VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) – On July 12, 2014, this prophetic Pope made waves again. He addressed participants in an international conference entitled “The Global Common Good: Towards A More Inclusive Economy.” The conference was convened in Rome and sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. This is the Council which gave us the great gift of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church.
In spontaneous remarks he criticized what he called “anthropological reductionism”. The reducing of the human person to an object of use. He told the gathered scholars, activists and academics, “I believe that this moment is the most powerful time of anthropological reductionism”. He then asked a probing question: “When man loses his humanity, what awaits us?”
He warned of more consequences from what he labels a “throwaway culture” – throwaway politics, sociology, and entire attitude of the use of other persons. He opined that “what isn’t needed is thrown away, because man is not at the center. And when man is not at the center, something else is at the center and man is at the service of that other thing.”
His comments will be criticized by some who are attempting to paint him as being against economic progress. He is not. He properly affirms that the human person must be at the center of any such progress, if it is to be real. This is consistent with his message in the apostolic exhortation The Gospel of Joy (Evangelii Gaudium)
It is also consistent with his powerful words offered last year, on December 7, 2013, when he addressed a delegation from the Dignitatis Humanae Institute who had gathered for a conference in Rome. Their motto is Promoting Human Dignity Based on the recognition that man is made in the Image and Likeness of God. The Institute was founded in 2008 and explains its global mission in these words:
“The Dignitatis Humanae Institute (Institute for Human Dignity) is a think-tank founded in 2008 whose goal is to protect and promote human dignity based on the anthropological truth that man is born in the image and likeness of God. Our primary aim is to promote this vision of authentic human dignity mainly by supporting Christians in public life, assisting them in presenting effective and coherent responses to increasing efforts to silence the Christian voice in the public square. We do this by coordinating affiliated parliamentary working groups on human dignity throughout the world. “
“Each working group is based on the Institute’s common philosophy: the Universal Declaration of Human Dignity . This enables such politicians to speak out more effectively in defense of the human person in all of life’s stages. Like any other think-tank, the Institute also tries to keep others abreast of news and developments on human dignity issues through its own research, press releases, articles, and conferences. Furthermore, we are also building up a network of outreach partners – charities and non-governmental organizations offering practical help to the poorest and most vulnerable in society.”
This think tank rejects the politicized rhetoric which limits the explanation and application of the Social teaching of the Catholic Church. They offer a source for Catholics and other Christians who are tired of the politicized language of left/right/liberal/conservative/neoconservative/neoliberal to form a new vocabulary and build a movement to effect change in the culture. It is time to drop the loaded political language and recapture the heart of our authentic social mission.
The Institute recognizes the assault on Christians in the cultures which have rejected the anthropological truth of the human dignity of every person as the foundation of society. Here, in their own words, “DHI is a direct response to a growing secularist intolerance to Christians of all confessions that has led to a myriad of attacks on human dignity. Just as many secularist groups have mobilized to create effective advocacy groups across the world, so the Institute plans on doing the same, pushing back the tide of radical secularism which is threatening the dignity of increasing numbers of people, especially the vulnerable and the weak.”
I invite you to read the Universal Declaration of Human Dignity and sign the declaration of this Institute. I did. The Institute has established three working groups in the UK Parliament, the Lithuanian Parliament and the Romanian Parliament. They intend to keep building. I hope they start a branch in the United States.
What they properly affirm is that the only solid foundation upon which authentic Christian social action can proceed is the dignity of every human person. That was exactly what Pope Francis said to those gathered in Rome on July 12, 2104.
In addressing the representatives of the Institute last year, Pope Francis said:
“Your institute proposes to promote human dignity on the basis of the fundamental truth about man, who is created in the image and likeness of God. So, there is an original dignity of every man and woman that cannot be suppressed, that cannot be touched by any power or ideology. Unfortunately, in our epoch, so rich in many accomplishments and hopes, there is no lack of powers and forces that end up producing a throwaway culture (cultura di scarto); and this threatens to become the dominant mentality”.
“The victims of such a culture are precisely the weakest and most fragile human beings – the unborn, the poorest people, sick elderly people, gravely disabled people… who are in danger of being “thrown out,” expelled from a machine that must be efficient at all costs. This false model of man and society embodies a practical atheism, de facto negating the Word of God that says: “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness” (cf. Genesis 1:26).
“Instead, if we let ourselves be interrogated by this Word of God, we let it question our personal and social conscience, if we let it shake up our discussions, our ways of thinking and acting, the criteria, the priorities and choices, then things can change. The force of this Word poses limits on whoever wants to rule by abusing the rights and dignity of others. At the same time, it gives hope and consolation to those who are not able to defend themselves, to those who do not have access to the intellectual and practical means to affirm the value of their suffering, of their rights, of their life.”
“The Church’s social doctrine, with its integral vision of man, as a personal and social being, is our “compass.” Here there is a fruit that is of particular significance to the long journal of the People of God in modern and contemporary history: there is the defense of religious liberty, of life in all its phases, of the right to work and to decent work, of the family, of education.
“All initiatives such as your own are, therefore, welcome, initiatives that aim to help people, communities and institutions to rediscover the ethical and social importance of the principle of human dignity, which is the root of liberty and justice. In view of this purpose efforts at raising awareness and formation are necessary.
“These will assist the lay faithful of every walk of life, and especially those who work in politics, to think according to the Gospel and the Church’s social doctrine and to act consistently, dialoguing and collaborating with those who, with sincerity and intellectual honesty, at least share – if not the faith – a similar vision of man and society and its ethical consequences. There are not a few Christians and non-believers, who are convinced that the human person must always be an end and never a means.”
We need to learn from this Institute, hear the words from Pope Francis to the participants in the conference on the economy, and begin to think with renewed minds. We then need to build a new form of Christian social action movement which rejects the current political labels.
The Social Teaching of the Catholic Church offers principles which can steer western culture away from self-destruction. It is not only for Catholics, other Christians or even just religious people. It is for all people and all Nations. It is offered to those who seek to build a truly human and humane society and promote the real common good.
The teaching is called social because it speaks to human society and to the formation, role and rightful place of social institutions. Contrary to the relativism of our age which rejects any notion of objective moral truth, Catholic Social teaching insists that that there are unchangeable truths which can be known by all men and women through the exercise of reason. They are revealed in the Natural Law (Catechism #1950-1960).
This Natural Moral Law is “present in the heart of each man and established by reason. This law is universal in its precepts and its authority extends to all men. It expresses the dignity of the person and determines the basis for his fundamental rights and duties.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church# 1956)
It is here we find those foundational human rights which must be recognized by the civil or positive law as rightfully belonging to all men and women. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (paragraph 140) further explains:
“The exercise of freedom implies a reference to a natural moral law, of a universal character, that precedes and unites all rights and duties. The natural law “is nothing other than the light of intellect infused within us by God. Thanks to this, we know what must be done and what must be avoided. This light or this law has been given by God to creation. It consists in the participation in his eternal law, which is identified with God himself. This law is called natural because the reason that promulgates it is proper to human nature. It is universal; it extends to all people insofar as it is established by reason.”
“In its principal precepts, the divine and natural law is presented in the Decalogue and indicates the primary and essential norms regulating moral life. Its central focus is the act of aspiring and submitting to God, the source and judge of everything that is good, and also the act of seeing others as equal to oneself. The natural law expresses the dignity of the person and lays the foundations of the person’s fundamental duties.”
This Natural Moral Law is more fully revealed through faith and revelation. However, foundational truths such as the dignity of every human person at every age and stage, the nature and ends of real marriage, our obligations in solidarity to one another – are all knowable through the exercise of reason.
These truths provide a framework for structuring our social life and building a common home. We should acknowledge them together, agree upon them and then build a movement rooted in them. The social teaching of the Catholic Church offers principles to be worked into the loaf of human culture.
Christian social teaching challenges any notion of human freedom which begins and ends with the isolated, atomistic, person as the measure of its application, or as an object of use. We are by nature and grace called to relationship. Only in communion can we become fully human and find human flourishing. This is the Christian vision of the human person which must inform a new movement.
Human freedom must be exercised within a moral constitution. We currently mouth the word freedom while we build our own shackles, engaging in dehumanizing behavior. There is a moral basis to a truly free society. Freedom is not only about having a right to choose but choosing what is right and embedding within the polity the safeguards of a robust vision of freedom; it is not only a freedom from, but a freedom for.
Freedom must be ordered toward choosing the good, respecting the truth about the human person, promoting marriage and the family and fostering the real common good. Our freedom must respect our obligation in solidarity to one another – because we are our brother and sisters keeper. This is the principle of solidarity or social charity.
The Catholic Church rightly reminds all men and women of our obligation to give a love of preference to the poor. This is the kind of love which the Lord Himself shows in his identification with the poor. The implications of our response to this command are expounded upon in the 25th chapter of the Gospel of St Matthew.
This means incorporating in the social order, which includes the economic order, a concern for their well-being. We can construct a system which includes them within its embrace and expands the promise of participation and advancement. Catholic social teaching does not propose a particular economic theory. Rather, it insists that every economic order must first be at the service of the dignity of the human person and the family and further the common good.
In recent encyclicals and magisterial teaching the market economy has been recognized as having a real potential for promoting all of these goods – when properly understood and morally structured. The Catholic Church prophetically stood against the materialism of the atheistic Marxist system.
She prophetically cautions Nations which have adopted a form of liberal capitalism that there are dangers in any form of economism or materialism which promotes the use of persons as products and fails to recognize the value of being over acquiring.
She reminds consumerist western culture that the market economy must be at the service the human person, the family and the common good, lest ‘capitalism’ conflate its claims to offering freedom and become what Saint John Paul II once referred to as savage in its application, encouraging business practices which devolve into greed.
The Church warns against and rejects collectivism, whether of the left or the right on the political spectrum. The Church’s social doctrine holds that authentically human social relationships of friendship, solidarity and reciprocity can also be conducted within economic activity, and are not only outside it or after it.
As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in his 1999 encyclical letter Charity in Truth, “The economic sphere is neither ethically neutral, nor inherently inhuman and opposed to society. It is part and parcel of human activity and precisely because it is human, it must be structured and governed in an ethical manner.”
Contrary to what some wrote after that letter was published, it neither endorsed nor rejected capitalism. As the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church consistently has done in the past it simply did not use the term, preferring the terms market economy or free economy. So it was with the Apostolic Exhortation entitled The Gospel of Joy by Pope Francis.
Markets can only be free when free people are engaged in them. Freedom is a good of the human person. A free economy should also seek to continually expand by opening the way for the participation for as many people as possible, while promoting enterprise and initiative. This is what the Pope was calling for in his
Also, though we are to give a love of preference to the poor, recognizing our solidarity with them, this call to solidarity is to be applied through the application of the principle of subsidiarity, rejecting all forms of dehumanizing collectivism, either of the left or the right.
Subsidiarity in governance and economic participation rejects the usurping by a larger entity of participation which can be done at the lowest practicable level. The West, with all of its promise of freedom, flirts with an instrumentalist materialism devoid of any understanding that the market was made for man not man for the market.
In this mistaken approach to a market economic order, the accumulation of capital can come to be viewed as prior to the flourishing of the person, the family and the common good. It devolves into a throwaway culture as Pope Francis rightly warns.
We cannot separate moral, social and economic issues in the body politic, just as we cannot separate the spirit, soul and body of a person. Human society is a form of corporate person. All of our political and economic concerns have some moral dimension because they concern the human person.
The reason we should care about expanding economic opportunity is because we respect the dignity of every human person and want to expand participation to as many human persons as we can.
The reason we should care for all of the poor, in all of their manifestations, is because they all have human dignity, having all been created in the Image of God.
This is where the Institute for Human Dignity has done such a great service in formulating their Declaration. This is also at the heart of what Pope Francis not only writes about, but proclaims in prophetic word and deed.
In the Gospel of Joy Pope Francis wrote that “among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care, with particular love and concern, are unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this. Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the Church’s effort to defend their lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative.”
“Yet this defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development. Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems.
“Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defense of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be. Reason alone is sufficient to recognize the inviolable value of each single human life, but if we also look at the issue from the standpoint of faith, “every violation of the personal dignity of the human being cries out in vengeance to God and is an offense against the creator of the individual.
“Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question. I want to be completely honest in this regard. This is not something subject to alleged reforms or “modernizations”. It is not “progressive” to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life.(Par. 213,214)
Pope Francis is absolutely correct. It is not “progressive” to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life. He was prophetic when he warned of the danger of anthropological reductionism. Now, how will we respond?