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Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Pope's environmental encyclical

- Perito Moreno Glacier

You can read the encyclical many places, including here at The Tablet, and of course there's a lot of commentary on it everywhere, but The Guardian has a pretty good editorial on it here - The Guardian view on Laudato Si’: Pope Francis calls for a cultural revolution

I think it's really great that Pope Francis has written this encyclical, but I have a few criticisms ... 1) I believe access to contraception should be part of any effort to save the environment ... 2) I don't think Modernity is the bad guy in this scenario, but instead I think the bad guy is just age-old selfish human nature ... 3) I don't think it helps anything to keep harping on complementarianism, the differences between men and women, when what would be more helpful would be to notice all the things we both have in common.

I did like most of the encyclical, though. Here are a few of the bits I especially liked ...

It is not enough, however, to think of different species merely as potential “resources” to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves. Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.

The God who created the universe out of nothing can also intervene in this world and overcome every form of evil. Injustice is not invincible.

We have only one heart, and the same wretchedness which leads us to mistreat an animal will not be long in showing itself in our relationships with other people. Every act of cruelty towards any creature is “contrary to human dignity”.

Jesus lived in full harmony with creation, and others were amazed: “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” (Mt 8:27). His appearance was not that of an ascetic set apart from the world, nor of an enemy to the pleasant things of life. Of himself he said: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard!’” (Mt 11:19). He was far removed from philosophies which despised the body, matter and the things of the world.

Education in environmental responsibility can encourage ways of acting which directly and significantly affect the world around us, such as avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, or any number of other practices ....

We must not think that these efforts are not going to change the world. They benefit society, often unbeknown to us, for they call forth a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread. Furthermore, such actions can restore our sense of self-esteem; they can enable us to live more fully and to feel that life on earth is worthwhile.

Jesus says: “I make all things new” (Rev21:5).

Maybe sometimes people feel overwhelmed by the problems facing the environment and they don't see how they as individuals can make a difference for the better. I would say that you *can* make a difference, that every small effort helps. I'm no paragon of virtue in this area, but I try .... I'm a vegetarian: 10 ways vegetarianism can help save the planet ... I recycle: 5 ways recycling helps the planet ... I use an electric lawn mower: Mowing the Grass is Greener When You Don’t Use a Gas-Powered Mower ... I support environmental organizations like the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, the League of Conservation Voters, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife - these groups will be happy to email you action alerts about bills that will affect the environment so that you can write your elected representatives about how you want them to vote.


Blogger PrickliestPear said...

I just finished reading it. I thought it was excellent, actually, which is not something I'm used to saying about a papal encyclical. There were a few things I wasn't crazy about, but it was a lot better than I expected. I didn't think it would live up to the hype (which is another weird thing to say about a papal encyclical), but I think it totally did. I think it will turn out to be the most important bit of papal writing since St. John XXIII's Pacem in terris.

10:01 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi PP,

Yeah, I had the same reaction. I almost didn't even read it, but it was so much better than I had expected. Amazing the amount of work that must have gone into it.

11:02 PM  
Blogger PrickliestPear said...

I almost didn't read it, either. I'm not sure what changed my mind.

Anyway, I wanted to respond to your three criticisms:

1. With regard to contraception, I absolutely agree. He criticised those who "blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism," but it seems to me that both runaway population growth AND consumerism are contributing factors. I sensed that he didn't want to deal honestly with the population issue, and this is unfortunate (while also being entirely predictable). Increased access to contraception, particularly in the developing world, would help alleviate poverty and lower the abortion rate. These are indisputable facts that the magisterium is incapable of recognising as long as they keep their heads in the sand regarding contraception. (I sometimes worry that if I start talking about the myriad ways the magisterium fails women, I'll never be able to stop.)

2. I don't think he was blaming "modernity" entirely, just modernist values and beliefs, like individualism, consumerism, unsustainable and wasteful lifestyles, unregulated markets, and unlimited economic growth. All of these things have been criticised by postmodernist thinkers, and Laudato Si' is, in a lot of ways, a very postmodern text. "Sustainability," for instance, is a very postmodern value, and one the pope emphasises throughout the text.

Actually, at several points the pope suggests we live in a "postmodern world," but I think this is a mistake. A lot of people, including probably just about everyone involved involved in climate change denial (both the liars and those who have bought the lie) are still living very much in the "modern world." Their ignorance, willful or otherwise, of the destruction wrought by modernism (that is to say, values and beliefs that arose for the first time in the modern era) prevents them adopting what would be a healthier postmodern mindset. Which is not to say that postmodern thought is a cure to all of our problems--far from it--nor is it to say that modern values are all bad. What we really need is to transcend both modernism and postmodernism, recognising the strengths and weaknesses of each.

3. The bits about complementarianism were an annoying distraction. It was somewhat predictable that he would bring it up, but it didn't support his main thesis at all, and, if anything, could only undermine it by turning people off.

3:58 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Yeah, I'm not surprised he didn't mention contraception and population problems in the encyclical, given his views. It leaves a hole, but I don't think that invalidates all the good stuff of the encyclical.

I don't really understand about modernism and postmodernism, though I've seen them mentioned a lot by Catholics, especially (I think?) conservatives. Those things that are attributed to M and PM, like consumerism and wastefulness and individuality, I think are more a part of what it means to be human, not what it means to be modern. People who had the means to do so have taken more than they needed, wasted resources, from Solomon and his hundreds of wives/concubines, to the medieval looting of the new world by conquistadors, to Teddy Roosevelt killing and collecting over 500 animals on African safari. It's just that now many more people are in a position, financially and socially, to be wasteful and to consume more than they need.

Yes, I think the complementarian stuff had to do with a 'human ecology' idea (maybe from B16?) but thankfully he didn't write much about it.

Interesting encyclical anyway - the first one I've ever read :)

8:13 PM  

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