July 4, 2015, Independence Day
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Steering the Catholic Church away from financial and pedophile scandals and refocusing on the poor has catapulted Pope Francis to astonishing popularity. What is there not to like? This man deserves respect by all of humanity.
In my books about the social economics of religion, I pointed at the power of religious organizations for positive change if they were only to refocus their messages on real issues. Now Pope Francis stepped out of the comfort zone of the Catholic Church in order to promote environmental issues. While this should be welcomed, caution is justified, for the speaker crosses from his closed religious sect into the world’s community. Understandably, he wants to be a participant in the issues that matter most today.
While the pope’s positive message renders rational criticism delicate, he packs it with a call to economic passivism and the abolishment of individualism, which is nothing less than an invitation to humanitarian disaster and more systemic poverty.
The pope is the CEO of the world’s largest religious business. Like any other large organization that finds itself in crisis, Francis is attempting a turnaround of the decline in paying membership. For this, he has chosen to refocus the dialogue away from scandals to a popular message of environmentalism. Despite the landslide away from religiosity, he might as well become successful.
From a perspective of an economist that specializes on poverty and religious organizations, the Laudato Si’ by Pope Francis represents an emotional appeal to help the poor through taking care of the environment. In reality, it invites systemic poverty, a background that fosters religiosity. Behind the message of ‘love,’ particularly directed at gullible young minds, hides a mindset that despises the progress that came about through individualism and technological advancements. He also opposes the freedom for individuals to decide for themselves what joy in life means to them.
The pope proposes limits to growth by the wealthy, reduction of consumption by the masses, and a new kind of inquisition that approves of technological and social progress.
He believes that imposing limitations would help both the environment and the poor. He overlooks that it is exactly the growth of the industrialized nations that enabled a drastic reduction of extreme poverty in many poor nations.
The fallout in Greece should be a warning for those that attempt to heal economies or the planet with austerity. Likewise, he appears to miss that taking care of the environment happens to be an unintended consequence of advanced and wealthy societies that also show low levels of religiosity. Rich nations can afford to shoulder the cost from their new lifestyle of changing polluting habits.
His proposed distributive environmental care clashes with the experience of the last decades of having created a global network of welfare entitlement. Instead of enabling more poor nations to join the global economic community, his recipe would create increased competitive disad-vantages for those most in need.
The message that humanity can no longer plunder its planet strikes a popular note. However, that topics are being politicized is not only a clear sign that they have already crossed the threshold of popularity but also that change has long been on its way. When the church joins, we know that a concern is already so deeply embedded in culture that opponents are ridiculed. Even Cuba’s Communist revolutionary Fidel Castro rec-ognized the threat to the planet by ecological destruction 25 years before Pope Francis focused on environmental issues with his LAUDATO SI’.
The pope not only jumps onto the environmental bandwagon very late but also with a hidden agenda that becomes apparent when examining his social prescriptions. He does not so out of genuine care for earth but in the interest of getting his organization’s message through to his target groups. It is world class marketing at its finest.
However, he seems to have neglected to swearing-in his lower ranks out in the field. Sunday masses were largely absent of a message that the clergy is entirely unaccustomed with.
This is not to say that the global environment should be deprived of protection or the poor should be disregarded. Quite the contrary. However, the pope’s message helps to induce a hatred of mankind against everyone that does not share the same religious world-view. At the same time, the most stubborn deniers of climate change and thus the hardest roadblocks for change come from the religious camp.
The positive in the pope’s approach is that he lifts protecting the environment to a moral issue and connects it with their impact on the poor; the negative is that he combines it with his religious mission that includes the glorification of poverty and the abandonment of individualism.