Cursory Reflections on Laudato Si – Part 4

In Laudato Si, Pope Francis registers a critique of badly thought out City Planning together with an “enclavish” mentality:

45. In some places, rural and urban alike, the privatization of certain spaces has restricted people’s access to places of particular beauty. In others, “ecological” neighbourhoods have been created which are closed to outsiders in order to ensure an artificial tranquillity. Frequently, we find beautiful and carefully manicured green spaces in so-called “safer” areas of cities, but not in the more hidden areas where the disposable of society live.

“Enclaves” where the rich have their homes sealed from others by walls and guards are not – abstractly considered – blights and problems. After all, the King should have his gardens. But how many kings there are! And note a problem. Whereas in fact there are no kings in this country of the USA, and all are citizens (more or less) of the same, yet these enclaves involve separation from common areas. They involve – or are concomitant with – the loss of recreational spaces of public good. There are still some parks. What justifies them? The common public good. A place for many to meet, to rub shoulders, to bump into one another. It is good in the major cities to have such places, accessible to all. But with the money being poured into enclaves, is there sufficient strength left, capital, to keep up the infrastructure of places of common public good? My own city, Irving, TX, has its enclaves. And without doubt that is where much of the tax money comes from. Yet, where is the money being spent? In the south part of town, where the Latinos and blacks live? Not so much. These parts of town are slowly languishing.

 

Art. 48 registers a truth most crucial to the success of the Pope’s effort to alleviate the problem of our treatment of the environment:

48. The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation.

However, the pope does not, at least here in this part of the letter, deliver. As readers have rightly noted, a juncture such as this demands the believer’s lament. We must return to the Great pope Leo XIII in his Au Milieu des Sollicitudes, art. 6:

Now, morality, in man, by the mere fact that it should establish harmony among so many dissimilar rights and duties, since it enters as an element into every human act, necessarily supposes God, and with God, religion, that sacred bond whose privilege is to unite, anteriorly to all other bonds, man to God.

Why is God at the basis of all morality?

The idea of morality signifies, above all, an order of dependence in regard to truth which is the light of the mind; in regard to good which is the object of the will; and without truth and good there is no morality worthy of the name. And what is the principal and essential truth, that from which all truth is derived? It is God. What, therefore, is the supreme good from which all other good proceeds? God. Finally, who is the creator and guardian of our reason, our will, our whole being, as well as the end of our life? God; always God.

And now the Great Pope Leo XIII turns to the matter of religion, which is crucial to the relationship with God.

Since, therefore, religion is the interior and exterior expression of the dependence which, in justice, we owe to God, there follows a grave obligation. All citizens are bound to unite in maintaining in the nation true religious sentiment, and to defend it in case of need, if ever, despite the protestations of nature and of history, an atheistical school should set about banishing God from society, thereby surely annihilating the moral sense even in the depths of the human conscience. Among men who have not lost all notion of integrity there can exist no difference of opinion on this point.

And not just the individual but the state must acknowledge the One True Religion, as he states in Immortale Dei, art. 6:

Since, then, no one is allowed to be remiss in the service due to God, and since the chief duty of all men is to cling to religion in both its reaching and practice—not such religion as they may have a preference for, but the religion which God enjoins, and which certain and most clear marks show to be the only one true religion—it is a public crime to act as though there were noGod.

So, if we are to take care of the environment, as but part of our moral obligation to live a responsible life, and we are so to do, we must do so with God as our final end and the True Religion as our way to God and guide to what is and is not in accordance with nature. If we were to try to map our way in nature – regarding some segment of natural law, say, the environment – and to do so without God as our guiding light, we would necessarily enter a path to perdition. Rather, we would steer from one path to perdition (exploitation, greed, belching out fumes of unnatural reactions) to another path (godless contemplation of natural cycles, etc.).

Pope Francis makes a good point when he notes that often the poor themselves are not really known by the thinkers and decision makers. The experience of the poor is often not known. The remedy would be real encounter. I recall the testament I heard in Church of a Catholic who went to live for a week in Haiti. His speech was truly moving. The people there live lives of utter destitution, unimaginable for us in the affluent areas. But should we become like that man, and live even for a little way (an afternoon) with some who are even remotely like those in Haiti, we might think differently. Our “human ecology” might mature:

This is due partly to the fact that many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centres of power, being located in affluent urban areas, are far removed from the poor, with little direct contact with their problems. They live and reason from the comfortable position of a high level of development and a quality of life well beyond the reach of the majority of the world’s population. This lack of physical contact and encounter, encouraged at times by the disintegration of our cities, can lead to a numbing of conscience and to tendentious analyses which neglect parts of reality (art. 49.

The pope rejects the calls of anti-life people to seize control of population growth. These have missed the mark in their diagnosis. Interestingly, these people uphold precisely the immoderate sense of consumerism that is partial culprit in the environmental problem:

To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption (art. 50).

The pope means: The response to these people is not to say that everyone should consume the way we westerners are currently consuming. Just universalize the American lifestyle! That is not the solution. The solution must include our simplification of lifestyle. We must stop living as we have been in many ways. Will this be uncomfortable? Will this cost us? This is our cross of responsibility. I know a very good woman, a mother of five, who for instance has taken up a cross. A small one to be sure, in the greater scheme of things, but a real one. A manageable one, though one that could be found “disgusting” and “oh how gross!” But it is not really all that bad: CLOTH DIAPERS. Cloth diapers vs. the Ever Increasing Mounds of Disposable Diapers. That is one very concrete, often readily implementable lifestyle change that people can achieve. And what people? Precisely those who are – according to godless atheists – having too many children. Another thing about big families: They are often schools of moderation. No, there is only 2 pounds of meat tonight kids. That’s for everyone. First eat your rice and beans and veggies. Then have a burger. You’ll be full then. This is a school of moderation. A simple, pro-life school.

It was stated in a Comment Box that the Third World is often worse in polluting than the First World. I will not contest that statement, but I will note a relevant remark by Pope Francis:

The developed countries ought to help pay this debt by significantly limiting their consumption of non-renewable energy and by assisting poorer countries to support policies and programmes of sustainable development. The poorest areas and countries are less capable of adopting new models for reducing environmental impact because they lack the wherewithal to develop the necessary processes and to cover their costs (art. 52).

The rich have the responsibility to help form the mentality of the third world with regard to these issues. Further, to help the third world deal better with these issues. They must “get off the ground” and they need help to do this. A question might be – not how a 1st World company compares with a 3rd World company on pollution in the 3rd World – but how the same 1st World company would cover its ecological tracks if it were in the 1st World vs. how it actually covers its tracks in the 3rd World. That is the more salient question. We are all tempted to “get away” with things.

10 thoughts on “Cursory Reflections on Laudato Si – Part 4

  1. This is one of the reasons why I find all of this ridiculous and Promethean Neo-Pelagian. Take this point: Cloth diapers vs. the Ever Increasing Mounds of Disposable Diapers. Now, in this same document, we are faced with the problems of both wastefulness/pollution and access to water. Cloth diapers, while themselves reusable, require water to clean them which disposable diapers do not. Yet, disposable diapers make more trash. Which is better? And how does this fit into the larger “ecology” ultimately? Who knows for sure?

    Only the mind of God is able to figure all of this out with the type of certainty and seriousness that these world planners must presume in their quest. I find it absurd! The hubris. We can make all of the sacrifices we wish and do so with good will. I’m for it. But to pretend as if we can figure out perfectly the recipe for the right “ecology”: that is simply another temptation – to play at being God. Yet the Pope is pontificating on these matters. Is this his domain? Oh, there is a moral element at least. Faith? Not as much.

    1. If an European or North American company that operates in a third world country has to follow the same rules as in its home country, why not to stay at home then?

      The damage eventually caused by pollution has to be weighed against the benefits of better wages for the people and taxes for the government. As the 3rd world country becomes more wealthier, it may increase not only minimum wages but also the required environmental standards.

      “The rich have the responsibility to help form the mentality of the third world with regard to these issues.”

      That actually has been going on for decades now. Basically, it means to keep “forests there, farms here” (and population control). It’s a very bad deal for the poor who are then condemned to be poor forever, although “green” and underpopulated.

    2. 1. Pelagian does mean most precisely I can do supernatural good without God’s supernatural grace. This is to be rejected.
      2. That my prudence is a secondary cause of the right ordering of the world is not Pelagianism but truth.
      3. The amount of water it takes to clean cloth diapers is negligible. And, if a detergent is used that is eco-friendly, the water gets processed and the cycle of its reuse is fairly good. The amount of energy it takes to fabricate a paper diaper, which is used but once, is not negligible; nor are the materials; nor the kind of materials used. And these diapers sit in landfills soaking up water. Further, they often have the waste remaining with them in such a way as not to be cycled through as well as that of cloth diapers. One can go back and forth on these matters, adding details, but it is not serious to say that cloth diapers are possibly as polluting as paper.

      1. But prudence would never seek to plan everything, to come up with a ‘perfect’ ecology, to “solve” the problem of poverty. This mindset is not Catholic! As Fr. Schall has pointed out:

        “The question here is how do we know how many ages are left for us to plan for? And is there not reason to believe that a larger, rather than smaller, population will be the incentive to learn how to deal with human needs? We simply do not know how many generations there will be, what technology will be available to them, or even whether there will be a future generation. We know not the day or the hour. What we do know is that the earth, plus human intelligence on it, is adequate to provide for the human race as it is. This is why Augustine is important. We simply do not know how to calculate what future generations down the ages will need so that we can reasonably restrict our development now accordingly. It is incoherent to think that we can.” (from his recent CWR article)

        My point was not which is more or less polluting. I plainly acknowledged one is trash. The point is that one must come up with the right eco-recipe and who can do that? Pollution is a concern. So is water. And warming. But which is worst and how does it all fit together? And how can we ‘solve’ all of it so that there are no poor? There will never be an end to this type of speculation. It is a rabbit hole that is ultimately a distraction. There is a reason that the “hard sciences” alone are not enough. The social sciences like economics are much more difficult to factor in to all of this as the other commenter here has been pointing to.

  2. We’ll likely just keep going back and forth, so if I may, I will add what I think I find most appalling of all: the misappropriation of Scripture. I truly believe that Pope Francis does not know who Jesus Christ is. He knows some things about Jesus Christ, but when he thinks of Him, it is often a projection of his own morality, his own concerns. I first realized this from reading some of his daily homilies and the twisting of Scripture. And it is here in this encyclical.

    Maureen Mullarkey writes: “Gospel quotations are bent to serve. In the chapter “The Gaze of Jesus,” we read this: “98. 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).”

    That passage from Matthew has not a thing to do with harmony. Rather, it tells of Jesus’ dominion over nature. It is a statement of authority, of lordship over the natural order. The verse complements one from John: “He that cometh from above is above all.” By abolishing the scriptural intuition of power and might, the truncated quotation makes Jesus a screen on which to project a chimera of cosmic equality.”

  3. “Of course not. The goal is to approach solution, to improve. I should hope this is obvious.”

    It is not obvious because their goal is different. There is no “of course not.” You’re assuming a goal that they do not share. The goal is eliminate poverty. It’s liberation theology, immanentism. That is why you must pull in other sources in these posts so as to make this sound Catholic. My goodness, near the very beginning of this text, St. Paul’s “creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth” is ripped from its relation to redemption, to future glory, to grace, to the supernatural, and situated instead within the ecological salvation framework – creation, for Francis, is actually crying out because we have hurt it. THAT is the crisis for him. This is secular humanism with a little Christian window dressing.

    1. IF that were the end of the crisis for Pope Francis, THEN that would be (a) a problem insofar as he fails to see the full sacramental character of the environmental devastation as a sign of sin’s of the heart, the fountain of all injury and death; but (b) he would at least be staring at the sign, though not seeing it as a sign.

      There are two readings then of this problem FOR those who see a problem (supposing a problem exists, that is; I suppose it). EITHER one can see it sacramentally as a sign of sin and hence of our atheism and loss of direction, which (I agree) is above all our problem and the problem that needs primary addressing (part of which is consumerism, etc., and the patterns of action that, though unwittingly on the individual level nonetheless really emergently on the collective level, cause problems). OR one can merely see it in an immanent light. That would be modernistic humanism, the ruin of the Church.

      There is yet another possibility. One’s eyes might be clouded and weary, tired of seeing, or untried at seeing, someone discerning but yet again weak and weary, the sacramental character of these symptoms. One might have the sense that the bigger problem is the loss of CHrist the King, of the One True Religion, etc., but not the strength to follow through, nor perhaps the will; one might be sleepy. Like a king listening to Worm-tongue.

  4. This is how I see it: the Pope is not writing as one would expect a Pope to. The Pope is rather acting as a global community organizer. His ends are temporal. His stated concern is the environment. He is the Pope for whom youth employment and loneliness are the world’s biggest problems. The tension of the Gospel’s immediate demands for this world and their eternal impact are not realized sufficiently when one listens to the Pope.

    This is the Pope to whom proselytism is solemn nonsense, who has plainly stated he is not concerned with conversion to the Catholic Faith. He is concerned instead with a version of “conversion” that has elements of goodness in it, which is precisely what makes it slippery and dangerous, a tool in the devil’s hands. We are foolish not to see this. Catholics will be lured into heeding what is said re: this “conversion” and there will be the temptation for them to lose sight of what conversion ultimately means. As Hillary White has made the case in the Remnant, we should be far less naïve in our praise of the “Catholic elements” in this, for to drink in a mixture of good liquid with some poison is harmful nonetheless.

    Francis is Vatican II taken to its utmost worst (thus far). This encyclical is an opening to the world like we have never seen before. When you can gather atheists, anti-Catholics, population controllers about you to work on a common goal—care for our “common home”—you have subverted the very meaning of your office.

    But one will object: Francis is using the environment as a jumping board to call the world to conversion. He is saying, look here, we all can see what is happening to the environment and what sin specifically has done to it. Your sins, my sins. That is what he is doing. Finding common ground.

    But this is the road to a “mere Christianity”, a mere humanism more likely, in the hands of Francis for the reasons stated above. Consider: when the Pope can reinterpret Scripture to suit mere temporal ends, I’m sorry, we are not dealing with someone who is ultimately concerned with the ultimate. There is far too much evidence to the contrary.

    Also, I do not think it is a crisis not to see the full “sacramental character” of the environment in nearly the same way as it is a crisis not to see the necessity of the Sacraments—especially for a Pope.

    In the Beyond the Sun section (243-245), we hear the Pope, again, addressing the whole world, state:

    “At the end, we will find ourselves face to face with the infinite beauty of God (cf. 1 Cor 13:12), and be able to read with admiration and happiness the mystery of the universe, which with us will share in unending plenitude. Even now we are journeying towards the sabbath of eternity, the new Jerusalem, towards our common home in heaven. Jesus says: “I make all things new” (Rev 21:5). Eternal life will be a shared experience of awe, in which each creature, resplendently transfigured, will take its rightful place and have something to give those poor men and women who will have been liberated once and for all.”

    Is this a nod to Universalism? If one here and now can amicably have a common home despite religious differences, then it seems, by implication, our “common home in heaven” would also be such a place. Somehow, oddly, the Pope who is not for proselytism writes in a way that assumes that Christ is the Lord of All, which of course He is, understood rightly. But this Lord of All is He who has warned about a narrow road, about chaff being burned, about goats. But one does not get that dreadful sense of separation or that urgency here. Not when we get to the “Catholic” portions.

    And stunningly, this seeming Universalism is followed by a form of Indifferentism in the two prayers Francis offers to conclude: “The first we can share with all who believe in a God who is the all-powerful Creator, while in the other we Christians ask for inspiration to take up the commitment to creation set before us by the Gospel of Jesus.”

    Again, a fruit of Vatican II. Ecumenism run wild, giving the reader a sense of confusion over the importance of just what we hold as our religious beliefs. If you are a “believer”, you can pray for Francis, to the all-powerful Creator, while Christians of course have the Gospel of Jesus. And it’s “all good”. We are to move along, united in our commitment to creation. Is that not the message?

    And I ask again: is this not more the type of writing one would expect from a quasi-spiritual community organizer like President Obama?

    +++

    It sounds like what you are saying in your last point is that: ok, we know the truth. Let us not rest on that, but let us muster up the will to take on the legitimate moral points the Pope makes. Let us not disregard all of this as mere eco-ideology despite our reservations that much surrounding this encyclical points to that. If I’ve understood you correctly, on that much we agree.

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