Lesson 1: Fratelli Tutti

I intend to examine Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, in the next few weeks believing that he offers an extremely important guideline for our troubled times. People have pretty much missed the challenge he makes to world views taken for granted in our current society, perhaps because they have difficulty getting beyond the burdensome Roman Catholic prose.

I invite you to read the encyclical looking for the main thoughts and avoiding getting bogged down in the writing style. And I suggest you read it asking what changes have to be made if we accept his ideas.

Over and over, he makes clear he is not calling for refining or improving what we are doing but rather starting over with new perspectives and standards. He claims love inspires new ways for approaching our problems that involve renewing the structures and assumptions of our systems.

When the Pope speaks of universal fraternity and social friendship, he refers to love serving as the Christian standard not only for personal relationships but also for societal and global institutions. He repeatedly maintains this means Christians test every project whether religious, social, political, or economic by whether it takes into consideration the poor and the vulnerable.

This challenges the many versions of the Two Kingdoms Theory that we have come to accept as intelligent arrangements. That doctrine, often associated with Martin Luther’s theology, maintains God operates by different standards in different realms. The one usually cited could be roughly summarized as love serves in the church but power in the civil government. Many modern Christians regard Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society as an interpretation that works in our time.

The challenge to present day economic theory is resisted even more strenuously. That theory associated with Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics argues love can inspire individuals to share what they have but businesses should operate by the profit motive alone. Purists believe that means we should impose no regulations at all on corporations.

As soon as the encyclical was published, many accused the Pope of being a socialist. Members of the “Christian Wrong” suggested he is being used unwittingly by an international secret group that wants to reset the world.

The Pope does want to reset the world but not in the style of this conspiracy theory. He believes, correctly I think, that our present policies have created a sick society. He does not advocate any particular social, political, or economic program to heal this but rather calls for all of us to explain honestly, compassionately, and intelligently how our projects really do serve love for all the people in the long run.

In the coming weeks I want to examine more deeply his ideas for how this can be done.

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