Now that the Supreme Court has decided that business owners have a right to impose their religious beliefs on their employees, I think this is an appropriate time to remind people that religion itself is a business, a point I made in a previous post:
- Sun Myung Moon was one of the greatest entrepreneurial geniuses of the twentieth century. Like L. Ron Hubbard, he grasped the essential truth that religion is a business. You promise salvation to people, and they pay you money for it. (Salvation is a special kind of commodity. Although it has no form or substance, it is nonetheless fungible.)
No one should know this better than Pope Francis. Salon recently posted an article by Anna Marsh about the pontiff. In it, Marsh destroys the Pope’s reputation as a populist. She writes:
- While the pope transmits a populist vibe—particularly about the economy— he is an old-school conservative who, despite his great PR, maintains nearly all of the socialpolicies of his predecessors and keeps up a hardline Vatican “cabinet.” He has done virtually nothing to change the policies of the church to match his more compassionate rhetoric. People excuse the pope, claiming that he doesn’t have much power to make changes, but this simply isn’t true. Further, it is ludicrous to suggest that a man who denies comprehensive reproductive health care (including all forms of birth control including condoms and abortion) and comprehensive family planning is a man who cares about the poor of this world.
Marsh tells us that the Pope’s populist rhetoric has a venal motive:
- According to The Economist, “The American church may account for as much as 60 percent of the global institution’s wealth. Little surprise, then, that it is the biggest contributor to head office (ahead of Germany, Italy and France). Everything from renovations to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome to the Pontifical Gregorian University, the church’s version of West Point, is largely paid for with American money.” The National Catholic Reporter points out that American Catholics put more than $150 million a week into the collection plate, totaling $8 billion annually. Even if, as they assert, ninety percent of those donations never leave their parish, that means that about $800 million a year donated by American Catholics is being used to fund the Catholic Church around the world.
Forbes points out that U.S. Catholics are responsible for almost a third of the charitable contributions that directly fund the Holy See, contributions that were down from $82 million in 2009 to 70 million in 2011. This time period overlaps the decline in Pope Benedict’s favorable numbers among U.S. Catholics and is widely attributed to Benedict’s lack of PR finesse, handling of the church’s sexual abuse scandal, and launching of an investigation into the practices of the American nuns.
The Vatican hired a PR man named Greg Burke to help them with this problem. Burke used to work for Fox News, and he is a member of the reactionary Opus Dei. It is apparently Burke who has largely engineered the new pope’s reputation as a populist. A lot of people have apparently fallen for this, but I wonder how long Francis will be able to continue this charade.