Redeemer of Man — Critique of Society

The standard of love is the source for the Christian critique of society; what is called by many “social justice” concerns is but one part of a comprehensive critique of society . “Man’s situation is far removed from the objective demands of the moral order, from the requirements of justice, and even more of social love.” (§16) The economic system aims at multiplying things that people can use, and the advancement of persons is neglected. Man himself is subjected to manipulation “through the whole of organization of community life, through the production system and through pressures of social communication.” The result is that the person becomes a slave of things, the slave of his own products. There are many aspects of this new slavery. The worker is exploited by owners of capital or state business, the poor are left to languish is poverty despite abundance, and the consumer builds a life upon the disorder of avarice.

John Paul calls for greater sense of solidarity and efforts to include more people in the progress of society. John Paul references Paul VI’s great work On the Development of Peoples, the topic of his subsequent encyclical On Social concerns, and as did Benedict XVI in Truth in charity. Economic progress alone is partial standard which will “suffocate man, breaking up society.” §16

In later encyclicals, John Paul develops the critique of consumerism. Consumerism is one sign of the degradation which calls for a more authentic witness by Catholics in society today. As John Paul II continues his critique in the Gospel of Life he traces the denial of God and the loss of the respect for the creature to a degradation of man:

Man is no longer able to see himself as “mysteriously different” from other earthly creatures; he regards himself merely as one more living being, as an organism which, at most, has reached a very high stage of perfection. Enclosed in the narrow horizon of his physical nature, he is somehow reduced to being “a thing”, and no longer grasps the “transcendent” character of his “existence as man”. He no longer considers life as a splendid gift of God, something “sacred” entrusted to his responsibility and thus also to his loving care and “veneration”. Life itself becomes a mere “thing”, which man claims as his exclusive property, completely subject to his control and manipulation. (EV §22)

This is the cultural matrix of consumerism. The growth of consumerism is treated by Pope John Paul II in Centesimus Annus because it is put forward as an alternative to communist society. John Paul II defines consumerism in terms of the appeal to the material and instinctive over the spiritual and personal. It is a manifestation of culture, or an orientation towards the human good:

The manner in which new needs arise and are defined is always marked by a more or less appropriate concept of man and of his true good. A given culture reveals its overall understanding of life through the choices it makes in production and consumption. It is here that the phenomenon of consumerism arises. In singling out new needs and new means to meet them, one must be guided by a comprehensive picture of man which respects all the dimensions of his being and which subordinates his material and instinctive dimensions to his interior and spiritual ones. If, on the contrary, a direct appeal is made to his instincts — while ignoring in various ways the reality of the person as intelligent and free — then consumer attitudes and lifestyles can be created which are objectively improper and often damaging to his physical and spiritual health. Of itself, an economic system does not possess criteria for correctly distinguishing new and higher forms of satisfying human needs from artificial new needs which hinder the formation of a mature personality. (CA §36; see also §§40-41)

The impact of consumerism on the culture of death is more subtle and indirect. Consumerism reflects an attitude of practical materialism, for it neglects the spiritual for the material. Consumerism is caught up with what is “external” rather than “internal.” Consumerism emphasizes “having” over “being.” (EV §23; CA §36). The world is reduced to “things” which can be manipulated and possessed or disposed of for one’s personal satisfaction. The quest for truth, beauty, and communion with others are not part of this lifestyle. The first harmed by this attitude are the women and children, when the standard for value is efficiency, productivity and having..

Join us!

* indicates required