The Common Good in the Public Square


Updated: Dec 13, 2020

By Christopher Hunt

Building the common good through fraternity and social friendships

A common project. A few paragraphs into Fratelli Tutti’s (FT) chapter 5 A Better Kind of Politics Pope Francis speaks of advancing toward a common project (FT 157-158). He goes on to speak of local, national and international politics, and inside of this common project, there are many other projects that must be formed and executed. As Archbishop Christophe Pierre explained at the previous webinar, “We will not open up this document to find readymade solutions,” we realize that there are personal and political actions that must be taken. This is a multigenerational project, and we need to get started on it now.

Politics are devolving throughout the entire world. Populism and nationalism are subverting any sign of a virtuous patriotism with demagoguery and ideology. Socialism is ruining countries that were growing into good economies a short time ago. Religious dictatorships are terrorizing their peoples. There is forming now intense polarization, and the different camps are seeing their political opponents as enemies that are evil and must be destroyed. Social media is stoking this fire with twisted AI and biased algorithms, causing people to have circular echo-chambers helping them to sail rapidly to extremes. News has become ultra-partisan, and fake news seems to be everywhere. The pandemic is causing greater unemployment which, coupled with lockdowns and social distancing norms is forcing us into widespread isolation, and making it easier than ever to delve deeply into ideology and immerse ourselves deeper into the online echo-chambers. We are more connected than ever through technology, but that does not necessarily translate into deep social connections nor meaningful solidarity; and many times said online interactions take less “encounter”, using the words of Pope Francis. These are all forces that are fighting against our common project.

Did you get the Fratelli Tutti memo? Pope Francis calls to all people of good will “...I have written [Fratelli Tutti] from the Christian convictions that inspire and sustain me, I have sought to make this reflection an invitation to dialogue among all people of good will” (FT 6). The World Synod of Bishops tell Catholics that “ action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Church's mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation...The members of the Church, as members of society, have the same right and duty to promote the common good as do other citizens. Christians ought to fulfill their temporal obligations with fidelity and competence. They should act as a leaven in the world, in their family, professional, social, cultural and political life. They must accept their responsibilities in this entire area under the influence of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church. In this way they testify to the power of the Holy Spirit through their action in the service of people in those things which are decisive for the existence and the future of humanity. While in such activities they generally act on their own initiative without involving the responsibility of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, in a sense they do involve the responsibility of the Church whose members they are” (Justice in the World- World Synod of Bishops 6, 38).

Similarly, we are taught by the Canadian bishops that in this endeavor, “ just as yeast leavens bread from within, so the laity are called to be a leaven in the world. This is not accomplished primarily by expounding on particular doctrines or speaking about Christian values. Rather, the Christian himself or herself is the leaven. Lay people live in families and in communities. They work or study and are involved in the social and political life of their communities at the local, national, and international levels. They become a leaven through the unique way they approach work and study, live in society, and participate in politics” (Co-responsibility of Lay Faithful in Church & World – CCCB- 8, 9). Catholics are being called by their shepherds to enter into this in a specifically Christian way. It is our responsibility to do so.

Informing ourselves responsibly on the matters stated above is a foundational act of charity. We cannot make informed decisions, nor can we pass on, educate, those whom we owe education; primarily our children. As the good Archbishop Christophe Pierre points out, though, we need information that is infused with wisdom. “True wisdom demands an encounter with reality. Today, however, everything can be created, disguised and altered” (FT 47). Prayer and Scripture will help us to have wisdom, that goes without saying. Similarly, another saying goes, “work as if it depends on you, pray as if it depends on God!”, we must tag “study” along with “work”, and have the “it” being wisdom.

How do we lead a life of service to our brothers and sisters, and help to form a politic that helps ALL people to have a better life? We are called to embrace the Good Samaritan attitude in our individual encounters, and also to enhance the political infrastructure that expands the common good in society. As Archbishop Pierre explained, this is not to stop merely at the personal level, but must extend into policies of state... political, economic and social (FT 164-165). We must reject those “leftist ideologies or social doctrines linked to individualistic ways of acting and ineffective procedures [which] affect only a few, while the majority of those left behind remain dependent on the goodwill of others” (FT 165). We also cannot rely on neoliberalism which “simply reproduces itself by resorting to the magic theories of ‘spillover’ or ‘trickle’ – without using the name – as the only solution to societal problems... the alleged ‘spillover’ does not resolve the inequality that gives rise to new forms of violence threatening the fabric of society” (FT 168). St. Paul VI explained clearly, “let it be said once again that economics is supposed to be in the service of man” (Populorum Progressio, 26).

We are acting as the Good Samaritan when we are living a life of charity and love in our personal lives. How we treat our spouse, our children, friends, co-workers and fellows we deal with on a day-to-day basis, in our choices in how we purchase goods, in the ways we choose to inform ourselves, in our acts of charity and alms-giving, education of our children, in our life of prayer and sacrifice; in all acts of spiritual and corporal works of mercy, in making ourselves available to others despite our busy schedules, in seeing the presence of God when encountering our brothers and sisters in greater need or those who hold opposed worldviews.

As Archbishop Pierre asked us at the webinar, “can we truly see each other as brothers and sisters despite our (religious, economic, social, political) differences?” It is a serious invitation to challenge ourselves and go beyond our groupthink barriers.

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Updated: Dec 13, 2020

By Christopher Hunt

Education and informed action are our primary responsibilities to advance the common project proposed in Fratelli Tutti (FT). The “Good Samaritan” attitude is an essential business too.

We have a responsibility to learn our history, to learn the philosophy and teachings that the Church has handed down to the laity so that we can be informed and understand what is going on concerning our current events. We must view the news of the day through the context of history in order to better interpret and understand the realities we are being faced with. This gives us the burden of continual education through reading and the use of educational media. This is also necessary if we wish to form our children correctly, for if we do not do this “someone [will tell our children] to ignore their history, to reject the experiences of their elders, to look down on the past and to look forward to a future that he himself holds out, doesn’t it then become easy to draw them along so that they only do what he tells them? He needs the young to be shallow, uprooted and distrustful, so that they can trust only in his promises and act according to his plans. That is how various ideologies operate: they destroy (or deconstruct) all differences so that they can reign unopposed. To do so, however, they need young people who have no use for history, who spurn the spiritual and human riches inherited from past generations and are ignorant of everything that came before them” (FT 13). Therefore, we must know our history, our culture, and retain the unique aspects that give us so much to offer on the grander scheme of which we are speaking. If we lose this, we “end up losing not only (our) spiritual identity but also (our) moral consistency and, in the end, (our) intellectual, economic and political independence” (FT 14).

So, one of our foundational responsibilities is the formation and education of our children. A good formation nurtures responsible and caring citizen, builds good families, builds good communities, builds good states, builds a good international community. We must educate our children well in religion, philosophy, history and the academic subjects. This is our duty, not the duty of the state, though the state may be of help. When choosing educational institutions, we must choose wisely. If there are not affordable institutions that will aid us in properly forming our children, then we must take the responsibility on, and homeschool our children.

It does not end with our children. In fraternal love we may be the Good Samaritan to our brothers and sisters in our extended families, our church families, and our communal families by supporting our local Catholic schools, and other public and private schools in our area which are forming children well, by advocating for better curricula if they are not, and by aiding schools in poorer areas of your community with charitable donations and political activism. We can also help by aiding those people in our circles that cannot afford a good education for their children. As we are looking to the world, we can personally be the Good Samaritan to those in poorer nations. St. Paul VI tells us “that economic growth is dependent on social progress, the goal to which it aspires; and that basic education is the first objective for any nation seeking to develop itself. Lack of education is as serious as lack of food; the illiterate is a starved spirit” (Populorum Progressio, 35). Do you have friends in a poor nation? Do others in your circle have friends in poor nations? Often, a good education in a poor nation is inexpensive by our standards, though prohibitive to the average families abroad in such nations. If our personal finances allow, we can sponsor a family’s child or children to get a good primary education. If it is possible, we can host young adults who aspire to university education in our nation’s institutions. It will be these educated children and young adults that will bring their new skills to the building of their respective nations. “(Authentic democracy) requires that the necessary conditions be present for the advancement both of the individual through education and formation in true ideals, and of the ‘subjectivity' of society through the creation of structures of participation and shared responsibility” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 406).

Another way to be the Good Samaritan is by rejecting that globalization of indifference which seems to have overshadowed those of us in the wealthier countries. Often, we buy clothes, phones, gadgets, coffee, produce which was made, assembled, grown by people who are made to be slaves. We have heard of poor Chinese workers jumping to their deaths in order to escape the dire situation they are put in. Made to sleep where they work, building the technology we spend exorbitant amounts of money on, or those poor souls in that clothing factory in South Asia who were locked inside so as to force them to work in horrid conditions, making our clothes that we buy, which cost less than the material to make them ourselves. They died not being able to escape the fire that engulfed the building. So, we can be the Good Samaritan by advocating as citizens to our congressmen and senators and to our president to demand the respect for human rights of workers across the globe and to support international trade laws that do not allow our corporations to utilize goods made and procured in such fashion. And we can also choose how we purchase. This can be sacrificial in some regards as we switch to purchasing fair trade products whenever available or purchasing the more expensive garment that was not made by slave labor. In a word, buy mindfully, in a spirit of fraternal love for our brothers and sisters that are far removed from our lives.

There is also the obvious actions of the Good Samaritan, which is aiding in local charities, personally feeding and clothing the hungry and poor in your community, fighting for prison and justice reform. There are often soup kitchens that need food and volunteers, places that accept clothing for the poor. These are immediate necessities, and we must work to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. Our aid right now to those in need in our community is a responsibility. We will need to grow in fortitude to speak up against meanness and bullying, against racism whenever we encounter it. We must stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters -locally and across the world- that do not have the means that we have, and we must work to help them to acquire better means.

We must work at this with all people of good will. Let’s boost our fraternal bonds with all communities and reload our energy as we advance this common project.

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Updated: Nov 25, 2020

By Felipe Flores

“The merge of humans and machines is fast approaching” Time Magazine.

Based on the webinar “Transhumanism, Aging and End of Life” held on Thursday 11/12.

Transhumanism is a worldview which is somewhat evolutionist in its approach that supports the enhancement and extension of human life by the application and use of technology to alter normal functions of the body or the natural course of life as we know it. In the website humanityplus, they state their support for “longevity and mitigating the disease of aging”. Interestingly, none of these are diseases in medical terms. Anecdotally, Mr. Zoltan Istvan ran a failed presidential campaign in 2016 with Transhumanism as his flagship platform.

Transhumanists claim that technology, in the form of chips, genetic manipulation or AI, just to name a few, are to be used for the betterment (better over well, they claim) and evolution of the human race, which would then justify the means to achieve a -some sort of- painless material or disease-free existence in exchange for a longer life span (think about living 150 or 200 years, for instance) and supposedly achieving happiness that way. To be clear, it is important to distinguish between the use of technology in therapeutic interventions to cure medical diseases -restoring natural functions that are not working well or simply lacking- and transhumanism which seeks to distort natural life by advocating for an “ageless life”. Similarly, death is part of our natural human condition and should not be neglected precisely to boost transcendent happiness. For transhumanists, there does not seem to be room for empathy and compassion, only for physical betterment.

The transhumanist worldview has its pros and cons, but in the end this philosophy would impact society in a harmful and disproportionate way. First, only the wealthy and powerful have access to explore these possibilities and to invest in these “artificial products” that will only increase the size of their pockets. Second, there is no indication that transhumanists might seek to democratize any potential therapeutic benefits they achieve so as to be a means of aiding the sick, most deserving people in the world or to cure widespread diseases in development countries, for instance. Third, transhumanism appears to have created another business industry driven by profits without being socially responsible nor do they seem to have ethical commitment to consider the wellbeing of society or the dignity of the human person when expanding their developments. Fourth, ethically, transhumanist projects are shady, to say the least. Lastly, artificially extending the lifespan of individuals (curing aging and preventing death, in their own words) has huge implications for public policy, governments and their budgets, in terms of healthcare, social security, retirement funds, pollution, workforce size which would create significant impact to the already constrained public resources and policies while undermining the social contract as we know it.

It is absolutely important to support medical innovations and promote healthy lifestyles that would increase the conditions for people to live a meaningful life and to reach their full potential by addressing therapeutic treatments to lethal diseases such as cancer. It is great to use technology to help a quadriplegic person walk again. However, genetic manipulation (like the famous CRISPR project) to achieve a physically “flawless person” and an ageless existence, which is the ultimate goal of transhumanism, is an endeavor that taints natural life while creating big problems for society in the long run. The harms outnumber the benefits by far.

Another way to acknowledge the goals of transhumanism in our daily lives is to think about superheroes or science fiction novels. Transhumanists are pushing for a wide acceptance that “normal humans” should get those enhanced physical capacities (to become stronger, smarter, faster) -just like said superheroes- and to channel attention, resources and justification of means to that end. Paraphrasing Dr. Driver on her fantastic presentation: “what make superheroes’ stories so inspiring and uplifting are their virtues and personal learning shown throughout their journey, not the acquisition of those superpowers per se”.

Meanwhile, all of this is happening with a lack of regulation or even public interest from the government as well as lack of awareness in society. Transhumanists are taking advantage from the inconsistencies that Medicine has shown when trying to self-regulate, and related technology companies are far from reaching a desirable ethical behavior at all, generally speaking. We need to spread awareness of the issue, to request accountability, ethical performance and transparency by these developers of transhumanist projects and to demand the government to catch up with adequate regulatory oversight.

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