Pope Francis’ notion of the “polyhedron” has been hailed as a “fairer and more equitable” way to rethink globalisation post-COVID-19.
– “Old paradigms” can’t answer “collapse of the scientistic paradigm of modernity and its postmodern relativist challenge”
“There is a powerful temptation within circles of power to respond to our current crisis by relying on old paradigms”, philosopher Antoine Arjakovsky and theologian Jean-Baptist Arnaud denounced in an article August 3 on the ABC website.
But as more and more thinkers are warning – and more and more citizens are realising – the COVID-19 pandemic is doing nothing if not laying bare the shortcomings of the social, economic and development model the world has taken and takes for granted – that of liberal capitalism, wrote Arjakovsky and Arnaud, co-directors of research in the Department of Politics and Religions at the Collège des Bernadins in Paris.
Indeed, as the academics observed – quoting economist Thomas Piketty – “the COVID-19 crisis is ‘the tree that hides the forest’ of a globalisation that is disrespectful of creation, unjust, and hypnotised by the gross domestic product index”.
Consequently, in the opinion of the philosopher and the theologian, new ways of thinking are required that take us beyond “the collapse of the scientistic paradigm of modernity and its postmodern relativist challenge”.
– The polyhedron, Francis’ thought of “unity in diversity”
The Pope has used the metaphor of the polyhedron on a number of occasions to illustrate his vision of everything from globalisation to ecumenism.
In a 2013 message on the social doctrine of the Church, for example, he wrote that where the sphere represents homologation and standardisation in that “it is smooth, without facets, and equal to itself in all its parts… the polyhedron has a form similar to the sphere, but it is multifaceted”.
“I like to imagine humanity as a polyhedron, in which the multiple forms, in expressing themselves, constitute the elements that compose the one human family in a plurality. And this is true globalisation. The other globalisation – that of the sphere – is an homologation”, the pontiff explained.
In a 2014 visit to an Italian Pentecostal church, Francis followed up on the notion of the polyhedron and reflected: “We are in the age of globalisation, and we wonder what globalisation is and what the unity of the Church would be: perhaps a sphere, where all points are equidistant from the center, all are equal? No! This is uniformity. And the Holy Spirit does not create uniformity!”
“What figure can we find? We think of the polyhedron: the polyhedron is a unity, but with all different parts; each one has its peculiarity, its charism. This is unity in diversity”, the Pope said.
That capacity of Francis’ polyhedron, then, to “allow us to think of both the unity of the world and the diversity of identities” is what suggested to Arjakovsky and Arnaud that the metaphor “could contribute a great deal to the discussion” on how to rebuild post-COVID.
– An answer to the paralysis of international institutions
Arjakovsky and Arnaud pointed out that Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato si’, with its message of “the protection of the ‘common home’ in a spirit of social justice… has spread far beyond the world’s two billion Christians”.
“The spiritual consciousness that emanates from this text signals the advent of a more expansive thought (‘everything in the world is connected’) based on concrete and precise observations. That’s why this consciousness can make such practical recommendations”, they noted.
But even despite the Pope’s massive influence and practicality – and the “exercise of discernment” he enacts in “listening to the events of the world and to the Word of God”, thereby attesting “to the universal character of the Judeo-Christian revelation, source of freedom for all humanity, whether believers or not” – that’s not where the pontiff’s principal relevance post-COVID resides, according to Arjakovsky and Arnaud.
Rather, the usefulness of the Pope’s thought of the polyhedron, the academics said, is that it provides an answer to the difficult philosophical problem of how to respond to the ‘deaths’ of God and the State in Enlightenment and postmodern thought respectively which isolated the individual to fight alone against a hostile world.
In that sense, Arjakovsky and Arnaud wrote that the papal idea of the polyhedron is similar to anthropologist Alain Caillé’s notion of “pluriversalism”, a term coined “to criticise all the communitarian relativisms in the name of the requirement of a certain universality, and, conversely, to criticize all the abstract universalisms in the name of their closure to the otherness and the plurality of ways of the universal”.
The consequences of our postmodern atomisation could not be more serious, with it being one of the reasons why international organisations are paralysed in the face of the serious challenges facing humanity such as inequality, climate change or, more recently, the COVID-19 crisis.
But according to Arjakovsky and Arnaud, the Pope’s polyhedron – situated within the current broader philosophical turn to a “new spiritual epistemology” – allows the individual “the free expression of the people and communities to which they are attached (family, associative, national, European, international)”.
Just as importantly, the Pope’s idea reminds the modern citizen “that freedom is not only a capacity to choose – it is also a summons to serve the common good” and that “freedom does not stop where others’ freedom begins”, but rather when “man limits himself because his conscience tells him of his responsibilities”.
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