Reuters blog archive
from Edward Hadas:
“Go into the street, and give one man a lecture on morality, and another a shilling, and see which will respect you most.” Samuel Johnson said that in the 18th century, but the general preference for money over preaching is sufficiently strong and timeless that his wry quip remains pertinent. Most economists take Johnson’s sentiment too seriously. They assume that people always want more shillings and always resist wealth-denying morality. That is a serious error.
Consider, for example, the enthusiastic response from around the world to the material renunciations of Pope Francis. The crowds cheered when the new leader of the Catholic Church said he wanted a “poor Church for the poor”. His decision to stay in simple lodgings and wear simple clothes amounted to turning down shillings for the sake of giving a morality lecture, but few observers were bothered. On the contrary, it was welcomed as a pertinent comment on the excessively materialist values of modern society.
The need to be “for the poor” is eternal and universal. In every society there will always be people who cannot thrive without help from others. Despite Dr Johnson’s comment, the need for conscience-pricking discourses on the topic, papal and otherwise, is equally timeless. Otherwise, it would be too easy to find plausible but ultimately selfish reasons not to help out.
In the modern world, the challenge of being pro-poor is particularly difficult, because there are two distinct types of poverty: of the seriously poor and of the relatively rich. In poorer countries, including Francis’s native Argentina, poverty is often absolute: not enough to eat, squalid housing, no access to education. The poor there need Dr Johnson’s shillings. In rich countries, material poverty is only relative. Those called poor generally all have life’s necessities, but fewer comforts and luxuries than most of their compatriots. As Francis’s papal predecessors often suggested, this relative material deprivation is less significant than more intangible shortages: of opportunity and noble aspirations. The socially and spiritually deprived could benefit from something like Dr. Johnson’s “lectures on morality”.
from India Masala:
(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily of Reuters)
A couple of weeks ago, I watched a Marathi film called "Balak Palak" (Children and Parents). A new crop of film-makers is portraying the burgeoning Indian middle class with its own set of problems and "Balak Palak" is no different.
from Edward Hadas:
Thomas Carlyle’s fulminations against the spiritual damage wrought by factories are almost two centuries old, but the sentiment is current wherever industrialisation is rampant. “The huge demon of Mechanism,” he wrote, “smokes and thunders, panting at his great task, oversetting whole multitudes of workmen ... so that the wisest no longer knows his whereabout.”
In China, today, government leaders and dissidents alike worry that, as one commentator put it, “frenzied competition for a better life [has] lobotomized the people of inherent values like common decency, compassion and feelings of fellowship”.
The Catholic Church's failure to derail a gay marriage law in Argentina shows once powerful clergymen losing their influence in Latin America, where pressure is growing for more liberal social legislation. (Photo: Gay couple in Buenos Aires, November 25, 2009/Marcos Brindicci)
The law, which lets gay couples marry and adopt children, was approved last week to the cheers of hundreds of gay couples gathered outside Congress despite opposition from churchmen, who called gay families "perverse."
The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Father Joseph Fessio, S.J. is founder and editor of Ignatius Press, which is the primary English-language publisher of the works of Pope Benedict XVI and which has published several books by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn. He is also publisher of Catholic World Report magazine.
By Father Joseph Fessio, S.J.
Did Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna "attack" Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals and former Vatican secretary of state? If The Tablet weekly in London were your only source of information, you’d think so, because that’s what the headline screamed.
from The Great Debate (India):
(Pinky Anand is a Supreme Court lawyer who fought the case on behalf of Khushboo. The views expressed here are her own)
The recent Supreme Court judgement in Khushboo's case addresses interesting questions with far-reaching impact. In a short span, we have witnessed various episodes of moral policing ranging from violent physical attacks, to criminal complaints, to Public Interest Litigation (PILs) in courts.
In the ongoing financial crisis debate, many people think that unrestricted subprime loans, credit default swaps, astronomical bonuses, huge bank bailouts and other aspects of today's economy are somehow unfair or wrong. This issue is not only economic or political, it's also about ethics and morality, these people think. But that view doesn't get traction in our political discourse. Asking the big question about what is right/fair or wrong/unfair is not really debated. Sure, there are contrary views on this and any debate would be long and lively. But it doesn't really happen.
U.S. author Robert Wright traces the history of God and suggests that it might all point to the unfolding of something divine, though perhaps not in the sense that most people of faith would envision.
In his just published "The Evolution of God," Wright takes his readers on a thought-provoking journey through the spiritual beliefs of our hunter-gatherer ancestors to the development of the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. You can see my interview with Wright here.
Until not too long ago, most people believed human morality was based on scripture, culture or reason. Some stressed only one of those sources, others mixed all three. None would have thought to include biology. With the progress of neuroscientific research in recent years, though, a growing number of psychologists, biologists and philosophers have begun to see the brain as the base of our moral views. Noble ideas such as compassion, altruism, empathy and trust, they say, are really evolutionary adaptations that are now fixed in our brains. Our moral rules are actually instinctive responses that we express in rational terms when we have to justify them. (Photo: Religious activist at a California protest, 10 June 2005/Gene Blevins)
Thanks to a flurry of popular articles, scientists have joined the ranks of those seen to be qualified to speak about morality, according to anthropologist Mark Robinson, a Princeton Ph.D student who discussed this trend at the University of Pennsylvania's Neuroscience Boot Camp. "In our current scientific society, where do people go to for the truth about human reality?" he asked. "It used to be you might read a philosophy paper or consult a theologian. But now there seems to be a common public sense that the authority over what morality is can be found by neuroscientists or scientists."