Voices October 13, 2020
Pope wants us to imitate the Good Samaritan, not leftism
In the digital age, the Pope makes an impact not just with encyclicals. He also does TED Talks.
In sync with his new encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis has also delivered a new TED Talk from Vatican City: “Our moral imperative to act on climate change – and 3 steps we can take.”
His message is a great summary of what needs to be done to care for our common home. First, better educate people in both science and ethics.
Second, feed the poor by securing water as a human right and by implementing non-destructive farming practices.
Third, stop investment in companies that do not serve environmental sustainability.
How is it that there can be such a vicious opposition to Pope Francis on such basic principles of justice?
The answer came to me recently, as I have been reading Cynthia Haven’s edited collection of interviews Conversations with René Girard: Prophet of Envy.
Her collection showcases how remarkably witty and engaging Girard was in serious intellectual conversation.
In his life’s work, Girard explored the simple but powerful idea of imitation. People do what they do because they imitate the desires of others.
If people do not stop to reflect on how this principle of mimetic desire is always at work in their own lives, then they are inevitably led into conflict and eventually outright violence.
It is highly revealing to see this principle at work among the critics of Pope Francis.
They keep on recycling a pattern of thought that divides the world into the reductive political categories of “left” and “right.”
This cycle of destructive imitation is visible in the misguided voices on the internet who smear Francis as a leftist bent on implementing some kind of utopian political ideology.
In truth, the Pope is a faithful teacher of the Gospel, calling us to serve the poor in the same way that Jesus taught us to.
But these misguided voices think they need to correct Francis, as if they are somehow more authoritative guides than the Vicar of Christ for interpreting tradition.
The strange version of Catholicism they have constructed for themselves is so ridiculous it is beyond satire.
They think they are truer to the Gospel than Francis when, in opposition to him, they promote the death penalty, the military-industrial complex, and an unrestrained market economy polluting the planet.
That they can invent this bizarro version of faith, which literally turns the message of Jesus upside down, is a testament to the invisible power of imitation.
The internet creates an echo chamber where these critics all imitate each other, repeating the same nonsense ad nauseam.
It’s a never-ending typhoon of invective and abuse heaped upon Pope Francis, but they somehow lack the self-awareness to see how insanely contorted their thinking is.
Francis himself in Fratelli Tutti identifies how, in wealthy countries, the destructive “craze to mimic others” has ensnared their citizens in empty thought patterns:
“One effective way to weaken historical consciousness, critical thinking, the struggle for justice and the processes of integration is to empty great words of their meaning or to manipulate them. Nowadays, what do certain words like democracy, freedom, justice or unity really mean? They have been bent and shaped to serve as tools for domination, as meaningless tags that can be used to justify any action” (FT 14).
Further, the destructive imitation spreads, as poor countries seek to imitate the domination and prosperity of wealthier countries: “A shallow and pathetic desire to imitate others leads to copying and consuming in place of creating, and fosters low national self-esteem” (FT 51).
The Pope, however, turns to the historical record found in Scripture about the only sure way out of this planet-wide inferno of narrow-mindedness:
“The desire to imitate God’s own way of acting gradually replaced the tendency to think only of those nearest us: ‘The compassion of man is for his neighbour, but the compassion of the Lord is for all living beings’ (Sir 18:13)” (FT 59).
Francis thus focuses on what Jesus himself teaches us with his parable of the Good Samaritan: “In the face of so much pain and suffering, our only course is to imitate the Good Samaritan. Any other decision would make us either one of the robbers or one of those who walked by without showing compassion for the sufferings of the man on the roadside.
“The parable shows us how a community can be rebuilt by men and women who identify with the vulnerability of others, who reject the creation of a society of exclusion, and act instead as neighbours, lifting up and rehabilitating the fallen for the sake of the common good” (FT 67).
The Pope is right. The richest 1% own half the world’s wealth. The bottom 50% have next to nothing: 0.4%.
So, worry about this leftism: Who’s been left to suffer and die?