Toxic Politics and Toxic Globalization – Pope Francis Weighs In

Podcast, Wisdom of Pope Francis

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Below is the transcript:

Hello! Welcome to the Wisdom of Pope Francis podcast. I am your host, Catholic Anonymous. This is a podcast where we explore the teachings of Pope Francis a little more in-depth than CNN or Fox news. You can find all sorts of creative endeavors I’m involved in at three different sites now: which has opinion pieces, where I put up music I’ve written, and where I post fiction I’ve written.

Today, I’ll be continuing through Pope Francis’ latest encyclical: Fratelli Tutti, on fraternity and social friendship. It’s his most recent letter to the church and world, and it’s not even a month old as of this recording. So it is very timely and speaks to what is going in the world right now and what he believes the world needs to hear right now.

And that message, which he expounds upon in the letter, is that we must develop a bond of real, genuine brotherhood and sisterhood in our world today, both on an individual level and at a societal and global level.

Last week, I looked at the introduction. Today, I’ll dive into the first half of chapter 1.

Now, the fact that Pope Francis thinks it’s important to talk about the need for friendship and brotherhood means he feels there is a major lack of this, otherwise there wouldn’t be any need to address it. So in this first chapter, he digs into what he sees as dangerous trends globally. These are things he thinks we need to be concerned about. So the chapter begins with an ominous and foreboding title: Dark Clouds Over a Closed World.

He begins with the trend towards globalization. Now, globalization is not all bad. He outlines a good kind of globalization and a bad kind. He talks about how Europe at one time “envisioned a future based on the capacity to work together in bridging divisions and in fostering peace and fellowship between all the people of this continent.” That was vital after WW2. Going from fighting each other to the death to creating the European Union is at least a step in the right direction.

However, he quickly pivots to the downside of globalization. And in this quote I’m about to read, I think he summarizes this most succinctly:

It is not possible to settle for what was achieved in the past and complacently enjoy it, as if we could somehow disregard the fact that many of our brothers and sister still endure situations that cry out for our attention.

Chapter 1, Article 11

That begs the question, what are our brothers and sisters around the world enduring? What are they crying out about?

The first point he makes is that the word “globalization” can easily become a synonym for unfettered capitalism – companies and nations can invest without any hindrance in other places of the world. There is good that comes of that, to be sure.

But the downside is that there can be this steam-rolling effect that investing companies can have on local people and their customs and traditions. One example of this, I think, is an area close to the pope’s heart: the Amazon rain forest. It’s being burned at a very fast rate, but the problem there is not just environmental. Tribes, for whom that rain forest has been their ancestral home, are basically having to step aside and watch as their homes are burnt up for economic profit – for expanding farmland and growing crops. They are forced to bow to the almighty god of global economics. In the process, it’s not just their home that they lose. They lose their way of life. They lose their culture.

For being someone so rooted in his Catholic faith, Pope Francis cares a lot about people being free to carry on their own traditions and way of life in a rapidly changing world. And he seems to be concerned that richer, stronger nations end up imposing their cultural ideals on others or eradicating their way of life altogether.

This is the first thing that struck me personally. I am from the west. My cultural tradition is Western Civilization. In fact, I live in a state, California, that is arguably the home of everything that is happening culturally right now. Our technology has been reshaping the world and continues to do so. Hollywood transports American values (or west coast values at least) all over the world.

So it’s easy for me to think, “Well, doesn’t everybody want a McDonald’s on their corner? Doesn’t everyone value being rugged individualists? Doesn’t everybody share my view of the world?”

Well of course not. We generally frown upon the way nations in the past would colonize and take over areas in Africa or the Americas with no regard for the people who already lived there. Pope Francis here highlights the dangers of what he calls “new forms of cultural colonization.” It’s a kind of cultural taking over of another culture. And sometimes it’s readily accepted as he laments in this quote:

…peoples that abandon their tradition and, either from a craze to mimic others or to foment violence, or from unpardonable negligence or apathy, allow others to rob their very soul, end up losing not only their spiritual identity but also their moral consistency and, in the end, their intellectual, economic and political independence.

Chapter 1, Article 14

Lastly, he turns his sights to politics. If on the one hand, there is the danger of a kind of dismissiveness of other cultures or traditions, on the other extreme there can be a kind of weaponizing of one’s culture or tradition – an unhealthy lifting of one’s own view of the world over against everyone else’s. Pope Francis sees this danger in politics. He puts it this way:

Today, in many countries, hyperbole, extremism and polarization have become political tools. Employing a strategy of ridicule, suspicion and relentless criticism, in a variety of ways one denies the right of others to exist or to have an opinion. Their share of the truth and their values are rejected, and, as a result, the life of society is impoverished and subjected to the hubris of the powerful.”

Chapter 1, Article 15

When I first read that quote, I thought, “Hmm… what political leader in the United States uses hyperbole, polarization, ridicule, suspicion and relentless criticism as political tactics? Who could possibly fit that description?”

Maybe because I’m from California – or because I’ve heard him actually talk – Donald Trump comes to mind.

But as I think about it further, these aren’t just tactics of the right. A lot of us have heard of “cancel culture.” Conservative speakers get uninvited to college campuses for no other reason than having a different point of view. People’s right to have an opinion gets snuffed out.

Depending on the speaker and the crowd, many on the left and right are not allowed to speak their share of the truth, as the pope puts it, without being shouted down.

That brings me to my final thought. In just a few days, this horribly chaotic election season in the United States is going to end, and half of America is going to find itself with a president or an administration they can hardly stand. I put forward here Pope Francis’ wisdom in relation to this:

Amid the fray of conflicting interests, where victory consists in eliminating one’s opponents, how is it possible to raise our sights to recognize our neighbors or to help those who have fallen along the way? A plan that would set great goals for the development of our entire human family nowadays sounds like madness.

Chapter 1, Article 16

I think, even though the pope takes a dim view of the current situation, in that statement is also a call to action. Yes, we all disagree. I have strong opinions myself about how our country should be run, and I stand firmly on my own values and my share of the truth. But globally, we will all have to work together despite our differences if we want to make the world a better place for all of us and not just the rich and powerful.

Those are my thoughts, but what are yours? I would love to know. Continue the conversation in the podcast section of my website: I mean this, I really would love to hear your share of the truth and your opinions are.

Thanks for listening. God bless.

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