Christian social teaching could be the key to addressing many of the world's problems. This is what Jesuit priest Jorg Alt says. In his book "Handelt!"he appeals to Christians and churches to take responsibility.
Interviewer: In their book "Handelt!" as main problems in this world for example technical innovations and the artificial intelligence. Is that more of a curse than a blessing?
Jorg Alt (Jesuit priest and social scientist): Everything has its pros and cons. But right now – especially with the prere of resource overuse that we have – I see a danger that we think more quickly and more positively about technical innovation than would be appropriate. In the case of genetic engineering in particular, things are often introduced and approved without thorough consideration of the consequences and effects.
Or if we look into the military field, where drones are now taking over more tasks than human soldiers. How can a drone really reliably decide whether the person it is flying toward is an enemy or a civilian? Because the drone can only think in categories of zero and one and doesn't have this possibility of intuition, which a human being just has. It will be another 10, 20 years before a computer gets to the point where something comparable to intuition is created.
Another example: social media and all the data we place on the internet. By now it is well known how states and private companies use this to manipulate our election decisions in democracy. I see great dangers here, which must not be forgotten – even if we have to use all the advantages to be able to save the world.
Interviewer: They also criticize capitalism in the world. But many financial laws were tightened after the financial crisis 13 years ago. Four years ago, the Panama Papers became public. According to the coalition agreement, the German government still wants to introduce the financial transaction tax. Hasn't something already changed for the better??
Alt: Not really. The financial lobby has so far been able to prevent real improvements. I only mention the separation banking system – i.e. that one wanted to separate the commercial banks for companies and private customers from the speculative investment banking system. This was repealed in the U.S., and in the EU and Germany it was not even properly introduced.
As far as the financial transaction tax is concerned, the idea that is currently being introduced is not a tax against financial speculation and financial products, but on shares – in other words, a tax that would hit the real economy. And that is exactly what we did not want.
They call the Panama Papers. The offshore system still exists. And capital holders can use this offshore system with tax havens and shell companies to blackmail states. If a big investor goes to a government and says: "If you don't give me such and such concessions, I'll go somewhere else", he still gets what he wants. This shows that capital is still in charge in today's world and not democracy and governments.
Interviewer: You say that Christian social teaching is the key to the problems of this world. Explain briefly.
Jorg Alt: It can be a key. There are many, but: Yes, I am convinced of it. In the current system of neoliberalism, the free and unregulated market and competition are the determining factors. Accordingly, capital profit takes precedence over social and ecological criteria.
In the face of the crisis we have at the moment, we need to clearly recall that there was also a time before neoliberalism. Catholic social teaching in particular has, after all, had a positive effect on a social system that we still know from the old West Germany. The social market economy we had in Germany, for example, led to an unprecedented equal distribution of wealth. The current system, on the other hand, throws profits upwards, while at the bottom nothing arrives or the distribution stagnates.
If we call to mind that a society can also be organized according to other criteria – and the techniques for this exist – then we would simply still have to consider: What criteria do we want for our world?? I would simply say that it is not capital and profits that should count, but the common good of all.
As the refugee movement shows, in today's globalized world, the common good can no longer be understood only regionally or nationally, but must be thought of globally. Because, what we miss in other parts of the world, it reflects back on us.
Interviewer: In your book you also express your visions of a modern church. They let women preach, release Amazon priests from celibacy, ordain married men as priests. Do you really want that? Or do they want to provoke?
Alt: Thought: What could a church look like in today's world that, on the one hand, takes modern developments into account, but on the other hand does not endanger unity as a global actor? I believe very well that we have to cut off some things that belong to tradition and not to the Holy Scriptures, that we have to cut off these braids finally.
I've been in Latin America for a long time, and I know a little bit about Africa, too. I certainly believe that celibacy could be made optional worldwide, or that women could be ordained as deacons or elevated to cardinals as a matter of course. I don't think that would divide the church.
I see problems with same-sex living arrangements, for example. I don't think people in other cultures would be that far yet. And I also believe that women could not yet be appointed as priests or bishops. But we could simply cut off a lot of problems and then go back to the real problems of the world that need our attention.
The interview was conducted by Tobias Fricke.