Against the backdrop of his damning critique of economic disparity, many can agree that the images of Pope Francis embracing the disfigured and washing the feet of convicts radiate the kind of humility that has been undermined by the singular dominance of capitalism and its self-centered value system.
Regardless of what faith or philosophy one subscribes to, the relevance of the Pope’s message — that capitalism has grown unmanageably reckless and tyrannical — cannot be shied away from.
The pontiff’s concept of the ‘idolatry of money’ has touched every facet of modern society. It is present in neoliberal leaders who slash social services and practice an unrestrained brand of capitalism. It’s in lobby groups and the corporate CEOs, bankers, and hedge fund managers that pull the strings of‘democracy’ from behind the scenes. It’s in environmental degradation stemming from the mass production of consumer goods under the wasteful planned obsolescence model.
It’s also in the immoral hegemony of the military-industrial-complex; in the drive to patent organisms, plants, and animals; and in the pop-culture circus that incentivizes the unchecked dominance of consumerism, self-absorption and narcissism.
Former leaders of the Catholic Church have made similar criticisms, but it is Francis’ ability to communicate to laymen and his willingness to embrace those on the margins of society that set him apart from the gold, scandal and pomp that the Vatican has become known for.
The Pope’s reformist activism, his frugality, and his economic and political views can shape the thinking of world’s billion-strong community of Catholics, but can also create social rifts generated by those opposed to his populist philosophy.