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A Catholic Right Double Standard — Koch Style

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, DC recently set off a firestorm by accepting a $1 million grant for its new School of Business and Economics from the Charles Koch Foundation.  Progressive minded organizations such as Faith in Public Life called on CUA to return the money, noting how Charles Koch’s extreme libertarianism is far out of step with Catholic social teaching on economics.

Many on the Catholic Right responded by slamming Faith in Public Life  for being funded in part by philanthropist George Soros, who they point out is an atheist. But if George Soros’ belief (or in his case, non-belief) is in play, why isn’t the same standard applied to Charles Koch?

Movement conservatives — especially those on the Religious Right, are often quick to point out that the famous philanthropist, George Soros, is an atheist. It is as if that automatically renders him evil or has anything much to do with his social and political views. Soros is not evangelical about his atheism. Indeed, he was active in supporting movements that brought down the Soviet Union’s Eastern European empire – which was founded upon an overt hostility toward religion. The goal of ending Soviet hegemony was one Soros shared with conservatives including the late Pope John Paul II. I suspect that there are reasons other than atheism why conservatives hate Soros (more on that later).

So when Faith in Public Life organized a protest letter signed by Catholic educators that eloquently pointed out the hypocrisy of the Catholic University of America taking money from the Charles Koch Foundation, supporters of the new School of Business and Economics immediately changed the subject to the atheism of George Soros.

Consider this Bill Donohue excerpt from a December 18, 2013 Catholic League press release:

George Soros is an atheist billionaire who is no friend of the Catholic community. In fact, he funds causes that the Catholic Church works hard to oppose: abortion, euthanasia, drug legalization, and many other radical initiatives.

Those who signed the letter against Catholic University of America are the ones who need to explain why they would align themselves with the likes of George Soros. And if they like what he funds, they should have the guts to say so.

Another conservative web site, The Blaze, was more direct, asking in its title story, “Why Is Atheist George Soros Giving Money to a Faith Group?”. And as if to top himself, in a letter to the website LifeNews, Donohue described Faith in Public Life as an organization “…that lives off the bounty of the left-wing atheist billionaire, Mr. Soros.”

But if the Catholic Right is going to use George Soros’ atheism – as well as some of the causes he funds — as the barometer of his morality then the very same standard needs to be applied to another politically active billionaire, Charles Koch.

A thorough search of Charles Koch fails to turn up anything clear about his religious beliefs. Indeed, there is no record of a religious affiliation or of him publicly discussing faith at all. For all we know, he too may be an atheist. More importantly, like Soros, his religious views do not necessarily determine his overall morality. And yet a double standard is in play.

Let’s begin with Bill Donohue’s complaint that Soros funds causes “the Catholic Church works hard to oppose,” such as drug legalization. A simple Google search reveals that when it comes to drug legalization Charles Koch and George Soros appear be on the same page. When it comes to same-sex marriage – vehemently opposed by the Catholic Right — the Koch-funded Cato Institute has openly supported the idea. (Charles Koch was a founder of Cato).

And yet there is not a peep of protest from Donohue or LifeNews; there is no one on the Right calling into question Koch’s religious beliefs, let alone his inconsistencies with conservative Catholic dogma.

But when it comes to business and economics it is clear that Soros is the one more in line with Catholic social teaching. Indeed, his views overlap with those of Pope Francis more than those of Andrew Abela, the dean of the CUA business school.  Abela has ties to the very libertarian Acton Institute think tank. He is also a member of the Thomas Monaghan founded Legatus, an organization whose membership is limited to very conservative Catholic chief executives. It should be noted that Legatus lists five “non-negotiables” for voters; opposition to marriage equality was one of the five listed items.

So why is it that movement conservatives so dislike George Soros? I suspect it has less to do with religion and more with economics.

Soros is a proponent of regulating financial markets.  He is also a Keynesian who has made lots of money using the British economist’s theories. His concept of Reflexivity draws much from Keynes’s  belief that financial markets often act more irrationally than rationally.  This is heresy to libertarians like Charles Koch and his acolytes.

It is libertarian gospel that markets are rational and efficient and that regulation is counterproductive. They devoutly believe this in spite of the fact that science is proving them wrong and Keynes (and by extension, Soros) was correct. Soros is living proof against their claim that Keynesian capitalism does not work. That, in their view makes him a traitor to his class.

I have long contended that what truly concerns many in the Catholic Right is not religious morality, per se. Instead, inconsistencies such as I have described above points in a different direction: how their own faith can be bent to better serve the laissez-faire principles of economics that lead to inequality.

Indeed, all of the noise about George Soros is really just a distraction.

Soros does not require his grantees to be or to become atheists. Nor is there any evidence that the good people from a variety of religious traditions who work at Faith in Public Life (including Catholics) would have accepted the funds if they came with that string attached.  I’m sure the same is true of the recipients of grants from Charles Koch.  

What is important here is that Faith in Public Life is encouraging the broad tradition of Catholic social teaching on economics that Charles Koch and apparently the business school at CUA oppose.  If Donohue were a consistent defender of the Church he would join with Soros and Faith in Public Life, not denounce them.

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