I begin with an admission—I don’t want to spend the next 16-months talking about politics. It’s summertime and the beaches are calling, these conversations can be exhausting to perform and listen to, and frankly I hope all of us have better things to do. That said, to a significant degree our futures hinge onÂ the outcomes of the 2016 elections, and occasionally it’s worth stopping and using those things inside our head bones to think through some issues. With that in mind, I’d like to take a quick gander at the big headling-grabber of this past week—Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, Laudato si’, which offers a fascinating litmus test for the various Presidential candidates currently lining up across America.
I want to acknowledge that I haven’t read the entire encyclical, only excerpts (give me a break: it just came out yesterday). But then, the encyclical itself isn’t really my focal point just yet. A form of it leaked to the press earlier this week, which allowed pre-emptive reactions from various people. I’d like to quote one below:
I hope I’m not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home, but I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope. And I’d like to see what he says as it relates to climate change and how that connects to these broader, deeper issues before I pass judgment. But I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.
This is from Jeb Bush, son and brother of two former Presidents, Republican front-runner, and purportedly the “smart” one of the Bush Boys (when you consider the comparison you have to wonder just how good that really makes ol’Jeb feel). There’s a lot that scratches the head in this quote, but I’d like to ask you to re-read that last line. I italicized it for emphasis because I think it contains something tremendously important.
If I’m understanding this correctly ol’Jeb sees the world as divisible into at least two separate realms: “things that make us better as people” and “the political realm.” In an effort to take this idea seriously, I’d like to invite you to try and imagine “things that makes us better as people” that aren’t also part of “the political realm.” Ready? Okay—go…
Mind grown numb yet? (Remember, this is supposed to be the smart brother.)
When you’re done wandering the far corners of that thought vacuum the first thing I’ll suggest is that you sit down and have a nice cool drink. The second thing I’ll do is invite you never to waste your vote on this idiot. And the last thing I’ll do is write the following paragraphs:
The really challenging thing about Pope Francis’ encyclical doesn’t seem to be his thoughts on climate change—we all already know that, even those idiots who insist that scientific fact isn’t true. (Surely it’s worth noting the irony of the Church, which has been hammered for generations for repressing Galileo, now siding with science, and subsequently being hammered for that. What a world.) No, what’s provocative in what Francis is saying is his integrated notion that each of our fates is wound up with everyone else’s. That is, his view of the world is insisting that we’re all here together, every single one of us dependent and interwoven each with the other.
That holistic, web-woven conception of the world leads the Pope to be critical of capitalism, consumerism, individualism, and technophilia—all forces that too frequently serve to divide rather than unite us—while simultaneously lending his voice to those who all too often don’t get heard: the poor, the overlooked, and the marginalized. Now, being critical of capitalism while speaking on behalf of the poor is really annoying to people who don’t want to hear talk of either. People such as Jeb Bush and others, who’ll run around complaining that the Pope shouldn’t be talking about issues that properly belong in “the political realm.”
Such people would instead prefer that the Pope stay in Italy, dressed in his silly hat and saying nice things that make people smile, because (hopefully) smiling, status-quo-accepting people won’t think critically about issues such as capitalism, consumerism, individualism, and the the plight of the poor…
The Pope’s encyclical is obviously addressing ecology, but it’s also pushing beyond that into questioning how we understand our places—and those of our neighbors—in this world. You don’t have to be a Catholic or even a Christian to be open to Francis’s worldview; plenty of secular humanists have such an encompassing and integrated notion of us as people.
I hope this isn’t sounding too abstracted or “philosophical.” To my mind this conversation is about as material as you can get. I don’t love Either/Or propositions, but for simplicity’s sake one might be helpful: either we’re social animals who, by definition, can only act socially and thus are socially responsible to each other, or we’re a disparate collection of individuals going about our separate ways however we feel is best, responsible only to our own internal lights.
In my view the truly scary choice would be to follow Bush’s path into unfettered individualism, because in such a world we’re all but islands, or at best small collections of islands, floating on a hostile sea, increasingly differentiated solely by our individual consumption patterns. To me, such an approach seems logically impossible, experientially untrue, ethically abysmal, and aesthetically numbing. Despite all this it continues to grow thick as weeds in our minds.
There are a lot of reasons why thinking, caring humans shouldn’t vote for many of the current Republican (and Democratic) ideologues nudging their noses forward. Conversely, I believe there’s also plenty of room for a reasonable Republican with socially progressive views to open up a much needed conversation about the size of government, fiscal responsibility and other pertinent issues. In other words: this is just a spit in the sea of the chatter we’ll be having in the coming year-plus.
Through it all it’s essential to remember that how candidates see the world will dictate how they see you and your loved ones. Hopefully in the coming months you’ll spend the time to choose one who has 20:20 vision.