Christian's Chronicles

July| Vol. 22 No. 8.02 | Christian's Chronicles © 2015 – All rights reserved.

Sunday

It is Sunday morning in the city of sin; generally marked by long departure lines at the airport as visitors make their way home from this adult playground that caters to all tastes, leaving behind the excesses of the weekend and the bills that paid for them. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, or so says popular belief, like a magic-spell-enabler for all things unrestrained. Nonetheless, social media combined with the ubiquitous smart-phone-camera has a tendency to disprove this belief.

This is also the time when the faithful head to church, seeking atonement for transgressions, communion with God, and affirmation of faith. The Vegas crowd probably isn’t rushing home to make it in time for mass, but I’m sure many could use a little spiritual counseling. Then again, perhaps the Sunday morning service crowd also needs to take a second look at the altar before which they truly worship, versus the one at which they pay lip-service to values they fail to practice.

The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and an­guish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor.

The above quote is from the Apostolic Exhortation released by Pope Francis on Tuesday, and it contains much else that has caused the media to take note.[i] It is a forceful denunciation of ideologies that many have espoused and supported openly or in their deeds, as the purported common-sense solutions to economic woes. It exposes the moral bankruptcy of the altar of the free market, and the economics of exclusion.

Below, I have selected a few quotes that may be of interest. I encourage you to read the document for yourself, and do not take second-hand opinion to be authoritative, even if it is on the pages of The Chronicle. The Pope is not just a religious leader, he represents a great deal of political influence. His writing contains a profusion of social commentary. Therefore, this should be of interest to believers and nonbelievers alike. I also realize there are those who take issue with certain controversies related to the church. My aim is not to be a cheerleader for the Pope or any particular religion. I simply wish to highlight a few things I found interesting in a document written by a highly influential figure.

Rather than running the risk of taking things out of context, which is a risk recognized by the Pope, too, I decided to quote him at length in four sections that run contiguous through pages 45 – 51 with some telling titles:

  1. No to an Economy of Exclusion
  2. No to the Idolatry of Money
  3. No to a Financial System Which Rules Rather Than Serves
  4. No to the Inequality Which Spawns Violence

There are some additional interesting tidbits, some of which I note at the end, but these five sections should provide plenty of food for thought:

No to an Economy of Exclusion:

Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly home­less person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the sur­vival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of peo­ple find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape. Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “ex­ploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.

Pope Francis Portrait Painting

“Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading.”

In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about great­er justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has devel­oped. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us some­thing new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.

No to the new idolatry of money

One cause of this situation is found in our relationship with money, since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idol­atry of money and the dictatorship of an imper­sonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: con­sumption.

English: Worshiping the golden calf, as in Exo...

“The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idol­atry of money and the dictatorship of an imper­sonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.”

While the earnings of a minority are grow­ing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ide­ologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Con­sequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from en­joying their real purchasing power. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide di­mensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of in­creased profits, whatever is fragile, like the envi­ronment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.

No to a financial system which rules rather than serves

Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of eth­ics and a rejection of God. Ethics has come to be viewed with a certain scornful derision. It is seen as counterproductive, too human, because it makes money and power relative. It is felt to be a threat, since it condemns the manipulation and debasement of the person. In effect, ethics leads to a God who calls for a committed response which is outside the categories of the market­place. When these latter are absolutized, God can only be seen as uncontrollable, unmanage-able, even dangerous, since he calls human beingsto their full realization and to freedom from all forms of enslavement. Ethics – a non-ideologi­cal ethics – would make it possible to bring about balance and a more humane social order. With this in mind, I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs”.

A financial reform open to such ethical considerations would require a vigorous change of approach on the part of political leaders. I urge them to face this challenge with determi­nation and an eye to the future, while not ignor­ing, of course, the specifics of each case. Money must serve, not rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and to the return of econom­ics and finance to an ethical approach which fa­vours human beings.

No to the inequality which spawns violence

Today in many places we hear a call for greater security. But until exclusion and inequal­ity in society and between peoples are reversed, it will be impossible to eliminate violence. The poor and the poorer peoples are accused of vio­lence, yet without equal opportunities the differ­ent forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and eventually explode. When a society – whether local, national or glob­al – is willing to leave a part of itself on the fring­es, no political programmes or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquility. This is not the case simply because inequality provokes a violent reaction from those excluded from the system, but because the socioeconomic system is unjust at its root. Just as goodness tends to spread, the toleration of evil, which is injustice, tends to ex­pand its baneful influence and quietly to under­mine any political and social system, no matter how solid it may appear. If every action has its consequences, an evil embedded in the structures of a society has a constant potential for disinte­gration and death. It is evil crystallized in unjust social structures, which cannot be the basis of hope for a better future. We are far from the so-called “end of history”, since the conditions for a sustainable and peaceful development have not yet been adequately articulated and realized.

Today’s economic mechanisms promote inordinate consumption, yet it is evident that unbridled consumerism combined with inequal­ity proves doubly damaging to the social fabric. Inequality eventually engenders a violence which recourse to arms cannot and never will be able to resolve. It serves only to offer false hopes to those clamouring for heightened security, even though nowadays we know that weapons and violence, rather than providing solutions, create new and more serious conflicts. Some simply content themselves with blaming the poor and the poorer countries themselves for their trou­bles; indulging in unwarranted generalizations, they claim that the solution is an “education” that would tranquilize them, making them tame and harmless. All this becomes even more exas­perating for the marginalized in the light of the widespread and deeply rooted corruption found in many countries – in their governments, busi­nesses and institutions – whatever the political ideology of their leaders.

Here are some additional tidbits:

– On happiness, technology, and consumer culture: “Sometimes we are tempted to find excus­es and complain, acting as if we could only be happy if a thousand conditions were met. To some extent this is because our “technological society has succeeded in multiplying occasions of pleasure, yet has found it very difficult to en­gender joy”. I can say that the most beautiful and natural expressions of joy which I have seen in my life were in poor people who had little to hold on to.” (p. 7-8)

– On sound-bites and taking things out of context: “In today’s world of instant communication and occasionally biased media coverage, the message we preach runs a greater risk of being distorted or reduced to some of its secondary aspects.” (p. 30)

– On reasons for the Pope’s social commentary: “It is not the task of the Pope to offer a de­tailed and complete analysis of contemporary reality, but I do exhort all the communities to an “ever watchful scrutiny of the signs of the times”. This is in fact a grave responsibility, since certain present realities, unless effectively dealt with, are capable of setting off processes of dehumanization which would then be hard to reverse.” (p. 43-44)

– On today’s social challenges: “The joy of living frequent­ly fades, lack of respect for others and violence are on the rise, and inequality is increasingly ev­ident. It is a struggle to live and, often, to live with precious little dignity. This epochal change has been set in motion by the enormous qualita­tive, quantitative, rapid and cumulative advances occuring in the sciences and in technology, and by their instant application in different areas of nature and of life. We are in an age of knowl­edge and information, which has led to new and often anonymous kinds of power.” (p. 45)

– On superficial instant gratification: “In the prevailing culture, priority is given to the outward, the immediate, the visible, the quick, the superficial and the provisional. What is real gives way to appearances.” (p. 52)

– Quoting John-Paul II on the influence of media: “New patterns of behaviour are emerging as a result of over-exposure to the mass media… As a result, the negative aspects of the media and entertainment industries are threatening traditional values, and in particular the sacredness of marriage and the stability of the family”. (p. 52-53)

– On the new ‘spiritualism’: “These religious movements, not without a certain shrewdness, come to fill, within a predominantly individualistic culture, a vacuum left by secularist rationalism.” (p. 53)

– On ethical relativism: “We are living in an information-driven society which bombards us indiscriminately with data – all treated as being of equal importance – and which leads to remarkable superficiality in the area of moral discernment.” (p. 54-55)

– On marriage and family: “The family is experiencing a profound cultural crisis, as are all communities and social bonds. In the case of the family, the weakening of these bonds is particularly serious because the family is the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with others despite our differ­ences and to belong to one another; it is also the place where parents pass on the faith to their children. Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. But the indispensible contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momen­tary needs of the couple… The individualism of our postmodern and globalized era favours a lifestyle which weakens the development and stability of personal re­lationships and distorts family bonds.” (p. 55-56)


[i] A headline on Time.com reads: “Pope Francis Denounces ‘Idolatry of Money’ And ‘Tyranny’ of Capitalism” (Read more: Pope Francis Denounces Absolute Free Market in Vatican Document | TIME.com); On NPR, the story reads “Pope Slams ‘Disposable’ Culture That Marginalizes Many

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s