Pope Blasts Consumerism as Human Rights Threat

By Jones, Arthur | National Catholic Reporter, January 8, 1999 | Go to article overview

Pope Blasts Consumerism as Human Rights Threat


Jones, Arthur, National Catholic Reporter


In his most pointed attack yet on "materialist consumerism," Pope John Paul II has equated it as an evil to rank with Marxism, Nazism and fascism.

Within his annual Jan. 1 World Peace Day message, in which the pontiff also sharply criticizes the inadequacies of the free market system, the pope curtly denounces "materialist consumerism" as an ideology in which the "exaltation of the individual and the selfish satisfaction of personal aspirations become the ultimate goal of life" creating a world-view in which "the negative aspects on others are considered completely irrelevant."

These condemnations of threats to human dignity are key elements in John Paul's 10-page letter, "Respect for Human Rights: the Secret of True Peace," which focuses primarily on the need to build the common good through observing rights as diverse as the right to life, to religious and political freedoms, to participate in the life of the community and to self-fulfillment.

This century's history, the pope states, has shown the tragic danger that results from forgetting the truth about the human person. "Before our eyes we have the results of ideologies such as Marxism, Nazism and fascism, and also of myths like racial superiority and ethnic exclusivism.

"No less pernicious, though not always as obvious," he emphasizes, "are the effects of materialist consumerism." Also focusing on the rapid globalization of the economy and the diminution of national sovereignty, the pope emphasized that "nations and people have the right to share in the decisions which often profoundly modify their way of life."

"Who is responsible," he asks, "for guaranteeing the global common good and the exercise of economic and social rights? The free market by itself cannot do this because in fact there are many human needs which have no place in the market."

"The technical details of certain economic problems give rise to the tendency to restrict discussions about them to limited circles, with the consequent danger that political and financial power is concentrated in a small number of governments and special interest groups," he said. Individuals have the right to "a decent level of living" and the availability of work to make that life possible, he says. He balances relief from the "the devastating reality of unemployment" between the necessity of "emergency interventions" by governments and the need for the poor themselves to "take responsibility for their own livelihood. …

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