On July 7th, the Vatican released Pope Benedict’s third encyclical – his teaching on social and economic policy – throughout most of which he bemoans the negative consequences of globalization and then, stunningly, concludes that what’s needed to correct these ills is not less but more, endorsing a one-world government with real power of enforcement.
I’ve provided two links above. The first will take you to the actual encyclical on the Vatican web site. I admit that I haven’t read it word for word, but haved scanned it in its entirety and have thoroughly read certain sections. The second link is a USAToday article reporting on and summarizing the contents of the encyclical. I found that the article does a pretty good job of summarizing the conclusions of the encyclical. (Kudos to the author for persevering through a document that would put to sleep all but the most enthusiastic of theologians, and perhaps a few economists looking for a good laugh!)
The following is the article’s summary of the key conclusions:
•Labor must be safeguarded after years of rampant market forces leaving citizens powerless in the face of “new and old risks” and without effective trade union protections.
•Elimination of world hunger is essential for “safeguarding the peace and stability of the planet,” and the problem is not resources but their inequitable distribution.
•”Demographic control” through an “anti-birth mentality” that promotes abortion and birth control “cannot lead to morally sound development.” He blasts those who support abortion “as if it were a form of cultural progress.”
•The environment is “God’s gift to everyone” and we have a “grave duty to hand the earth on to future generations” in good condition, says Benedict. He laments, “how many natural resources are squandered by wars!”
•”Financiers must rediscover” ethics and not use “sophisticated instruments” to “betray the interests of savers.”
•Consumers, must “realize that purchasing is always a moral — and not simple economic — act.” In this context, the ecological crisis is seen as a crisis in human ecology.
As a Catholic, let me begin by stating that the Pope’s heart is in the right place. As all of us should be, he’s dismayed by the persistence of hunger and poverty that world leaders had promised would have been wiped out by now through globalization. But he would better serve the global community by sticking with the teachings of Christ to love one another, than to engage in the tortured logic on display in this cyclical by which those teachings are translated into specifics on modern day political, social and economic practices. Even at a time when His own people were oppressed and persecuted by the Roman Empire, Christ was careful to avoid forays into politics, replying to the most direct question on the subject with “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and unto God that which is God’s.” The Pope would be wise to follow that example.
The following quote from the encyclical seems to underpin the Pope’s justifications for his conclusions:
The idea of a world without development indicates a lack of trust in man and in God. It is therefore a serious mistake to undervalue human capacity to exercise control over the deviations of development or to overlook the fact that man is constitutionally oriented towards “being more”. Idealizing technical progress, or contemplating the utopia of a return to humanity’s original natural state, are two contrasting ways of detaching progress from its moral evaluation and hence from our responsibility.
This is the crux of the problem with the Pope’s thinking. First, he’s completely bought into the axiom of economists that man is ingenious enough to overcome any obstacle to further growth, perhaps simply because it supports his own belief that man has no right to meddle with God’s Will when it comes to procreation (not allowing for the possibility that God’s Will may not be what he thinks it is). Secondly, he has supreme faith that God will magically provide for an infinitely growing population, as though he knows for certain that God wants it to grow indefinitely just because He gave us that procreative capacity. He never stops to consider that perhaps God blessed us with that capacity to survive the high death rate that plagued our early evolution, but also blessed us with the intellectual ability to recognize the harmful effects of overpopulation and to rein in that procreative capacity when it was no longer needed. Nor does the Pope consider that warnings of overpopulation may, in fact, be God’s way of dealing with the very problems of hunger and poverty that so concern him. I am reminded of the joke about a man surrounded by rising flood waters. He rejects the sherriff’s offer for a ride to safety, replying that “God will take care of me.” As the waters rise, he says the same thing to a man in a boat and, later, as the waters rise higher, to a man with a helicopter, offering to lift him from his roof. After finally drowning in the still-rising flood, the man asks God why He allowed him to drown. “What more could I do?” replied God. “I sent a car, a boat and a helicopter!”
So, supported by the illogical conclusion of economists that, just because food shortages didn’t quickly limit population growth in the 1800s as Malthus predicted, then no limits to population growth are possible, the Pope at once supports never-ending population growth as humanity’s destiny of “being more” while also decrying hunger, poverty and environmental degradation. He seems utterly incapable of grasping the obvious link.
The Pope notes the natural tendency of globalization to marginalize workers and then suggests that they simply be granted more power with the right to organize labor unions. As Popes have done for decades, he blames hunger on problems of distribution, never once considering that perhaps growing a population to the point where it’s dependent on complicated chains of distribution might be a problem. Businesses should put aside concerns for profit in favor of the common good. Consumers should temper their desire for products, ignoring what happens to per capita employment when per capita consumption is limited.
The level of naivete’ on display here is astonishing for a man of his years and experience. Faith in God is a wonderful thing but, if I recall correctly, the Bible also tells us that God helps those who help themselves. When the problem of overpopulation is so painfully obvious, will God be more pleased with us if we take action in a way that seems moral and responsible or will he be more pleased if we sit back and do nothing other than to express our faith that God will take care of us, kind of like the servant in the parable who buried his master’s talents instead of taking some inititative?
But the Pope goes beyond naivete into the realm of dangerous and irresponsible when he suggests that a benevolent, one-world government (with “teeth,” which, if he thought about it, means a military to enforce this government’s proclamations) is what’s needed to share the wealth or spread poverty evenly, depending on your perspective. He seems to forget that Christianity’s only experience with a totalitarian one-world government, the Roman Empire, didn’t work out so well for Christians, though the people of Rome were entertained and the lions were well-fed.
Like our own government with its several branches, dividing the world into nations provides a system of checks and balances. When one nation tries to run rough-shod over others, there have been opposing forces to intervene, painfully but, so far, effectively. A one-world government would have no checks and balances and to believe that it would function for the common good with no corrupting influences favoring the well-heeled and connected is absolutely preposterous.
Thankfully, no one will really pay any attention to this encyclical, just as most Catholics have turned a deaf ear to the Pope’s condemnation of contraception. World leaders will greet it with faces practiced in the art of expressing understanding and appreciation, while stifling the natural urge to roll their eyes. But the tragedy is that the Pope could do so much to prevent further poverty and hunger by championing the cause of a sustainable population. Instead we’re stuck with Middle Ages thinking. I’m embarrassed that this is the best leadership that the Catholic Church seems able to produce.