Land Lodging Labour

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A review of the latest book by Pope Francis, in which he sets out a very personal vision of how the world can recover from the pandemic.

Let Us Dream Pope Francis (Simon & Schuster, 2020)

How are we to reshape the world in the wake of a disaster that has in some way impacted every nation? That is a question thinking people asked in earnest twice in the first half of the last century. As this one comes of age the pandemic means it needs to be asked again.

The answers last time round were, in 1918, a messy compromise that pleased nobody and led to another world war. A second attempt in 1945 produced a settlement that although far from perfect raised living standards for millions of pale and endured for thirty years until the oil crisis and the rise of neoliberal economics did it down.

As we stumble along a dark tunnel towards the flickering light of a vaccinated world it is becoming clear that another such settlement is going to be needed. What that should look like is already being debated by scholars and written about in books and papers comprehensible to few outside their tribe.

That is awkward to say the least since you, I and the generation who follow us will have to live in the world it shapes. The only alternatives are either the facile promise that life can return to its default setting or populist promises bellowed from one bully pulpit or another.

Thankfully Pope Francis, a man with legitimate access to a pulpit of his own, has given us a convincing answer in a book shorter than the references section of most academic tomes. Brevity here is most definitely a virtue, not least because it is joined with clarity, passion and erudition.

Francis divided his book into three sections, each with an important message about how we got to where we were before the pandemic, and how afterwards we might move on to something better.

In the first he writes about how we can confront crises in the outside world and within our own lives. In doing so he draws on personal experiences from suffering a serious illness as a young seminarian to facing challenges in his professional life. Change, particularly when it is forced on us, he argues is, despite appearances to the contrary, always an opportunity. If we can recognise the lesson it has to teach and let go of easy ideas about returning to 'normal' a better future is possible for individuals and nations alike.

To do that though we have to open our eyes to the world as it really is, seeing all the suffering and injustice our busy lives help us to ignore. That process provides the subject matter of the second section of the book.

Francis offers a critique of a world that has fallen so far in love with material wealth it puts a price on everything yet remains ignorant of the value of those things that matter most. He also sets his sights on the atomized individualism that has led us to be selfish, scared and increasingly uncomfortable with ourselves.

These aren't and aren't intended to be original observations, the difference is that Francis brings to them the compassion of a gifted confessor. It isn't enough to point out our wrongs, he wants to point out the narrow path to making ourselves and our world whole again.

This is the subject of the third section, in which he sets out a blueprint for a fairer world based on Catholic Social Teaching. In doing so Francis argued we need to address three core issues.

These relate to Land, the pressing need for human beings to develop a more sustainable and respectful relationship with the natural world; Lodging, how we make life in our cities more humane; and Labour, giving fulfilling work to all who are able as a fundamental human right. In doing so he advocates, among other things for a Universal Basic Income, more women in leadership roles, in both the church and the secular world and for us all to embrace a simpler, more satisfying lifestyle.

This is a powerful and important book written from a standpoint of deep faith by a genuinely holy man that speaks to believed and sceptic alike. The old world is gone, we need not mourn it too much because Pope Francis has shown us what a better one could look like.

Submitted: January 27, 2021

© Copyright 2021 A W Colclough. All rights reserved.

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