Laudato Si 105: Does Power Equal Progress?

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website.

105. There is a tendency to believe that every increase in power means “an increase of ‘progress’ itself”, an advance in “security, usefulness, welfare and vigor; …an assimilation of new values into the stream of culture”,[Romano Guardini, Das Ende der Neuzeit, 9th ed., Würzburg, 1965, 87 (English: The End of the Modern World, Wilmington, 1998, 82)] as if reality, goodness and truth automatically flow from technological and economic power as such.

Perhaps we tally the exterior accomplishments and tout them as progress. It can be harder to assess either morality or the truth, especially if power blinds us to the harm we inflict.

The fact is that “contemporary (humankind) has not been trained to use power well”,[Ibidem] because our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience. Each age tends to have only a meager awareness of its own limitations.

Part of our human nature, it would seem: offenders are often in denial. Even people who are not objectively sinners have difficulty gazing at situations from the vantage point of other people.

It is possible that we do not grasp the gravity of the challenges now before us. “The risk is growing day by day that man will not use his power as he should”; in effect, “power is never considered in terms of the responsibility of choice which is inherent in freedom” since its “only norms are taken from alleged necessity, from either utility or security”.[Ibidem 87-88 (The End of the Modern World, 83)] But human beings are not completely autonomous. Our freedom fades when it is handed over to the blind forces of the unconscious, of immediate needs, of self-interest, and of violence. In this sense, we stand naked and exposed in the face of our ever-increasing power, lacking the wherewithal to control it. We have certain superficial mechanisms, but we cannot claim to have a sound ethics, a culture and spirituality genuinely capable of setting limits and teaching clear-minded self-restraint.

People with ample resources, and a free-wheeling stance with others can be quite superficial. Human nature again: we turn to God when in need. When we are in plenty, we might attribute fruitfulness to our own works.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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