Conservatives are less concerned with the new pope’s politics than they are with his religious teachings, said scholar and author Thomas Cahill.
Republicans, including right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh, have criticized comments made by Pope Francis about unfettered free market economies and the lack of concern in capitalist societies for the poor.
“They’re not really afraid of ‘pure Marxism,’” Cahill said, quoting one of Limbaugh’s complaints. “They might be more afraid of ‘pure Christianity,’ which it sounds to me like what he’s spouting.”
Cahill appeared Dec. 27 on “Moyers and Company.”
Pope Francis has spoken “about the absolute necessity” of caring for the poor, Cahill said, which he said was “a necessary part of the Christian message.”
“If you don’t have that, you’re talking about something else,” said Cahill, the author of Jesus’ Little Instruction Book and a biography of Pope John XXIII.
He said the U.S. was going through a crisis that was partially political and partially religious that resulted in Catholic conservatives such as Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) championing the market over morals.
“(Ryan is) in favor of capitalism without any room for people who are being left behind,” Cahill said.
The author disputed that Pope Francis opposed capitalism, but he said the pontiff was following the teachings of Jesus.
“That’s his model, obviously,” Cahill said. “It sure as hell isn’t Paul Ryan’s model or Rush Limbaugh’s model or any of these guys. They would like to muffle real Christianity as much as possible.”
He defined “real Christianity” by reciting the opening verses of Matthew 5 – “blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (and) blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”
“The words of Jesus have nothing to do with aggressive economics,” Cahill said.
Pope Francis was most concerned about Christians who were fixated on doctrine at the expense of people.
“It’s not just driving conservatives crazy; it’s driving crazy the people who can only see things one way,” Cahill said. “More than political conservatives, they’re psychological types, and they’re psychological types with religion. Anyone who grew up in any religion knows these people.”
These fixations on doctrine were rooted in an essential part of human nature, Cahill said, alluding to the books he’s written on the Bible and religious figures and his series on Western civilization.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that there are only two movements in the world,” Cahill said. “One is kindness, and the other is cruelty. I don’t think there’s anything else, really.”
This cruelty manifested itself in religion as exclusion, he said.
“That’s not how Jesus spoke,” Cahill said. “Jesus is the one who lifted the weeping prostitute off the floor and said, ‘Your sins are forgiven you.’ He had no problem with sexual deviance of any kind. It’s we who have that problem.”