“Fratelli Tutti”:

Stark reminders to be (much) wiser in the digital age

It is remarkable that an organization that has been around for two millennia is able to deeply reflect on contemporary matters – with great relevance. The Catholic church is certainly not without flaws and its doctrines have not always been “wise” by many standards. Nevertheless, Pope Francis’ third papal letter or encyclical, “Fratelli tutti” (=”All brothers”) on fraternity and social friendship, released in October 2020, is full of clear reminders to us who live in the age of social media and constant pursuit of economic growth. In the past, the easier thing for a gigantic and conservative religious organization to do perhaps would be to just categorically ban the advancement of social media / technology because their negative effects. This is absolutely not the direction of “Fratelli tutti”, instead it guides the readers on how to be wiser in making the best use of technological (and economic) advancement in pursuit of a better humanity for all.

At around 140 pages, Fratelli tutti is a reasonably easy read. Whatever the reader’s religious views may be, the wisdom contained in it is very likely to be relevant. In fact, consistent with the Church’s doctrine of Nostra Aetate (“In our time”) released in 1965 that acknowledges salvation beyond the Catholic church, Fratelli tutti gives believers a deeply reflective nudge:

A believer may be untrue to everything that his faith demands of him, and yet think he is close to God and better than others. […] Paradoxically, those who claim to be unbelievers can sometimes put God’s will into practice better than believers.

Fratelli tutti, 75

It also criticizes the post-truth phenomenon in contemporary politics as well as societal behaviour in the face of constant social media interaction. It essentially calls for more critical thinking, more “humane” interaction even through the use of social media, and compassion. Few worthy quotes are:

The way many platforms work often ends up favouring encounter between persons who think alike, shielding them from debate. These closed circuits facilitate the spread of fake news and false information, fomenting prejudice and hate”.

Fratelli tutti, 45

We should also recognize that destructive forms of fanaticism are at times found among religious believers, including Christians; they too “can be caught up in networks of verbal violence through the internet and the various forums of digital communication.

Fratelli tutti, 46

The flood of information at our fingertips does not make for greater wisdom. Wisdom is not born of quick searches on the internet nor is it a mass of unverified data.

Fratelli tutti, 50

Nowadays it has become impossible for someone to express a view on any subject without being categorized one way or the other, either to be unfairly discredited or to be praised to the skies.

Fratelli tutti, 156

There are of course many more gems contained in Fratelli tutti and every reader may take different things from it. Below are some of my favourite quotes but by no means they do justice to contemplating its full text.

Cheers,
Michael

Selected quotes from Fratelli tutti (in order of appearance)

Full text is accessible at http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20201003_enciclica-fratelli-tutti.html

For all our hyper-connectivity, we witnessed a fragmentation that made it more difficult to resolve problems that affect us all.

It is not possible to settle for what was achieved in the past and complacently enjoy it, as if we could somehow disregard the fact that many of our brothers and sisters still endure situations that cry out for our attention.

“as society becomes ever more globalized, it makes us neighbours, but does not make us brothers”

Employing a strategy of ridicule, suspicion and relentless criticism, in a variety of ways one denies the right of others to exist or to have an opinion.

Political life no longer has to do with healthy debates about long-term plans to improve people’s lives and to advance the common good, but only with slick marketing techniques primarily aimed at discrediting others.

Often the voices raised in defence of the environment are silenced or ridiculed, using apparently reasonable arguments that are merely a screen for special interests.

Some economic rules have proved effective for growth, but not for integral human development. Wealth has increased, but together with inequality, with the result that “new forms of poverty are emerging”. The claim that the modern world has reduced poverty is made by measuring poverty with criteria from the past that do not correspond to present-day realities.

And those who raise walls will end up as slaves within the very walls they have built. They are left without horizons, for they lack this interchange with others”.

We gorged ourselves on networking, and lost the taste of fraternity.

“there is a problem when doubts and fears condition our way of thinking and acting to the point of making us intolerant, closed and perhaps even–without realizing it–racist. In this way, fear deprives us of the desire and the ability to encounter the other”.

“Digital media can also expose people to the risk of addiction, isolation and a gradual loss of contact with concrete reality, blocking the development of authentic interpersonal relationships”.

Digital connectivity is not enough to build bridges. It is not capable of uniting humanity.

The way many platforms work often ends up favouring encounter between persons who think alike, shielding them from debate. These closed circuits facilitate the spread of fake news and false information, fomenting prejudice and hate”.

We should also recognize that destructive forms of fanaticism are at times found among religious believers, including Christians; they too “can be caught up in networks of verbal violence through the internet and the various forums of digital communication.

True wisdom demands an encounter with reality. Today, however, everything can be created, disguised and altered.

As silence and careful listening disappear, replaced by a frenzy of texting, this basic structure of sage human communication is at risk. A new lifestyle is emerging, where we create only what we want and exclude all that we cannot control or know instantly and superficially. This process, by its intrinsic logic, blocks the kind of serene reflection that could lead us to a shared wisdom.

The flood of information at our fingertips does not make for greater wisdom. Wisdom is not born of quick searches on the internet nor is it a mass of unverified data.

“One who seeks the truth should not concentrate on the differences between one note and another, thinking as if each was created separately and apart from the others; instead, he should realize that one and the same person composed the entire melody”.

These are symptoms of an unhealthy society. A society that seeks prosperity but turns its back on suffering.

In the face of so much pain and suffering, our only course is to imitate the Good Samaritan. Any other decision would make us either one of the robbers or one of those who walked by without showing compassion for the sufferings of the man on the roadside.

It shows that belief in God and the worship of God are not enough to ensure that we are actually living in a way pleasing to God.

A believer may be untrue to everything that his faith demands of him, and yet think he is close to God and better than others.

Paradoxically, those who claim to be unbelievers can sometimes put God’s will into practice better than believers.

Plunging people into despair closes a perfectly perverse circle: such is the agenda of the invisible dictatorship of hidden interests that have gained mastery over both resources and the possibility of thinking and expressing opinions.

We should not expect everything from those who govern us, for that would be childish. We have the space we need for co-responsibility in creating and putting into place new processes and changes. Let us take an active part in renewing and supporting our troubled societies.

The Samaritans lived in a region where pagan rites were practised. For the Jews, this made them impure, detestable, dangerous. In fact, one ancient Jewish text referring to nations that were hated, speaks of Samaria as “not even a people” (Sir 50:25); it also refers to “the foolish people that live in Shechem” (50:26).

Saint Bonaventure, for his part, explained that the other virtues, without charity, strictly speaking do not fulfil the commandments “the way God wants them to be fulfilled”.

The spiritual stature of a person’s life is measured by love, which in the end remains “the criterion for the definitive decision about a human life’s worth or lack thereof”.

“the love whereby someone becomes pleasing (grata) to another is the reason why the latter bestows something on him freely (gratis)”.

For “the future is not monochrome; if we are courageous, we can contemplate it in all the variety and diversity of what each individual person has to offer.

“the mere fact that some people are born in places with fewer resources or less development does not justify the fact that they are living with less dignity”.

“the Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property”.

Development must not aim at the amassing of wealth by a few, but must ensure “human rights–personal and social, economic and political, including the rights of nations and of peoples”.[99] The right of some to free enterprise or market freedom cannot supersede the rights of peoples and the dignity of the poor, or, for that matter, respect for the natural environment, for “if we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all”.

123. Business activity is essentially “a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world”.[101] God encourages us to develop the talents he gave us, and he has made our universe one of immense potential. In God’s plan, each individual is called to promote his or her own development,[102] and this includes finding the best economic and technological means of multiplying goods and increasing wealth. Business abilities, which are a gift from God, should always be clearly directed to the development of others and to eliminating poverty, especially through the creation of diversified work opportunities.

We can aspire to a world that provides land, housing and work for all. This is the true path of peace, not the senseless and myopic strategy of sowing fear and mistrust in the face of outside threats. For a real and lasting peace will only be possible “on the basis of a global ethic of solidarity and cooperation in the service of a future shaped by interdependence and shared responsibility in the whole human family”.

We need to pay attention to the global so as to avoid narrowness and banality. Yet we also need to look to the local, which keeps our feet on the ground.

Universal fraternity and social friendship are thus two inseparable and equally vital poles in every society.

I can welcome others who are different, and value the unique contribution they have to make, only if I am firmly rooted in my own people and culture.

All this brings out the positive meaning of the right to property: I care for and cultivate something that I possess, in such a way that it can contribute to the good of all.

The attempt to build a tower that would reach to heaven was not an expression of unity between various peoples speaking to one another from their diversity. Instead, it was a misguided attempt, born of pride and ambition, to create a unity other than that willed by God in his providential plan for the nations (cf. Gen11:1-9).

it is impossible to be “local” in a healthy way without being sincerely open to the universal, without feeling challenged by what is happening in other places, without openness to enrichment by other cultures, and without solidarity and concern for the tragedies affecting other peoples.

A healthy culture, on the other hand, is open and welcoming by its very nature;

global society is not the sum total of different countries, but rather the communion that exists among them.

Nowadays it has become impossible for someone to express a view on any subject without being categorized one way or the other, either to be unfairly discredited or to be praised to the skies.

But this can degenerate into an unhealthy “populism” when individuals are able to exploit politically a people’s culture, under whatever ideological banner, for their own personal advantage or continuing grip on power. Or when, at other times, they seek popularity by appealing to the basest and most selfish inclinations of certain sectors of the population. This becomes all the more serious when, whether in cruder or more subtle forms, it leads to the usurpation of institutions and laws.

Eliminating inequality requires an economic growth that can help to tap each region’s potential and thus guarantee a sustainable equality. At the same time, it follows that “welfare projects, which meet certain urgent needs, should be considered merely temporary responses”.

“helping the poor financially must always be a provisional solution in the face of pressing needs. The broader objective should always be to allow them a dignified life through work”.

In a genuinely developed society, work is an essential dimension of social life, for it is not only a means of earning one’s daily bread, but also of personal growth, the building of healthy relationships, self-expression and the exchange of gifts. Work gives us a sense of shared responsibility for the development of the world, and ultimately, for our life as a people.

“private life cannot exist unless it is protected by public order.

It is imperative to have a proactive economic policy directed at “promoting an economy that favours productive diversity and business creativity” and makes it possible for jobs to be created and not cut.

“healthy politics… capable of reforming and coordinating institutions, promoting best practices and overcoming undue pressure and bureaucratic inertia”. We cannot expect economics to do this, nor can we allow economics to take over the real power of the state.

“true statecraft is manifest when, in difficult times, we uphold high principles and think of the longterm common good. Political powers do not find it easy to assume this duty in the work of nationbuilding”, much less in forging a common project for the human family, now and in the future. Thinking of those who will come after us does not serve electoral purposes, yet it is what authentic justice demands.

politics as “a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good”.

It is an act of charity to assist someone suffering, but it is also an act of charity, even if we do not know that person, to work to change the social conditions that caused his or her suffering. If someone helps an elderly person cross a river, that is a fine act of charity. The politician, on the other hand, builds a bridge, and that too is an act of charity. While one person can help another by providing something to eat, the politician creates a job for that other person, and thus practices a lofty form of charity that ennobles his or her political activity.

good politician will take the first step and insist that different voices be heard. Disagreements may well give rise to conflicts, but uniformity proves stifling and leads to cultural decay. May we not be content with being enclosed in one fragment of reality.

When a specific policy sows hatred and fear towards other nations in the name of its own country’s welfare, there is need to be concerned, to react in time and immediately to correct the course.

A country flourishes when constructive dialogue occurs between its many rich cultural components: popular culture, university culture, youth culture, artistic culture, technological culture, economic culture, family culture and media culture”.

Dialogue is often confused with something quite different: the feverish exchange of opinions on social networks, frequently based on media information that is not always reliable. These exchanges are merely parallel monologues. They may attract some attention by their sharp and aggressive tone. But monologues engage no one, and their content is frequently self-serving and contradictory.

the media’s noisy potpourri of facts and opinions is often an obstacle to dialogue, since it lets everyone cling stubbornly to his or her own ideas, interests and choices, with the excuse that everyone else is wrong.

“differences are creative; they create tension and in the resolution of tension lies humanity’s progress”.

There is a growing conviction that, together with specialized scientific advances, we are in need of greater interdisciplinary communication.

Each of us can learn something from others. No one is useless and no one is expendable. This also means finding ways to include those on the peripheries of life. For they have another way of looking at things; they see aspects of reality that are invisible to the centres of power where weighty decisions are made.

Let us arm our children with the weapons of dialogue! Let us teach them to fight the good fight of the culture of encounter!

another more insidious kind of violence can take root: the violence of those who despise people who are different, especially when their demands in any way compromise their own particular interests.

Intolerance and lack of respect for indigenous popular cultures is a form of violence grounded in a cold and judgmental way of viewing them.

Kindness ought to be cultivated; it is no superficial bourgeois virtue. Precisely because it entails esteem and respect for others, once kindness becomes a culture within society it transforms lifestyles, relationships and the ways ideas are discussed and compared. Kindness facilitates the quest for consensus; it opens new paths where hostility and conflict would burn all bridges.

“Truth, in fact, is an inseparable companion of justice and mercy.

peace “is not merely absence of war but a tireless commitment–especially on the part of those of us charged with greater responsibility–to recognize, protect and concretely restore the dignity, so often overlooked or ignored, of our brothers and sisters, so that they can see themselves as the principal protagonists of the destiny of their nation”.

We are called to love everyone, without exception; at the same time, loving an oppressor does not mean allowing him to keep oppressing us, or letting him think that what he does is acceptable. On the contrary, true love for an oppressor means seeking ways to make him cease his oppression; it means stripping him of a power that he does not know how to use, and that diminishes his own humanity and that of others.

Those who suffer injustice have to defend strenuously their own rights and those of their family, precisely because they must preserve the dignity they have received as a loving gift from God.

“no family, no group of neighbours, no ethnic group, much less a nation, has a future if the force that unites them, brings them together and resolves their differences is vengeance and hatred.

We can never move forward without remembering the past; we do not progress without an honest and unclouded memory. We need to “keep alive the flame of collective conscience, bearing witness to succeeding generations to the horror of what happened”, because that witness “awakens and preserves the memory of the victims, so that the conscience of humanity may rise up in the face of every desire for dominance and destruction”.

In the face of an action that can never be tolerated, justified or excused, we can still forgive.

Free and heartfelt forgiveness is something noble, a reflection of God’s own infinite ability to forgive. If forgiveness is gratuitous, then it can be shown even to someone who resists repentance and is unable to beg pardon.

Revenge resolves nothing.

Justice is properly sought solely out of love of justice itself, out of respect for the victims, as a means of preventing new crimes and protecting the common good, not as an alleged outlet for personal anger.

“never has humanity had such power over itself, yet nothing ensures that it will be used wisely”.

Saint John Paul II stated clearly and firmly that the death penalty is inadequate from a moral standpoint and no longer necessary from that of penal justice.

Do not let the atrocity of their sins feed a desire for vengeance, but desire instead to heal the wounds which those deeds have inflicted on their souls”.

There is at times a tendency to deliberately fabricate enemies: stereotyped figures who represent all the characteristics that society perceives or interprets as threatening.

All Christians and people of good will are today called to work not only for the abolition of the death penalty, legal or illegal, in all its forms, but also to work for the improvement of prison conditions, out of respect for the human dignity of persons deprived of their freedom. I would link this to life imprisonment… A life sentence is a secret death penalty”.

If I do not deny that dignity to the worst of criminals, I will not deny it to anyone.

“If there is no transcendent truth, in obedience to which man achieves his full identity, then there is no sure principle for guaranteeing just relations between people.

“she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines” in the building of a better world, or fail to “reawaken the spiritual energy” that can contribute to the betterment of society.

The Church “has a public role over and above her charitable and educational activities”. She works for “the advancement of humanity and of universal fraternity”.

A journey of peace is possible between religions. Its point of departure must be God’s way of seeing things. “God does not see with his eyes, God sees with his heart. And God’s love is the same for everyone, regardless of religion. Even if they are atheists, his love is the same.

The truth is that violence has no basis in our fundamental religious convictions, but only in their distortion.

Sincere and humble worship of God “bears fruit not in discrimination, hatred and violence, but in respect for the sacredness of life, respect for the dignity and freedom of others, and loving commitment to the welfare of all”.

As religious leaders, we are called to be true ‘people of dialogue’, to cooperate in building peace not as intermediaries but as authentic mediators. Intermediaries seek to give everyone a discount, ultimately in order to gain something for themselves. The mediator, on the other hand, is one who retains nothing for himself, but rather spends himself generously until he is consumed, knowing that the only gain is peace.

God, the Almighty, has no need to be defended by anyone and does not want his name to be used to terrorize people.

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  • Byline

    Michael is a professional leader in the fields of energy investments, complex commercial deals, and sustainability with extensive international experience. His personal interests span from socio-political issues, history, and culture.

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