Antonio Spadaro and Marcelo Figueroa’s article, “Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism: A Surprising Ecumenism,” in La Civiltà Cattolica (described by Spadaro as a “peer-reviewed magazine” whose “articles are always read and approved by the [Vatican’s] Secretariat of State”) is a bungled opportunity. The stark Manichean colors with which they paint their subject, and the apocalyptic tones they sound, combined with a muddled understanding of different currents in American evangelicalism, obscures rather than illuminates their argument.
The Pope’s recent address to a joint session of Congress was greeted ecstatically, though (or perhaps because) it was notable mainly for its secular rather than for its religious pieties. It was the speech of a politician seeking re-election rather than that of the spiritual leader of a considerable part of mankind; as such, it seemed like the work not of a man intent upon telling the truth, however painful or unpopular, but that of a committee of speech-writers who sifted every word for its likely effect upon a constituency or audience, appealing to some without being too alienating of others.
Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si (“Be Praised”) has been acclaimed by the international media as a call to action on global warming, to combat its threat to world survival. It has been praised in New York Times editorials and by Progressive Catholic intellectuals like E.J. Dionne on the Left while garnering scathing or dismissive responses from libertarian, free-market types on the Right. The papal document, however, is not fundamentally about climate change (who questions that weather changes?) or even global warming. (The Pope merely follows the scientific “consensus” and even qualifies it as a trend that “would appear” to “indicate” that…
In a recent speech in Bolivia, Pope Francis voiced his indictment of what he calls “the globalization of exclusion and indifference.” Speaking of what he believes to be problems universal to Latin America, he wishes, “May the cry of the excluded be heard in Latin America and throughout the world.” But who, I wonder, are they listening to?
Many worry that marriage is in its death throes these days, at least here in the prosperous West. Even Pope Francis commented at his recent conference on the family in Rome that “We now live in a culture of the temporary in which more and more people are simply giving up on marriage as a public commitment.”
Many today see liberation from the commitment to marriage as a positive social gain. Francis responded that this “revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom but in fact has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.”
Isabel Sawhill’s new book Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood without Marriage reports the numbers for the United States. They suggest that the word “revolution” is not an exaggeration.
Many of the world’s religious leaders decry the evils of income inequality stemming from a globalized economy. My first post, based on economic reports from such institutions as the World Bank, showed that recent pronouncements by the Pope, the Ecumenical Patriarch, and the Dalai Lama have followed a conventional wisdom that does not capture what has actually gone on in recent economic history: namely, that even as inequality has widened, extreme poverty has simultaneously decreased. I brought in the economic analyst Nassim Nicholas Taleb and his insights about wealth production in modern societies and the wrong assumptions people make about it.
If there is one thing that religious leaders around the world seem to agree on today, it is the evils of income inequality stemming from a globalized economy.
Pope Francis said last year in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium that “we … have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.”
In a 2008 speech at George Mason University, the Dalai Lama asserted: “Economic inequality, especially that between developed and developing nations, remains the greatest source of suffering on this planet.”
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew wrote in his 2012 Christmas encyclical that “the gloomy consequences of the overconcentration of wealth in the hands of the few and the financial desolation of the vast human masses are ignored. This disproportion, which is described worldwide as a financial crisis, is essentially the product of a moral crisis.”
Buried in President Obama’s Wednesday address on economic inequality lay this claim about the Affordable Care Act:
It’s the measurable outcomes in reduced bankruptcies and reduced hours that have been lost because somebody couldn’t make it to work, and healthier kids with better performance in schools, and young entrepreneurs who have the freedom to go out there and try a new idea—those are the things that will ultimately reduce a major source of inequality and help ensure more Americans get the start that they need to succeed in the future.
One assumes controversy ensues about the claims that Obamacare will lead to better performance in school and more entrepreneurship. Fair enough. The non-controversial pivot is supposed to be the assumption that these outcomes, if achieved, would reduce inequality.
But this is, strictly speaking, absurd. Such outcomes would likely increase inequality. What they would reduce is poverty. Opportunity has a way of doing both. The distinction is vital, and rhetorical imprecision—assailing inequality when what means to target is poverty—confounds the search for useful solutions to the latter.
One of the consequences of living in an information age is that we are made instantly, and constantly, aware of the disasters around the world, both natural and man-made, and of the enormous suffering that they cause. There are no more far-away lands of which to know nothing, to quote Neville Chamberlain, a man whom nobody would describe as wicked but yet who is the most despised of British Prime Ministers. We are all citizens of the world now.
Knowledge of suffering seems to place upon us an obligation of compassion that is greater than we can possibly bear. We respond in one of two ways: to claim a level of feeling that is greater than we actually can or do feel, in which case we become humbugs; or we harden our hearts and become like Pharaoh.