A free market vision for society, the path taken by Republicans and centrist Democrats in U.S. politics, squares neither with the Gospel nor Catholic teaching, said a scholar visiting the University of Portland.

Matthew Eggemeier, associate professor of religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, said in a Sept. 28 lecture on the North Portland campus that Catholic social thought can be an antidote to a widely accepted economic system that seeks to impose its unrestrained ethos on all parts of society.

Because of the name, neoliberalism gets confused with modern liberal politics. But, Eggemeier explained, it’s really a vision in which individual liberty overrides other values. Eggemeier said that both Republicans and Democratic moderates are chiefly neoliberal and that neoliberal ideas have “colonized” other parts of American life for decades. He classifies the Biden administration as neoliberal.

By contrast, Catholic teaching has sought equilibrium, Eggemeier said. Pope Benedict XVI, for example, insisted that a healthy social order should have checks and balances among politics, economics and civil life. Pope Francis has frequently said that the market has become like a false god, and that the economy is for people, not vice versa.

The pandemic revealed pathologies of neoliberalism, said Eggemeier, pointing to Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Pat-rick, who implied that it is acceptable that some people die in order to keep the economy strong.

Catholic teaching says just the opposite: Some freedoms need to be restrained to protect public health, the environment and the sanctity of life.

“Neoliberalism demands unnecessary sacrifices,” Eggemeier said. “We should resist ideologies that inflict harm on people.”

Eggemeier holds a master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School and a doctorate from the University of Notre Dame. His lecture was organized by U.P.’s Garaventa Center for Catholic Intellectual Life and American Culture. The center’s theme words are “faith, reason, imagination, grace.”

Eggemeier pointed to the parable of the good Samaritan as a cure for what he sees as neoliberal distortions. In the story, the Samaritan shows mercy and compassion and gets nothing in return. By contrast, the robbers represent thinking that sees other humans only as cogs for material gain.

Eggemeier said that neoliberals praise charity, but ignore or oppose social justice reforms that might solve poverty and injustice, arguing that such changes run counter to market values.

Eggemeier anticipates that neoliberals will cry “communism!” when presented with a model for a Christian economy. He counters that the church does recognize private property. What the church has long taught, how-ever, is that the right to private property is subordinate to common usage, Eggemeier explained. In “Laborem exercens,” a 1981 encyclical, St. John Paul II teaches that redistribution of wealth is acceptable.

Eggemeier said neoliberalism, like communism, is a threat that reduces all of life to an economic model. Neoliberalism also exacerbates climate change, he said. The church, by contrast, seeks a social order that pro-vides for the sacred rights of all in what Pope Francis calls our “common home.”

Charity is wonderful, Eggemeier concluded, but is not up to the task of saving the planet and reforming society to Gospel values.