The Critical Discourse of the Church – 32 September 2015
It’s only through a change of mind and heart that we can break habits and passions that make our society sick. The economic and moral crisis that has arisen in most nations and states is linked to obvious root causes which have a name and particular forms. I would limit myself to noting four of the roots of corruption, which is the mother of the economic crisis.
1. Avarice. That’s according to Saint Paul. It’s idolatry, because, in the end, let’s be honest with ourselves, we’ve turned to idolatry wholeheartedly and enthusiastically. Avarice is typical of our age. It’s a rejection of the worship of the true God. People who are avaricious are indifferent to the legitimacy of the methods they employ. Lack of faith takes on new and increasingly uncontrolled forms. The virus of greed in today’s world has mutated and been transmitted to all strata of society. Let us not fool ourselves that it’s only the rich who belong to this category. It’s all classes. It’s just that the have-nots live in the hope of acquiring things themselves. What we call the consumer society has ended up as consumer hysteria. The ideal and aim of people today in all social classes is to accumulate material goods, unthinkingly, even though these are often superfluous. This greed, which is at the root of today’s ecological crisis, was denounced 16 centuries ago by a great theologian, the Father and Teacher of our Church, Saint Gregory of Nyssa. He stressed that we should use, but not misuse. We should allow ourselves to enjoy, but within reason. We should not become the ruination of all the creatures which live on land and in the sea.
2. The elimination of the sense of justice. In theory, we’re all against injustice; it’s a pastime that we all, to some extent enjoy. But in our everyday lives, if we think that something’s in our interest, we find a variety of pretexts to go along with it. During Great Lent, the insistent voice of the Prophet Isaiah urges us to ‘Remove the iniquities from your souls… learn to do good, seek judgement (i.e. justice), deliver those who are being wronged, plead for the orphan and seek justice for the widow… and come, let us reason together, says the Lord’. Holy Scripture is full of clear commands for us to be just in every facet of our lives, especially in our dealings. But it’s not only about employers who might not treat their employees fairly. When the injustice is perpetrated by certain employees, this is often overlooked. In the public sector, for example, when they work fewer hours than those agreed, but still think it their right to be paid a full wage. You might think these are mere details. But such minor injustices undermine the general sense of fairness, responsibility and dignity within a society.
3. Another root of corruption is distortion of the truth. A lie in all its forms. ‘Woe to you who call evil good and good evil’. The Prophet raises his voice also against those ‘who present darkness as light and light as darkness’, who ‘present the sweet as bitter and the bitter as sweet’. ‘Woe to those who consider themselves wise and knowledgeable in their own opinion.’ At another point in the Old Testament it is stated most expressively: ‘Those whose support is lies are shepherding the winds’ (Prov. 9, 12). The first book of Holy Scripture tells us that our Fall was the result of a lie, while the last informs us that ‘all those who love and practice lies’ will remain outside the Kingdom of Heaven. Lies, in general, undermine our ability to love. This may seem a little strange, but I’m referring to a thought of Dostoevsky, who puts into the mouth of Starets Zosima the following words: the main thing is not to lie to yourself. People who lie to themselves and believe in their own lies reach the point where they can see no truth, either in themselves or in others. So they lose respect for others and for themselves. If you don’t value others, you cease to love. I believe that this relationship between lying and the truth is most revealing. Starets Zosima concludes that people who lie to themselves are the first to be offended, because at times it’s very pleasant to feel you’re being affronted, isn’t it?
4. But the most egregious danger is ego-centrism, captivity to ourselves, worship of our personal interest, or that of our family, our place or, if you like, our nation. The antidote to this remains justice, together with support and self-sacrifice. The secret to discovering your true self is to offer it to others. Emphasizing and experiencing this value remain the Church’s greatest contribution. Drawing on the best pages of its history, the Church adds to the classic ‘cogito ergo sum’ – ‘I think therefore I am’- ‘I love therefore I am’. In accordance with the model of existence of the Holy Trinity, that of love and reciprocity.