Tag Archives: Francis

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.

Cursory Reflections on Laudato Si – Part 2

Art. 23 lists sundry forms of pollution. Art 25 states:

25. Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.

There will of course be well informed people who take issue with this or that statement, even with the general thrust of some specific concern of Pope Francis, such as that articulated here: Climate change as one of the worst (environmental) problems facing us. It goes without saying, in theological hermeneutics of magisterial texts, that the Pope has no competence to teach bindingly on what environmental problem is worst. Nor is he claiming to do so. The practical diagnoses and prognoses offered by the Holy Father are not binding magisterial teachings; to consider them such is to cheapen ecclesial currency and to falsify it!

That said, who could possibly be so insane as not to recognize that we are ruining our own home, trashing the bedroom that is our earth? It is as though we are urinating in a corner, amassing unusable debris in a corner, which grows daily, slowly allowing darker water to come through the tap, darker and less wholesome, allowing the air in the home to become sooty, in both obvious ways (think back to London back in the coal days) and less obvious ways (chemical trails in the air, anti-life and anti-male Estrogen in the water, tyrannical pesticides from Big Agri giants that don’t care about the future but only profits, tyrannical crop-reproduction from Big Agri giants who have arrogated to themselves the right to sell annually crop seed that will yield only non-seed-bearing fruit (thus enslaving whole populations to their greed and American hegemony), darker and obscurer waters in the state parks, even Yellowstone is much less magnificent now than it was when I was a child – significantly, etc.). Who could be so insane as not to realize that the bio-hazard trash from medical waste is mounting without any plan in sight for a cure?

It is one thing to look at a recent magisterial text, or non-magisterial word of a pope or bishop, that is ambiguous (or worse) on some doctrine, and to go back to Tradition with the clarifying light of previously laid out dogmas so as to un-confuse those who are being confused. To do that is to join in the effort to baptize all nations, to teach the One Truth Jesus handed to his One Church. But to go on the defensive against basic sanity of the pope on the problem of pollution – and for what reason? Why do we do this? Because our dad is in Big Oil and we resent that our inheritance is being overshadowed? Because we are in Big Oil and are fracking the hell out of the earth? Because we think America should kick ass in the Middle East, drop bombs on Russia, and then drink a Piña Colada on one of the remaining fine beaches in Hawaii (sorry, Maui; sorry, Lanai – maybe one of the only really clean ones left)? Because we think no one should do any planning to get smaller cars and simpler lives going, while the third world starves? Because we are on vacation and why should we have to wash dishes at all, when in fact they are right there in the cupboard? We have the right to use paper and plastic. And what of paper diapers – not just here and there but everywhere, all the time. Heck! Why not use paper and plastic every day of the week? Life is tiring, after all!

Such would be a low motivation! Our god is your belly (Gal 5-6). I am just as challenged as any on these questions. We all need to be challenged. And yes these challenges issue from the Gospel Itself! For all these systems have effects, leaving the wake upon the poor:

Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded. (art. 25)

But you will object: Technology has fed billions. We would not have been able to grow the population unless we could feed it through Big Agri chemicals and massive machines, and highly technological farms, and the destruction of small farmers and farmlands.

Ah! That is an interesting objection. There is some truth to it. But it is caught up in a lifestyle of accumulation and therein its logic works. In short, the alternative of a more natural, hobbit-like way of life, each with a small farm, or gathered together in a village with the set of farms on the outskirts (old style Romania!), or something analogical, that is not an option for the world – in your mind. So, we need our SUVs to keep plowing ahead, and meanwhile, we can suck the marrow out of the soil with Big Agri methods and supplies, leaving it bereft of nutrients for the future, so as to feed the billions, most of which live in an increasingly less self-sufficient manner, while we pilot our yachts.

I have long been a Romantic. And that is why I am weak. Because it is in the mind, in dreams. But nothing great ever comes without a thought. And some thoughts start only with dreams of those too lame to execute any plan and too imprudent to lay any out.

But we know from our own intelligent eyes that the world is going to hell in the social and moral realms. Gay Marriage, Abortion, Masturbatory Porn, Bored Teens Shooting up Churches (they sense no meaning in life; they needed real love, not a sugar-daddy reading of a God who really doesn’t care; they really wanted, and needed, firm – though always just – discipline at home, not pills that shut them up and enabled others to get them to get off their backs), etc etc. The Geo-Political story is just as terrifying. Anyone who investigates just a little under the hood of the sundry “terror attacks” in the past couple of decades is up for a rude awakening into the co-conspiracies that are evidently operative (the usual narrative is so paper-thin as to be a complete joke, like the Penguin throwing money at the parade of mindless idiots in the first attempt at Batman), even if not evidently identifiable (who, what, why?).

Have I gotten off track? Perhaps. In short, we can see the rot if we look at the moral realm. But it is just as easy to look at the realm of nature and see the rot. These two stenches, these two fetid ulcers are related, states the pope:

The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. (art. 2)

Indeed, the groundwork on social teaching has been laid for some 1.5 centuries. JPII rightly laid down a firm and irremovable foundation: The social / systemic ills are rooted in human sin, in the individual sinful choices of the individual human person. One cannot hope to cure systemic problems except on the cure of the foundation of the root. Without that, all systemic efforts to combat systemic problems will be driven by sin (greed, lust, and the libido dominandi!).

When I visit a state park and remark at how clean the lake is, but still find it rather dirty, I know something is wrong. We all know something is wrong with the human heart. But modern philosophy yielded the new methods in world-view and in technology by which the sickness in our hearts is now projected into the world. Now we see that sickness written large. The environmental catastrophe is a “sacrament” of sin. If you cannot see it, you have no eyes to see; you have no ears to hear; you are a blind guide. Chances are high that those who dispute that the world is being polluted and destroyed have got something in the game:

26. Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change.

Again, I am not talking about details. I have no idea what’s doing what. But we all know something’s doing something. So-and-so is sick all the time; allergic reactions right and left. So-and-so has cancer. O and this person. And that. See how many retired US soldiers are suffering from sundry ailments. When sickness is rampant, we know that something is doing something. This encyclical, for whatever its weaknesses, is a call to something so obviously needed it would be idiocy or malice to ignore it.