In the early 2000s, I spent two years working for the Peace Corps, teaching subsistence farmers modern beekeeping practices to produce honey for consumption and sale. Despite the time and distance, I have continued to maintain close relationships with many of the desperately poor people with whom I worked. Because of my experience abroad—living first for years first in Paraguay and then Senegal, West Africa—I have long maintained a nagging sense that modern Western culture has a general apathy toward those in material poverty.
In short, it is my experience that Americans seem to care more about the daily vacillations of stock market than about the plight of those overseas who have unjustly been excluded from world markets.
This Pope gets it: The modern bourgeoisie need a swift kick in the butt. We need to break out of our comfortable cocoon of apathy—not only because loving your neighbor is the way to salvation—but also because apathy oftentimes breeds an unconscious complicity in the exploitation of the poor.
And while Pope Francis clearly has a heart for the poor—in much the same way I do—I am also very troubled by the overall economic incoherence of his message. For example, there is a passage in the encyclical, which explores the type of rural poverty that I experienced in Paraguay: