Normative Narratives


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Merry Christmas From NN!

[Pope Francis] The leader of the 1.2 billion-member Church wove his first “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and world) message around the theme of peace.    

“Peace is a daily commitment. It is a homemade peace,” he said.

He said that people of other religions were also praying for peace, and – departing from his prepared text – he urged atheists to join forces with believers.

“I invite even non-believers to desire peace. (Join us) with your desire, a desire that widens the heart. Let us all unite, either with prayer or with desire, but everyone, for peace,” he said, drawing sustained applause from the crowd.

The thread running through the message was that individuals had a role in promoting peace, either with their neighbor or between nations.

Pope Francis continues to break down barriers in hopes of sparking meaningful change in the world. His message of personal accountability in tackling social injustices is meant to stir self-reflection–how do my actions affect those around me? This message is all the more compelling coming from a man who, by all accounts, practices what he preaches.

By reaching out to “non-believers”, Pope Francis reminded me of something a Philosophy professor once taught me. She said that morals and ethics (the “Golden Rule”) underpin all major religions. As a development economist, I can now appreciate the linkages between religion, morals / ethics, and the human rights based approach to development.

I renew my call to challenge anybody trying to sell a strict interpretation of any ideology and / or trying to dehumanize any group with stereotypes / racism. While there are probably obscure lines in most religions which mention fighting those who oppose it’s teachings, these lines are a contradiction to the very principles those religions are based upon.

It is time we rethink what it means to be a pious person. It is not about sectarian beliefs and isolation from / hatred towards those who are different. Piety is about self-reflection, personal accountability, inclusion, reconciliation and social progress. Whether one chooses to pursue this path through organized religion or not, “with prayer or desire”, is entirely up to the individual.

Pope Francis is truly a pious man, hopefully we can all learn from his teachings.

Merry Christmas to all!

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The Pope’s Quandary: Contraception and Poverty

To much fanfare, last week Pope Francis denounced the economic system which he believes perpetuates inequality and extreme poverty. Hopes are high that this progressive Pope can use his influential post to reform the Catholic Church. Already, Francis has gone on record saying that the church is “too obsessed” with birth control, abortion, and gay marriage:

“It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time,” Pope Francis told an Italian outlet. “The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent.”

In the new interview, Francis pointed out that the Church should be “a home for all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people.”

However, saying it is “not necessary to talk about these issues all the time” is a bit of a cop-out, especially given overwhelming evidence that increased access to contraception can reduce poverty:

Some family planning proponents emphasize health and longevity benefits; others talk of human rights.

In the mix of available arguments, Population Action International has been focusing on the promise of economic prosperity. The organization advocates for women and families to have access to contraception in order to improve their health, reduce poverty and protect their environment.

“Right now, 222 million women, or 1-in-4 women of reproductive age, in the developing world do not want to become pregnant but need modern contraception,” said Dilly Severin, director of communications at the group, known as PAI. The organization “has a history of highlighting the common sense connections between fulfilling a woman’s right to contraception and the health, economic and other benefits that flow from it.” 

African political and cultural leaders made statements about the importance of youth to the demographic dividend, the economic growth that may result from changes in a country’s age structure, Weinstein-Levey said.

“They recognized that investing in youth’s sexual reproductive health and rights is critical to helping young people and to helping African economies reach their full potential. Many of these nations are on track to achieve the demographic dividend, but could significantly expedite progress with the boost of family planning,” she said.

Mothers and infants in sub-Saharan Africa face the greatest risks, according to Save the Children’s annual State of World’s Mothers report 2013, which assesses the well-being of mothers and children in 176 countries. The bottom 10 countries on the Mothers’ Index are all in sub-Saharan Africa, with infants in Somalia having the highest risk globally of dying on their birth day. First-day death rates are almost as high in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali and Sierra Leone. Meanwhile, mothers in Somalia and Sierra Leone face the second and third highest lifetime risk of maternal death in the world, respectively.

Surely, reducing infant and/or maternal mortality are at least as important in “protecting the sanctity of life” as contraception / abortion are…

The “common sense” benefits between fulfilling a women’s reproductive rights and poverty reduction are not new or novel–they are generally accepted in development economics. What is new / novel is a Pope who puts poverty alleviation above opulence, and human rights above religious dogma.

The Bible say’s “judge not lest ye be judged”. Pope Francis seems to be an accountable man; he has judged the global financial system, now he should judge the Catholic Church. It is hypocritical to blame the global economic system for perpetuating inequality, while ignoring the role his organization plays in allowing poverty to persist in the developing world.

Furthermore, while the Pope (and indeed any individual) has a very limited ability to affect the entire global economic system, it is very much within the Pope’s ability to shape the thinking and policies of the Catholic Church.  

It appears Pope Francis “practices what he preaches”, by living a humble life and even sneaking out at night to help the poor. I am not Catholic or even religious, but I support the stances Pope’s Francis has taken thus-far. However, instead of just finger-pointing, there are steps he can take that would allow the Catholic Church to take the lead in the battle against extreme poverty.