National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly

Archives  | 

Send This Page to a Friend

 Writer's Desk:  NCR's daily Web column
Each week, a member of the NCR staff offers commentary on topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

September 27, 2004
Vol. 2, No. 22



Tom Fox Breaking the myth of self-interest

By Thomas C. Fox, NCR publisher

As the human family navigates through the turbulent waters of the early 21st century, we are struggling to develop a new vocabulary better fit for the global era in which we live. Words matter; symbols and metaphors help us to grasp our identities, hopes and destinations. Used positively we gain health and strength for the journey ahead. Used negatively, we can lose courage, heart.

Communicators understand this only too well. Madison Avenue markets by crafting products, creating needs within us, whether we have them or not. The unconscionably pernicious Bush administration has been using fear to manipulate and strengthen its political hand to serve the richest among us.

The challenge we face is to develop a vocabulary that recaptures reality while appealing to our more noble instincts. Consider for a moment how only a few words shaped so many of us. It was at the Second Vatican Council in the mid-1960s; we began for the first time to speak about our church as "the people of God." No longer was it simply a set of buildings or bishops, priests and nuns. Or recall for a moment how our core values, beliefs and even our sense of reality changed radically when we stopped thinking of God as an anthropomorphic judging Father and began referring to our God as Love itself. Words matter.

Also by Thomas Fox
July 29, 2004 In dark times, looking east for hope
July 26, 2004 When a pope is not a pontiff
May 29, 2004 Cardinal Law's new appointment
Mar. 29, 2004 We should thank Richard Clarke
Jan. 23, 2004 In resistance there is hope
Jan. 22, 2004 Common ground: the earth beneath their feet
Jan. 21, 2004 Reflections close to my heart
Jan. 20, 2004 Remember the tales from last year
Jan. 19, 2004 The last years of Martin Luther King
Nov. 20, 2003 (un)Holy Matrimony
Nov. 19, 2003 Talking about celibacy
Nov. 18, 2003 Why bishops won't talk about celibacy
Oct. 10, 2003 Why Catholics are jittery
Sept. 25, 2003 A revolution deferred: sex and the church Part II
Another important consciousness altering effort is struggling to come alive. It is the effort afoot to move beyond the anachronistic notion of nation state as our primary source of identity. Some of the hopeful signs are efforts taking place in the European Union over the last decade and a half. These efforts have been forged by the realization of a large segment of the human family that much was to be gained by downplaying notions of national identity.

We've been on this journey for decades, but it picked up steam in the early 1970s, as we grew more ecologically conscious. It was then we realized we all share the same air, oceans, and eco-systems. The idea that we are all in the same boat slowly gained a foothold.

New consciousness altering insights require us eventually to let go of old ideas. The process is seldom easy. We don't usually like change. But growth comes out of it.

Our religious traditions have been calling us to think globally for millennia. In practice, however, they have often aligned themselves with ethnic or nationalist movements that are contrary to their inclusive creeds. How many bombs, draped in national flags, have been blessed by our religious leaders? How many times do we accept without a second thought politicians who invoke God to "bless America."

We have been groomed to accept nationalism as a form of religion even as it violates the first commandment to put aside idolatry.

As we enter the 21st century, it seems two competing sets of ideas are vying for supremacy. The first is based in traditional nation-state notions; the second starts with the idea of the global family. Both of our major political parties remain anchored in the former. Green parties around the globe situate themselves in the latter.

The language of nationalism is compelling. This is especially the case in post-9/11 America under the nationalist drumbeat of the current administration. A national politician would not have a chance being elected today if he or she questioned the U.S. accepted creed that "national interests" serve Americans best.

In fact, working exclusively for "national interests" virtually assures not only our eventual demise, but, given the position our nation plays in the world, the demise of the entire human family.

We must think globally. Simply put, any social or economic solution that does not serve the entire human family does not serve any of us. To pit nation against nation in a fight over limited global resources assures the death of us all.

Much of the world "gets it." The idea is hardly new or revolutionary. It is a core belief in our Catholic faith. Yet we often don't act upon this belief. The reason so many of us don't is because one of the primary creeds of the U.S. economic system holds a contrary tenant, that serving our self-proclaimed interests represents the highest form of generosity for the global family. To believe that without question is an indication of the power of myth, the power of ideas, and the power of words.

Fox is NCR publisher and can be reached at

Top of Page   | Home
Copyright © 2004 The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111 
TEL:  1-816-531-0538   FAX:  1-816-968-2280