European Elections and Evangelisation
From what worldview do we analyse?
In this year of European Union elections, our January editorial proposed the importance of voting on the basis of sufficient information and reflection, animated by a vision for our ‘common future’. Pope Francis’s document Evangelii Gaudium offers a challenging and refreshing perspective to inspire this reflection. The document seeks not ‘the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines’ but to penetrate the core of the Church’s public mission. For Francis, this core is double.
First: what counts above all is ‘faith working through love’; and this love is most completely expressed in mercy, ‘the greatest of the virtues, since all the others revolve around it’.
Second: ‘We have to state, without mincing words that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor’….‘May we never abandon them’. No stronger claim could be made than this: to abandon the poor is to abandon the faith.
These two core themes echo throughout Evangelii Gaudium. Being addressed to the universal Church, it lacks any explicit reference to the EU. But it calls Catholic citizens to rethink the nature and purpose of politics, including the EU’s election politics.
We may take just one example, the issue of economic growth. The EU’s declared ideal, for the year 2020, of ‘smart, sustainable and inclusive growth’ is ambiguous. Applied to the single adjective ‘inclusive’, it could mean that that we absolutely aim at growth (though we would prefer this growth to be inclusive). Alternatively it could mean that any model of growth that fails to be inclusive, that further widens social division, is invalid and should be rejected.
Francis’s position here is clear, since he argues passionately that equality is more important than growth. Trust in growth as such expresses ‘a crude and naive trust in those wielding economic power’, so that we end by ‘being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor’. He condemns the ‘practical relativism’ which ‘consists in acting as if God did not exist, making decisions as if the poor did not exist’. Strikingly, he binds together the elements of spirituality and of political ethics, just as Jesus declares inseparable the ‘two great commandments’.
In fact Francis proclaims a new commandment. ‘We have to say “Thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality.’ ‘As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems, or, for that matter, to any problems. Inequality is the root of social ills.’ This is because growth without social inclusion entails ‘a process of dehumanisation that would be hard to reverse’.
In another sense, he argues that it is less the poor who are dehumanised than those who exclude them. ‘Not only do they [people in poverty] share in the sensus fidei, but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelised by them’.
Elections focus our democratic responsibility to rectify that social and economic order which is - morally speaking - disorder: not by identifying some unblemished party or group, since none exists, but by mandating politics leaders to reshape public policy. To vote reflectively and ethically is to exercise our responsibility as citizens for the common good. But in Catholic thought there is no ‘common good’ without the good of the poor.
Frank Turner SJ