By Eugen Schoenfeld | One Man’s Opinion
The event came, and CNN, I do not know why, took the opportunity to make Pope Francis’ visit the central if not sole event of its broadcast Thursday, Sept. 24.
The pope, the CEO of the Catholic Church, presumably to strengthen the falling rates of the faithful, particularly among white Americans, came to do a PR job. As the pope, that is his job, and he did it with gusto.
He outlined a program for the world in general and the United States in particular that would find favor not only with me, but also with Sen. Bernie Sanders, the presidential candidate.
However, even before his arrival, I wondered: Will the pope, given that he arrived on Yom Kippur, wish American Jews a happy new year or even make a brief visit to a synagogue?
Such an act could have served as atonement for the church’s myriad of sins against Jews. Perhaps he should have taken a clue from pharaoh’s cup-bearer, who declared: “I remember my sins today.”
Yes, the human world is in trouble. Technology has added to our capacity to kill each other with the greatest facility. There have always been wars, and in spite of supposedly having shed our primitive outlook and having gained greater wisdom, all we have gained is greater technology to make war far more effective.
Here comes the pope and confronts us with our human frailty, with our continued commitment to egoism, and raises the question that Cain raised many millennia ago: Am I my brother’s keeper?
The pope in his way wishes to remind us of G-d’s answer: Your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground.
Cain in a sense represents all of us who are still governed by the Freudian id — fundamentally, our egocentrism — instead of the moral ideal of our responsibility to each other. In the rabbinic period we were reminded that “all Jews are responsible for each other.”
On the first day in Auschwitz-Birkenau I told my father that I had hoped in the mid-20th century, having achieved advancement in intellectualism, particularly in philosophy and knowledge of moral ethics, the world would have declared in unison: “All the people in the world are responsible for each other.”
But it did not, and now, like the new pharaoh in Exodus, the new pope, a friend of a rabbi’s, has forgotten the church’s stand when we were being exterminated. As the representative of the church, he has forgotten the sins the church has committed since its inception against Jews.
Well, the blood of my brother, sister, mother and hundreds of my kin still cries out from the gas chambers and the ovens. And what about the blood of those who have defended and still defend my people? Will you stand with them, Francis?
But back to Cain. When G-d, for whatever reason, preferred Abel’s offering to that of Cain, the latter became angry. And G-d asked him why his face was fallen. “Surely if you do right, there is uplift. But if you do not do right, sin couches at the door; its urge is toward you, yet you can be its master” (Genesis 4:7).
G-d gave Cain the same advice as He did to Adam: This is our world, and we and we alone have dominion over it. We can and should control our sinful urges.
We just observed Yom Kippur, the day we are occupied with sin. From my studies I learned that sin is a relative term. What was a sin a millennium ago today may be a virtue. This is especially true with respect to population control. The first of the 613 commandments, and the one that is equally fundamental to the Catholic Church’s teaching, is to be fruitful, multiply and fill the world.
But that command is one of the central problems the world has faced.
The universe exists, as Einstein has pointed out, because it is in balance. The universe functions on the basis of fundamental equations. As anyone who took math knows, if any variable in an equation is altered, the variable on the other side of the equation must also change.
The major balance that affects the well-being of the universe is population stability.
That is why I propose, as do many others, that the greatest problems today result from population imbalance: We have disturbed the natural association between birth and death rates.
Human population is increasing at an alarming rate. Thomas Malthus, an Anglican priest, in his essay on the principles of population control in 1796, cautions us, as did G-d to Adam and Cain, that we must be masters of our own world. Hence, it is up to us to re-establish population balance.
Imbalances, Malthus advises, are “the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear and with one mighty blow” will re-establish the balance.
The constant wars in the most poverty-ridden countries and the human migration we experience today are responses to population imbalance. No amount of good will or establishment of social justice will solve the problem of population imbalance. To alleviate the problem, world religions must be in the forefront by rejecting the virtue of uncontrolled births.
We have more than filled the world. Koheleth was wrong: The world changes, and there is always something new under the sun.
Years ago I asked a friend who was a devout Catholic: “Do you practice birth control?” When he responded in the affirmative, I continued my query: “Don’t you believe in your church’s dicta?”
“For the most part, I do,” he answered. “However, if the church will give me money that I need for having more children, I’ll have more.”
This holds true: We cannot solve universal human problems unless we solve the root cause of today’s social problem — overpopulation.