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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Are Roman Catholics Going Galt?

The guilt trip accompanying moral superiority may have its limits, after all.

Wealthy Catholics are reportedly balking at supporting St. Patrick's Cathedral rehabilitation after Pope Francis' comments seemingly criticizing the "rich." This protest by donors is absolutely justified, in my humble opinion.  You cannot validly expect donations with one outstretched hand, while simultaneously hitting your benefactors with the fist of the other hand.  You cannot demonize "wealth" (which is relative, by the way, and is most effectively defined as having one dollar more than the person next to you) without also demonizing the processes, and notably, the effort, that led to it.  Anyone who has accomplished anything in life -- personal, professional, whatever -- knows first-hand the personal effort and sacrifice that led to the achievement.  But perhaps just as significant, any "achiever" (another relative term, best defined as having something that someone else wants) has felt the sharp resentment, jealousy and envy from many people around them.  Achievers become accustomed to this early in life, starting in grade school even.  There is a social penalty for doing well.

Comments demonizing wealth give moral cover to such negative emotions and the people who harbor and express them.  The judgment is another form of social penalty, which when compounded with peer pressure leads to a strong deterrence against achieving anything, or that if you achieve something you had better be really quiet about it and hide the signs of your success.

The inescapable implications are infuriating. Achievers not only have to atone for their "success," but that success is not even theirs and certainly has not been earned.  (Quick note: Your enemies, your inferiors, the people who will always envy you -- none of these people will ever acknowledge your achievement or allow you to keep it unmolested.  Seeking their approval will be as frustrating, ineffective and ultimately as perilous as paying off a cannibal to not eat you.)  Even worse, the implication by extension from the Pope is that the achiever must apologize to other people who did not contribute to their success and in many cases may have actively interfered with or undermined the efforts to become successful.  One can hardly blame the "wealthy" for actively resisting these moral judgments.

The disturbing "get the rich" rhetoric is not confined to the new Pope.  New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan is quoted saying that "Money, our wealth, is a gift from God." This is troubling; characterizing wealth as a "gift" all but explicitly denigrates any effort, expertise and education that produced that wealth. Cardinal Dolan may just as well have channeled President Obama's infamous "You didn't build that" phrase.

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