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'Care for Our Common Home': Taking Up the Moral Challenge of Pope Francis – Blog – ABC Religion & Ethics (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
"The normalisation of liberal individualism and the unsustainable form of prosperity on which the West has so long relied are, of course, the crowning achievements of what Luigino Bruni calls the "grand 'immunizing' project of modernity." But this project did not simply clear away the tyranny of inherited privilege, thereby returning individuals to themselves and their own acquisitive desires. Instead, this immunity from our obligations to others - what John Rawls more prosaically called the "mutual disinterest" constitutive of the social contract - involved the radical renunciation of the munus: that obliging gift which forms the basis of the social bond that is at the heart of communitas.

In Evangelium Vitae, John Paul II captured the essence of this gift in a simple, wondrous sentence: "God entrusts us to one another." Once this munus is renounced, what follows is a hollowed out form of social life, a debased, erstaz community in which, "Everyone else is considered an enemy from whom one has to defend oneself. Thus society becomes a mass of individuals placed side by side, but without any mutual bonds. Each one wishes to assert himself independently of the other and in fact intends to make his own interests prevail."

(It is worth pointing out in passing that Pope Francis and John Paul II find an unlikely ally in Julian Savulescu, who shares their critique of the failure of liberalism to produce the kind of citizens that are willing make decisions for the good of others, especially when doing so would run counter to self-interest and immediate benefit: "This restraint of self-interest is the very opposite of the unrestrained satisfaction of it made possible by industrialization and its profusion of material goods, which brought liberal democracy into existence. Liberal democracy has so far been a politics of prosperity, and this induces doubt whether it could turn into a politics of parsimony, voluntary restraint, and decreasing welfare." As a result, Savulescu warns, "contemporary liberal democracies are in the danger of being too liberal to last.")

The great achievement of Pope Francis's encyclical is the way it explicitly deepens and extends the scope of that which has been entrusted to us: our shared environment; the wellbeing of those near and far; the wellbeing of future generations. The language of gift and of what is in common pervades the encyclical, and at once condemns the interpersonal and political indifference that has held sway over the "climate change debate" and exposes the inadequacy of purely technocratic solutions to the problem of environmental degradation.

Implicated in the pope's critique of both interpersonal indifference and a kind of technophilic solutionism is the way that social media cultivates a feeling of concern and even ethical responsibility, all the while shielding us from any real commitment to others."



"For Francis, there is simply no substitute for the recovery of a sense of deep moral obligation - of what he calls at the end of the encyclical "generous commitment" - through which we will then joyfully constrain our behaviour and redefine those benefits to which we feel we are entitled. This is particularly clear when Francis addresses the debilitating political problem of how to galvanise public support for an intergenerational problem like climate change. As Stephen Gardiner has examined at considerable length, the problem is not only that the benefits of carbon pollution are enjoyed by the present generation while the deleterious effects (or "costs") are deferred to some future generation; the iterative nature of the problem ensures that "each new generation will face the same incentive structure as soon as it gains the power to decide whether or not to act."

This, it would seem, is the brute reality behind the myth of progress, and a powerful illustration of C.S. Lewis's extraordinarily prescient claim in his 1943 book The Abolition of Man (which is a favourite of Benedict XVI, interestingly enough). Lewis was, of course, fiercely critical of that heroic liberal narrative of the " progressive emancipation from tradition and a progressive control of natural processes resulting in a continual increase of human power.""
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june 2015 by robertogreco

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