“We have created a ‘throw away’ culture which is now spreading.”
- Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 53.
People around the world, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, have been fascinated by Pope Francis. He first impressed us with his humility: paying for his hotel room, driving a used vehicle, and residing in a simple apartment. He has kept our attention with his touching gestures of love and affection. More recently he has challenged us with his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. In this exhortation and other communications the Holy Father has referred to a “throw away culture,” a culture in which some people are not only exploited, but seen as not even human. The throw away culture is pervasive, and Catholics must challenge it.
What is the throw away culture? It is an aspect of modern life of which most of us are probably vaguely aware. In the throw away culture, people are treated as objects rather than as people. In fact, they are often treated as objects whose value is measured by the pleasure they bring to people who are perceived as having more power. A man coerces his girlfriend to abort, because the little girl she carries may ruin his career plans. He sees his daughter as a “value-less object” that can be thrown away. A mother learns from pre-natal testing that her son may have a genetic abnormality. The throw away culture tells her about her “choices.” If the struggles are expected to outweigh the amount of happiness that the boy will bring, those choices include discarding the child.
A cruel accounting is at work here. Certainly, as Pope Francis has taught so well, we are all called to approach people in difficult situations with mercy, love and support. At the same time, these notions of value fail to recognize in people the inherent dignity that is theirs simply because they are people.
The Holy Father’s reference to the throw away culture challenges all Catholics. Certainly, those who encourage practices like abortion and euthanasia are active participants in the culture of death. At the same time, this theme has broader application. The throw away culture is at work when people are treated like parts of a machine. People who died in poorly built garment factories were seen as valuable to their employers only insofar as they provided cheap labor for the production of inexpensive clothes. They were treated as though they were expendable. The throwaway culture is at work anywhere that people are treated as mere material, as objects without dignity, or simply ignored entirely.
People of life, and especially we who are Catholics, must counteract the throwaway culture by cherishing every life. Pope Francis challenges every Christian to do her or his part. Certainly, we must confront and overturn laws that treat human beings like mere clumps of cells. Within our various activities and spheres of influence, the dignity of every human person must come to the forefront. In a world where some people are not even considered as a part of society, the disciple of Jesus is called to foster a culture that acknowledges the dignity of all. In this way we can embrace the fullness of the joy of the gospel.
Aaron Matthew Weldon is a staff assistant for the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. For more information on the bishops’ pro-life activities, please visit www.usccb.org/prolife