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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Truth in Charity

Some highlights from Pope Benedict XVI's "Truth in Charity" encyclical, released today:

#4 A Christianity of charity without truth would be more or less interchangeable with a pool of good sentiments, helpful for social cohesion, but of little relevance. In other words, there would no longer be any real place for God in the world. [Preach it, brother]
#19 As society becomes ever more globalized, it makes us neighbours but does not make us brothers. [What a GREAT quote...] Reason, by itself, is capable of grasping the equality between men and of giving stability to their civic coexistence, but it cannot establish fraternity. This originates in a transcendent vocation from God the Father, who loved us first, teaching us through the Son what fraternal charity is. Paul VI, presenting the various levels in the process of human development, placed at the summit, after mentioning faith, “unity in the charity of Christ who calls us all to share as sons in the life of the living God, the Father of all”
#26 Let it not be forgotten that the increased commercialization of cultural exchange today leads to a twofold danger. First, one may observe a cultural eclecticism that is often assumed uncritically: cultures are simply placed alongside one another and viewed as substantially equivalent and interchangeable. [Benedict hits this theme frequently: all cultures are not created equal]
#27 The right to food, like the right to water, has an important place within the pursuit of other rights, beginning with the fundamental right to life. It is therefore necessary to cultivate a public conscience that considers food and access to water as universal rights of all human beings, without distinction or discrimination [Echoes of John Paul II's statement that the terminally ill cannot be denied food and water. Sustenance is neither a medical treatment nor a commodity. It is a right.]
#28 Not only does the situation of poverty still provoke high rates of infant mortality in many regions, but some parts of the world still experience practices of demographic control, on the part of governments that often promote contraception and even go so far as to impose abortion. [This section got me to thinking... in developing countries, plague causes high infant mortality. In our country, we kill one-third of our children. We are our own plague. Is there really any difference in child mortality rates between Sweden, the US and, say, Zimbabwe or Haiti? ]
#29 If man were merely the fruit of either chance or necessity, or if he had to lower his aspirations to the limited horizon of the world in which he lives, if all reality were merely history and culture, and man did not possess a nature destined to transcend itself in a supernatural life, then one could speak of growth, or evolution, but not development. ["Development" is not a biological term, it is a spiritual term. That gives rather a different light to the phrase "economic development," especially when we realize that the Church habitually uses the phrase "sacramental economy" in regards to the seven sacraments and the graces they endow.]
#30 Charity is not an added extra, like an appendix to work already concluded in each of the various disciplines: it engages them in dialogue from the very beginning. The demands of love do not contradict those of reason. Human knowledge is insufficient and the conclusions of science cannot indicate by themselves the path towards integral human development. [Science, whether biological or economic, does not love. It is a technique, not a person.]
#35 It is in the interests of the market to promote emancipation, but in order to do so effectively, it cannot rely only on itself, because it is not able to produce by itself something that lies outside its competence. It must draw its moral energies from other subjects that are capable of generating them. [See? He spends the intervening articles building to the conclusion he already telegraphed in #30]
#36 The Church has always held that economic action is not to be regarded as something opposed to society. In and of itself, the market is not, and must not become, the place where the strong subdue the weak. Society does not have to protect itself from the market, as if the development of the latter were ipso facto to entail the death of authentically human relations. Admittedly, the market can be a negative force, not because it is so by nature, but because a certain ideology can make it so. [This is key. He begins to build a discussion which creates the idea of interlocking ecologies. The financial economy can be looked on as a social ecology, as much deserving of protection as the rainforest or the wetlands. In fact, by the end, you can see a vision of Nature, society and economics all acting as interacting ecologies worthy of respect and protection, with man at the center of all three, stewarding all three. God creates Nature, man creates finance, God and man create society. Each ecology has its own grammar, but the terms in each are analogous to those in the other two.]
#38 What is needed, therefore, is a market that permits the free operation, in conditions of equal opportunity, of enterprises in pursuit of different institutional ends. Alongside profit-oriented private enterprise and the various types of public enterprise, there must be room for commercial entities based on mutualist principles and pursuing social ends to take root and express themselves. It is from their reciprocal encounter in the marketplace that one may expect hybrid forms of commercial behaviour to emerge, and hence an attentiveness to ways of civilizing the economy. [In short, subsidiarity HAS to apply to the economy. This is a rather resounding support for a lot of capitalists. But watch where he takes it.] Charity in truth, in this case, requires that shape and structure be given to those types of economic initiative which, without rejecting profit, aim at a higher goal than the mere logic of the exchange of equivalents, of profit as an end in itself. [(emphasis added) There is nothing unjust about taking a profit.]
#40 business management cannot concern itself only with the interests of the proprietors, but must also assume responsibility for all the other stakeholders who contribute to the life of the business: the workers, the clients, the suppliers of various elements of production, the community of reference. [Emphasis in the original. We aren't just responsible to shareholders, no matter what the by-laws say.] ... There is no reason to deny that a certain amount of capital can do good, if invested abroad rather than at home. Yet the requirements of justice must be safeguarded, with due consideration for the way in which the capital was generated and the harm to individuals that will result if it is not used where it was produced. [Capital is in some way tied to the geographical region that created it. This makes sense, as this principle is also invoked in other documents in reference to immigration/emigration. Countries cannot just skim the intellectual cream from someone else's population, taking all their doctors and physicists, for example, while forbidding entry to the rest.]
#44 Suffice it to consider, on the one hand, the significant reduction in infant mortality and the rise in average life expectancy found in economically developed countries, and on the other hand, the signs of crisis observable in societies that are registering an alarming decline in their birth rate. [Is there a reduction in infant mortality in America? Is there REALLY?]... In either case materialistic ideas and policies are at work, and individuals are ultimately subjected to various forms of violence. [A link between contraception and violence] ...smaller and at times miniscule families run the risk of impoverishing social relations, and failing to ensure effective forms of solidarity. These situations are symptomatic of scant confidence in the future and moral weariness. [Amen.]
#48 When nature, including the human being, is viewed as the result of mere chance or evolutionary determinism, our sense of responsibility wanes. ... human salvation cannot come from nature alone, understood in a purely naturalistic sense. [Nor from economics alone.] This having been said, it is also necessary to reject the opposite position, which aims at total technical dominion over nature, because the natural environment is more than raw material to be manipulated at our pleasure; it is a wondrous work of the Creator containing a “grammar” which sets forth ends and criteria for its wise use, not its reckless exploitation. [He seems to be saying that we fail to appreciate our roles as sub-creators. We create the natural ecology of the economy. Barack Obama's attitude, and the attitude of all communists, towards the ecology of the economy is identical to that of many capitalists towards the natural environment - it doesn't matter what I do to this ecology as long as I get what I want from the other ecology. Benedict implies that the financial economy has its own "grammar" that must also be respected.] Reducing nature merely to a collection of contingent data ends up doing violence to the environment and even encouraging activity that fails to respect human nature itself.[See?]
49 Questions linked to the care and preservation of the environment today need to give due consideration to the energy problem. [Or, for the Fed, the money problem. At this point, you begin to realize that whether he's talking about finances, physical resources or human beings, it's all of a piece. He's treating each as an example of a larger set of principles. This is the theological equivalent of Newton's calculus.]
#52 Truth, and the love which it reveals, cannot be produced: they can only be received as a gift. [Persons don't reproduce, they procreate. They participate in the gift of creation.]
#53 A metaphysical understanding of the relations between persons is therefore of great benefit for their development. In this regard, reason finds inspiration and direction in Christian revelation, according to which the human community does not absorb the individual, annihilating his autonomy, as happens in the various forms of totalitarianism, but rather values him all the more because the relation between individual and community is a relation between one totality and another [It should be noted that the point of both Hinduism and Buddhism is the annihilation of the self, the absorption of self into a greater being or into a great no-thing-ness. Both are forms of spiritual totalitarianism.]
#54 This perspective is illuminated in a striking way by the relationship between the Persons of the Trinity within the one divine Substance. The Trinity is absolute unity insofar as the three divine Persons are pure relationality. [He gives a wonderful little exposition on the Trinity in the middle of this encyclical on finance. The word "economy" comes from a Greek word referring to the way a household is run. There is a Trinitarian economy as well as a sacramental economy.]
#55 Some religious and cultural attitudes, however, do not fully embrace the principle of love and truth and therefore end up retarding or even obstructing authentic human development. There are certain religious cultures in the world today that do not oblige men and women to live in communion but rather cut them off from one other in a search for individual well-being, limited to the gratification of psychological desires. [Both Islam and Orthodox Judaism forbid men and women from praying together - Islam is especially harsh about segregating the sexes in all things through purdah]... At the same time, some religious and cultural traditions persist which ossify society in rigid social groupings, in magical beliefs that fail to respect the dignity of the person, and in attitudes of subjugation to occult powers. ["Rigid social groupings"... hmmm... Hindu caste system, anyone?]... Religious freedom does not mean religious indifferentism, nor does it imply that all religions are equal
#56 Reason always stands in need of being purified by faith: this also holds true for political reason, which must not consider itself omnipotent. For its part, religion always needs to be purified by reason in order to show its authentically human face. Any breach in this dialogue comes only at an enormous price to human development. [Remember, "development" is a spiritual term. This is a commentary on both Protestantism and Islam, both of which have historically rejected the role of reason in faith.]
#57 Hence the principle of subsidiarity is particularly well-suited to managing globalization and directing it towards authentic human development. In order not to produce a dangerous universal power of a tyrannical nature, the governance of globalization must be marked by subsidiarity, articulated into several layers and involving different levels that can work together. [Sounds like he expects the state to continue to exist. No world government fan is he.]
#58 Economic aid, in order to be true to its purpose, must not pursue secondary objectives. It must be distributed with the involvement not only of the governments of receiving countries, but also local economic agents and the bearers of culture within civil society, including local Churches. ["Churches" capitalized in the original. Hmmm... no mention of ecclesial communities... hmm...] ... It should also be remembered that, in the economic sphere, the principal form of assistance needed by developing countries is that of allowing and encouraging the gradual penetration of their products into international markets, thus making it possible for these countries to participate fully in international economic life.[We should help other countries become competitors! The pure capitalists aren't going to have it all their way... "As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens a man..." Proverbs 27:17. Talk about Be Not Afraid!]
#60 One possible approach to development aid would be to apply effectively what is known as fiscal subsidiarity, allowing citizens to decide how to allocate a portion of the taxes they pay to the State. [Mr. Obama, are you LISTENING?]

#61 The term “education” refers not only to classroom teaching and vocational training — both of which are important factors in development — but to the complete formation of the person. In this regard, there is a problem that should be highlighted: in order to educate, it is necessary to know the nature of the human person, to know who he or she is. [In short, they need to be Catholic or this isn't going to work.]
#62 Obviously, these labourers cannot be considered as a commodity or a mere workforce. They must not, therefore, be treated like any other factor of production. Every migrant is a human person who, as such, possesses fundamental, inalienable rights that must be respected by everyone and in every circumstance. [Too many Catholics forget this.]
#64 The global context in which work takes place also demands that national labour unions, which tend to limit themselves to defending the interests of their registered members, should turn their attention to those outside their membership, and in particular to workers in developing countries where social rights are often violated. [Labor unions are still useful.]
#65 Furthermore, the experience of micro-finance, which has its roots in the thinking and activity of the civil humanists — I am thinking especially of the birth of pawnbroking — should be strengthened and fine-tuned. [Pawnbrokers should be happy with this article!]
#66 It is good for people to realize that purchasing is always a moral — and not simply economic — act. Hence the consumer has a specific social responsibility... forms of cooperative purchasing like the consumer cooperatives that have been in operation since the nineteenth century, partly through the initiative of Catholics. [Benedict mollifies the social justice types.]
#67 One also senses the urgent need to find innovative ways of implementing the principle of the responsibility to protect and of giving poorer nations an effective voice in shared decision-making. [Subsidiarity again.]
#68 Technology — it is worth emphasizing — is a profoundly human reality, linked to the autonomy and freedom of man. In technology we express and confirm the hegemony of the spirit over matter. “The human spirit, ‘increasingly free of its bondage to creatures, can be more easily drawn to the worship and contemplation of the Creator'” [See? He is emphasizing our roles as sub-Creators here.]
#69 [the price of over-reliance on technology ...] Were that to happen, we would all know, evaluate and make decisions about our life situations from within a technocratic cultural perspective to which we would belong structurally, without ever being able to discover a meaning that is not of our own making.
#75 While the poor of the world continue knocking on the doors of the rich, the world of affluence runs the risk of no longer hearing those knocks, on account of a conscience that can no longer distinguish what is human. [Ain't that the heart of the problem?]
Hope you all found this little precis useful!

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