Pope Benedict's encyclical "Caritas in veritate" while an extension of his two previous encyclicals, is in my humble opinion, one of his very best works. You can read it in it's entirety here. The following are some excerpts, which struck me forcefully, but not always for the reasons he wrote them.
In reading these excerpts, it's probably good to keep in mind that one of Benedict's main points is that men and women are works in progress, and that progress is defined in spiritual as well as material terms. We also have a moral duty to pursuit our individual progress in an environment of common communal good, with a spiritually oriented ability to relate from truth and love--from a Catholic Christian perspective. So here goes:
Openness to life is at the centre of true development. When a society moves towards the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man's true good. If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away. The acceptance of life strengthens moral fibre and makes people capable of mutual help. By cultivating openness to life, wealthy peoples can better understand the needs of poor ones, they can avoid employing huge economic and intellectual resources to satisfy the selfish desires of their own citizens, and instead, they can promote virtuous action within the perspective of production that is morally sound and marked by solidarity, respecting the fundamental right to life of every people and every individual. (Openess to life also means openness to the idea of future generations and our need to be responsible in leaving them something with which to survive on. However, what also struck me about this paragraph is that the celibate male clerical system Benedict leads is by it's very nature a counter witness to what he writes here. If any group has given itself permission to "employing huge economic and intellectual resources to satisfy the selfish desires of their own (childless) citizens", it is the celibate male clerical Roman Catholic priesthood.)
The truth of globalization as a process and its fundamental ethical criterion are given by the unity of the human family and its development towards what is good. Hence a sustained commitment is needed so as to promote a person-based and community-oriented cultural process of world-wide integration that is open to transcendence. (This is a profound paragraph and I fully understand what he means when he insists on the importance of transcendence as the goal of world-wide globalization and integration. The other alternative is exploitation and the world has had enough of that.)
Morally responsible openness to life represents a rich social and economic resource. Populous nations have been able to emerge from poverty thanks not least to the size of their population and the talents of their people. On the other hand, formerly prosperous nations are presently passing through a phase of uncertainty and in some cases decline, precisely because of their falling birth rates; this has become a crucial problem for highly affluent societies. The decline in births, falling at times beneath the so-called “replacement level”, also puts a strain on social welfare systems, increases their cost, eats into savings and hence the financial resources needed for investment, reduces the availability of qualified labourers, and narrows the “brain pool” upon which nations can draw for their needs. Furthermore, smaller and at times miniscule families run the risk of impoverishing social relations, and failing to ensure effective forms of solidarity. These situations are symptomatic of scant confidence in the future and moral weariness. (Although I disagree him on what constitutes 'morally responsible' openness to life, and with his analysis of population benefits---at least in terms of his refusal to see the direct correlation between over population and poverty---I do heartily agree with this point: "These situations are symptomatic of scant confidence in the future and moral weariness." I think this is really true for the West as we have all had to grow up under the threat of nuclear annihilation as the principle fruit of two world wars. We had no reason to believe all those nuclear weapons and all the money they represented were never going to be used--even if accidentally. Why would you want to bring future generations in the world if you knew you were a prime target for a nuclear strike and didn't believe the world would survive it?)
This is not merely a matter of a “third sector”, (Here he's talking about corporations which exist not only for profit but also the common good) but of a broad new composite reality embracing the private and public spheres, one which does not exclude profit, but instead considers it a means for achieving human and social ends. Whether such companies distribute dividends or not, whether their juridical structure corresponds to one or other of the established forms, becomes secondary in relation to their willingness to view profit as a means of achieving the goal of a more humane market and society. (This is a shout out to corporations like Ben and Jerry's, and we can sure use more of those.)
The way humanity treats the environment influences the way it treats itself, and vice versa. This invites contemporary society to a serious review of its life-style, which, in many parts of the world, is prone to hedonism and consumerism, regardless of their harmful consequences. What is needed is an effective shift in mentality which can lead to the adoption of new life-styles “in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments.”
(Shifting one's mentality calls not only for conversion, but for credible examples. The only other method of adapting new lifestyles is to be forced into it. Something which seems to be happening full bore in the West. The real moral choice will come when the old lifestyle is once again achievable. Hopefully most of us will see it's no longer a valid or moral choice. Maybe we will have learned that living simply also means living with more freedom.)
Secularism and fundamentalism exclude the possibility of fruitful dialogue and effective cooperation between reason and religious faith. Reason always stands in need of being purified by faith: this also holds true for political reason, which must not consider itself omnipotent. For its part, religion always needs to be purified by reason in order to show its authentically human face. Any breach in this dialogue comes only at an enormous price to human development. (I wonder how many conservative traditionalists will read 'secularism' and then gloss over 'fundamentalism'. Both truly do exclude notions of human development. I also appreciated his careful use of the word 'religion' as needing to be purified by reason to show it's authentic human face. I flashed on Cardinal Cardoso vs Cardinal Fisichelli in the Brazillian rape case. It's an important point about the need for respectful reasoned dissent and dialogue with in religions, especially with regard to doctrine and dogma.)
In the search for solutions to the current economic crisis, development aid for poor countries must be considered a valid means of creating wealth for all. (This is the operative assumption now being pursued by Bill Gates and others. In essence it's about investing in the ability of future consumers to buy corporate products which helps insure the corporate generational future.)
What is meant by the word “decency” in regard to work? It means work that expresses the essential dignity of every man and woman in the context of their particular society: work that is freely chosen, effectively associating workers, both men and women, with the development of their community; work that enables the worker to be respected and free from any form of discrimination; work that makes it possible for families to meet their needs and provide schooling for their children, without the children themselves being forced into labour; work that permits the workers to organize themselves freely, and to make their voices heard; work that leaves enough room for rediscovering one's roots at a personal, familial and spiritual level; work that guarantees those who have retired a decent standard of living. (Nice synopsis of Catholic social justice teaching on the meaning of work. Now if only all Catholic enterprises took this to heart--also Catholic neocons and theocons.)
(Italics are Benedict's.)
To manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration: for all this, there is urgent need of a true world political authority, (This is essentially a call to put some teeth into the UN and other global regulatory agencies. He doesn't mean the New Apostolic Reformation and their desire to rule the world for Jesus. There is a great deal in this encyclical which will not be well received by such groups.)
These extracts came from approximately the first half of Benedict's encyclical. Tomorrow I will extract some things from the latter half. I am totally impressed with the scope of this encyclical as Benedict touches on all kinds of factors and issues confronting mankind in the realms of social justice and globilization. I will probably take substantial chunks of his thinking on technology because he raises very crucial points about mankind's future, not only about the impact of technology on our material future, but also on our anthropological future. Technology and transcendence do not necessarily go hand in hand.
Although this encyclical takes some time to read, it's well worth the effort. There's some really good stuff in it, some food for real thought. I can easily imagine President Obama getting a crash course on it before his meeting with Benedict on Friday. Actually, I can imagine PO reading it himself. There's definitely some quotable material in it for PO to use back home concerning certain pending legislation.
Speaking of President Obama, sure was nice to read that the US and the Russians have agreed to reduce nuclear armaments by one third. That's a good start to a nuclear free future. Maybe Benedict will give him some sort of honor for that--or maybe not.