Friday, October 26, 2012

Individualism in Deadlock. What’s Next?

The most common word nowadays is “crisis”. We are told it is the economic crisis. We listen to never ending discussions about currency, debts, markets, economic increase, searching for solutions… Sometimes we are told that behind the economic crisis there is a moral crisis. If we stop for a moment to think, perhaps we will find many others crises: cultural crisis, crisis of values, ecological crisis, crisis of the concept of government, political crisis, and crisis of authority… Even in the religious sphere we hear that there is a crisis of faith (which is why Pope Benedict has proclaimed for Catholics the Year of Faith).

It’s clear that we feel the crisis at its worst in everyday life. Our politicians seek to resolve the situation, but only the economic part. Searching for a way to get out of this crisis indicates a wide range of possible solutions, as well as a deeper question.

On the one hand, the political left and right compete for a chance to implement their own economic policies. Left-wing politicians declare they are sensitive to the poor and want to rule by raising taxes in order to promote solidarity. All this is based on a concept of a strong guarding State. Right-wing politics in general prefers the free market to a strong State. Although it promotes human rights for everyone, it is an impersonal mechanism that doesn’t watch over the poor. Within both types of politics we find a strong individualism that influences economic ethics as well as personal values. The consequence: moral crisis. Thus is the present condition in the so-called western countries.


On the other hand, the search for how to get out of the actual crisis indicates a deeper question. Let us omit the different policies and their economic approaches. The question is: why do we find ourselves in so many different crises at the same time? Is it only because something went wrong in the economy, or is the root in our behavior? Has individualism led us to deadlock? Shouldn’t we be looking for other reasons that lie beyond the economic?

Catholic social teaching, in accordance with the Gospel, clearly gives preference to the poor and the weak that are most in need. This attitude is a fruit of reflection on the social situation, within the frame of the Gospel and natural law. In the Gospel, Jesus gives first place to the undisputable dignity of each human person. By facing our wide-ranging crisis, which began a couple of decades ago, we have to admit that Blessed Pope John Paul II was a great prophet of human dignity. We need to rediscover his words. If we consider the nature of man, we arrive at a basic truth: each human person lives in the balance between freedom and responsibility. We are not able to live without relationships. The State can not exist without families, citizen based movements, organizations… There is something very inhuman in our current socialist and free-market approaches to human society.

Behind the economic crisis – behind the competition between different models of politics –there is a background or basis of how we see the human person; with how much respect and how sturdily are we ready to act, live, and behave towards human nature? It seems that the crisis is  really anthropological. The next question then, must be: where can we look or who can we find – and accept without prejudices – with the right answer for a new, deeper and more respectful anthropological approach? Let’s not forget: we have to face the problem now, amid the mainstream  individualism that surrounds us.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Paralympics: it´s not about medals, it´s about passion for life

I expected to use the staircase to get to my seat, but found that I was already at the stand. Row 5 on my ticket was only a few metres from the racetrack. I was completely overcome by the view of that huge arena – goose pimple effect! I was at the Olympic Stadium in East-London. It was my initial experience of the Paralympics 2012. A moment which was one of those “once in a life-time experiences”.

Britain made it great; it wanted to show the world that anything is possible! This may sound like an exaggeration. The application of scientific knowledge is very helpful for the disabled but it is not everything. Paralympians show us above all that they haven´t given up on life despite their disabilities. Their passion for life has enabled them to overcome not only physical limitations but also psychological barriers. “Only Paralympians really know how personal a sacrifice that is,” British Paralympian Tom Aggar said. He didn´t win any medal this summer – it´s not about medals, it´s about passion for life!

The adverts in London presented Great Britain Paralympians as superhuman. Looking at the athletes at the Olympic Stadium would appear to confirm that claim. “But not many with disabilities can mutate into this,” wrote David Aaronovitch in The Times (August 30). He claimed that 64% of the disabled had some experience of hostility or aggression. The London Paralympics, with the biggest TV audience ever, could help to shape the views of the majority in society. A life, however disabled, is worth living and should be protected and supported. Each human person has a super and original value.

To meet handicapped people is a transforming experience. “There is always that fear of offending a disabled person,” Tom Aggar said. We use to be apprehensive about it! However, when you overcome the first impression – the sentiment of pity – then you stop seeing the wheelchair and just see the person. This is also the point of our faith. The body and the spirit are united in a human being. Although the person – image of God – is often obscured, it is never completely lost. We need to learn to promote every life, to touch and develop the substantial human and divine value of each person, with medical care, education, sacraments in the Church and support in families. Sometimes it is also useful to learn to let go of the little things. Human life – God´s creation – is even stronger than any disability

Monday, September 3, 2012

Where are Catholics in democratic politics?

The Tablet is a British Catholic weekly journal. In the edition of 18th August I found an article making a comparison of two Catholic approaches to political issues in the USA. It is not my intention to make any comments on the article “The great divide”. It compared the approach of republican and democratic politicians who are Catholics; it has enriched my knowledge and prompted this reflection.

The democrat, Vice President Joe Biden, aged 69, born to working class parents, represents old school American Catholicism in public life. This focused on the community, the common good, the service and the traditions of ethnic identity and the importance of powerful government. The republican 42-year-old Paul Ryan has never experienced poverty but has always been active in politics. Elected to Congress in 1998 Ryan represents a new generation of conservative politics based on individualism, on “winner-take-all competition” and on the fundamental role of free market as against powerful State intervention.

One day last week I was watching TV and during the adverts I came across the live broadcast of Paul Ryan´s speech at the Tampa Republican Convention. I listened for about ten minutes. Ryan is a highly impressive orator whose smile, gesture and voice modulation are used very effectively. The stage was his and the audience was overwhelmed by him. I felt really involved for that moment!

The election issues, in general, are focused around specific subjects. The main and unavoidable one in the present election campaign is the economic crisis and unemployment. In the Euro-American political model the right-wing political parties are more familiar with free market issues and the left-wing parties are more concerned with State intervention in citizen welfare which in turn is related to higher taxes and more power for the government.

The present economic crisis is first and foremost a moral crisis. There is too much confidence in the free market and production related to market demand; which is based on improving living standards. If this market demand (the desire of a better human life) is being resolved only by impersonal forces such as the market, then we are on the wrong path. It is inhumane to be enslaved either by market dominance or by the State/Political Party. It goes against our understanding of human freedom and human desires.

Catholic politicians must find the right balance between free-market dynamics (often ruled by “winner-take-all”) and the common good. The primary focus must be on the needs of every human person. According to the Gospel, on which is based the personalism of Blessed Pope John Paul II – politics is a ministry for the common good. It is not easy to come up with a new type of political approach; it is, however, a unique challenge for Catholic politicians. A humble position before the Gospel message is necessary for facing up to this challenge. It is neither the market nor the State which politicians have to serve; but rather each person and the common good.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

London´s teenagers fighting in Syria

During my stay in London while improving my English, I like to keep up to date with current affairs and to reflect on them in context. Going to school everyday by bus and tube I have the opportunity to read free newspapers. At Vauxhall bus station I pick up the world´s most popular free newspaper “Metro”. It takes about 10-12 minutes to reach Euston station (depending on the crowds of people getting on and off trains) and I skim the headlines on the 88 pages of the “Metro”. When travelling home at 4 p.m. I collected another free newspaper “London Evening Standard” at Euston Station. It´s always interesting to go through it. You often come across the main news events of the day and local news.

This week in Thursday´s London Evening Standard I came across an article written by Kiran Randhawa talking about two young men from London who had joined the Syrian rebels. ( The teenagers, both 19, born in London, of Syrian descent, told their families that they were going on holiday. Since the conflict started, its causes had been a topic for discussion at home. These teenagers decided it was time to take part in these historical events in their homeland. They planned to return to London for the start of their University courses. They were strongly committed in their personal support for the rebels. So they are spending the holiday with guns in their hands. Fluent Arabic, sufficient money to pay their way and a firm belief in the cause – these three conditions must be fulfilled by any other guy who would like to go with them, they said!

On Friday night when I read (Salesian News Agency – ANS) two articles about the situation in Syria (, I remembered these two London guys. I would suggest that we need to think about the impact on everyday life of so many people – in this long suffering country and also in the Syrian Diaspora. No armed conflict can make life better for people. These whose suffer most are always ordinary people, elderly and children. It is not only their material welfare which is destroyed but also their experience of growing up. Values have been undermined and life perspective darkened by civil war.

Finally we need to remember that all these young guys fighting in Syria were created by God – to love and to be loved, filled with joy and to contribute to establishment of a peaceful human society. Education based on reason and responsibility has never been more necessary than now.