalism has triumphed. The Pope bewails the moral disgrace of so many children living in abject poverty. Alas, the plutocrats of the world, so applauded by Borisconi, are making headway in preserving the rules of an economic system that is rigged in their favor in this winner-take-all casino.
Having lost his bearings on both values and meaning, Borisconi has steered his career by polls and economic verbiage which serve as pseudo-values. Ironically by hailing the greed, selfishness, envy and competition which capitalism encourages, the mayor undermines the very values of the community which elected him. One must ask why the Mayor urges his electorate to admire those working in The City? These suited laborers spend endless, stressful and joyless hours in front of screens exploiting not only others but also themselves (and ruining their vision in the process) for the sake of accumulating paper profits which exceed any they may ever enjoy.
A politician of historical worth, President Theodore Roosevelt, warned that “Probably the greatest harm done by vast wealth is the harm that we of moderate means do to ourselves when we let the vice of envy and hatred enter deep into our own nature.”3 Today’s politicians, when funded by billionaires, would not dare to utter such words. But to be honest, when it comes to defining evil and morality, Borisconi would not know one from the other. Worshiping the god called money is apostasy. 4 Pope Francis openly deplored the fact many believers have come to value profit above faith.
To turn greed and envy into human values is heresy of the first order of magnitude and contrary to the teachings of all the major religions and philosophies of the past.5 We have passed the era of ex-Communication, but Borisconi’s mental lapses certainly are sufficient to dismiss him from the ranks of those concerned with our humanity and exile him to serve as a clown in the court of Rupert Murdoch!
1Boris Johnson, The Margaret Thatcher lecture, (London) November 27, 2013
2Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz states that “Rising inequality reinforces itself by corroding our political system and our democratic governance.” Joseph E.Stiglitz, “Inequality is a choice,” New York Times (Intl.) October 15, 2013
3August 23, 1902.
4“Money destroys human roots wherever it is able to penetrate by turning desire for gain into the sole motive. It easily manages to outweigh all other motives because the effort it demands of the mind is so very much less. Nothing is so clear and so simple as a row of figures,” wrote Simone Weil many years before computers entered our lives. Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, (1952) p.42
5The New Testament states: “You may be certain that no one who is immoral, indecent or greedy ( for greed is a form of idolatry) will ever enter the kingdom of Christ and of God.” Ephesians 5