I recently spoke with journalist Antonio Gaspari of the the Zenit news agency about Caritas in Veritate. Here’s the interview that Zenit published:
Kishore Jayabalan: Development Involves “Breathing Space”
ROME, JULY 10, 2009 (Zenit.org).- An Acton Institute director is explaining the importance of “Caritas in Veritate” for India and China, and is pointing out the innovative ideas of Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical.
Kishore Jayabalan is the director of the Acton Institute’s Rome office. He is a former analyst for the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, where he dealt with environmental and disarmament issues and served as a desk officer for English-speaking countries.
In this interview with ZENIT, he spoke about Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical, which was released to the public Tuesday.
ZENIT: What is your overall opinion of the encyclical “Caritas in Veritate?”
Jayabalan: My very first reaction was that it is long and not an easy document to read quickly and summarize. But as I have been reading and re-reading it, I am starting to appreciate its vast scope and significance.
The moral and ethical basis for the market economy is very often neglected.
Even its supporters tend to make utilitarian arguments in favor of the market, while opponents tend to blame the free exchange of goods and services for all kinds of cultural phenomena which have little to do with economics itself.
When things are going well and everyone is making money, no one wants to hear about greed and materialism. But once the bubble bursts, everyone seems to become a moralist and a prophet with amazing hindsight.
This is what Benedict has referred to in other places as “cheap moralism,” one which takes no account of the technical workings of the economy but reminds us of the need to make ethics more integral to our everyday lives. So in this encyclical, the pope realizes it makes no sense to issue condemnations that a child can make.
Instead he has chosen to engage us spiritually and intellectually, with an “adult faith” as he said recently.
The fruits of this encyclical will come once experts in the fields of finance and economics attempt to apply this new way of thinking and acting.
ZENIT: What are the points that you have most appreciated, or what ideas are most innovative in the encyclical?
Jayabalan: Because I used to work on environmental questions at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, I appreciated the section on the environment, which criticized both the abuse as well as the worship of creation.
In many ways, environmental issues are intellectual at their core because they require us to think about and differentiate between the Creator and his order of creation.
The call for a closer relationship between respect for human life — especially procreation — social justice, and international development was also much appreciated.
One of the innovative aspects in my mind was the Pope’s use of the term “breathing-space” (respiro) in numbers 3, 11 and 20.
The first time it is used to describe how truth rescues charity from fideism, in other words, from a deterministic view of faith that negates human freedom.
The second time the context is that of eternal life, which requires us to recognize “higher goods,” those beyond the accumulation of wealth.
The third case presents the various aspects of integral human development that give “breathing-space and direction” to our social activities. Allowing for “breathing-space” seems to be an argument against central planning and control, and an innovative way of understanding the spiritual aspects of human reason and freedom.
ZENIT: What reaction has the United States had to the encyclical?
Jayabalan: The reaction in the United States has been very mixed.
Some critics of the market economy see it as an attack against capitalism, which it is only to the extent that capitalism exists outside the realms of law, politics and morality — a mythical situation and certainly one that does not describe the banking and financial sectors of today.
Some, like the New York Times, think Benedict is calling for a “New World Economic Order,” not just in a moral or ethical sense but also structurally.
Still others are trying to make sense of how the encyclical affects the day-to-day operations of business and finance. Considering that the encyclical is a few days old, it is obviously too early to know this.
ZENIT: Do you know how India has reacted to the encyclical?
Jayabalan: I don’t know since I haven’t been there in the last few days. But I would imagine that in countries like India and China, which have experienced so much growth over the last 20 years, there might be both some agreement about the human costs of purely economic growth as well as a little bit of resentment and annoyance that the critics of capitalism — those who interpret the Pope to be such a critic, primarily — want to draw up the bridge to material progress before others can join them as developed nations.
The words of the Pope on the sanctity of all human life, especially at its earliest stages and regardless of gender, within the context of international development should also be welcome in countries like India and China that have often been the target of population control advocates.
Many of these advocates base their argument on the concept of “sustainable development” and represent [non-governmental organizations] and international institutions located in and funded by the developed nations.
The Pope’s advocacy of religious freedom as a contributor to the common good ought to resonate where the Church has recently come under attack and persecution for preaching her mission.
ZENIT: The encyclical indicates that the demographic collapse and the reduction of births is a central cause of the economic crisis. What is your opinion on this?
Jayabalan: The anti-birth mentality is a real phenomenon all over the world.
I’ve already mentioned anti-natal efforts in China and India, but as far as I know, there is not one nation in the world that has an increasing fertility rate.
In some European countries such as Italy and Spain, the rate is so low that the native population is on its way to collective extinction.
This is of course bad per se, but it also has very bad social and economic consequences, such as serious strains on pension systems and housing markets.
In fact, David P. Goldman, an associate editor at the journal First Things has attributed demographic causes to economic depressions, especially when there are too many elderly savers and not enough productive, entrepreneurial borrowers (see his article “Demographics and Depression” in the May 2009 issue).
As the Canadian columnist Mark Steyn has argued, once populations lose the primal instinct to reproduce, they also lose the will to defend themselves, create wealth and generally improve society.
Pope Benedict does not use the exact same language in his new encyclical, but he seems to agree with the general analysis.