Thursday 23 January 2014

Pope Francis and the Throwaway Culture

Bl. Pope John Paul II warned the West of the 'Culture of Death'
Pope Benedict XVI often lamented, as did Blessed Pope John Paul II the Culture of Death, a culture endemic in the West that rejected in principle the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life.

Movement away from 'the Gospel of Life'?

Both Popes placed this culture in contrast to the Gospel of Life heralded by the Catholic Church. Benedict XVI was keen to continue this theme in the Church's mission of evangelisation. For both Popes this formed a distinct base for Catholic social teaching, recognising that without adherence to fundamental principles concerning the defence of human life, marriage and the family, Western society sowed the seeds of its own destruction. Likewise, Benedict XVI had a desire to place together, as his predecessor, the politically charged issues of abortion, human embryology, IVF, divorce, artificial contraception, assisted suicide and euthanasia, homosexual unions and the modern phenomenom of homosexual 'marriage', as well as other features of modern relationships. The Church's confrontation of this culture that fails to show respect for man, made 'in the image and likeness of God', has always brought it sharp and angry criticism from mass media, politicians and also civil society.

Pope Francis seems to have abandoned this confrontational analysis of society's ills, but is it really true that it has been totally 'dropped'? Perhaps this is not entirely the case for, instead, Pope Francis has opted to present some of the destructive evils that confront Western society (and the World as a whole) in a new light, describing the disposable nature of human life and human dignity in terms of a 'throwaway culture'. With the rhetorical teaching shift from attacking the 'culture of death' to the 'throwaway culture', it can certainly be argued that some hot political and social issues have yet to be included in the new Pontiff's analysis of what threatens modern man. It remains mysterious why this should be the case.

Are certain unpopular areas of concern being abandoned?

To date Pope Francis has not, for example, mentioned human embryology and IVF, despite the Catholic Church's traditional defence of human life 'from conception to natural death'. On a few occasions, including in his Apostolic Exhortation, the Successor of St Peter has, however, lamented abortion as an aspect of a 'throwaway culture'.

Within this context, he has also mentioned homelessness, poverty, the loneliness and isolation of the elderly, youth unemployment, the waste of food and the destruction of the environment and positioned the 'throwaway culture' as an unfortunate feature of modern capitalism. In actual fact, it would appear that endemic consumerism is the perhaps the real target of Francis's concern since it is consumerism that fosters our sorrowful tendency to put a price on human life and dignity.

Pope Benedict XVI and Blessed Pope John Paul II presented with regularity the Church's vision of the family. Both were defenders of marriage and the family, upholding these institutions as bulwarks against 'progressive' strands of thought that taught a new moral relativism, as well as new (and not so new) ideologies, that saw both marriage and the family as archaic traditions that either required updating or tearing down. At the very least, until the pontificate of Francis, the Church has stood more or less alone against the re-definition of marriage and in support of the family unit as the fundamental cell - the rock upon which is built a truly flourishing society.

With the decision to drop the Church's opposition to the 'culture of death', while retaining in his denouniciation of the 'throwaway culture', one or two issues included in the previous papal theme, it would appear not so much that Francis is an 'emperor without clothing', but that His Holiness cuts a figure of a man who has made a conscious decision not to wear the same clothing as that of his predecessors. This would appear, so far to be true, both literally and metaphorically in terms of his teaching.

Will Pope Francis include other divisive aspects of the 'culture of death' in the 'throwaway culture'?

It remains to be seen whether Francis will decide to include other aspects of the culture of death that deserve to be placed within the new context of a throwaway culture. In striving to create a culture of 'solidarity' with the weakest and most vulnerable, as well as a 'culture of encounter' which stands in opposition to the 'throwaway culture' there seems to be no objective reason why the issue of euthanasia and assisted suicide, for example, should not be included, since what kind of society 'throws out' the sanctity of human life so much that it wishes to deprive the terminally ill and elderly, sick, weak and infirm of life itself, for economic or political advantage?

One can easily see a parallel between the culture of death and a 'throwaway society' in which human life and the traditional concept of the family is discarded and dismissed as being without value. How sad it was, then, to see only Cardinal Raymond Burke, who has recently been dismissed from the Congregation for Bishops, as the only prelate supporting Manif pour Tous, the French-originated movement in defence of true and natural marriage between one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others. Is the defence of marriage in its sacramental and civil realities something that the new pontificate is prepared to 'drop' in exchange for a Church that is seen as less divisive and critical of the modern cultural landscape? Or is this an aspect of the 'throwaway society' that Pope Francis will come to critique during his pontificate?

Last man standing: Cardinal Burke at Rome's 'Manif pour Tous'
Crisis Magazine's Arland K. Nichols recently criticised the very same 'throwaway culture' with regard to 'reproductive medicine'. Again, only in a society in which consumerism is so rampant and respect for human life is so disregarded, could that same society tolerate the destruction of so many human embryos in IVF, each one a human life. Human embryology, as this report from China shows, puts a definitive price on human life and always degrades and destroys human life in the process.

Divorce, also, is now so frequent that modern society is creating a new generation of children for whom stable and loving homes and families will be alien concepts never, or rarely experienced by the majority. Studies have shown the destruction caused by separation and particularly divorce to children of parents who do so, with the vast majority of prisoners and young offenders coming from homes that are tragically 'broken'.

Studies have also shown the psychological damage done to children of homes in which mothers and fathers break the bonds of marriage. In each case, the family unit, as well as the bond of love between husband and wife have been 'throw away'. The lives of co-habiting couples have been shown to be particularly vulnerable to marriage break-up later on. Homosexual and lesbian 'unions' threaten the very understanding of marriage that underpins Western civilization, a trend that could see the family itself being redefined, with the time-tested, natural family being seen as merely an 'option' among other 'options'. These unions also 'throw-away' the natural rights of children to mothers and fathers, rather than a restrictive replacement for paternal and maternal care, as well as their rights to natural human development in the context of a loving home in which natural, healthy, human relationships are lived out daily. Forms of artificial contraception are known to kill nascent human life in its earliest stage, with human embryos being thrown or even 'flushed' away.

The Church in Temptation

It would be a great shame and a poisonous temptation for the Catholic Church in the modern era to fail to speak out in defence of human life, human dignity, natural marriage and the family in exchange for a new relationship with the World that permitted greater respect for the Church so long as She remains silent on certain issues, or fails to uphold the Truth of Her Infallible Teachings on issues that touch upon the life of every man, every woman and every child, born and unborn, in the 21st century. A new Pope has created a new dynamic and a new understanding in a 'Brave New World'. Will Francis be brave enough, however, to hold fast to the determined and heroic efforts made by his predecessors to uphold the dignity of human life as well as those institutions and concepts that safeguard each and every generation from the one to the next?

There is no doubt that those social evils mentioned by Francis deserve to be placed in his new theme of the 'throwaway' culture, but the Church stands traditionally in defence of all human life, as well as the family which nurtures and protects it. We should pray, and earnestly so, that His Holiness Pope Francis includes all at risk from the consumerism that threatens to reshape mankind along economic principles only and that sees both man, woman and child as items, products which can become so easily regarded as disposable. It would surely be a scandal, in the face of such trends, for the Church and especially the Pope, to remain silent.

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