Let us dream, by Pope Francis
If ever a book could trigger a real, grassroots social revolution to set the world to rights, this is it. Pope Francis dares to see the world as it is. He then proposes to choose a path that is consistent with the message of the biblical Prophets and the Gospel. And finally he offers a way to act, with a view to turning on its head the indifferent, materialistic attitude to life that many of us in the West have hitherto nurtured. He dares to dream of a better future.
Pope Francis is not only a learned and wise prelate with a huge following. In this book, he also emerges as a humble, broad-minded, canny observer of both current events and prevailing attitudes. His message is clear and relevant for all people who are concerned about social issues.
Dr. Austin Iverleigh is a British writer and journalist who enjoys a close acquaintance of the present Pope. He has ensured that the English version of this book is both polished and lucid.
I can’t do better than taking frequent quotes from the book (page numbers in brackets).
‘Be the creators of your future!’ (4)
Rich and powerful elites currently run our so-called democracies. Francis opens the possibility of true change by emphasizing the worth and power of marginalized people. They form caring social groups, not motivated by personal profit or luxury but concerned for each other and the environment. As such, they have the potential to introduce a vibrant new social order.
Francis compares the current Covid crisis with the ongoing ‘pandemics of hunger, violence and climate change’ (5). He claims the recent lockdowns can teach us that ‘we need to slow down, take stock, and design better ways of living together on this earth.’ (6)
‘The modern era, which has developed equality and liberty with such determination, now needs to focus on fraternity with the same drive and tenacity to confront the challenges ahead. Fraternity will enable freedom and equality to take its rightful place in the symphony.’ (7)
A time to see
‘I believe that what has persuaded us is the myth of self-sufficiency, that whispering in our ears that the earth exists to be plundered; that others exist to meet our needs; that what we have earned or what we lack is what we deserve; that my reward is riches, even if that means that the fate of others will be poverty.’ (14) But ‘what the Lord asks of us today is a culture of service, not a throwaway culture.’ (15)
‘If the choice is between saving lives and saving the financial system, which will we choose? … For me, it’s clear: redesign the economy so that it can offer every person access to a dignified existence while protecting and regenerating the natural world.’ (44)
A time to choose
‘The early Church fathers made clear that giving to the poor is just giving back to them what is theirs, for God intended the goods of the earth for all, without excluding anyone.’ (53)
Key to making wise choices is discernment, which ‘allows us to navigate changing contexts and specific situations as we seek the truth.’ (55) ‘True religion is not a freezer, and doctrine is not static but grows and develops, like a tree that remains the same yet which gets bigger and bears ever more fruit. There are some who claim that God spoke once and for all time – almost always exclusively in the way and the form that those who make this claim know well… There is no contradiction between being solidly rooted in the truth and at the same time being open to a greater understanding. The Spirit continues to guide us in our translating the Good News into different contexts, so that the words of Jesus continue to resound in the hearts of men and women in every age.’ (57) ‘The good spirit appeals to my desire to do good, to help and serve, and gives me strength to go forward on the right path.’ (62)
Francis goes on to describe the devastating attitude he calls the ‘isolated conscience, which acts as a major obstacle to the union of hearts and minds’. This mindset tempts us ‘to withdraw spiritually from the body to which we belong, closing us in on our own interests and viewpoints by means of suspicion and supposition’. It turns us, ‘ultimately, into beleaguered, complaining selves who disdain others, believing that we alone know the truth.’ (69)
‘Meanwhile, the people called together by God moves forward in the footsteps of Jesus, not blind to the faults of the Church but happy to be part of His Body, confessing their sins and imploring mercy. The People of God recognizes its faults and sins, and is able to ask forgiveness because it knows itself to be a people that has been shown mercy.’ (71) ‘Jesus did not found the Church as a citadel of purity nor as a constant parade of heroes and saints – although thank God we do not lack these. It is something much more dynamic: a school of conversion, a place of spiritual combat and discernment, where grace abounds along with sin and temptation.’ (72)
‘Self-accusation – an ancient discipline, in which we admit our faults – is the antibody to the virus of the isolated conscience, and humility before God the key that unlocks fraternity and social peace.’ (76)
A time to act
In the third section, Francis emphasizes the concept of a ‘people’, which ‘gathers itself in assemblies, … shares experiences and hopes, and hears the call of a common destiny.’ (100)
‘When the accumulation of wealth becomes our chief goal, whether as individuals or as an economy, we practice a form of idolatry that puts us in chains.’ (113) Francis refers to ‘global plagues’, such as human trafficking, poorly paid migrants, slavery, the death penalty. He dares even to mention the controversial issues of abortion and euthanasia. (114-116)
‘The neo-Darwinist ideology of the survival of the fittest, underpinned by an unfettered market obsessed with profit and individual sovereignty, has penetrated our culture and hardened our hearts. The successful growth of the technocratic paradigm so often demands the sacrifice of innocent lives: the child abandoned in the streets; the underage sweatshop worker who rarely sees the light of day; the worker dismissed because his company has been asset-stripped to generate dividends for shareholders; the refugees denied the chance to work; the elderly abandoned to their fate in underfunded care homes.’ (116)
Populism is another topic he addresses. It is arrogant, exclusive, hostile toward all who are different, especially poor refugees of a different faith. In contrast, ‘the heart of Christianity is God’s love for all peoples and our love for our neighbours, especially those in need. To reject a struggling migrant, whatever his or her religious belief, out of fear of diluting a “Christian” culture is grotesquely to misrepresent both Christianity and culture.’ (119)
As an alternative to such populist politics, Francis identifies ‘Popular Movements‘, which spring up around the world on the margins of society (120), campaigning for the three Ls of a dignified life – land, lodging, and labour – for their families. (125) An elaboration of these needs forms the climax of the book, illustrated from his own experiences while Archbishop in Buenos Aires as well as meetings he hosted as Pope in 2014, 2015, and 2016. He sees such movements as ‘sowers of a new future, promoters of the change we need: to put the economy at the service of the people, to build peace and justice, and to defend Mother Earth’ (126). He steps out on a limb by even advocating a ‘universal basic income, … which could reshape relations in the labour market, guaranteeing people the dignity of refusing employment terms that trap them in poverty. It would give people the basic security they need, remove the stigma of welfarism, and make it easier to move between jobs as technology-driven labour patterns increasingly demand.’ (132)
This is a controversial but daring book and not what one would initially expect from the leader of a traditional, hierarchical religious institution. Conservatives will dismiss it as socialist propaganda. Evangelical Christians may find it too man-centred and not spiritual enough. But it deserves to be taken very seriously by all who see the need to revolutionize today’s self-centred, materialistic society, which is both cruel to deprived people and destructive of the environment.