Share - Winter 2018 - 44
and the Caring Society
Edited by Robert M. Whaples, PhD
(Independent Institute, Oakland, California, 2017)
ope Francis has made it very clear that a key theme of
his papacy is care for the poor. The pope has openly
criticized the consumerism, selfishness, indifference to the
underprivileged and environmental harm that mark an increasingly
secular western society.
This provocative book is a response to the challenge the
pope has issued to all caring people to eliminate poverty.
Grinding poverty, in the pope's view, can lead to hunger, abuse,
lack of education, disease, religious persecution, illiteracy and
hopelessness. Poverty stunts human well-being and achievement
and thus prevents people from fulfilling their God-given potential.
In a call for those who have more to give to those who have less,
the pope has stated, "There is a lot of poverty in the world, and
that's a scandal when we have so many riches and resources to
give to everyone."
Pope Francis and the Caring Society contains thoughtful essays by
different authors that span the fields of theology, economics, history
and ethics to show how a free-market economy can help to accomplish
the pope's goal of defeating poverty and enhancing human endeavor.
The book grew out of a symposium hosted by the Independent
Institute, a non-profit, non-partisan public policy research and
educational organization. The book has been widely praised, and
endorsed by people in many walks of life, including theologians.
"We are all called to serve and care humbly for others,
especially those most in need, but how we do so is crucial in
guiding our moral responsibility," said Bishop Michael C. Barber,
S.J., of the Diocese of Oakland, California. "Firmly rooted in our
Christian tradition, the incisive and timely book Pope Francis and
the Caring Society carefully examines this vital issue by applying
natural-law ethical and economic principles." Father Robert A.
Sirico, pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Grand Rapids,
Michigan, and president and co-founder of the Acton Institute,
said the book provides a "non-polemical, serious and accessible
set of commentaries with which anyone, regardless of religious or
political orientation, will want to be acquainted."
The book makes it clear that capitalism per se is not the big,
bad enemy when it comes to eliminating poverty. In his foreword
to the book, the late Catholic philosopher Michael Novak - who
received the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion in 1994 -
asks whether capitalism is "the victorious social system," and
SHARE * WINTER 2018
might be "the goal of countries now making efforts to rebuild
their economy and society?" In his introduction, editor Whaples,
a research fellow at the Independent Institute, enumerates the
strengths and weaknesses of free-market capitalism.
On the plus side, he notes that capitalism accelerates
technological advances and generates rising standards of living,
life expectancy, education and leisure. As such, it can eliminate
absolute poverty. "Capitalism gives people the incentive to be
more virtuous and to serve each other," Whaples writes. "There
is a payoff to acting kind, caring, decent, and prudent - and
practicing these virtues in the market can actually help turn us
into better persons." He adds, "Capitalism unleashes creativity - it
is the essence of creativity." But on the down side, notes Whaples,
capitalism at its worst "can generate high levels of economic
inequality" and "can lure people into focusing on crass material
things and 'frenetic activity' rather than on more important things,
especially spiritual matters and personal relationships."
I was especially interested in the chapter titled "Pope Francis,
Capitalism, and Private Charitable Giving," by Lawrence J.
McQuillan, PhD, and Hayeon Carol Park. McQuillan is a senior
fellow and director of the Center on Entrepreneurial Innovation at
the Independent Institute, and Park is a research associate at the
Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. "Numerous studies
confirm the positive relationship between economic freedom and
private charitable giving," they write. They also cite the biblical
example of the Good Samaritan who spent his own money to help
a man he did not know who was desperately in need. Think about
business entrepreneurs and philanthropists Bill and Melinda
Gates and Warren Buffett and the millions they give away to
charity every year.
This book made me think about charitable giving in biblical
terms. No one forces us to give to charity. We give because we care
about helping to build up God's kingdom on earth, and because
we want to alleviate suffering. Inequality is not God's plan, for
He cherishes each one of us. Ultimately this is a book of hope,
and a timely one. Its wide-ranging, intelligent essays show that
religion and economics need not be at odds, and that creative,
caring, entrepreneurial individuals who give from generous hearts
can help to lift people out of the bonds of poverty that enslave and