Contemporary Issue: Alienation


Definitions by our Holy Fathers

Returning to a theme introduced by Marx, but applied differently, Pope Saint John Paul II originally identified the issue of alienation in Centesimus Annus as

"...the loss of the authentic meaning of life" (CA, 41)

Pope Francis recently evoked the characteristics of alienation in our modern life, observing that we live in a world

"...marked by a “globalization of indifference” which makes us slowly inured to the suffering of others and closed in on ourselves."(Pope Francis, World Day of Peace Message, 1 January 2014, 1)

His Holiness describes alienation as a poverty of relationships:

"In many societies, we are experiencing a profound poverty of relationships as a result of the lack of solid family and community relationships. We are concerned by the various types of hardship, marginalization, isolation and... pathological dependencies which we see increasing. This kind of poverty can be overcome only through the rediscovery and valuing of fraternal relationships in the heart of families and communities, through the sharing of joys and sorrows, of the hardships and triumphs that are a part of human life." (Pope Francis, World Day of Peace Message, 1 January 2014, 5)

Pope Francis places alienation at the forefront of the perils that our society faces in the 21st century.

“The individualism of our postmodern and globalized era favours a lifestyle which weakens the development and stability of personal relationships and distorts family bonds.” (Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 24 November 2013, 67)

Pope Benedict XVI touched upon alienation several times during his papacy, providing an elegant and apt description in Caritas in Veritate:

“Man is alienated when he is alone, when he is detached from reality, when he stops thinking and believing in a foundation” (CIV, 53)

Alienation and Exploitation

Saint John Paul II pointed out that when this symptom of detatchment arises in man, so arises a "perfect storm" for 

"...various forms of exploitation, when people use one another, and when they seek an ever more refined satisfaction of their individual and secondary needs, while ignoring the principal and authentic needs which ought to regulate the manner of satisfying the other ones too.” (CA, 41) 

Francis, too, expanded upon Saint John Paul II's concept of exploitation:

“Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”." (Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 24 November 2013, 53)

Participation in Society in order to Reach and Know God

Pope Pius IX argued that society is the essential vehicle upon which man can reach and know God. This idea, though written in 1937, still remains extremely relevant today:

"In the plan of the Creator, society is a natural means which man can and must use to reach his destined end. Society is for man and not vice versa. This must not be understood in the sense of liberalistic individualism, which subordinates society to the selfish use of the individual; but only in the sense that by means of an organic union with society and by mutual collaboration the attainment of earthly happiness is placed within the reach of all. (Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Letter Divini Redemptoris,19 March 1937, 29)

What are the Two Types of Alienation?

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What Causes Alienation?

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What Can/Must Be Done to ‘Fix’ the Situation?

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Related Thoughts on Alienation

"To destroy such structures and replace them with more authentic forms of living in community is a task which demands courage and patience." (CA,38) Taken from "Saint John Paul's thoughts on the Human Environment - from Centesimus Annus"
"We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need." (DCE,28) Taken from "Benedict's Thoughts on the Role of the State - from Deus Caritas Est"
Putting people always first means protecting, at every stage and in every circumstance, the dignity of the person, and its human rights and fundamental freedoms, and in a specific way, the rights to life and to freedom of religion from which all other rights flow and which are therefore the common foundation of the pillars of peace and security and integral human development. Taken from "Holy See Secretary of Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Address to the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly"

Related Events on Alienation

6 days
2018 Certificate Course in Catholic Social Teaching

Sunday, October 28, 2018 at 3:00pm

Washington Retreat House
The 2018 Certificate Course in Catholic Social Teaching(CST) will be held in Washington, D.C., at the Washington Retreat House (directly across from The Catholic University of America), the week of Oct. 28 to Nov. 2, 2018.

Related Speakers / Panelists / Authors on: Alienation

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Just a Thought
Consumerism arises from a misunderstanding about the meaning of life and the real source of human happiness: consumerism is the mistaken idea that the consumption of things and experiences leads to happiness. It is an addiction to buying things, to spending money, as a solution to the lack of happiness and peace in one’s life, in one’s family. Read more