Vatican Approves Galileo, Darwin, Wilde, & Marx

MOST of you know that the Vatican has pardoned Galileo, whom they had grotesquely persecuted more than three centuries earlier in the Galileo affair. More recently they’ve made their peace with Charles Darwin.

Regarding Galileo, see this statement of Pope John Paul II: Faith can never conflict with reason. It’s difficult reading, but worth the effort. Excerpts:

[T]he geocentric representation of the world was commonly admitted in the culture of the time as fully agreeing with the teaching of the Bible of which certain expressions, taken literally seemed to affirm geocentrism. The problem posed by theologians of that age was, therefore, that of the compatibility between heliocentrism and Scripture.

Thus the new science, with its methods and the freedom of research which they implied, obliged theologians to examine their own criteria of scriptural interpretation. Most of them did not know how to do so.

Paradoxically, Galileo, a sincere believer, showed himself to be more perceptive in this regard than the theologians who opposed him. “If Scripture cannot err”, he wrote to Benedetto Castelli, “certain of its interpreters and commentators can and do so in many ways”.

[…]

It is necessary to repeat here what I said above. It is a duty for theologians to keep themselves regularly informed of scientific advances in order to examine if such be necessary, whether or not there are reasons for taking them into account in their reflection or for introducing changes in their teaching.

[…]

From the Galileo affair we can learn a lesson which remains valid in relation to similar situations which occur today and which may occur in the future.

Regarding Darwin, see: Pope Benedict’s 2007 Statement on Evolution, and also Vatican to Celebrate Darwin’s “Origin of Species”.

But the latest news is unsettling. In the Times of London we read: Vatican thumbs up for Karl Marx after Galileo, Darwin and Oscar Wilde. Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:

Karl Marx, who famously described religion as “the opium of the people”, has joined Galileo, Charles Darwin and Oscar Wilde on a growing list of historical figures to have undergone an unlikely reappraisal by the Roman Catholic Church.

We’re not concerned about Oscar Wilde, but … Karl Marx? Let’s read on:

L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, said yesterday that Marx’s early critiques of capitalism had highlighted the “social alienation” felt by the “large part of humanity” that remained excluded, even now, from economic and political decision-making.

Social alienation? This is about social alienation? We continue:

Georg Sans, a German-born professor of the history of contemporary philosophy at the pontifical Gregorian University, wrote in an article that Marx’s work remained especially relevant today as mankind was seeking “a new harmony” between its needs and the natural environment. He also said that Marx’s theories may help to explain the enduring issue of income inequality within capitalist societies.

These people know nothing about economics. Nothing! Here’s more:

“We have to ask ourselves, with Marx, whether the forms of alienation of which he spoke have their origin in the capitalist system,” Professor Sans wrote. “If money as such does not multiply on its own, how are we to explain the accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few?”

Okay, that’s quite enough. Those who understand the free enterprise system will inevitably react to this the same way we react when we see the most outrageously ignorant creationist discussing evolution.

We’re left wondering — are these people as ignorant as it seems, or are they reading the American political tea leaves and behaving like slick politicians? Neither answer gives us a good impression.

There’s much more in the Times article. If this concerns you — and it should — click over there and read it all. Then see if you can make any sense of it. We can’t.

The Galileo pardon was a good thing to do — it took way too long, but it’s difficult for a religious institution to admit that it made a terrible error. Acceptance of Darwin’s work was another good move. We have often praised the Vatican for those actions. And Oscar Wilde, well … after talking about Galileo and Darwin — who cares about Wilde?

But Karl Marx — that’s a bad move. Very bad.

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

add to del.icio.usAdd to Blinkslistadd to furlDigg itadd to ma.gnoliaStumble It!add to simpyseed the vineTailRankpost to facebook

. AddThis Social Bookmark Button . Permalink for this article

11 responses to “Vatican Approves Galileo, Darwin, Wilde, & Marx

  1. For what it’s worth, I think I understand enough of Catholic theology and enough of Marx to see why the Church would be tempted in this direction. I could venture an interpretation if you’re interested.

  2. Carl Sachs says: “I could venture an interpretation if you’re interested.”

    There are scripture verses that have inspired bible communist communities in the past. One of the most recent examples has been the liberation theology movement. I’m not interested in the theological justification for it, but if you want to give it a go, then have at it. Just don’t preach.

  3. Gabriel Hanna

    In my Bible I find things such as “Give all that thou hast to the poor”. I do not find “Take away things that other people have and give them to the poor”, or “Form ye political action committees to lobby Caesar to do something for the poor”.

  4. Gabriel Hanna says:

    In my Bible I find things such as “Give all that thou hast to the poor”.

    In mine (Luke 19: 15-17) it says:

    … then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.

    Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds.

    And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities.

  5. Gabriel Hanna

    @SC: But it’s a parable, like the house built on sand. Jesus wasn’t trying to say that building on sand is a sin, and that investing your master’s money is a virtue.

    “Give all that thou hast to the poor” is a command he gave to one person; it is not clear if he intended that to be a command for everyone.

    His disciples he commanded to take no money, not even a change of clothes; just go about and preach the Gospel, and let God take care of them.

    Again it’s not clear that he intended EVERYONE to live like that.

  6. Thanks, Curmodgeon. I’ll try not to preach, but if I cross a line, let me know. I respect that I’m a guest in your playground.

    I wasn’t thinking about a scriptural justification for the redistribution of wealth. I was thinking of something that goes, I think, much deeper into the logic of Catholicism and of Marxism, and that is the concept of personhood. Whether or not one agrees with their use of this concept, this concept plays a fundamental role in both Catholic theology and Marxist philosophy.

    The heart of Marx’s critique of capitalism — and please note, my intent here is simply expository, not apologetic — is that capitalism treats persons as if they were things. It does so because the essence of personhood is the capacity for deliberate, creative activity, and it is this capacity which the worker sells to the capitalist in exchange for a wage. So the essence of the worker, her very personhood, is treated as a commodity. This is why capitalism is regarded as “dehumanizing” or as “alienating.”

    The concept of personhood is also central to Catholicism. God is one ‘being’ but three ‘persons’ — each of which is a distinctive aspect of God’s relation to humanity. And to say that we too are persons is how Catholics understand the idea that we are made ‘in the image of God’. It is our personhood that sets us apart from the rest of Creation.

    My sense of things is that it’s the worries about de-personalization, or degradation of personhood, that comprises much of the overlap between Marxism and Catholicism.

  7. Gabriel Hanna

    The heart of Marx’s critique of capitalism — and please note, my intent here is simply expository, not apologetic — is that capitalism treats persons as if they were things. It does so because the essence of personhood is the capacity for deliberate, creative activity, and it is this capacity which the worker sells to the capitalist in exchange for a wage. So the essence of the worker, her very personhood, is treated as a commodity. This is why capitalism is regarded as “dehumanizing” or as “alienating.”

    I thought the heart of Marxism was the labor theory of value; which this sounds a little like.

    Suppose you don’t sell your labor for a wage; you go off like Robinson Crusoe.

    While you are spending 100% of your time in debilitating drudgery at a very low standard of living, what will compensate you for the personhood you are losing thereby?

    The fact that I don’t have to grow my own food or make my own clothes; that specialists exist who can produce these things better than I, and likewise there are things I produce better than they do, gives me far more opportunities to actualize my personhood or whatever.

  8. Carl Sachs says: “The heart of Marx’s critique of capitalism — and please note, my intent here is simply expository, not apologetic — is that capitalism treats persons as if they were things.”

    That’s part of the public relations pitch, but it’s hardly the heart of Marx’s system. Anyway, the claim that “capitalism treats persons as if they were things” is really an assault on the concept of employment, which isn’t unique to capitalism.

    Perhaps “treating people like things” is really aimed at the market system, where talent is a commodity like any other, and its value is determined by the marketplace. That’s why Jay Leno is paid more than me to stand up and tell jokes. I don’t think it dehumanizes Leno or me, and if Catholicism has a gripe about it, I don’t care.

  9. Don’t worry Curm, I took the liberty of going to the original Papal release (don’t worry I held my nose) and translated it correctly. It wasn’t Karl Marx that was being spoken of, it was Groucho Marx.

    Curm says: “That’s why Jay Leno is paid more than me to stand up and tell jokes.”

    My cat tells better jokes than you.

  10. Tundra Boy says: “My cat tells better jokes than you.”

    I Googled for Canadian humor. No hits.

  11. retiredsciguy

    Tundra Boy says: “My cat tells better jokes than you.”

    Cat walks in to a bar; says, “I can lick any man in this joint. Literally.”