By Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem
In Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis renders an accurate picture of our situation today.
In Chapter Two,“No to an Economy of Exclusion,” Pope Francis writes, “Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and discarded. We have created a throw away culture which is now spreading.”
Much has been written how groups throughout the world have been exploited, oppressed or marginalized. This immoral situation is even worse. As Pope Francis has written, “It is no longer about exploitation or oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live, those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the ‘exploited’ but the outcast, the ‘leftovers.’”
Pope Francis has nailed it. The disregard for human and worker harkens back to the days of slavery. Slaves were considered investments, not people. Major insurance companies in the United States made their reputations insuring slave ships during the African slave trade.
The condition today is worse, as the Pope describes it. People are used and discarded and easily replaced. In some parts of the world conditions are frighteningly similar to what those slaves endured. We only have to look at the horrendous garment factory fire with huge loss of life in Bangladesh, or sweatshop conditions in Hong Kong or Singapore, or New York or Chicago.
From 1980 till the present, trickle down economics has barely trickled down, but gushed upward creating a new powerful elite. Pope Francis gives us his take on it.
What Pope Francis has to say encourages us on the progressive side of Catholic social justice who have long criticized these policies.
He condemns this with an even greater moral voice. “In this context some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile the excluded are still waiting.”
His last sentence, “The excluded are still waiting” is echoed and dramatized throughout the world by those fighting for improved living and working conditions. The very phrase “free market” like “free trade” evokes cynicism and sarcasm by those the Pope calls excluded. This word “excluded” says it so well. Back in the day when we marched for civil rights or demonstrated for the right to choose a union, things happened. Perhaps undocumented immigrants in this country, even those from the Pope’s native Argentina, are part of the new “excluded.”
Pope Francis charges on, “To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed.” The frustration of activists to the budget submitted by Paul Ryan illustrates precisely what the Pope is criticizing.
As the rich get richer they cultivate an indifference, even a moral disdain for the plight of the poor who get poorer. Even middle class families are disregarded as their unemployment benefits are discontinued. The Pope further goes on, “We end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.”
A perfect example here, down South, is the iconic picture of hundreds of African Americans holding up a sign, “HELP US!” standing on the flooded freeway while surrounded by Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath. They were left stranded. The callous disregard for people struggling to make it is a judgment on our society. We can do better.
(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson)