Rorate Caeli

In God They Don't Trust: Anti-American Syllabus in Vatican journal, by Maureen Mullarkey

A view from the pew, by Maureen Mullarkey

My initial response—unbidden, unguarded—to the Civiltà Cattolica broadside against American conservatives was relief. Almost a kind of glee. The Emperor has thrown his New Clothes on the floor in a fit of pique; his courtiers bend low to pick up what is not there. The pantomime is fully in the open. Here, thankfully, is a barefaced specimen of intellectual sterility too obvious for a cosmetic gloss.
Illustration by Munro Scott Orr (1874-1955)

The Spadaro-Figueroa tirade is as nasty as it is ignorant. Writing as proxies for Francis, the pair make plain their boss’ uncomprehending distaste for America—its history, its politics, and its Christianity. They have given us an accidental exposé bereft of critical reflection and with no ear for its own cant. Of a piece with longstanding European disdain for the American character and manners, the invective suggests a crippling case of status anxiety vis-à-vis the global intellectual elite it aches to ingratiate.

Our authors bolt out of the starting gate snorting suspicion of In God We Trust. The first sentence quivers with implication: “This phrase is printed on the banknotes of the United States of America.” (Hint: These notes are the very stuff of Bergoglio’s “economy that kills.”) The motto represents “a problematic fusion between religion and state, faith and politics, religious values and economy.”

On exhibit in this chosen opener is the post-modern denial of the existence of objective reality. The past’s own utterances are not steadfast. The truth of them, like that of any text, is unfixed, determined by current ideological needs.

What In God We Trust represents is the temper of an agonized nation in the throes of the Civil War. First stamped on the two-cent coin in 1864, there is nothing problematic about it. After war began in 1861, a campaign grew to acknowledge God on the small change of quotidian life that passes hand to hand. The motto originated as a non-denominational prayer—part talisman—against dissolution. Replacing the goddess of liberty, the words were meant to signal future generations that we were not a pagan nation. In the words of one supplicant to Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase: From my hearth I have felt our national shame in disowning God as not the least of our present national disasters.

Why would a contemporary pontificate not second the emotion?
"In God We Trust" as National Motto: Joint Resolution
of the United States Congress
signed into law by President Eisenhower in 1956

Not engraved on paper bills until the mid-twentieth century, In God We Trust, declared the National Motto of the United States in 1956, in the height of the deadly global struggle of Christian Civilization against Communism, remains on our currency as a daily reminder to put not our trust in princes. That ancient caution gets under the skin of Vatican rajahs. Their naked irritation brings to mind Dickens’ dismay during his visit to America in the 1840s. The great social critic, the people’s tribune, was distressed that the American merchant class—mere tradesmen—often neglected to remove their hats in the company of their betters.

Fusion between religion and state, faith and politics? Any talk of fusion has to acknowledge the breathtaking synthesis, achieved in our lifetime, between atheistic Leftism and radical/liberal religion. Spadaro & Co.’s writ of censure projects the current pontificate’s own pretentions and ambitions onto conservative American Christians. This Vatican is up to its gullet in the politics of climate change, of mass migration, of Islamic appeasement, of image-making as a tool of propaganda. Bergoglio, self-ordained as a geopolitician—and here lauded as one—is elbow-deep in a sly, treacherous politics of class animus. What was Laudato Sì, addressed to the entire planet, but a megalomaniacal synthesis of established religious idiom and radical statist over-reach? Projection is the narcissist’s most characteristic move.

In fine postmodern style, the Vatican’s learned toadies upend traditional catechetical insistence on objective evil by muttering darkly about Manichaean visions. They swat at Presidents Bush and Trump for calling evil by name. Where is that delicate papal regard slathered on the Castro thugs? They deplore the American “bond between capital and profits and arms sales,” a Bergoglian idée fixe. Francis’s men cite the meme as if it were an accepted tool of analysis rather than a facile slogan meant to silence prudential concerns about national sovereignty, civic well-being, and the rule of law.

Derrida notwithstanding, there really is a bottom to the abyss of deconstruction. Our high priests of defamation hit it in their equation of George W. Bush with ISIS. Both, you see, share a theopolitics based on “some cult of an apocalypse.” Kudos to Osama bin Laden for having the wit to call Bush a “great crusader.”

The ugliest point in Spadaro & Co.’s lunatic Syllabus of American Errors is its contempt for “religious groups composed mainly of whites from the deep American South.” Sound familiar? It is a riff on “bitter clingers” and “deplorables” but more candidly racist. An insinuation appropriate to academic pit stops like Evergreen State College is grotesque in the pope’s own house organ. It brings to the surface what hovers beneath Francis’ touted sympathy for the oppressed. He is concerned only with those poor-and-oppressed whose interests are useful to the Left. And the Left finds it useful to see white skin as a sign of moral defect.

Like Humpty Dumpty, postmodern minds believe words can mean . . . whatever. Accordingly, this foray into sociology collapses evangelicalism into fundamentalism. Others are far better suited to correct the article’s virulent caricature of evangelicalism than I am. Still, no one can miss one conspicuous contribution to Vatican hostility: pentecostalism and evangelicalism are fast gaining ground in Latin America. Let bush league intellectuals mock the prosperity gospel and Norman Vincent Peale’s popularity of sixty years ago. In the end, Horatio Alger stories and work ethic offer poor people as individuals alternatives to collective imprisonment in Francis’ cherished mystical category, The Poor.

Francis, we are told, delivers a “counter narrative” to the American “narrative of fear.” This is the language of leftwing academia, not of the Church. The Church speaks of truth and falsity. Despite time-bound burdens on clear expression, aspiration to truth is its sacred trust. Narratives, by contrast, are rhetorical devices, elements of fiction. Paul tells us we see but through a glass, darkly. Yet we labor to pierce the obscurity, not to devise scripts that suit the moment.

The value of this diatribe in Civiltà Cattolica is its exposure of just how far down the rabbit hole Francis has taken us. An intellectually degraded pontificate is incapable of moral or theological lucidity. As Pascal Bruckner noted more than a decade ago, “In Europe, anti-Americanism is a veritable passport to notoriety.” And this pontificate lusts to be noticed on modernity’s own terms.

God help us.