23 July 2013

The Moral Consequences of Money, Power & Poverty - Or Why the Pope's Got It Wrong

APARECIDA, Brazil (AP) — Pope Francis made an emotional plea Wednesday for Roman Catholics
to shun materialism in the first public Mass of his initial international trip as pontiff ... [His] encounters
 had a common theme that the humble pope has stressed during his young papacy: a denunciation
of the "ephemeral idols" of money and power and a need for the Catholic Church to focus on
the poor and outcasts of society.

As lovely as these sentiments may sound, they are the reason that when the West was most attentive to the pope it was most backwards and conditions were most evil. Small children rarely die from malice; more often they die from living in undeveloped communities where there is a lackf of money and power to change reality - what the pope calls ephemeral idols. Whether it is telling women in developed nations to not use contraceptives or telling poor countries to ignore economic progress, what the pope advocates makes the world worse, not better.

Earlier this month dozens of school children died from eating food that contained pesticide. The police have issued an arrest warrant for the headmistress. She's married to the man who supplied the bad food. And this may indeed be a particularly vile example of corruption, the pursuit of profits at the risk of innocent lives. I think that the real culprit is thwarted progress.

In poor communities -whether we're talking about 17th century France or 21st century Democratic Republic of the Congo - life is cheap simply because there is no money. You can't spend $1,000 for safeguards for a single life when that life represents an income of less than $1,000 a year. The money simply is not there.

To me, this suggests that progress is a moral issue. Policies that thwart progress are not just bad policies in the sense that they get the wrong results; they are bad in the same sense that you'd scold your dog for being bad after chewing your expensive shoes. Progress has a moral component for the simple reason that stalled progress makes tragedies like this one that killed so many Indian school children are more probable in less developed communities.

Someone like Mother Teresa shows a particular nobility by ministering to the poor. That's wonderful. It's much better, though, to take steps that aid in progress, making the people themselves live more like nobility.

It's easier to vilify a headmistress than poverty but no gaggle of headmistresses has ever killed more people, robbed more years, than poverty. And there is no reason to benignly accept poverty any more than we would benignly accept a mass murderer. Even if it means pursuing "ephemeral idols" like power and money.

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