Bishop's Blog

Building a Better World Order

“The global economy must be humanized.”

The cornerstone of the Church’s social teaching is the dignity of the person. The human person must always be an end and not a means, a subject and not an object or a commodity of trade.

Regrettably we are seeing the emergence of patterns of ethical thinking which are by products of globalization and which bear the stamp of utilitarianism. Ethical values, however, cannot be dictated by technological innovations, engineering or efficiency; they are grounded in the very nature of the human person.

Ethics cannot be the justification or legitimation of a system, but rather the safeguard of all that is human in any system. Ethics demands that systems be attuned to the needs of persons, and not that persons be sacrificed for the sake of the system. All political and economic systems must be tested by what they do to and for the dignity of the person.

The notion of personal human dignity must then be matched with the concept of a universal human community. The fundamental moral unit we must be concerned about is the “human being-in-community.”

Between the person and the community lies the fabric of rights and duties. The Church measures and directs that fabric by a series of refined specific concepts, eg: the common good and the option for the poor. Subsidiarity and solidarity are necessary virtues for an interdependent world.

It is often overlooked, but in our own times the Church is becoming less political and more social in nature—less political in the sense that an appreciative understanding of religious liberty cuts the Church free from many relationships with states that had kept it in thrall to state power; more social in that the Church, free politically, can now be more deeply involved in the social arena.

The Church can show its love for the world by its willingness to dialogue with the world. Dialogue, of course, means not thinking one knows everything. The Church has something to teach. It is a source of moral wisdom and insight derived from living in the world and speaking about its condition, but it also has much to learn.

Social justice has not only to do with truth, but also with energy, with motivation for the quest. For a Christian, both justice and motivation for seeking it, are grounded in the equality of all persons before God and in our respect for nature as also God’s child. A new world order can never be imposed by force of any kind, but must win the world’s heart by its own intrinsic moral merit.

Before making practical plans, we need to promote a spirituality of communion. A spirituality of communion indicates above all the heart’s contemplation of the mystery of the Trinity dwelling in us, and whose light we must also be able to see shining on the face of the brothers and sisters around us. A spirituality of communion also means an ability to think of our brothers and sisters in faith within the profound unity of the Mystical Body, and therefore as those who are a part of me. This makes us able to share their joys and sufferings, to sense their desires and attend to their needs, to offer them deep and genuine friendship. A spirituality of communion implies also the ability to see what is positive in others, to welcome it and prize it as a gift from God—not only as a gift for the brother or sister who has received it directly—but also as a gift for me. A spirituality of communion means, finally, to know how to “make room” for our brothers and sisters, bearing “each other’s burdens” [Gal 6:2] and resisting the selfish temptations which constantly beset us and provoke competition, careerism, distrust and jealousy.

Let us have no illusions: unless we follow this spiritual path, external structures of communion will serve very little purpose. They would become mechanisms without a soul, “masks” of communion rather than its means of expression and growth” [Novo Millennio Ineunte #43].

Much of the debate about building a new world order focuses on trade, third world debt and terrorism.

Trade has been described as the issue of social justice. It is not difficult to understand why. The trade contract, in its basic form, is like the wage contract: if it starts with equality, it can end up with equal distribution or at least proportionate distribution; but if it starts with structural inequality, then adjustments have to be made in the structure of trade relationships.

The market is a valuable way of organizing economic life but it is not a self-sufficient way; the market may produce efficiency, but it will not necessarily produce justice. Those who have no resources to bring to the market simply cannot gain anything from it. And the market itself does not know how to value all goods. It treats them equally, but they are not equal. Health care is not the same as selling cars. And precisely because the market is limited, it needs a social structure of policy surrounding it.

One important moral measure of economic growth must be how well it is shared, especially among the most needy populations. We have ourselves recently experienced the fact that a rising tide does not necessarily lift all boats, since Canadian poverty rates have risen in times of economic growth.

Consequently, discussions about wider free trade agreements ought to give as much priority to labour and social development as it gives to the protections of investors and financiers. Rather than attempting to spread deeply flawed agreements to new areas, the leaders of the nations need to return to the drawing board and design a model of economic integration that works for the continent’s working people.

The global economy must be humanized. In Ecclesia in America, Pope John Paul II pointed out that: “... if globalization is ruled merely by the laws of the market applied to suit the powerful, the consequences cannot but be negative. These are, for example, the absolutizing of the economy, unemployment, the reduction and deterioration of public services, the destruction of the environment and natural resources, the growing distance between the rich and poor, unfair competition which puts poorer nations in a situation of ever increasing inferiority.”

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

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