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December 15, 2014

Pope Francis provided the European Parliament with a grim diagnosis about the state of Europe when he spoke to the body Nov. 25. (See story on Page 13.) The continent, he said, is like an aging grandmother who is no longer fertile or vibrant. (Actually, we do know many vibrant grandmothers.)

In glorifying individual rights, Europe is disregarding the right to life and treating some people as objects who can be discarded, "mere cogs in a machine." The selfish live opulent lifestyles and are indifferent to the suffering of the poor. Multinational corporations form "unseen empires" of economic power, and religious minorities are persecuted.

Yet those who would restrict this analysis to the culture of the Old Continent would be mistaken. It might apply equally to Canada, one of the world's younger nations. The root cause of the disease might lie less in the age of a society than in its love or lack of love for the Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. It is a love of the transcendent trinitarian God that grounds our sense that persons should not be treated as things, that makes for a more human society.

The pope said this to the European Parliament, and the Social Affairs Commission of the Canadian bishops said something similar 32 years ago in its famous statement, Ethical Reflections on the Economic Crisis. The bishops did not appeal to Canadians' religious sensibilities in calling for a more humane economic system. Instead, they said that at heart the economic crisis of that day was a moral crisis.

Indeed, a fair and just economic system is almost by definition one where there is a widespread and deep moral conscience in society. Conscience is a spiritual faculty that can only exist if there is a God who gives each person a sense of right and wrong. When the belief in God fades in society, a host of moral problems will ensue. When there is no belief in the transcendent, there can only be belief in a flat, self-centred immanence. The yearning for personal wealth, power and pleasure will run roughshod.

We need God, need him desperately. We need to acknowledge God in order to praise and thank him. This turn toward praise and thanksgiving is our only hope. It is the hope of eternal life; it is also the hope for a humane life in this world. Every society, aging or young, needs to rely on the Transcendent Other. He is our only ground for treating others as people rather than things.