While economists, politicians and “corporate citizens” alike regularly talk about sustainability as an economic and environmental necessity, Pope Francis has now upped the ante. Stepping again out of the comfort zone of the Vatican and into the fray of real world politics, the Pope provides a moral imperative against income inequality, which arguably is itself a threat to sustainability.
Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.
The Pope’s message delivered as part of the Evangelii Gaudium is a challenge against the notion of trickle down economics, in which the spoils of the rich are lauded by some as the means to an end of prosperity and justice for all.
In the true spirit of Christianity, the Pope urges that more focus be given to compassion for the poor and disadvantaged. It isn’t charity or socialism he’s lobbying for. His message is against a culture of indifference in which the rich and powerful are expected to win out. As in Rawl’s “A Theory of Justice”, the Pope makes the case that it is in the greater interest of society as a whole if there if the goals of liberty and equality can be reconciled. Indeed, many economists argue that inequality is a major deterrent to growth.
The Pope’s admonition is in line with his other messages in which he condemns the marginalization of the vulnerable and easily ostracized in society, including those “without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.” Instead, he argues for more tolerance and inclusion.
In the end, the Pope is not just advocating a utopian world view. His challenge is to achieve a more faithful approach, in which the needs of many are not ignored to the benefit of a privileged few. When he asked for our prayers, Pope Francis is giving us a wake up call. It is not only time for us to pray for him, but for each other. Only then can we be confident of a sustainable and rewarding future.