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Austen IvereighOctober 12, 2009

The London Observer yesterday ran an article on the Catholicism of the documentary-maker Michael Moore, whose new film apparently attacks capitalism from a Christian standpoint.

Moore is a practising Catholic and has put religion at the core of Capitalism: A Love Story. Alongside the political arguments about inequality, Wall Street corruption and the failures of George W Bush, Moore argues that capitalism is also fundamentally unchristian. In the film he interviews several Catholic priests, who explain their belief that capitalism and the free market, by emphasising greed and the self over community, go against the Bible's basic tenets. One priest, Dick Preston, tells Moore: "Capitalism is evil, immoral and contrary to the teachings of Jesus." Moore also describes his own Catholic upbringing and includes a skit where free-market slogans are dubbed inappropriately – and hilariously – over scenes from a movie of Jesus's life. The tactic appears to have unnerved many on America's right wing, who are used to attacking Moore as a symbol of leftwing secularism.

According to a review in the Catholic News Service, what the clergy in the film say about capitalism "is not the teaching of the full Magisterium, which instead takes a more moderate stance, recognizing both the efficiencies of the free-market system and its need to be prudently regulated, while upholding the human dignity of workers, particularly their right to unionize."

But is Catholic social teaching really so moderate? I have a piece in the Guardian today in which I argue that Moore's denunciations of unbridled markets are straight out of the Catholic social tradition -- from the early Church through to Leo XIII and John Paul II. Seen on a left-right continuum, CST might be seen as "a moderate stance", but there is a vast gulf between an economy which starts with need and another which looks only to the market. 

My article begins with a funny moment in an interview Moore gave to Sean Hannity of Fox News, when he challenges Hannity -- another practising Catholic -- to recall last Sunday's Gospel. Hannity can't. "But it was only two days ago!" crows Moore. (H/t to David Gibson at Dot Commonweal, from where you can access the clip.)

But there's one thing I don't understand. The Gospel which Moore teases Hannity for forgetting is Mark 10:17-27, where Jesus tells his disciples how it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter heaven. That is the Gospel for yesterday, October 11.

But the Hannity interview went out October 6th. So the Gospel Moore should have teased Hannity for forgetting is Mark 10:2-16, on marriage.

Am I missing something? Or is it Moore, not just Hannity, who has been exposed?

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12 years 10 months ago
Please stay on this, Austen.  It is a very important story, and exactly why Michael Moore should not be discounted. 
It may be that we will should be exposed.  As Merton says, "we are all more or less wrong."  But that doesn't mean that what he is saying about capitalism and Catholic social teaching is not valid.
12 years 10 months ago
Capitalism is based on cooperation.  Many companies worldwide cooperate to produce a product and provide service; all without centralized coordination.  The coordination and cooperation seen in a capitalist economy is truly staggering.  Has any economic system ever acheived the level of cooperation seen in the capitalist markets?
The competition seen in capitalism has to do with the customer.  There is competition for services and products.  It is the free customer who causes business to compete to provide the most efficient, cost-effective, and most desirable product and service.
I fail to see how this system is not Christian.  Can an individual in this system cheat, steel, lie and kill? Yes!  But is the system somehow evil or sinful?  I think not.
On the other hand, the socialist system requires people to subsidize immoral behavior sanctioned by the government under penalty of law.  This system is evil.  This system is not free.

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