What God demands is not the absolute minimal undeveloped lives of oppressed human beings in dead-end environments. Pope Leo's God -- and any god worthy of the name -- demands that our labors enable us to live fully, to realize the full potential of human beings. That means time for education, leisure, time for relaxation with friends and family, time not just to bear life like a burden, to love it, to live it, like free and empowered human beings.
Pope Leo XIII contrasted humans with lower animals, which he called "brutes":
"The brute has no power of self-direction, but is governed by two chief instincts". These instincts are self-preservation and the propagation of the species". But with [humans] it is different indeed". It is the mind, or the reason, which is the chief thing in us who are human beings; it is this which makes human beings human, and distinguishes them essentially and completely from the brute. ("Rerum Novarum," in Seven Great Encyclicals, New York: Paulist Press, 1963, p. 3)"
And what is the role of the Church in all of this? "Its desire is that the poor, for example, should rise above poverty and wretchedness, and should better their condition in life; and for this it strives." And if conditions exist which rob humans of the possibility of living like people created in the image of God, if people found themselves in
"conditions that were repugnant to their dignity as human beings" if health were endangered by excessive labor, or by work unsuited to sex or age--in these cases there can be no question that within certain limits, it would be right to call in the help and authority of the law [to do what] is required for the remedy of the evil or the removal of the danger."
And why? Why must the Church and the law do these things? Because God demands it! Demands it, because humans must be given living conditions which allow them to develop fully to the limits of their potential as educated, intelligent, creative, and joyful people. It is for that they were created, and conditions which make that nearly impossible are not merely wrong: they are evil.
"On New Things"
Times have changed. The population of the world has increased five-fold since 1891, and 39-fold since the era when the Bible was written, when the world's population was estimated at about 180 million. The effect of overpopulation and under-education on the possibility of living like fully developed human beings is deadly. The pressures on single mothers and working families without the support of large extended families or social safety nets have never been this brutal. Neither the religious scriptures of the West nor established theological traditions have yet had to address this changed situation -- these "New Things" -- regarding birth control and abortion.
Now they do. And both the fact and the threat of more unwanted births and of more human beings is now among the most destructive variables that make it impossible for billions of people to grow into their true nature and highest possibilities. They will be driven instead, as Pope Leo said of the "brutes," by only two instincts: self-preservation, and reproduction.
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