My notes on “Caritas in Veritate”

Thank you all for your comments on my last post! I agree with most of your input, so this isn’t meant to be a counter-argument, per se. The biggest mistake may have been my own, since in citing a reviewer who focuses mainly on the Pope’s nods to an economic strategy of redistribution, I failed to implicate the whole range of the encyclical’s biggest ideas. The Pope’s genius is not simply in proposing a redistributive economy which would turn back the clock on Adam Smith (who interestingly enough, for a Pope so preoccupied with the history of modern ideas, never appears in the text by name); nor is it in injecting economics with a shot of “ethics” through some philosophical syringe, as though ethics had never been talked about in relation to economics before. I’d say his genius is in proposing a new understanding of the relationship of economics to all of our practical, and not theoretical, ethical systems and worlds: over the course of this long text he manages to talk about everything from the benefits of environmentalism to the evils of sex tourism.

I thought that perhaps this could best be demonstrated by citing a few of the most interesting passages from the encyclical itself, which can be found here: Sorry if this post sounds Cliffs-Notes-ish or pedantic. It is certainly very long, which is why I decided not to put it in the Comments section of the last one. Like I’ve said before, I don’t want these posts to get obnoxious, but since I found myself taking notes as I read the text of the encyclical, I thought I’d go ahead and share them…not to harp or lecture but as an intimation of the text’s main themes for those who don’t have the time to read the whole thing. Those who are uninterested can skip this one.

I’d also like to offer, as another disclaimer, that one of the things I don’t like about the review that I cited in my original post is the way it put John Paul II and Benedict XVI at odds. In fact, they oversaw different historical moments: one in which Europe suffered the excesses of communism and the interdiction of religion, and another in which Europe suffers the excesses of capitalism and indifference towards religion. As Benedict XVI writes in a long and interesting reflection on the historical role of Pope Paul VI: “It is one thing to draw attention to the particular characteristics of one Encyclical or another, of the teaching of one Pope or another, but quite another to lose sight of the coherence of the overall doctrinal corpus. Coherence does not mean a closed system: on the contrary, it means dynamic faithfulness to a light received.” (In particular, the tone of Section 13 suggests to me that Benedict XVI is aware that he may have to apologize to some thinkers for the sentimentalism of Paul — that more “realistic” or pragmatic concerns pose a challenge to Paul’s idealism.)


First of all, in talking about charity, the Pope writes that it is more than just good will and good deeds: “I am aware of the ways in which charity has been and continues to be misconstrued and emptied of meaning, with the consequent risk of being misinterpreted, detached from ethical living and, in any event, undervalued,” he writes. This idea of the detachment from ethical living is important. The Pope wants to do more with this text than propose that “the economy needs ethics.” He is interested in demonstrating how the economy and the rest of our life are already morally imbricated. A renewed interest in the ethics of the market is necessary to reinvigorate the ethical life of other dimensions of society. “Locating resources, financing, production, consumption and all the other phases in the economic cycle inevitably have moral implications. Thus every economic decision has a moral consequence.”

And later on: “Truth needs to be sought, found and expressed within the “economy” of charity, but charity in its turn needs to be understood, confirmed and practised in the light of truth…….Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love. It falls prey to contingent subjective emotions and opinions, the word “love” is abused and distorted, to the point where it comes to mean the opposite. Truth frees charity from the constraints of an emotionalism that deprives it of relational and social content, and of a fideism that deprives it of human and universal breathing-space.”

So this may be the first thing we can say — and Benny, in invoking the failures of Marx, you’ve already said it: we don’t just need an ethical (which is not to say, utopian) vision of the market; we need a true vision of ethics. I wouldn’t suggest that the Nobel committee should aware the prize to the Pope (ok, well, that modest proposal was tongue-in-cheek to begin with) simply because armed with Christianity, he has gotten ethics right; I find his work important because he is a lonely voice reminding us that metaphysical schemes are neither irrelevant nor interchangeable — that we need to get truth right before we can even pretend to have ethics on our side in a discussion of the market.

Later on, in section 45 of the text, Benedict gives a vision of the sort of truth that needs to be injected into our basic discussion of ethics:

Striving to meet the deepest moral needs of the person also has important and beneficial repercussions at the level of economics. The economy needs ethics in order to function correctly — not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-centred. Today we hear much talk of ethics in the world of economy, finance and business. Research centres and seminars in business ethics are on the rise; the system of ethical certification is spreading throughout the developed world as part of the movement of ideas associated with the responsibilities of business towards society. Banks are proposing “ethical” accounts and investment funds. “Ethical financing” is being developed, especially through micro-credit and, more generally, micro-finance. These processes are praiseworthy and deserve much support. Their positive effects are also being felt in the less developed areas of the world. It would be advisable, however, to develop a sound criterion of discernment, since the adjective “ethical” can be abused. When the word is used generically, it can lend itself to any number of interpretations, even to the point where it includes decisions and choices contrary to justice and authentic human welfare.

The phrase “sound criterion of discernment” crops up at several points in the text. It should remind us that more than a laundry list of reforms the Pope wants to bully us into adopting, the encyclical is urging us to look more carefully at the interconnectedness of all our moral decisions before we make presumptions about what specifically is a “good deed” and what is a “useless deed.”


In my view, the first chapter of the text functions as a reminder of what our fundamental values and priorities should be, and it does so with an idealistic and essentially Catholic resistance to so-called “necessary evils.” Just as the US bishops pushed long and hard for health care reform but now “idealistically” refuse to endorse a proposal whose small print would permit the tax-payer funding of abortion, I think the Pope would resist endorsing Korea’s economic success given that it came at the expense of the dictatorship of General Park. (Though this is just speculation on my part.) The Pope first of all invokes the concept of “justice,” writing that “not only is justice not extraneous to charity, not only is it not an alternative or parallel path to charity: justice is inseparable from charity, and intrinsic to it.” He italicizes: “This mission of truth is something that the Church can never renounce.”

More explicitly, in Section 23:

Many areas of the globe today have evolved considerably, albeit in problematical and disparate ways, thereby taking their place among the great powers destined to play important roles in the future. Yet it should be stressed that progress of a merely economic and technological kind is insufficient. Development needs above all to be true and integral. The mere fact of emerging from economic backwardness, though positive in itself, does not resolve the complex issues of human advancement, neither for the countries that are spearheading such progress, nor for those that are already economically developed, nor even for those that are still poor, which can suffer not just through old forms of exploitation, but also from the negative consequences of a growth that is marked by irregularities and imbalances.

This last part is remarkable — it again gestures towards human interconnectedness and is a concrete instance of one of my favorite of the Pope’s pronouncements (taken from a book on eschatology written while still a cardinal): “Yet the being of man is not, in fact, that of a closed monad. It is related to others by love or hate, and, in these ways, has its colonies within them. My own being is present in others as guilt or as grace. We are not just ourselves; or, more correctly, we are ourselves only as being in others, with others and through others. Whether others curse us or bless us, forgive us and turn our guilt into love – this is part of our own destiny…As Charles Péguy so beautifully put it, ‘J’espère en toi pour moi’: ‘I hope in you for me.’ It is when the ‘I’ is at stake that the ‘you’ is called upon in the form of hope.” It is not enough, in other words, for one country to thrive. Better for that country to experience only modest growth than for it even to endanger, remotely, the broad sorority of nations. (And I wonder: does a prosperous South Korea also face problems well known to Americans: such as a growing divide between rich and poor, urban life and agricultural life?)

The Pope’s perspective is indeed that vast: “If some areas of the globe, with a history of poverty, have experienced remarkable changes in terms of their economic growth and their share in world production, other zones are still living in a situation of deprivation comparable to that which existed at the time of Paul VI, and in some cases one can even speak of a deterioration.” But again, not to make this into a single-minded battle for policies of economic redistribution. The Pope acknowledges the good that has come from all manner or economic policies, certainly not all of them socialist in character. But he is concerned that vaunting the good done by capitalism eclipses the clear negative consequences of essentially self-interested policies on countries which remain in a state of struggle.

To refer, also, to your post, Katey — I can tell you are referencing the brilliant Jeffrey Friedman article (“A Crisis of Politics, not Economics”) which you sent me, and whose claims both of us have strong sympathies for: such as that the first act of the drama of the burst housing credit bubble can be traced back to the Clinton-era HUD’s altruistic directive to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to put so much of their mortgage financing towards high loan-to-value loans for the poor…or that in all probability the big bankers who gambled so much money in the last few years and are now demonized for it were not evil but were themselves also duped by false security ratings. I would say, I guess, that under this scenario, it was simply the dishonesty of the ratings orgs that represented the most cynical — and the most dangerous — untruth. We wouldn’t want to fall into the political false dichotomy: regulation may be the enemy, but that’s not to say that compassion is the enemy. The Pope’s ultra-idealism — his “let’s not weigh the good against the bad and choose the lesser evil, but let’s have the intelligence to figure out how to generate a possibility which does not entail a compromise with evil” — also allows us to pick and choose among the goods offered both by regulation and by its supposed antithesis, altruism.

From what I’ve read of Friedman, I think his strand of libertarianism would accord, oddly enough, with one of the Pope’s important points, articulated in Section 41 of the encyclical: “In the context of this discussion, it is helpful to observe that business enterprise involves a wide range of values, becoming wider all the time. The continuing hegemony of the binary model of market-plus-State has accustomed us to think only in terms of the private business leader of a capitalistic bent on the one hand, and the State director on the other. In reality, business has to be understood in an articulated way. There are a number of reasons, of a meta-economic kind, for saying this. Business activity has a human significance, prior to its professional one.”

In Section 15, then, the Pope devotes a lot of time to talking about the documents Humanae Vitae and Evangelii Nuntiandi (neither of which has “any direct link to social doctrine”) to indicate that human development must not be considered an exclusively economic question, and so the sort of redistribution he may be talking about is not exclusively economic. This I found interesting: “Today, as we take to heart the lessons of the current economic crisis, which sees the State’s public authorities directly involved in correcting errors and malfunctions, it seems more realistic to re-evaluate their role and their powers.” So the focus is not just on the causes of a crisis like the end of the decade’s, but on what sort of leadership should be taken advantage of NOW. This will require thinking outside the box — such as heeding Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga’s forceful reminder that the amount of money authorized by President Obama to “stimulate” the American economy equals the total amount twenty-three of the world’s most developed industrialized countries have spent on development aid to the Third World in the last 10 years.

Of course that money can be misspent. On this note, the Pope suggests: “The focus of international aid, within a solidarity-based plan to resolve today’s economic problems, should rather be on consolidating constitutional, juridical and administrative systems in countries that do not yet fully enjoy these goods. Alongside economic aid, there needs to be aid directed towards reinforcing the guarantees proper to the State of law: a system of public order and effective imprisonment that respects human rights, truly democratic institutions.” This is also why, with the Pope’s ability to seize upon interrelations of policy decisions, it is not inappropriate to talk about the role of non-governmental organizations and, in particular, of Churches, in public life: “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.”

There are other examples of how global solidarity and a logic of gift transcend economic decisions. We can think about how wicked it is that, due to a logic of self-interest, enormous amounts of medicine and vaccines which could do so much good to disease-ravaged nations in Africa are kept from being sent over there by rigid intellectual property laws (an issue the Pope mentions briefly). We can think about how even an extraordinarily fruitful innovation like Norman Borlaug’s was hindered by a system of economic interest that often profited American argobusiness at the expense of potential recipients of food aid.

In fact, the Pope has a lot to say about this example of world hunger:

Hunger is not so much dependent on lack of material things as on shortage of social resources, the most important of which are institutional. What is missing, in other words, is a network of economic institutions capable of guaranteeing regular access to sufficient food and water for nutritional needs, and also capable of addressing the primary needs and necessities ensuing from genuine food crises, whether due to natural causes or political irresponsibility, nationally and internationally. The problem of food insecurity needs to be addressed within a long-term perspective, eliminating the structural causes that give rise to it and promoting the agricultural development of poorer countries. This can be done by investing in rural infrastructures, irrigation systems, transport, organization of markets, and in the development and dissemination of agricultural technology that can make the best use of the human, natural and socio-economic resources that are more readily available at the local level, while guaranteeing their sustainability over the long term as well. All this needs to be accomplished with the involvement of local communities in choices and decisions that affect the use of agricultural land. In this perspective, it could be useful to consider the new possibilities that are opening up through proper use of traditional as well as innovative farming techniques, always assuming that these have been judged, after sufficient testing, to be appropriate, respectful of the environment and attentive to the needs of the most deprived peoples. At the same time, the question of equitable agrarian reform in developing countries should not be ignored. 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. It is important, moreover, to emphasize that solidarity with poor countries in the process of development can point towards a solution of the current global crisis, as politicians and directors of international institutions have begun to sense in recent times. Through support for economically poor countries by means of financial plans inspired by solidarity — so that these countries can take steps to satisfy their own citizens’ demand for consumer goods and for development — not only can true economic growth be generated, but a contribution can be made towards sustaining the productive capacities of rich countries that risk being compromised by the crisis.

At the same time, one paragraph which interests me, which I don’t know how to evaluate, and which I’d appreciate people’s thoughts about, is this one, buried away in Section 60, which craftily links the ideal of charity to an appeal precisely to people’s self-interest:

In the search for solutions to the current economic crisis, development aid for poor countries must be considered a valid means of creating wealth for all. What aid programme is there that can hold out such significant growth prospects — even from the point of view of the world economy — as the support of populations that are still in the initial or early phases of economic development? From this perspective, more economically developed nations should do all they can to allocate larger portions of their gross domestic product to development aid, thus respecting the obligations that the international community has undertaken in this regard. One way of doing so is by reviewing their internal social assistance and welfare policies, applying the principle of subsidiarity and creating better integrated welfare systems, with the active participation of private individuals and civil society. In this way, it is actually possible to improve social services and welfare programmes, and at the same time to save resources — by eliminating waste and rejecting fraudulent claims — which could then be allocated to international solidarity. A more devolved and organic system of social solidarity, less bureaucratic but no less coordinated, would make it possible to harness much dormant energy, for the benefit of solidarity between peoples.

Part One ends with a reminder that the pursuit of world justice is a question of vocation: “A vocation is a call that requires a free and responsible answer. Integral human development presupposes the responsible freedom of the individual and of peoples: no structure can guarantee this development over and above human responsibility.” Early on in an encyclical that will conclude with a protest against materialism, we are told that a well-directed spiritual freedom, more than an ill-got prosperity, is the value which has more to do with the inheritance of eternal life. Personally, I am reminded here of the vocation of certain saints, such as the newly canonized St Damien of Molokai, who remind us that “failure” (e.g., death at the hands of a disease for which God declined to give him a miraculous cure) is not always really “failure” (because it proves to the incredulous the possible extent of human beings’ love for one another). “Paul VI had a keen sense of the importance of economic structures and institutions,” Benedict writes, “but he had an equally clear sense of their nature as instruments of human freedom. Only when it is free can development be integrally human; only in a climate of responsible freedom can it grow in a satisfactory manner.”


This post grows long, so I’ll start to let Benedict really take over and restrict myself to synopsizing some of his other arguments through paragraphs I find pertinent. First, a masterful summary of all that has come thus far:

It is true that growth has taken place, and it continues to be a positive factor that has lifted billions of people out of misery — recently it has given many countries the possibility of becoming effective players in international politics. Yet it must be acknowledged that this same economic growth has been and continues to be weighed down by malfunctions and dramatic problems, highlighted even further by the current crisis. This presents us with choices that cannot be postponed concerning nothing less than the destiny of man, who, moreover, cannot prescind from his nature. The technical forces in play, the global interrelations, the damaging effects on the real economy of badly managed and largely speculative financial dealing, large-scale migration of peoples, often provoked by some particular circumstance and then given insufficient attention, the unregulated exploitation of the earth’s resources: all this leads us today to reflect on the measures that would be necessary to provide a solution to problems that are not only new in comparison to those addressed by Pope Paul VI, but also, and above all, of decisive impact upon the present and future good of humanity. The different aspects of the crisis, its solutions, and any new development that the future may bring, are increasingly interconnected, they imply one another, they require new efforts of holistic understanding and a new humanistic synthesis. The complexity and gravity of the present economic situation rightly cause us concern, but we must adopt a realistic attitude as we take up with confidence and hope the new responsibilities to which we are called by the prospect of a world in need of profound cultural renewal, a world that needs to rediscover fundamental values on which to build a better future. The current crisis obliges us to re-plan our journey, to set ourselves new rules and to discover new forms of commitment, to build on positive experiences and to reject negative ones. The crisis thus becomes an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future. In this spirit, with confidence rather than resignation, it is appropriate to address the difficulties of the present time. (Section 21)

Next, two paragraphs (Section 25) beginning with a concrete economic analysis and ending with a broadening of our perspective:

From the social point of view, systems of protection and welfare, already present in many countries in Paul VI’s day, are finding it hard and could find it even harder in the future to pursue their goals of true social justice in today’s profoundly changed environment. The global market has stimulated first and foremost, on the part of rich countries, a search for areas in which to outsource production at low cost with a view to reducing the prices of many goods, increasing purchasing power and thus accelerating the rate of development in terms of greater availability of consumer goods for the domestic market. Consequently, the market has prompted new forms of competition between States as they seek to attract foreign businesses to set up production centres, by means of a variety of instruments, including favourable fiscal regimes and deregulation of the labour market. These processes have led to a downsizing of social security systems as the price to be paid for seeking greater competitive advantage in the global market, with consequent grave danger for the rights of workers, for fundamental human rights and for the solidarity associated with the traditional forms of the social State. Systems of social security can lose the capacity to carry out their task, both in emerging countries and in those that were among the earliest to develop, as well as in poor countries. Here budgetary policies, with cuts in social spending often made under pressure from international financial institutions, can leave citizens powerless in the face of old and new risks; such powerlessness is increased by the lack of effective protection on the part of workers’ associations. Through the combination of social and economic change, trade union organizations experience greater difficulty in carrying out their task of representing the interests of workers, partly because Governments, for reasons of economic utility, often limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labour unions. Hence traditional networks of solidarity have more and more obstacles to overcome. The repeated calls issued within the Church’s social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum, for the promotion of workers’ associations that can defend their rights must therefore be honoured today even more than in the past, as a prompt and far-sighted response to the urgent need for new forms of cooperation at the international level, as well as the local level.

The mobility of labour, associated with a climate of deregulation, is an important phenomenon with certain positive aspects, because it can stimulate wealth production and cultural exchange. Nevertheless, uncertainty over working conditions caused by mobility and deregulation, when it becomes endemic, tends to create new forms of psychological instability, giving rise to difficulty in forging coherent life-plans, including that of marriage. This leads to situations of human decline, to say nothing of the waste of social resources. In comparison with the casualties of industrial society in the past, unemployment today provokes new forms of economic marginalization, and the current crisis can only make this situation worse. Being out of work or dependent on public or private assistance for a prolonged period undermines the freedom and creativity of the person and his family and social relationships, causing great psychological and spiritual suffering. I would like to remind everyone, especially governments engaged in boosting the world’s economic and social assets, that the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is man, the human person in his or her integrity: “Man is the source, the focus and the aim of all economic and social life.”


In a climate of mutual trust, the market is the economic institution that permits encounter between persons, inasmuch as they are economic subjects who make use of contracts to regulate their relations as they exchange goods and services of equivalent value between them, in order to satisfy their needs and desires. The market is subject to the principles of so-called commutative justice, which regulates the relations of giving and receiving between parties to a transaction. But the social doctrine of the Church has unceasingly highlighted the importance of distributive justice and social justice for the market economy, not only because it belongs within a broader social and political context, but also because of the wider network of relations within which it operates. In fact, if the market is governed solely by the principle of the equivalence in value of exchanged goods, it cannot produce the social cohesion that it requires in order to function well. Without internal forms of solidarity and mutual trust, the market cannot completely fulfil its proper economic function. And today it is this trust which has ceased to exist, and the loss of trust is a grave loss. (Section 35)

In the global era, the economy is influenced by competitive models tied to cultures that differ greatly among themselves. The different forms of economic enterprise to which they give rise find their main point of encounter in commutative justice. Economic life undoubtedly requires contracts, in order to regulate relations of exchange between goods of equivalent value. But it also needs just laws and forms of redistribution governed by politics, and what is more, it needs works redolent of the spirit of gift. The economy in the global era seems to privilege the former logic, that of contractual exchange, but directly or indirectly it also demonstrates its need for the other two: political logic, and the logic of the unconditional gift. (Section 37)


This Chapter was much discussed by bloggers because it staked out the Pope’s strong views on environmental stewardship and energy efficiency, earning him the nickname “The Green Pope”:

On this front too, there is a pressing moral need for renewed solidarity, especially in relationships between developing countries and those that are highly industrialized. The technologically advanced societies can and must lower their domestic energy consumption, either through an evolution in manufacturing methods or through greater ecological sensitivity among their citizens. It should be added that at present it is possible to achieve improved energy efficiency while at the same time encouraging research into alternative forms of energy. What is also needed, though, is a worldwide redistribution of energy resources, so that countries lacking those resources can have access to them. The fate of those countries cannot be left in the hands of whoever is first to claim the spoils, or whoever is able to prevail over the rest. Here we are dealing with major issues; if they are to be faced adequately, then everyone must responsibly recognize the impact they will have on future generations, particularly on the many young people in the poorer nations, who “ask to assume their active part in the construction of a better world. (Section 49)


This is a paragraph that I find magnificent:

Pope Paul VI noted that “the world is in trouble because of the lack of thinking.” He was making an observation, but also expressing a wish: a new trajectory of thinking is needed in order to arrive at a better understanding of the implications of our being one family; interaction among the peoples of the world calls us to embark upon this new trajectory, so that integration can signify solidarity rather than marginalization. Thinking of this kind requires a deeper critical evaluation of the category of relation. This is a task that cannot be undertaken by the social sciences alone, insofar as the contribution of disciplines such as metaphysics and theology is needed if man’s transcendent dignity is to be properly understood. (Section 53)

A retort to the cynical:

Finance, therefore — through the renewed structures and operating methods that have to be designed after its misuse, which wreaked such havoc on the real economy — now needs to go back to being an instrument directed towards improved wealth creation and development. Insofar as they are instruments, the entire economy and finance, not just certain sectors, must be used in an ethical way so as to create suitable conditions for human development and for the development of peoples. It is certainly useful, and in some circumstances imperative, to launch financial initiatives in which the humanitarian dimension predominates. However, this must not obscure the fact that the entire financial system has to be aimed at sustaining true development. Above all, the intention to do good must not be considered incompatible with the effective capacity to produce goods. Financiers must rediscover the genuinely ethical foundation of their activity, so as not to abuse the sophisticated instruments which can serve to betray the interests of savers. Right intention, transparency, and the search for positive results are mutually compatible and must never be detached from one another. If love is wise, it can find ways of working in accordance with provident and just expediency, as is illustrated in a significant way by much of the experience of credit unions. (Section 65)

Also provocative — a Pope who, at the same time as he defends workers, reminds us that we have responsibilities as consumers, too:

Global interconnectedness has led to the emergence of a new political power, that of consumers and their associations. This is a phenomenon that needs to be further explored, as it contains positive elements to be encouraged as well as excesses to be avoided. 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, which goes hand-in- hand with the social responsibility of the enterprise. Consumers should be continually educated regarding their daily role, which can be exercised with respect for moral principles without diminishing the intrinsic economic rationality of the act of purchasing. In the retail industry, particularly at times like the present when purchasing power has diminished and people must live more frugally, it is necessary to explore other paths: for example, forms of cooperative purchasing like the consumer cooperatives that have been in operation since the nineteenth century, partly through the initiative of Catholics. In addition, it can be helpful to promote new ways of marketing products from deprived areas of the world, so as to guarantee their producers a decent return. However, certain conditions need to be met: the market should be genuinely transparent; the producers, as well as increasing their profit margins, should also receive improved formation in professional skills and technology; and finally, trade of this kind must not become hostage to partisan ideologies. A more incisive role for consumers, as long as they themselves are not manipulated by associations that do not truly represent them, is a desirable element for building economic democracy. (Section 66)


This is one of my favorite parts — after an appeal to responsible bioethics to provide us with a 21st century conscience, the Pope begins to draw his work to a close with a reminder of the importance of spirituality….but not just any spirituality (because such a platitude would ring as empty as the simplistic idea that “economics needs ethics”) — more specifically, a spirituality which doesn’t decline into vapid New Age philosophies which want to offer us good feelings without moral prerogatives, thereby resembling psychoanalysis more closely than they do religion:

One aspect of the contemporary technological mindset is the tendency to consider the problems and emotions of the interior life from a purely psychological point of view, even to the point of neurological reductionism. In this way man’s interiority is emptied of its meaning and gradually our awareness of the human soul’s ontological depths, as probed by the saints, is lost. The question of development is closely bound up with our understanding of the human soul, insofar as we often reduce the self to the psyche and confuse the soul’s health with emotional well-being. These over-simplifications stem from a profound failure to understand the spiritual life, and they obscure the fact that the development of individuals and peoples depends partly on the resolution of problems of a spiritual nature. Development must include not just material growth but also spiritual growth, since the human person is a “unity of body and soul,” born of God’s creative love and destined for eternal life. The human being develops when he grows in the spirit, when his soul comes to know itself and the truths that God has implanted deep within, when he enters into dialogue with himself and his Creator. When he is far away from God, man is unsettled and ill at ease. Social and psychological alienation and the many neuroses that afflict affluent societies are attributable in part to spiritual factors. A prosperous society, highly developed in material terms but weighing heavily on the soul, is not of itself conducive to authentic development. The new forms of slavery to drugs and the lack of hope into which so many people fall can be explained not only in sociological and psychological terms but also in essentially spiritual terms. The emptiness in which the soul feels abandoned, despite the availability of countless therapies for body and psyche, leads to suffering. There cannot be holistic development and universal common good unless people’s spiritual and moral welfare is taken into account, considered in their totality as body and soul. (Section 76)

The encyclical ends with a return to its foundational themes and a final reminder that if Charity is to exist in Truth, an “ethical economics” cannot reduce ethics to utilitarianism (as Smith did) or reduce humankind to a purely material colony (as Marx did). He would disagree with you, Katey, that “good intentions are theologically valuable, but not materially valuable. And our economy and our society are material.” In his own words, he writes:

The supremacy of technology tends to prevent people from recognizing anything that cannot be explained in terms of matter alone. Yet everyone experiences the many immaterial and spiritual dimensions of life. Knowing is not simply a material act, since the object that is known always conceals something beyond the empirical datum. All our knowledge, even the most simple, is always a minor miracle, since it can never be fully explained by the material instruments that we apply to it. In every truth there is something more than we would have expected, in the love that we receive there is always an element that surprises us. We should never cease to marvel at these things. In all knowledge and in every act of love the human soul experiences something “over and above”, which seems very much like a gift that we receive, or a height to which we are raised. The development of individuals and peoples is likewise located on a height, if we consider the spiritual dimension that must be present if such development is to be authentic. It requires new eyes and a new heart, capable of rising above a materialistic vision of human events, capable of glimpsing in development the “beyond” that technology cannot give. By following this path, it is possible to pursue the integral human development that takes its direction from the driving force of charity in truth. (Section 77)

Anyway. Enough of that.

I definitely didn’t intend to begin this blog on such a long-winded note. I have some other lighter things in my life, I promise, which I will talk about next!

Also, tomorrow morning, my housemates and I will be going on a JVC-sponsored retreat to Mississippi. We are all looking forward to our ten-hour drive (ahem) and to seeing the friends we met in August at Orientation and who have since been serving in other cities throughout the South. I will write soon about that experience, as well.

Lastly, if anyone knows how to snip the length of one of these posts so that you have the option of clicking on a link to open the whole thing up…technologically speaking, I am not there yet. I don’t even know what that little procedure would be called. But it would make the front page of the blog, I think, a little easier on the eyes…

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