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Religious Fraud: The Super Rich Who Claim Christ But Are Actually Enemies of the Church

What it really means when Home Depot's co-founder, a self-described Catholic, slams the pope's ministry to the poor

Photo Credit: AFP


You might remember Ken Langone, billionaire and co-founder of Home Depot, as the remarkably unflinching character who threatened to withdraw donations from the Catholic Church back in 2013 because he was ruffled by Pope Francis’ ministry to the poor. “You get more with honey than with vinegar,” Langone reportedly informed Cardinal Timothy Dolan (meaning “crumbs of my immense fortune” by “more,” “distortions of Christ’s message” by “honey,” and “faithful witness to Scripture” by “vinegar”). Third- and fourth-century heretics lived and died without ever coming up with such a dazzlingly warped view of Christianity, and Langone is at it again, unabashed as ever.

Speaking of populist political appeals to the downtrodden, Langone told Politico this week: “I hope it’s not working. Because if you go back to 1933, with different words, this is what Hitler was saying in Germany. You don’t survive as a society if you encourage and thrive on envy or jealousy.”

Langone is right that political efforts to support the poor resemble Hitler’s regime “with different words” insofar as the words used by the Nazis in support of their reign of terror are not even remotely similar to those used to campaign for minimum wage hikes and universal healthcare. In that regard all political regimes are virtually identical but with “different words.” While it’s always a magical moment when diminishment of Jewish suffering aligns in a perfect storm of ignorance with anti-poor Christianist whining, the quickest way to slice through the nonsense is to have a quick peek at what the persecuted Catholics executed by Hitler’s brutal regime had to say about the support of the poor.

Take, for instance, Alfred Delp, a Jesuit priest and resistance member who was executed by the Nazis in 1945 for his work against Nazi tyranny. Writing in prison, Delp outlined the necessary establishments needed for human flourishing, arguing that “an ‘existence minimum’ consisting of sufficient living space, stable law and order and adequate nourishment, is indispensable. The “socialism of the minimum” is not the last word on the subject but the essential first word, the start. No faith, no education, no government, no science, no art, no wisdom will help humankind if the unfailing certainty of the minimum is lacking …"

If the Catholics murdered by the Nazis were strong enough yet in their faith to die bearing incredible witness to the necessity of establishing a firm ground for all to flourish upon, one wonders what’s so harrowing that Langone and his ilk have been so thoroughly turned against the cause of the poor. His argument that appeals for the improvement of the conditions of the most vulnerable members of society are based purely on envy and jealousyare also notably theologically unschooled and suggestive of a pretty overt ulterior motive.

Most simply put by Thomas Aquinas, envy is sorrow at another’s good. To envy is not to covet: One covets things while one envies people. Envy therefore intimates ill will against a person whom one perceives as having achieved or obtained a good. In that sense it is the opposite of charity not because it takes, necessarily, but because it requires a destructive attitude toward a person. In Langone’s case, an uncharitable attitude underlies his entire worldview: not in that he doesn’t give money, but in that he refuses to charitably imagine the intent of social programs for the poor. One could (and should) charitably view said programs as efforts to build up an existence minimum toward the goal of flourishing; instead, Langone suggests they’re merely petty efforts at making him and other extremely rich people less happy due to paltry little personal hatred on behalf of the poor and/or the people who campaign for those programs.

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