A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability
Vol. 11, No. 7, July 2015|
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
The Theological Heart of Laudato Si'
This article was originally published in
Commonweal, 18 June 2015
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION
Some key points: "The overwhelming immediate importance of Laudato Si’ is to call both church and world to respond to the urgent challenge to protect our common home... That Francis chose to highlight the atmosphere, water, and the diversity of species is telling – these are all problems where global cooperation is absolutely necessary... Distortions of human sexuality and human life itself are manifestations of the same mindset as exploitation of the planet... It is extremely telling that the “official” date of the document is Pentecost. This “birthday of the Church” is importantly about what the Church is for: not itself, but for the redemptions and renewal of all of God’s creation."
The overwhelming immediate importance of Laudato Si’ is to call both church and world to respond to the “urgent challenge to protect our common home” (13). As Tony Annett has already ably pointed out, Francis is not mincing words here, even if he is careful. Above all, the encyclical suggests we are home-wreckers, yet we also have a chance for a deeper conversion from our “internal deserts,” (217; one of the many quotes from Benedict XVI) to a more joyful and more challenging way of life: “Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning. We are able to take an honest look at ourselves, to acknowledge our deep dissatisfaction, and to embark on new paths to authentic freedom” (205). Such a response, the pope makes clear in chapters 1 & 5, requires international cooperation because of the nature of the problems. That Francis chose to highlight the atmosphere, water, and the diversity of species is telling – these are all problems where global cooperation is absolutely necessary. Your car, lawn, and hardwood flooring may very well be implicated, but “nevertheless, self-improvement on the part of individuals will not by itself remedy the extremely complex situation facing our world today” (219).
Chapters 1 & 5 contain a lot of the material that will grab attention in the larger media. But the heart of the encyclical theologically and spiritually is chapters 2-4. It is important to highlight that this document is firmly and clearly theological. If we contemplate the broad structure of these chapters, we can see an elegant scheme of creation, fall, and redemption. This fundamental pattern of the Christian narrative is so easy to forget – to sing “Canticle of the Sun” while forgetting the cross, or to offer the cross as an escape hatch from creation, rather than a tree of life that makes way for the Spirit’s renewal of creation. To read the encyclical as a whole – not always easy given its length and its incredible detail! – is to be reminded of this basic pattern: God’s gift, our human sinfulness, and the everlasting covenant sealed by the Spirit, promising a vision of renewal to the ends of the earth.
Chapter 2 offers a theology of creation, in which “each creature has its own purpose. None is superflouous” (84). The image of all creation oriented to the praise of God may be one of the most spiritually revelatory for many readers; while it pours out of the psalmody, it isn’t always a functioning part of the Catholic spiritual repertoire. Francis is careful to point out how Christianity properly demythologizes nature (78), but at the same time, can be seen as elevating its importance, especially by reminding us that “we are not God” (67). Certainly the chapter is a jarring contrast with any kind of a social Darwinist picture of nature as “red in tooth and claw,” and its robust conviction that creatures bear inherent purposes is a challenge to ideologies of science that see nature as blind.
Chapter 3 then goes on to diagnose the sinfulness of the current situation. It is no surprise that Francis has harsh words for the current world order; what is a bit more innovative is the weaving together of a set of diseases that combine to create this problem. The order here is important: the pope starts with technology. While he recognizes all the good that has happened over the last two centuries, Francis here starts his critique by borrowing quotes from Romano Guardini’s ominously-titled The End of the Modern World: “There is a tendency to believe that every increase in power means “an increase of ‘progress’ itself”, an advance in “security, usefulness, welfare and vigour; …an assimilation of new values into the stream of culture”, as if reality, goodness and truth automatically flow from technological and economic power as such” (105). Papal biographer Austin Ivereigh has already noted that Francis’s encyclical is particularly a challenge to the mindset of inevitable progress; in this way, it forms a remarkable pairing with Benedict’s overlooked Spe Salvi, whose extended treatment of communitarian Christian hope is juxtaposed with false ideologies of progress, particularly those of libertarian individualism and fascist totalitarianism. Francis moves to lengthy criticisms of consumerism and globalization, and most strikingly, then roots the entire edifice in a “practical relativism” which, even more dangerous than “doctrinal relativism,” involves “the rise of a relativism which sees everything as irrelevant unless it serves one’s own immediate interests” (122). Here, as in a number of other places, the pope makes the same connection Benedict made in Caritas in Veritate, paragraph 51, in which distortions of human sexuality and human life itself are manifestations of the same mindset as exploitation of the planet. Overall, this chapter’s litany of the sins of our age should generate a lot of discussion in the church. Most important, I think, is the final extensive discussion of John Paul II’s theology of work in Laborem Exercens. In that overlooked document, John Paul II offers an interpretation of Genesis 1 at least as important as his “theology of the body.” Francis affirms that “if we reflect on the proper relationship between human beings and the world around us, we see the need for a correct understanding of work; …. Underlying every form of work is a concept of the relationship which we can and must have with what is other than ourselves” (125). Francis echoes Wendell Berry’s classic essay “Conservation is Good Work,” which argues that “work” is simply what names our relationship to the environment, and work can be either good or bad – for the planet, for our relations with others, and for ourselves.
Finally, chapter 4 lays out “integral ecology” in more detail than any prior papal document. This is a vision of a redeemed society, in which individual consumption is replaced by well-planned urban environments in which actions are directed toward the common good. The pope has provided the first extensive papal teaching on urban planning, noting for example the need to “protect those common areas, visual landmarks and urban landscapes which increase our sense of belonging, of rootedness, of “feeling at home” within a city which includes us and brings us together. It is important that the different parts of a city be well integrated and that those who live there have a sense of the whole, rather than being confined to one neighbourhood and failing to see the larger city as space which they share with others” (151). In essence, the pope is asking us to share space, not simply redistribute resources. He is asking us to consider the real importance of a town square or classic city parks. It is also striking that he puts a great emphasis on what we pass on to future generations. In describing the importance of the common good, Francis emphasizes “the notion of the common good also extends to future generations. The global economic crises have made painfully obvious the detrimental effects of disregarding our common destiny, which cannot exclude those who come after us. We can no longer speak of sustainable development apart from intergenerational solidarity” (159). Perhaps the single most appalling feature of those who ignore environmental problems is how sentimental the same people sometimes can get about “protecting our children.” The idea that the form of life we currently have is barely two generations old for the majority of Americans (and non-existent for the majority of the globe), and is clearly unsustainable for 2-3 more generations, and yet we act as if it can simply go on forever. It is incredible. And, as with his title image of the Earth as our common home, the pope is wisely appealing to the importance of a sense of family in bringing about real conversion. The pope’s final appeal to the importance of the sacraments in showing us this renewal, key to his final chapter, is a manifestation of how seriously he takes environmental commitment as essential to Catholic identity.
Due to the encyclical’s length, it will be easy for people to cherry-pick quotations. After all, Francis has been quite careful throughout in recognizing the limitations of his claims. This is very appropriate in a document whose final chapter lauds the spiritual importance of sobriety and humility (which the pope notes wryly “were not favourably regarded in the last century” (224)!). Yet the overall effect o the encyclical is undeniable: this is a sweeping call for change, deeply rooted in a Catholic worldview, one that burrows into every facet of our lives and deeply into the human heart, as well. Francis is here confirming what many have said: the environmental crisis is really the key to economic questions, sexual questions, spiritual questions. It is the key to everything, because the message of environmentalism is, as Francis repeats many times in the document, “everything is connected.” It is extremely telling that the “official” date of the document is Pentecost. This “birthday of the Church” is importantly about what the Church is for: not itself, but for the redemptions and renewal of all of God’s creation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Cloutier is associate professor of theology at Mount St. Mary’s University and editor of catholicmoraltheology.com. He is the author of Love, Reason, and God's Story: An Introduction to Catholic Sexual Ethics (2008) and is working on a book on the moral problem of luxury in contemporary economic ethics.
The Care-Centered Economy:
Rediscovering what has been taken for granted
This article was originally published by
Heinrich Böll Foundation , 29 April 2015
under a Creative Commons License
Economics has become a kind of bellwether science from which many people obtain their view of what is «normal» and «right» about the value of relationships and activities. However, of all things, those activities for satisfying needs that are carried out in private households are studied either not at all or only marginally in economic science today, and are often distorted. What are the consequences of this omission? The theologian Ina Praetorius answers this question in her essay «The care-centered economy» by taking readers on an intellectual journey through the Western history of ideas and demonstrating how an inequitable dichotomous order is deeply rooted in the way today’s economy and society are organized.
The Care-Centered Economy - Foreword & introduction
The Care-Centered Economy - Part 1: The dichotomization of humanity
The Care-Centered Economy - Part 2: Separatisms, integrations and denial
The Care-Centered Economy - Part 3: From post-dichotomy to a different paradigm
The Care-Centered Economy - Part 4: Rediscovering what has been taken for granted
The Care-Centered Economy - Taking the next steps & bibliography
This complete essay will be serialized in this journal. This page provides the foreword by Heike Löschmann of the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the introduction to the essay by Ina Praetorius. The complete essay can be downloaded here.
Since 2008, politics and society have been in a state of constant alert. The global food
crisis, the financial and climate crises, the euro and Eurozone crisis, as well as the
increasing number of armed conflicts around the world have received considerable
media coverage and shape public perception of the state of the world. The crisis has
become permanent, and sounding crisis alert has become habitual. Political action
aimed at resolving the causes of the crises, however, has not been inspired by this.
Nonetheless, a debate about the necessity of changes, of a transformation, has been
taking place in broad sections of politics and society for several years now. The German
Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) has proposed a «Social Contract for
The normative project for the future of green politics is called «Socio-Ecological
Transformation.» The Scholarship Program of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, for
instance, supports young people who are researching the topic in their respective disciplines.
There are indeed different understandings of the term transformation. What
transformation in fact means and its feasibility have therefore been subject to a great
deal of dispute. There are differing views of political endeavors and their prospects
for success. It is necessary, however, to understand that transformation means prevailing
over the old, starting something new and inducing a paradigm shift, whereas
reform is limited to changing and continuing within the old. Reforms are nonetheless
important steps in creating the political and legal scope to enable transformation.
But reforms alone are not enough, and transformation is even actively impeded when
realpolitik loses sight of visions out of mere pragmatism, or when it places itself paternalistically
above the reasoning and creative power of a committed citizenry. All this
(re-)creates disaffection with politics and slows down active engagement.
Over the past few years, the Heinrich Böll Foundation has given people with
highly individual approaches to the challenge of transformation the possibility of
contributing to the discussions and introducing food for thought through several
essays. After the transformation designer Harald Welzer (Mental Infrastructures—How
growth entered the world and our souls, 2011), the cultural studies expert Sacha Kagan
(Toward Global (Environ)mental Change—Transformative Art and Cultures of Sustainability,
2012) and the biologist and philosopher Andreas Weber (Enlivenment—
Towards a fundamental shift in the concepts of nature, culture and politics, 2013), we
have now requested a contribution from the theologian and feminist lateral thinker
Ina Praetorius. She takes readers on a journey through the Western history of ideas
while exploring the dichotomy of the binary gender order. The essay places special
emphasis on the origins and principles of operation of the dichotomous symbolic
order, which manifests itself to the present day (not only) in the distinction between
The «higher» monetized economy and the «pre-theoretical» «private sphere,» with its
female connotations. The Biblical patriarchy, the European Enlightenment, the «invisible
hand» of economic liberalism, and the focus of socialist theories on industrial
work are given consideration within the discussion. A central concern of the essay
is to uncover these correlations to help create the possibility of shaping human economic
activity in a sustainable and fair way to enable a good life for everyone. It is this
specific and at times theological approach taken by the author, based on the history
of ideas, that makes the deep-rootedness of an inequitable dichotomous order in our
organization of the economy and society comprehensible. The symbolic order has
become firmly established over and over again, and has thus entrenched itself deeply,
and often unconsciously, in our societies’ normative power of memory. The «backpack
of history» thus makes it possible to understand why gender policy cannot be
successful without abolishing the structural inequalities that have been handed down
historically and culturally. Christian tradition and the colonial history of the «Occident»
have left behind traces in many parts of the world that are evident right up to the
present day. Hence, there is a shared responsibility to overcome them.
For decades now, feminists and care economists have been criticizing the exclusion
from consideration of unpaid care work (comprising about 50 percent of all work
necessary in society). Although the «crisis of social reproduction» they have described
is inextricably linked with other dimensions of the crisis, the issue has still not gained
public awareness as such. Politics does not recognize it as a structural crisis, instead
treating it as a matter of social policy in its individual manifestations, e.g., measures
against the crisis in nursing care, additional pension credits recognizing time spent
by mothers in child-rearing, or the right for children to be at a day-care institution as
assistance for parents in reconciling work and family life.
To this day, there has been no coherent post-dualistic theory of the «totality of the
economy» (Adelheid Biesecker). "is applies not only to the discovery or rather re-discovery
of caregiving, but also to all areas of human nature and culture. To establish
such a theory it will be necessary for feminist scientists and heterodox economists,
particularly those in the younger generation, to collaborate even more closely. Strategic
implementation calls for alliances across the political spectrum and an informed
citizenry in order to create the momentum needed for transformation.
Heike Löschmann, Head of Department, International Politics, Heinrich Böll Foundation, Berlin, February 2015
The Care-Centered Economy:
Rediscovering what has been for granted
In all the economics textbooks that I know, economics is defined as the satisfaction of
human needs based on the division of labor, for instance:
«The task of economics is to examine how resources for satisfying human
needs can be most effectively produced, distributed, and used or consumed.» 1
Or like this:
« Economic activity based on division of labour is a societal process designed
to satisfy the human need to preserve and sustain life and the quality of life.» 2
This widely accepted definition framework corresponds to the original meaning of the
term oikonomia. It is derived from the Greek words for household (oikos) and law or
custom (nomos), and thus roughly means «principle of running a household» or «law
of the house.» That it is the households’ task to provide the basic necessities of life
was already established in the 4th century B.C.: for Aristotle, who first systematically
developed the term in his Politics, 3 oikos is the basic institution of human coexistence,
in which the «necessities of life» are produced and provided, without which people
can «neither live nor live well.» 4
It is important to organize the satisfaction of human needs in a manner based on
an intelligent division of labor. For there are no humans who are in need of nothing,
and the earth may be a generous living space, but at the same time it is limited: if
humankind intends to survive, it must treat the earth with care. Today, for this reason,
economics has become a kind of bellwether science from which many people obtain
their view of what is normal and right, who they are as humans and how they should
behave. Whether economics describes the world adequately is thus by no means a
trivial matter. It is not trivial, for instance, that modern science, which examines «how
resources for satisfying human needs can be most effectively produced, distributed
and used or consumed,» disregards about half 5 of these measures and resources: of
all things, those measures for satisfying needs that are adopted in private households
(oikoi), and without which hardly anyone would have survived as a child, are studied
today in economic science not at all or only marginally, and are often distorted as
What is this grave omission all about? Why are all those means and measures for
satisfying needs—which despite emancipation are provided for free by many more
women than men in the so-called private sphere—customarily defined as pre-or
non-economic? "is essay is about this question. To answer it, an intellectual journey
through Western history will be necessary.
And there is more to it than that : Why is there still a tendency to consider a large
proportion of all activities carried out in households—cleaning, washing, cooking,
nursing, babysitting …—part of «female nature»? How did the proverbial grouping
of Kinder, Küche, Kirche [children, cooking, church] come about? How does the fact
that certain people, spheres and activities are considered not only «feminine» but
also especially «natural» or «close to nature» relate to what is now being opposed as
«exploitation of nature»? What does the strangely split view of economic activity mean
for the cohabitation of the seven billion—and soon more—who inhabit the fragile
habitat of earth together with countless other living beings? Can the gender-specific
division of labor, perceived in the meantime as a notorious «problem,» be eradicated
through the concept of «equal opportunity»? Or is the popular identification of gender
politics with equal opportunities policy—and thus its dissociation from so-called general
policy issues—part of the problem it sets out to solve? And if equal opportunity is
not the solution: what other policy is necessary to correct the mistakes not only of economics
but of the entire symbolic order of which Western economics and economic
science—which have now come to dominate the globe—are a part so all people can
live together on peaceful and beneficial terms?
In the first section I will examine how people have imposed boundaries not only
between «man» and «nature» but also straight through all of humanity. The question
that follows is with what strategies the many people who were defined out of the economy
and into nature have attempted to reclaim their dignity. Which of these strategies
is sustainable? In the third section, while referring to Thomas Kuhn’s theory of the
paradigm shift, I describe to what extent the necessary post-dichotomous re-orientation
of the economy has already started at the midpoint it has set itself. In the fourth
section, finally, I address, in the form of an open-ended list, initiatives that rediscover
the self-evident truth which has been concealed by the dichotomous economy: the
fact that all of us are part of nature, with needs, finite, limited and at the same time
free to organize our existence in the fragile habitat earth in such a way that modest
and pleasurable coexistence is possible. You are expressly encouraged to add to and
continue this list.
1 Günter Ashauer 1973, 5.
2 Peter Ulrich 2008, 1 [slight modification by this translator].
3 See Rosemarie von Schweitzer 1991, pp. 51-56.
4 Aristotle 1973, 51.
5 That unpaid care services make up about half of the work necessary to society has been confirmed by extensive studies. For the most recent research see Hans Baumann et al. 2013, Care,
Krise und Geschlecht 2013, Dossier Care-Ökonomie 2010 ff. On the global situation see Gender
& Care 2009.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ina Praetorius, Dr. theol., is a graduate in German literature and a Protestant theologian. She was
a research fellow at the Institute for Social Ethics at the University of Zurich from 1983 to 1987. She
obtained her doctorate in Heidelberg in 1992; her dissertation was entitled «Anthropology and the
image of women in German-language theology.» A freelance writer and speaker, she has been living
in Wattwil, Switzerland, with her family since 1987. Website: Ina Praetorius.
"Every great dream begins with a dreamer."
Harriet Tubman (1822-1913)
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