Saturday, August 20, 2011

When they get it right

It’s not unheard of for me to praise political opponents when they do something I agree with, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never praised the pope. Well, there’s a first time for everything.

My differences with the pope and his church would be just that—differences—were it not for their constant political interference in the affairs of sovereign nations. In the US, they are actively—but sometimes secretly—working against marriage equality and reproductive choice and in Africa they’re causing untold death and misery because of their steadfast refusal to endorse condoms as a means to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS. The Roman church has made these issues political rather than doctrinal or spiritual, so they must expect political opposition from religious and secular people alike.

Still, I don’t have a problem with them preaching and teaching things I clearly have no use for, like on sexuality and reproduction; I think they’re dead wrong on those issues, but they’re entitled to their views (actually, I also think that they’re stupid to not allow priests to marry). The bottom line is, it’s their religion and they’re entitled to do what they want with it—as long as they don’t try to force me to obey their doctrine, as they’re doing through politics.

However, despite the fact I don’t agree with the Roman church on much, there are some areas where I do agree with them, particularly on the world economy and the developing world. On his way to Spain, the pope said something so spot-on, that he deserves to be praised—even by me, surely one of his harshest critics.

Speaking to reporters on his plane, the pope said: "Man must be at the centre of the economy, and the economy cannot be measured only by the maximisation of profit but by rather according to the common good." This is exactly what I’ve been saying, albeit less flowery and more stridently, for years. Just check out some of the posts in my tag Corporate Greed.

The pope went on, “The economy cannot function only with mercantile self-regulation but needs an ethical reason in order to work for man." About this time, rightwing heads were exploding, but that doesn’t change the fact that he was absolutely correct about both points.

In fact, this is nothing new for him: In 2009, he issued his third encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Which in English is Charity in Truth) in which he covered the same points. Wikipedia has a good summary and multiple sites on the web offer the entire thing as a PDF.

I didn’t comment on it at the time, partly because I don’t think I knew about it—I don’t recall any mainstream newsmedia coverage. But it’s worth a read, despite the overly dense prose and tendency to promote traditional church teachings about family (yawn!).

In the early Reagan years, when the radical right “Christians” were beginning their political rise, I used to think that they and progressives ought to look for common ground to advance the things they both agreed on. I came to realise that was unlikely then, and it’s impossible now. However, the pope’s statements show that even people who disagree strongly on some issues can still find common ground on others. I haven’t lost sight of that fact, even if others have, so I’ll continue to praise my political opponents when they’re right or do something good; I just wish I had more opportunities and reasons to do so.

Update – Well, that didn't last long: Three days later, he goes and spoils it all.

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