The maker of Roger and Me, Bowling for Columbine, and Sicko, sent a letter this morning promoting his new movie Capitalism: A Love Story that hit theaters last week. Moore’s e-mail is about as much of a “faith testimony” as you’ll get from most Catholics. (We tend to keep our faith on the inside and wear our “works” on the outside. Show, rather than tell.)
Capitalism: A Love Story is Moore’s version of the Pope’s latest encyclical Charity and Truth (read my cliff notes A Love Letter from the Pope), but alot more fun. Both deal with the most critical question of our day: Is capitalism a sin?
In Bruce Headlam’s New York Times profile of Moore last month, Headlam teased out an interesting take on Moore’s faith-inspired prophetic vision, including Moore’s claim that he got his street-theater sensibilities from radical Catholic prophetic priests Dan and Phil Berrigan.
As much as Mr. Moore sometimes plays a comic-book version of class warrior—Left-Thing vs. the Republic of Fear!—his politics are not grounded in class as much as in Roman Catholicism. Growing up in Michigan, he attended parochial school and intended to go into the seminary, inspired by the priests and nuns who, at least until Pope John Paul II, inherited a long tradition of social justice and activism in the American church. … Along with a moral imperative, Catholicism also gave a method. Mr. Moore idolized the Berrigan brothers, the radical priests who introduced street theater into their activism, for example, mixing their own napalm to burn government draft records. Their actions were a form of political spectacle that, conceptually, is Marxist—workers seizing means of production and all that—and it influenced some of Mr. Moore’s best-remembered stunts.
So, if you weren’t on the list that got a letter from Michael Moore this morning, read on:
I’d like to have a word with those of you who call yourselves Christians (Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Bill Maherists, etc. can read along, too, as much of what I have to say, I’m sure, can be applied to your own spiritual/ethical values).
In my new film I speak for the first time in one of my movies about my own spiritual beliefs. I have always believed that one’s religious leanings are deeply personal and should be kept private. After all, we’ve heard enough yammerin’ in the past three decades about how one should “behave,” and I have to say I’m pretty burned out on pieties and platitudes considering we are a violent nation who invades other countries and punishes our own for having the audacity to fall on hard times.
I’m also against any proselytizing; I certainly don’t want you to join anything I belong to. Also, as a Catholic, I have much to say about the Church as an institution, but I’ll leave that for another day (or movie).
Amidst all the Wall Street bad guys and corrupt members of Congress exposed in “Capitalism: A Love Story,” I pose a simple question in the movie: “Is capitalism a sin?” I go on to ask, “Would Jesus be a capitalist?” Would he belong to a hedge fund? Would he sell short? Would he approve of a system that has allowed the richest 1% to have more financial wealth than the 95% under them combined?
I have come to believe that there is no getting around the fact that capitalism is opposite everything that Jesus (and Moses and Mohammed and Buddha) taught. All the great religions are clear about one thing: It is evil to take the majority of the pie and leave what’s left for everyone to fight over. Jesus said that the rich man would have a very hard time getting into heaven. He told us that we had to be our brother’s and sister’s keepers and that the riches that did exist were to be divided fairly. He said that if you failed to house the homeless and feed the hungry, you’d have a hard time finding the pin code to the pearly gates.
I guess that’s bad news for us Americans. Here’s how we define “Blessed Are the Poor”: We now have the highest unemployment rate since 1983. There’s a foreclosure filing once every 7.5 seconds. 14,000 people every day lose their health insurance.
At the same time, Wall Street bankers (“Blessed Are the Wealthy”?) are amassing more and more loot — and they do their best to pay little or no income tax (last year Goldman Sachs’ tax rate was a mere 1%!). Would Jesus approve of this? If not, why do we let such an evil system continue? It doesn’t seem you can call yourself a Capitalist AND a Christian — because you cannot love your money AND love your neighbor when you are denying your neighbor the ability to see a doctor just so you can have a better bottom line. That’s called “immoral” — and you are committing a sin when you benefit at the expense of others.
When you are in church this morning, please think about this. I am asking you to allow your “better angels” to come forward. And if you are among the millions of Americans who are struggling to make it from week to week, please know that I promise to do what I can to stop this evil — and I hope you’ll join me in not giving up until everyone has a seat at the table.
Thanks for listening. I’m off to Mass in a few hours. I’ll be sure to ask the priest if he thinks J.C. deals in derivatives or credit default swaps. I mean, after all, he must’ve been good at math. How else did he divide up two loaves of bread and five pieces of fish equally amongst 5,000 people? Either he was the first socialist or his disciples were really bad at packing lunch. Or both.