Thursday, August 28, 2014

Pope Francis and Violence

I’ve been thinking for a while about a post on “Evangelium Gaudium”, the controversial first encyclical written by Pope Francis last year shortly after his elevation to the Papacy. Evangelium Gaudium means “The Joy of the Gospel” but events today in the Middle East and elsewhere might make one consider that the Papal message of joyful evangelization seems almost irrelevant in a world full of butchery and violence directed against Christians.

A friend of mine sends me a daily listing of incidents of persecution against Christians ranging from the brutally violent ones that have finally broken into the media in Iraq to the ongoing outrages that go largely unnoticed in China, India, and Africa. In his encyclical Pope Francis noted that evangelization should involve more than words or preaching. He agreed that actions speak louder than words but I don’t think he imagined the martyrdom that so many Christians have had to endure since he became Pope.

Although Pope Francis commands worldwide attention, Evangelium Gaudium was directed primarily at Catholics and their leaders. It called on all Catholics to evangelize or to spread the gospel message of service and humility. The Pope set out this goal in the very first paragraph:

With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark on a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing our new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.
Yet, what can this message mean to the thousands and thousands of Christians murdered, tortured, robbed, abducted, and raped all over the world? The Pope’s message seemed largely directed towards the developed world that was once largely Christian but now has become more and more secularized.  Perhaps this is why the Pope singled our materialism as the number one problem.
The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience.
It is true that the Pope argued that inequality of wealth breeds violence, a violence almost justified since it has been caused by oppression and exclusion. I believe that few people have taken the trouble to read the encyclical and have rather been content with a few media snippets. It is clear though that Pope Francis is no Communist or Socialist. He does not call for the State to take over the means of production.

He does direct criticism though at uncontrolled Capitalism, a system that he believes is based on “survival of the fittest” or “trickle down” economics.

I just heard of an example of trickle down economics. A wealthy hedge fund manager recently gave his daughter an extremely costly and elaborate wedding. The rehearsal dinner itself cost $100000. True, I suppose someone could argue that vendors, waiters, dishwashers, hairdressers, clothiers and other lowly folk all benefitted from the wedding. Still you can see why the Pope might be upset at this excess. In the encyclical he asked how could anyone throw away food when so many are starving?

Nevertheless, I’m not sure that the inequality of people in this wedding causes violence. On the contrary, it wouldn’t surprise me if most poor people didn’t admire the rich and famous. Certainly, the current violence in the Middle East does not seem to be the result of economic inequality. ISIS is heavily armed. Where did they get the money to buy machine guns, rocket launchers, mines, and humvees? I suspect that the Sunni militants are more well to do than the majority Shiites they are terrorizing. They would also seem to be better off than the Christians they are robbing and murdering.

The Pope does not claim to provide a sociological analysis of the world’s problems but rather in Evangelium Gaudium he speaks more as a missionary prophet. His warning to the developed world about materialism and its dangers is not new. It pervades the gospels, and can be found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. He writes,
the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day, with dire consequences….inequality is increasingly evident….This epochal change has been set in motion by the enormous qualitative, quantitative, rapid and cumulative advances occurring in the sciences and in technology…
I would like to discuss the whole question of the changes the Pope alludes to here in another post. For now, I think that there is a much more pressing need. It is time for the Pope to call a summit of religious leaders from all faiths to demand an end to sectarian violence. In particular, he should ask Moslem religious leaders to call for an end to the satanical violence and persecution of Christians who have lived in peace in Moslem controlled lands for centuries. Can this brutality be the will of Allah?

The Pope is the only figure in the world who could convene such a summit. Assisi would be a good venue.


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