Friday, June 19, 2015

A Few Initial Thoughts On The Encyclical Laudato Si

I am making time in a busy schedule to read Laudato Si, of what I have seen so far I am impressed with the Pope's tackling our consumer society reminding us that our "throwaway culture" has consequences for the earth which God has given us and we have a duty to care for. I also agree with his critique of ecologists who are pro-abortion or who peddle the overpopulation myth and present abortion and diminishing the population of those in the Third World as the only solutions to the planet's ecological problems. These are middle class solutions which ultimately shift the blame onto others (usually the poor and vulnerable) so the middle class and wealthy can hang on to their privileges and lifestyles. We cannot use other human beings as pawns in an ideological campaign to "save the planet" - they are part of the solution, not the problem. Sorting the problem includes a greater distribution of the world's wealth with the poor - that is not communism, it is Christian. There is enough for all of us,it is the greedy who say otherwise.

The Pope is correct to remind us that the earth is God's gift, it belongs to him and we have a duty to care for it. We cannot manipulate it to the point that its integrity and flourishing is diminished to meet our short term desires and concerns. The earth's integrity and flourishing are necessary for us. This is our home for the time being and we must ensure it is cared for. The parable of the tenants comes to mind: are we the tenants who usurp and destroy, or are we the heirs who care for our inheritance? 

An interesting and welcome point in the encyclical is the Pope's wresting the ecological question from neo-paganism. It seems that the whole ecological industry has become a springboard to a new pantheism, to a mother earth religion, a pagan faith that has even captured the hearts of our more ecologically minded priests and religious. In speaking of sister earth, a Franciscan term, the Pope reminds us that the earth is a creature of God - yes , it bears his signature, but it is not to be worshipped, it is to be cared for by a higher creature, the one made in the image and likeness of God: man. 

The Pope's emphasis on the need for human beings to change is correct. The Lord Jesus told us that we must change in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. That change cannot be divided into categories - we cannot speak about virtues and holiness but confine it our overtly religious practice: be orthodox in our adherence to dogma but then treat with contempt or ignore other areas of life.  If we seek to be faithful to Christ, we must change every attitude that disrespects him and our neighbour, and that includes the environment. St Francis is the example offered to us in this encyclical as one whose holiness was whole and complete, his obedience to God was also reflected in his love for nature and the other creatures he shared this earth with. For those concerned with the liturgy, proper worship of God must also include respecting that natural liturgy which we find in nature and in the environment, where all creation praises God in accordance with its ability. This was the first liturgy celebrated on earth and it has not ceased. We must ensure that that liturgy continues in all its richness until the Last Day. 

These are but a few initial thoughts and reflections. The encyclical is not perfect, it is an unusual one in that it draws on contemporary science, so we should be careful in considering this dimension as being part of the Magisterium. It is very long, as are all of Francis's writings and it rambles: Francis needs a good editor, as I suppose we all do - certainly me! It is challenging, but Catholics should be careful in critiquing it and certainly not reject it without reading and considering it.

Some useful articles to assist your reading:

A few good quotes:
"When media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously. In this context, the great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of an information overload. Efforts need to be made to help these media become sources of new cultural progress for humanity and not a threat to our deepest riches. True wisdom, as the fruit of self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data which eventually leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution. Real relationships with others, with all the challenges they entail, now tend to be replaced by a type of internet communication which enables us to choose or eliminate relationships at whim, thus giving rise to a new type of contrived emotion which has more to do with devices and displays than with other people and with nature." (47)
"Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate. At times, developing countries face forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of “reproductive health.” Yet “while it is true that an unequal distribution of the population and of available resources creates obstacles to development and a sustainable use of the environment, it must nonetheless be recognized that demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development.” To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues."(50)
"A spirituality which forgets God as all-powerful and Creator is not acceptable. That is how we end up worshipping earthly powers, or ourselves usurping the place of God, even to the point of claiming an unlimited right to trample his creation underfoot. The best way to restore men and women to their rightful place, putting an end to their claim to absolute dominion over the earth, is to speak once more of the figure of a Father who creates and who alone owns the world. Otherwise, human beings will always try to impose their own laws and interests on reality." (75)
"Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties? “If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away." (120)
"It is troubling that, when some ecological movements defend the integrity of the environment, rightly demanding that certain limits be imposed on scientific research, they sometimes fail to apply those same principles to human life. There is a tendency to justify transgressing all boundaries when experimentation is carried out on living human embryos. We forget that the inalienable worth of a human being transcends his or her degree of development. In the same way, when technology disregards the great ethical principles, it ends up considering any practice whatsoever as licit." (136)
And finally, I wholehearted agree with this, the Holy Father hits the nail on the head here:
"We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it. We have had enough of immorality and the mockery of ethics, goodness, faith and honesty. It is time to acknowledge that lighthearted superficiality has done us no good. When the foundations of social life are corroded, what ensues are battles over conflicting interests, new forms of violence and brutality, and obstacles to the growth of a genuine culture of care for the environment." (229)


  1. I have expressed on a few facebook chats my opinion that I feel dissapointed that he would reference un-decided (not settled) science. That is the science of global warming. By this he lends weight from his own authority, the athority and even authority of the Catholic Church to insinuating that it is establised science that human activity causes global warming. But the science is not settled and because so there should be no insinuated support from any quarter of the church. I feel he could have done all he desired to do mainly promote care for the poor and care for the environment without any mention of the flawed science.

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