Heed the Pope’s wise warnings

Posted on July 20, 2015 in Inclusion Debates

TheStar.com – Opinion/Commentary – We seem to want our clergy to be priestly, not prophetic, but Pope Francis’s anti-consumerist prophecies ought to be carefully considered.
Jul 19 2015.   By: Dow Marmur, Columnist

Exponents of religion are most appreciated when they’re deemed to be irrelevant. As long as they stick to rituals and officiate at life-cycle events they can count on popular support. But when they criticize the injustices of their day by articulating their religious convictions they’re likely to be accused of meddling in politics.

We seem to want our clergy to be priestly, not prophetic, “spiritual” not theological and, of course, otherworldly.

That’s true in Judaism no less than in other faiths. It also applies to the Pope. As long as he’s a symbol of tradition and continuity he’s loudly applauded all over the world, not only by the 1.2 billion Catholics. But when he ventures to comment on current events in the way of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible or when he seeks to follow in the footsteps of Jesus the social critic, those who claim expertise in the relevant fields will soon tell him and us where and why he’s wrong.

I believe that that’s behind the current debate around the latest papal encyclical, Laudato Si. In its concern for the environment, it challenges our consumerist lifestyle and its capitalist underpinnings and it calls for alleviating poverty and misery in the world not just through charity but through radical social change.

Because many of those who nowadays occupy the pews of mainstream religion in this country and elsewhere belong to the privileged classes in society, they don’t like to be reminded of their responsibility for what’s happening outside their comfort zone. Therefore, they’re prone to dismiss religious leaders who speak truth to power as going outside their sphere of competence.

Much of the criticism against the encyclical seems to be of that ilk. The Pope would have been applauded if he told us to be more generous to the poor, but we don’t seem to like to be called upon to alleviate poverty by adopting responsible policies.

The most spirited defence of the encyclical that I’ve read to date has been authored by a Jew. Writing in the American-Jewish publication The Forward, its editor-at-large J.J. Goldberg reminds readers that though Laudato Si starts with climate change, it soon “goes into all the ills of consumerist, technology-driven society and the urgent need for humanity to find a new way of living in harmony with what he calls Sister Earth.”

One of the consequences of ignoring the papal analysis and not acting on it is that “much of what we call the war on terror is taking place in a dozen-and-a-half countries, most of them Muslim-majority, where climate change is leading to food scarcity, leaving populations angry and vulnerable to radical messages.”

Another dimension of the crisis in Asia and Africa is that “drought, famine and violence are driving a mass migration from these countries northward toward the beckoning economy of Europe.” About 3,000 such migrants are drowning annually en route.

The debate, according to Ross Douthat of The New York Times, is between dynamists who view ours as a successful civilization promising even better things in the future, and catastrophists who fear that we’ll become bankrupt and self-destructive.

Douthat cites “apocalyptic” lines from the encyclical: “Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth.”

The Hebrew Prophets were inveterate catastrophists. They only promised better times if the people accepted the truth and repented their evil ways. They were almost invariably right. Pope Francis, as he showed again during his recent visit to South America, follows in their footsteps. If we heed his call, redemption may indeed be at hand.

Dow Marmur is rabbi emeritus at Toronto’s Holy Blossom Temple.

< http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2015/07/19/heed-the-popes-wise-warnings-marmur.html >


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