Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The audacity of Pope

Image by FBarok via Ken's Birdhaus.
Buckleyist theologian Ramesh Ponnuru at Ten Miles Square:
“Inequality is the root of social evil,” Pope Francis wrote in a Twitter post yesterday, with words that thrilled the left worldwide more than anything he had said since denouncing “trickle-down theories” of economics. We could read the definite article in his latest statement as indicating that the pope believes all social evil has inequality at its root. The price of that reading, though, would be to render the statement absurd. (In an apostolic exhortation, Francis had called inequality the root of “social ills,” which also suggests that reading is mistaken.)
I don't know about the thrill among the worldwide left there, since I haven't heard about it in my own circle and Ponnuru doesn't offer any links, but I did think it was curious how he seems to think you could appeal to the tweet's English grammar as a window onto the Pope's thinking in what presumably started off in some other language, like maybe Italian.*

Sure enough, there's an original Italian tweet, and it seems pretty clarifying:

There are actually three definite articles, two of which you couldn't use in English without sounding like, well, an Italian with an accent: "The inequity is the root of the social ills." The third one is the one that counts: he does mean something like "the root of all social evils", presumably in that apostolic exhortation as well,** as is seen also by the text he obviously meant to echo, from I Timothy 6:10 in the official translation of the Conferenza Episcopale Italiana:
 L'attaccamento al denaro infatti è la radice di tutti i mali
posing instead of the King James "love of money" the concept of an "attachment to money"—unwillingness to be separated from it—as "indeed the root of all evils" (same plural as Francesco's, reinforced by tutti).

Don't quite see what would make that reading, in Ponnuru's view, "absurd" (of course I'm not a Christian, so what do I know?). To me it seems logically impeccable. Note that he's talking specifically about "social evils", as opposed to psychological evils, moral evils, or whatever, so what he's offering is a kind of strict definition: a social evil is an evil that arises from inequality. And a definition plainly founded in the teaching of the Church.

What's absurd here is Ponnuru's contention that the tweet is somehow about abortion:
The church has long taught that a kind of inequality is both gravely wrong in itself and the cause of other wrongs: the treatment of some people as lesser in worth and dignity than other people. In the church’s view, the social evil of abortion flows precisely from that inequality.
I seem to be saying "Lolwut" an awful lot lately, but lolwut? The Pope undoubtedly thinks of abortion as an evil, but not as a social evil*** (fetuses are not social persons, either, which is one reason why I'm in favor of abortion rights).

If you want a clear idea of what he's talking about, instead of engaging in these grammatical hermeneutics you might try looking at the context of utterance—in the form of the tweet immediately preceding in the pontifical TL, with a quote from that same apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium or EG:
"Nobody may regard himself as exempted from sharing with the poor and from social justice." And inequality is the result of such a refusal to share, of the over-attachment of the rich to their denarii, and social evil proceeds, as Timothy says, from that imbalance.

*His native language is Spanish, but as his name indicates the former Cardinal Bergoglio comes from an Italian immigrant family, like his compatriots in the NBA, Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, and Pablo Prigioni, and his skill in Italian has been noted; the German wag Franz Harald Schmidt comments that "Pope Benedict used 60 languages, but Pope Francis uses Italian, because it is the language of the poor," which shows perhaps that he hasn't spent much time in Italy himself over the past 40 or 50 years, but never mind.
He even Signs in Italian—well, the one word, which a photographer caught him learning last month.
**We've seen before how the Vatican's English translators aren't above subtly or not so subtly distorting the Pope's language to dilute the leftism.

***We've also seen the conservative Catholic tendency to appropriate the language of social justice onto the abortion issue, as if conservative Catholicism hadn't defined itself in terms of opposition to social justice since the 1790s, like opponents of civil rights legislation wrapping themselves in the shroud of Dr. King. What turds. "Liberals are the real anti-egalitarians because they discriminate against blastocycsts."

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