· Vatican City ·

The fanaticism of indifference

 The fanaticism of indifference  ING-039
29 September 2023

The fanaticism of indifference. These are poignant words from the Pope on the first of his two-day Apostolic Journey to Marseille. Speaking to journalists on the flight from Rome, the Pope had confided, “I hope that I will have the courage to say everything I want to say”. His hope was not disappointed: his words were strong and clear. During a moment of recollection with religious leaders at the memorial dedicated to migrants lost at sea, a few metres from the Shrine of Notre Dame de la Garde, Pope Francis used this strange expression: the fanaticism of indifference. The expression seems unusual, almost an oxymoron, because we are used to thinking that a fanatic is a “highly enthusiastic” person, who is (overly) passionate about something, about an idea, while indifference resembles a “cold” person, who does not get heated over anything or anyone, who remains impassive in the face of everything he sees or encounters. So what is the Pope trying to tell us with this expression that dismantles our common sense? Let’s re-read all of the Pope’s off-the-cuff remarks during his address: “We cannot be resigned to seeing human beings treated as bargaining chips, imprisoned and tortured in atrocious ways; we know that many times, when we send them away, they are destined to be tortured and imprisoned. We can no longer watch the drama of shipwrecks, caused by the cruel trafficking and the fanaticism of indifference. Indifference becomes fanatical. People who are at risk of drowning when abandoned on the waves must be rescued. It is a duty of humanity; it is a duty of civilization!”. For the Pope, then, indifference can become fanatical. This happens when a person clings to an attitude, to a position, in order to refuse changing, pursuing the desperate attempt to continue to look the other way out of fear of risking broadening his or her perspective. As George Santayana said, “Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim”. The forgotten aim in this case is that of remaining human, the “duty of humanity”, the Pope notes, sensing that Marseille is the physical place from where one can perceive that humanity today is at a crossroads: “on the one hand, there is fraternity, which makes the human community flourish with goodness; on the other, indifference, which bloodies the Mediterranean. We find ourselves at a crossroads of civilization. Either the culture of humanity and fraternity, or the culture of indifference: let everyone fend for himself or herself”. And this crossroads can be changed by using another word instead of “indifference”, and that is, “fratricide”, if it is the case (which unfortunately it is) that this fanatical indifference tinges the Mediterranean with red.

Fratricide, violence against one’s brother, is another powerful word implicitly evoked in the Pope’s speech, which he concluded with a clear, cutting, impromptu affirmation inserted in the final remarks addressed to those committed to saving lives in that immense marine graveyard: “I am pleased to see here so many of you who go to sea to rescue migrants. And many times you are prevented from going, because — so they say — the ship is lacking something, lacking this, lacking that... These are acts of hatred against our brothers and sisters, in the guise of ‘balance’”. Hatred can be disguised, the Pope says, as can “the disinterest that, with velvet gloves, condemns others to death”. Instead, those who, in an “unbalanced” way, throw themselves into the sea to rescue their migrant brothers and sisters, are the opposite of fanatics, because they are redoubling their own efforts, because they have not forgotten the objective, the authentic goal of a wholly human existence.

Andrea Monda