"Greed is good " Gordon Gekko, the name of an unscrupulous Wall Street financier who is the main character in the film Wall Street , 1987.
"When those at the helm are motivated by purely selfish ends, instruments that are good in themselves can be transformed into harmful ones. But it is mans darkened reason that produces these consequences " Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate ("Love in Truth "), 2007.
A New Christian Humanism and Social Justice?
The "age of greed" is over. It ended today.
A new and better age was heralded yesterday in Rome, an age no longer of "darkened reason," but of humble wisdom. Pope Benedict XVI heralded the beginning of this possible new age of social and economic justice with his encyclical Caritas in Veritate ("Love in Truth"), released at noon July 7, 2009, about four hours ago, in Rome.
It is unclear how this age will develop and unfold, and whether it will flourish, or not
Reports are already being posted on the internet about the encyclicals content, about whether it is a call for a new level of global "governance" to control financial excesses (it is ), or is an "anti-capitalism" manifesto (it is not ), but the main point, I think, is the one contained in the two quotations above.
This is what, in essence, the Pope is saying: if a society embraces the false but seductive idea that a selfish passion (in this case, greed ) can be a solid, enduring and humane basis for the organizing of human affairs (as Western society since 1987, has done , against its own deepest principles ) that society is doomed to the frustration of its deepest hopes and longings, and must change course.
Benedict does not wish the deepest hopes and longings of men and women to be frustrated.
He wishes human society to provide at least the opportunity for rich and fulfilling human lives, with the joy of family life, with productive work, without excessive anxiety over material cares worry about not making the rent at the end of the month, or not having good medical care for a feverish child
He wants a world where men and women can be simply be what Irenaeus spoke of: "man alive the glory of God."
This is the "new humanism" Benedict has set forth, quite dramatically, just prior to the July 8-10 G8 meeting of world leaders a few miles from here, in Aquila, Italy (the meeting begins today, and will include US President Barack Obama)
It is a generous, expansive, confident humanism set over against the selfish humanism of Gordon Gekko and all the rest of those who in our age have embraced Gekkos creed.
The Pope writes in his encyclical:
"The human being develops when he grows in the spirit, when his soul comes to know itself and the truths that God has implanted deep within, when he enters into dialogue with himself and his Creator. When he is far away from God, he is unsettled and ill at ease.
Social and psychological alienation and the many neuroses that afflict affluent societies are attributable in part to spiritual factors. A prosperous society, highly developed in material terms but weighing heavily on the soul, is not of itself conducive to authentic development.
The new forms of slavery to drugs and the lack of hope into which so many people fall can be explained not only in sociological and psychological terms but also in essentially spiritual terms. The emptiness in which the soul feels abandoned, despite the availability of countless therapies for body and psyche, leads to suffering.
There cannot be holistic development and universal common good unless peoples spiritual and moral welfare is taken into account, considered in their totality as body and soul (Paragraph 76 , divisions mine).
Profit is useful if it serves as a means toward an end, the Pope wrote. But "once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty.
A Bloomberg news report today put the encyclical in this context:
The Popes reflections on capitalism were two years in the making and publication was held up when the credit crunch crippled the world economy. Benedict said last month the crisis shows "how the economic and financial paradigms that have been dominant in recent years must be rethought.
Italian Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti said November 20 that the Pope was the first to predict the crisis in the global financial system, referring to a prophecy in a paper Benedict wrote when he was a cardinal. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict in April 2005
Ratzinger in 1985 presented a paper entitled Market Economy and Ethics at a Rome event dedicated to the Church and the economy. He said a decline in ethics can actually cause the laws of the market to collapse.
Pope Benedict has made frequent comments on the economy since the beginning of the financial crisis. In an Oct. 7 speech, he reflected on crashing markets and concluded that money vanishes, it is nothing and warned that the only solid reality is the word of God (Italics mine. For full text of the Bloomberg report click here ).
The theme of Pope Benedicts first encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love) of December 2005 was love and the theme of the second encyclical Spe Salvi (Saved by Hope), of November 2007, was hope.
(Note: In the text below, I have not put in all the italics in the text, which one can find if one goes to the Vatican web site where the text is posted .)