Friday, 24 August 2012

The world's biggest problem

If you ask a hundred people what is the biggest problem facing the world today, you'll get a hundred very different answers. The economic crisis (and the failure of politicians to address it). The ecological crisis, which threatens life on earth (or at least our quality of life and ability to sustain a large human population). The collapse of the traditional family. Sexual morality and the spread of pornography. Oppression of women (still). Warmongering. Under-development and inability to cope with natural and man-made disasters in the third world (plagues, floods, earthquakes, civil war). Over-development and ageing populations in the West. Centralized planning and bloated bureaucracies. Too little centralized planning. Arms spending and the proliferation of WMDs. Terrorism that just won't go away. Religion. The wrong kind of religion. Lack of leadership. The possibility that the masses will turn to strong leaders. Human selfishness. And so on.

We all want to be part of the solution, not the problem, but the solution to which problem? All of them at the same time? We can't keep all of them in our minds, let alone investigate each one in turn. Yet there are certain underlying factors, and common threads, and you'd think more people would be interested in finding out what those are. Catholic social teaching is about these underlying factors and how to respond to the multi-demensional crisis, but because it has the word "Catholic" attached, it is easy to pigeonhole and ignore. Think of it instead as an attempt by the largest, longest-surviving, and most vibrant intellectual tradition in the world to find out what it means to be human, and how all of us can live in harmony and peace with our neighbours and the environment. That, surely, is a bit harder to dismiss.

It starts not from a set of commandments, although these may be used to codify the social teaching under certain headings. It starts, really, from the question of who or what we are and what we are doing here. Call it an "anthropology" if you like. The short answer to that question is simple enough: we are made in the image of love, to love and to become happy. We all know that love is what makes life worth living. We all seek happiness. The complications come in when we try to do it. Why is life so complicated? If we were just material creatures, squabbling over physical comforts and reproduction rights, we would have to settle for that. But we cannot be content with what we can grab. We are always seeking something more. Our desires are infinite. It is that burning discontent that complicates our animal condition.

"By Nature, Man is Relation to the Infinite" was the title of this year's Rimini Meeting. To see how this can lead to a new way of thinking about our relation to Christ as the "face" of the infinite, read some of the brief talks in the "News" section. But if you are allergic to talk about Christ, you can still find something helpful in Catholic social teaching, because these are guidelines not about religious belief but about human behaviour and achieving the right balance in our lives between the personal good and the common good, between central planning and local responsibility, between kindness and economics. In other words it is about reconciling our responsibilities to past and present, near and far, old and young, friend and stranger, human and animal. If you don't believe me, read Chapter 4 of the Church's Compendium of Social Teaching, or explore all these ideas further either on this blog or on the parent site, Second Spring ECONOMY.

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