Tag Archives: Laudato Si

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 1

A several part treatment begins today.

The end of art. 3 reads:

In this Encyclical, I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home.

This may be a hermeneutical key informing us that the encyclical is less of an authoritative teaching than a beginning of dialogue and reflection. Nevertheless, the Encyclical is still an authoritative act of the Magisterium:

15. It is my hope that this Encyclical Letter, which is now added to the body of the Church’s social teaching, can help us to acknowledge the appeal, immensity and urgency of the challenge we face.

Art. 5 follows JPII in stating:

Accordingly, our human ability to transform reality must proceed in line with God’s original gift of all that is.

Here, we see an absolute norm: Our development of the world must be (this is a moral ought, replete with consequences) in conformity with God’s wisdom, with the viable possibilities inherent in the world. By “viable” I mean: Possible and life-giving.

Art. 6 registers very important remarks from Pope Benedict. Francis comments:

Pope Benedict asked us to recognize that the natural environment has been gravely damaged by our irresponsible behaviour. The social environment has also suffered damage. Both are ultimately due to the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence human freedom is limitless. We have forgotten that “man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature”

The danger of a “tyranny of relativism” threatens both the human good, society, and the environmental good, which itself is, obviously, ordered to our good. This is clear in Francis’s citation of Patriarch Bartholomew’s words:

For “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God”.

Art. 12 reflects on St. Francis and urges us towards a non-reductively utilitarian view of the world, really, towards a contemplative view.

If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.

Again, art. 13:

Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.

Such a view is in clear contrast with that of modernity. We can think only of Bacon and Descartes, who mapped out the world precisely so as to plunder it. Even if with good intentions! Even if for the physical good of the poor and downtrodden! If the view of the world is one of mapping reductively and exploiting technologically, the result will be a denial of substantial forms (natures!) and the imposition of artistic forms without norms (technology gone awry, without prudence guiding it) – that is, GMOs etc. If the physical stuff is nothing but homogenous “matter”, then we have no substantial forms (natures!) to respect.

Could we say that there is an implicit: Back to Aristotle! Back to metaphysics! in this encyclical?

The pope calls everyone in the world to reflect on this problem of the devastation of the environment, for this problem affects us all:

We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all (art. 14)

In art. 20, we see a great and crucial dig at the likes of Big Oil At Any Cost and also at Big Agri At Any Cost.

20. Some forms of pollution are part of people’s daily experience. Exposure to atmospheric pollutants produces a broad spectrum of health hazards, especially for the poor, and causes millions of premature deaths. People take sick, for example, from breathing high levels of smoke from fuels used in cooking or heating. There is also pollution that affects everyone, caused by transport, industrial fumes, substances which contribute to the acidification of soil and water, fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and agrotoxins in general. Technology, which, linked to business interests, is presented as the only way of solving these problems, in fact proves incapable of seeing the mysterious network of relations between things and so sometimes solves one problem only to create others.

Who could possibly disagree with the pope that

The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth (art. 21).

The pope is calling us back to nature, to respect the Natural Law of the cycle of life:

It is hard for us to accept that the way natural ecosystems work is exemplary: plants synthesize nutrients which feed herbivores; these in turn become food for carnivores, which produce significant quantities of organic waste which give rise to new generations of plants (art. 22).

If we attempted, in culture and technology, to imitate this kind of patter, we would make considerable progress. Amen to that!

Art. 23 turns to the climate:

23. The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all.

It should be noted that there are two senses of “common good”. The first, and more excellent, is that good which exceeds the parts and which is the goal of the parts. For instance, peace among men is that “tranquility of complex order” that is the goal of society, just as the “harmonious melody” emergent from the many singers is the goal of the chorus. The second, foundational but less excellent, is that good which is resource to many. Indeed, water is a common resource to many, but it is not the good at which we aim. Rather, we desire to have healthy water so that we might live and the chorus of living things as well, with the rhythmic backdrop of the flow of water.

Clearly, then, the climate is not the first kind of common good. It is only the second kind of common good. It is not our goal but our common resource and niche / habitat. That does not mean it is for “exploitation” and trampling of feet. Instead, it means that it is elemental, ingredient, to a balanced human life lived in a pilgrim way on our home planet.

With these two sense of common good, further, we can rightly interpret the two different kinds of goods at stake: The human social good (good of society) and the natural environmental good. The latter is crucial, ingredient, to the thriving of the former. It is fundamental. It is not, however, an “excelling” good. The human society is the excelling good. We could say, we must say, to bring both together, that the human society thriving in the context and in the created chorus of the inanimate and animate but non-rational world – that this is the yet greater good. Bring in the angels and we have that over which God said, “It is very good”. But best of all, and the only end the loss of which is essentially and eternally tragic, is the salvation of each person and the communion of all the saved.