William M. Briggs

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What Might Pope Francis’s Upcoming Encyclical Look Like?

For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

So said St Paul in his first letter to Timothy, and human history is loaded with evidence confirming this view. Latterly, I say, money has been replaced in part by Theory. Pope Francis thinks Inequality. Which, he said, is the “fruit of the law of competitiveness that means strongest survive over the weak” which is the “logic of exploitation” and “waste”.

Or so he said in Italian to a group in Milan, his words translated by Vatican Insider. There is thus the very real danger here and elsewhere of missing nuances and even of incorrect wordings. So let’s tread carefully.

It is necessary, if we really want to solve problems and not get lost in sophistry, to get to the root of all evil which is inequity. To do this there are some priority decisions to be made: renouncing the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and acting first on the structural causes of inequity.

Obviously, or at least I hope obviously, you cannot push the “strongest survive over the weak” metaphor too far. Neither “inequality.” If there were absolute equality, where the weak and strong are as one, there would be no Pope and no right or wrong ideas. Neither could there be politicians in charge to renounce absolute autonomy of markets or of anything else.

Incidentally, we musn’t form a USA-centric view of the Pope’s words. Here, for instance, the markets are very much tied to government, the executives of one are the executives of the other. Market leaders assist (if I may be allowed the euphemism) the government in fashioning laws and regulations to their mutual benefit.

The Pope is interested in the kind of inequality that causes some of the world to go hungry. “[T]he number one concern must be for the actual person, how many people lack food on a daily basis and have stopped thinking about life, about family and social relationships, just fighting to survive?” And here comes the kicker:

“Despite the proliferation of different organizations and the international community on nutrition, the ‘paradox’ of John Paul II still stands.” There is food for everyone, but not everyone can eat” while “at the same time the excessive consumption and waste of food and the use of it for other means is there before our eyes.”

Despite? Is that the right word? But he’s right about waste. The amount of food we toss out would have scandalized our ancestors. My maternal grandfather was fond of saying, and of enforcing, “Take what you want, but eat what you take.”

In a different venue (also translated), Pope Francis said that humans should think of themselves as lords but not masters of creation. This strikes me as accurate. In charge but restrained by natural law. The danger to those who slaver or fume over the Pope’s environmental words lies in thinking our environmental policy must consist in jumping from wanton disregard to unthinking worship. We dearly love a false dichotomy.

A Christian who does not protect Creation, who does not let it grow, is a Christian who does not care about the work of God, that work that was born from the love of God for us. And this is the first response to the first creation: protect creation, make it grow.

And from the Milan speech (with choppy translation grammar):

The earth is entrusted to us so it may be a mother to us, capable of sustaining each one of us. Once, I heard a beautiful thing: the earth is not a legacy that we have received from our parents rather it is on loan to us from our children, so that we safeguard it, nurture it and carry it forward for them. The earth is generous will never leave those who custody it lacking. The earth, which is the mother for all, demands our respect and non-violence or worse the arrogance the masters. We have to pass it on to our children improved, guarded, because it was a loan that they have given to us.

You have to read your own (right or left) political desires into this to have any policy of consequence flow from it. No definite directives can be implied from the Pope’s words. One cannot, for instance, argue that thus a carbon tax must follow. Neither can you say (which nobody does say) you can do whatever you want.

But many think or hope they can “leverage” the Pope to further their politics. Even now “eco-ambassadors” are flowing in great numbers to Rome to have a photo-op (secular blessing) because they are sure the Pope’s upcoming encyclical can be used by them as a bludgeon. They want in on what they are sure will be a good thing. We’ll see.

19 Comments

  1. Contrast the Pope’s grandiose perspective with that of George Carlin’s (the title of this youtube video is misleading):

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BB0aFPXr4n4

    George Carlin did a good job of spearating fact from speculation in that spiel.

    Long-term, ole Sol starts burning out & expanding…certain to fry planet earth to a cinder before, likely, expanding to the point of engulfing earth on its way to supernova.

    Meantime, there’s some basic clean-up we can & arguably ought do–like segregating toxic waste & so forth for the good of water supplies, etc., etc. for the good of us humans….but the idea that humans can siginficantly alter the basic nature of the planet and/or clean it up on a planetary scale is kinda sensational. The pope’s words suggest he’s on that gradiose bandwagon.

  2. Briggs, your view of Pope Francis’s comments are charitable, and I hope they are correct. For another, harsher view, see Hinderaker’s post, “Pope Francis, put a lid on it, please!”
    http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2014/12/pope-francis-put-a-lid-on-it-please.php

    If Pope Francis’s encyclical will follow the pronouncements of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences and Science (see link below), then I am not optimistic. There are so many errors of fact in that article–polar ice and Himalayan snow melt–that it could come from the New York Times.
    http://www.casinapioiv.va/content/accademia/en/events/2014/sustainable.html

  3. I will shortly be posting a piece on when the Church should meddle with science, and when not, that will also address Pope Francis’s possible encyclical.

  4. …the root of all evil which is inequity.

    Obviously, the context is financial, so the question then is why do economic systems naturally sort into distributions of inequity? Some of it’s the way systems work (reward for effort), but some of it’s not (corruption). The “structural causes” he’s looking for is the condition of the heart. That’s the root of evil, not market configurations. The uncaring, selfish heart causes or allows the misery accompanying the low end of the equity scale. St. Paul got it — it was the greed (“love”), not the money that was the problem. Does this Pope get it?

    My maternal grandfather was fond of saying when passing the box of chocolates, “Take one and look at the rest.” His point was not to be greedy thinking you could have them all.

  5. Briggs

    February 11, 2015 at 12:51 pm

    Bob,

    The PASS and the PAS are no different on this question than any other political organization. Their public document is written by botanist who is sure that global warming will kill half—half—of all species.

  6. I thought that the love of money was the root of all evil.

  7. “For the love of money is the root of all evil”.

    The problem with this statement is that it is clearly not true, regardless how it is interpreted. There are many evils that have nothing to do with the love of money, e.g. crimes of passion. Therefore the statement has to be amended to read that the love of money is the root of some evil. I would go even further and say that the love of money does not necessarily lead to evil and that a further amendment is necessary, i.e. the love of Money sometimes leads to evil, sometimes leads to good, and sometimes is indifferent to it.

    “There is food for everyone, but not everyone can eat”.

    This is also a foolish statement since it ignores distribution and assumes a rather bizarre cause and effect. For example, what does the abundance of food and water in a fertile valley have to do with the scarcity in a desert? This is the politics of resentment pure and simple. To say that “the root of all evil which is inequity” is just more of the same nonsense. So no he is not right about waste Briggs unless you believe that we should all live at the same level of existence as the poorest in the world do. To say that there is waste is to recognize that 100% efficiency is impossible.

    The Church has always admired the vow of poverty for some reason without recognizing that this can only be done at the expense (charity) of those who love money. To coin a phrase it is not enough that they are virtuous (poor) others must sin (be rich).

  8. Scotian: Some versions (New American Standard, American Standard Version, World English) translate the verse as:
    “Why is the love of money the root of all kinds of evil?”

    I tend to quote from the King James Version, where the verse says all evil. The newer translation makes more sense, though I will research why the translations diverge on this one.

  9. Briggs, maybe by inequity the pope means that (as you said) he wants to avoid the hungry starving. But maybe he means by “inequity” what all the other socialists mean when they talk about the “gap”. Maybe the pope is just another socialist.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdR7WW3XR9c

  10. Sheri:

    The phrase is ???? ?????? ??? ?????, but I don’t know enough Koine (?) to know whether the ??? can be interpreted to mean “kinds of,” making it “root of all kinds of evil.” But I’m pretty sure ????? is “of evil things.”

  11. Oops! I tried to enter Greek, but it didn’t work (although it works in a Word document). A rough transliteration would be riza panton ton kakon, with all the o’s representing omegas.

    Query whether the genitive-plural article “ton” may be interpreted as “kinds of” here. As I said, I’m pretty sure the “kakon” is “of evil things,” but the only Greek I have is a dim relic of my misspent youth, so finer points of article usage is beyond me.

    I’ll try that Greek again: ???? ?????? ??? ?????.

  12. “…and waste of food and the use of it for other means is there before our eyes.”

    Having a go (and rightly, if so) at the biofuels industry?

  13. I’ve noticed a modern tendency for severe discomfort about “mastery”. The assumption is that mastery is bad, not that there is good mastery and bad mastery. But what makes Christian mastery work is that it is delegated. Every master, whether over a slave, wife, child, world, or task, themselves has an ultimate master in heaven, to whom they are answerable.

  14. Sheri, Joe,

    A compilation of many translations is given here.

    http://biblehub.com/1_timothy/6-10.htm

    So you have a good point, as it is difficult to know exact meaning from a translation. It is interesting that although the phrase “all kinds of evil” literally means the same thing as “all evil” there is a colloquial difference. There must be colloquial differences in Ancient Greek as well and many of these subtleties may have been lost through the passage of time.

  15. Joe Born: I googled the greek translation (Koine not readily available, it seems). There was considerable discussion of the subject, with no resolution, of course. Original Greek does seem to say “all evil”. The problem comes with translations, since they are rarely literal (as witnessed by having Google translate web pages for you). As Scotian notes, there are many translations. (I like the link–I bookmarked it.)

    For now, I’m going with the “love of money” and “inequality” as the root of all evil have some translation problems. My point was the Pope is using a different “root of evil” than is commonly quoted, though with a stretch, you might “love of money” to be “inequality”. Maybe.

    Bulldust: I think he was referring to personal injury lawyers that keep food and other goods from being distributed to the poor in the US due to the probability of lawsuits.

  16. Brandon: Why must you always translate “getting it right” to 100% certainty. Global warming advocates have that very annoying habit–at least as annoying as the Agenda 21 from skeptics. So stop with “100%”. I’ve asked this before based on advocates use of doctors and medicine: How sure does the model your doctor uses to decide if you have cancer (assume there is no test, only a model) have to before you submit to chemo? How sure does the model have to be before you believe chemo worked and you’re okay? Assume the model works on weighted averages from people who were believed to have had and cancer and were cured (i.e. did not die).

    How do you know if someone is lying if you don’t read what they wrote in its entirety? You know there might be some truth in there. 🙂

    Best not to get started on “giving as good as I got”. I have this thing about people complaining about rudeness and then doling it out in revenge for the exact same behaviour they complained about.

    Compared to modern society, the Amish are stone-age. However, the point is, take the entire society of the US and try to fit them into the Amish life-style. Now do the same with Japan and Europe. It’s physically impossible. Someone has move, die or otherwise exit the program. It’s just the reality of the world.

  17. Sheri,

    Why must you always translate “getting it right” to 100% certainty.

    The opposite of “right” is “wrong”. If you wish not to be interpreted in dichotomous absolutes, consider not writing in them.

    I’ve asked this before based on advocates use of doctors and medicine: How sure does the model your doctor uses to decide if you have cancer (assume there is no test, only a model) have to before you submit to chemo?

    The probability of the test being correct would need to be at least as high as the probability the chemo would kill me.

    How sure does the model have to be before you believe chemo worked and you’re okay?

    I’d want the rate of false negatives to be less than the rate of remission.

    How do you know if someone is lying if you don’t read what they wrote in its entirety? You know there might be some truth in there. 🙂

    True, but since I don’t have time to read everything I use various heuristics to decide what and what not to read.

    I have this thing about people complaining about rudeness and then doling it out in revenge for the exact same behaviour they complained about.

    Indeed that is annoying. It might have been better for me to have written “I get as good as I give” which is certainly true of the rude. Not always true of the polite. I maintain “they” fired the first shot, of course.

    Compared to modern society, the Amish are stone-age.

    lol, I don’t see it that way but I understand your point. Ruining the present economy, including “destroying” capitalism is not an option in my book, and I tire of having that nightmare scenario raised as an objection when I’m not advocating such a course of action. As I see it, urging prudent caution and proactive technological development is anything but fear-mongering.

    Or as I read recently on Watts in pretty much this exact same context, “The stone age didn’t end because we ran out of rocks.”

  18. Come on, Brandon, you know when we are dealing with probabilities , we are not talking dichotomies. If we are talking dichotomies, the majority of models are dead wrong, wrong, wrong and yet you still insist they be used.

    Okay, you obviously have much different standards for certainty than I have. Using climate models as an example, you have 40+ models and some show that the chemo helps and a few more show that it might help. Of course, you really have no idea if it’s the chemo that works or not, since you’re only looking at models and their results. I wouldn’t go there myself. Apparently you have far more faith in computer modeling than I. (Can’t really measure the rate of false negatives–we don’t have real data. We can only say that a certain percentage survived. You can’t use real data because this is about a model, not a test. Just like the climate models.)

    “Mommy, he started it.” (“He lied so I can”, “He cheated so I can”, “He bullied so I can”)

    As long as you are not advocating we overhaul the entire planet and remove fossil fuels, I’m good with that. If we can move away from them, fine. If not, then we deal with whatever happens. Odds are actually very good it won’t be apocalyptic.

  19. Sheri,

    Come on, Brandon, you know when we are dealing with probabilities , we are not talking dichotomies. If we are talking dichotomies, the majority of models are dead wrong, wrong, wrong and yet you still insist they be used.

    You missed out on that conversation when we had it a few days ago.

    Okay, you obviously have much different standards for certainty than I have.

    Standards, or expectations?

    Using climate models as an example, you have 40+ models and some show that the chemo helps and a few more show that it might help. Of course, you really have no idea if it’s the chemo that works or not, since you’re only looking at models and their results.

    [sigh] Nothing in my original answer said anything about whether the chemo would help or not.

    Apparently you have far more faith in computer modeling than I.

    Probably true, but the chemotherapy analogy probably isn’t the best evidence of that difference. Not at all the same sort of models.

    You can’t use real data because this is about a model, not a test. Just like the climate models.

    We should probably stick to talking about climate models as climate models and leave the medical analogies out of it.

    Odds are actually very good it won’t be apocalyptic.

    How exactly did you calculate these odds?

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