"Big Four" Highlights


Soap Bubble Values

Pope Francis bursts the illusions of our culture

By Jason Godin

During the end of the first day of his apostolic trip to Turin, Italy, late last month, Pope Francis advised an audience of young listeners about what they can do to combat distrust and disappointment in daily life.

“Be active, and go against the grain” of an economy and culture defined by “soap bubble values” of hedonism and consumerism, the Holy Father said. “Do constructive things, even if they are small,” he continued, “that bring us together again, that unite us together, with our ideals.”

“Soap bubble values.” In his usual manner, Pope Francis framed a complex message in a memorable phrase, easy to transmit in our sound-bite, Twitter-centered media culture. While some may view Francis’ communications as too simple, such an assessment misses the depth of his thought.

Often ordinary items – even soap bubbles – offer extraordinary tools for teaching others about faith. Pausing and pondering what Pope Francis said at Turin, as well as paying attention to how he said it to a young audience, provides a form of evangelization attractive for all – one proposed without fear, with doses of intellectual depth, relatable experience and contagious optimism.

The Holy Father picked the perfect analogy for explaining the emptiness offered by hedonism and consumerism. With their thin, lighter-than-air shells that reflect and refract, soap bubbles are beautiful to behold; but they last for only short times and distances. The fun stops unless new ones constantly replace old. Hedonism and consumerism, like bubbles, provide their practitioners similar fleeting qualities.

The first – hedonism – elevates sensual self-indulgence above all else. It finds pleasure its paramount goal, evaluates options solely by what feels best for you alone, and makes an array of base appetites the lens through which you view ultimate decisions.

The second – consumerism – sees the total worth of a person in their spending, to such a degree that acquiring stuff ends up as your immediate inclination and long-term preoccupation. A case could even be made that consumerism and hedonism are brothers, a relationship wherein increased personal profit is sought to pay for goods and services that satisfy your greatest pleasures.

Science shows that soap bubbles are air enclosed by thin spheres of liquid. Parents could add they’re also an affordable and ingenious way to play with their children in the summer. The homemade kind – proportional amounts of liquid dish soap, tap water and light corn syrup combined together in a clean container – can lead to hours of fun in the sun, competing to see who can make the biggest, strangest-shaped, or highest-flying bubbles.

As Pope Francis taught at Turin, bubbles can also offer an approachable analogy for families to assess empty cultural and economic lifestyles. Dark days assuredly await a world dominated by people embracing “what I want, when and how I want it” values. Today, let the cardinal virtues of faith, hope and love begin a new dawn and, in the process, gradually blow away the “soap bubble values” of hedonism and consumerism.

Jason Godin is associate editor of Fathers for Good.