The Common Good

Pope Benedict Gets It Right

Jim Wallis has provided a helpful summary of the Pope's encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth). The subtitle explains the subject more clearly -- "on integral human development in charity and truth" -- and the timing of its release (coinciding with the G-8 summit) suggests something about its purpose: to challenge the leading economic powers (and all the faithful) to see the current economic crisis as "an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future" -- a future focused on "justice and the common good."

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Of particular interest to me is his strong endorsement of the key concepts behind the sustainability and fair trade/ethical buying movements. These related movements help us see that the economy is an important sphere where we can, in a sense, cast votes with every dollar we spend, literally loving our neighbors (or not) by the way we buy (or don't buy) groceries, clothing, corporate shares, and so on.

In a recent book, Adam Werback (who in 1996 became the Sierra Club's youngest president at the age of 23) defines sustainability in terms of four bottom lines instead of one (short-term profit for investors/owners):

True sustainability has four equal components:

  • social, to address conditions that affect us all, including poverty, violence, injustice, education, public health, and labor and human rights
  • economic, to help people and businesses meet their economic needs-for people: securing food, water, shelter, and creature comforts; for businesses: turning a profit
  • environmental, to protect and restore the Earth-for example, by controlling climate change, preserving natural resources, and preventing waste
  • cultural, to protect and value the diversity through which communities manifest their identity and cultivate traditions across generations

With each dollar we spend, we can vote for companies that do good business, that respect the planet, that treat their workers well, that promote the social common good, and that preserve and enhance cultural health and diversity. With communism dead and buried for nearly 20 years now, it's time to realize that "capitalism without a conscience" may be our new greatest threat. People of faith -- from the Pope to you and me -- can play a role in the reinvention of our economics in the years to come.

In the past, our economies depended on slavery and child labor to survive. People who called for reform were labeled as unrealistic and anti-business. Those of us who work to "shape a new vision for the future" will similarly be mocked, opposed, and ignored today and in the years to come. But in the end, we will see breakthroughs because, as Dr. King said, there is a moral arc to the universe, and it tends towards justice. That's as true in economics as it is in politics, thanks be to God.

Brian McLarenBrian McLaren ( is a speaker and author, most recently of Everything Must Change and Finding Our Way Again.

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