As a Protestant Christian my devotion to the Catholic Church has been rather minimal, based largely on respect for early church history, and for love of an aunt who was a nun. In recent times the Catholic Church’s opposition to birth control, plus the pedophile and cover-up scandals, further alienated me. Like many others I first viewed Pope Francis as perhaps a breath of fresh air, but little more. After reading his encyclical on environment and justice, dare I hope that what I considered merely “fresh air” could actually be the wind of Pentecost filling the Church anew with the Spirit? Maybe. At a minimum he has given us a more truthful, informed, and courageous analysis of the environmental and moral crisis than have our secular political leaders.
True, the important question of population was conspicuous by its near absence. In an earlier offhand remark, however, Francis said that Catholics don’t need to breed “like rabbits,” and pointed to the Church’s doctrine of responsible parenthood. Perhaps he will follow up on that in a future encyclical. In any case, most lay Catholics have for some time stopped listening to Popes on contraception. The popular attitude is expressed in a cartoon showing an Italian mamma wagging her finger at the Pontiff and saying, “You no playa da game; you no maka da rules.” Discussing population would not have changed realities, and would have aroused official opposition and distracted attention from the major points of the encyclical. So I will follow Francis’ politic example and put the population question aside, but with a reference to historian John T. Noonan, Jr.’s classic book, Contraception,1 which sorts out the history of doctrine on this issue.
The big ideas of the encyclical are Creation care and justice, and the failure of our technocratic growth economy to provide either justice or care for Creation. Also discussed was the integration of science and religion as necessary, though different, avenues to truth. And yes, the Pope supports the scientific consensus on the reality of climate change, but, media monomania to the contrary, the encyclical is about far more than that.2
Francis’ voice is of course not the first to come from Christians in defense of Creation. In addition to his ancient namesake from Assisi, Francis also recognized Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of the Eastern Orthodox Church, who has for two decades now been organizing conferences and speaking out in defense of rivers and oceans, including the Black Sea. The Orthodox Church lost a generation of believers to Communistic atheism, but is gaining back many young people attracted to the theology of Creation and the actions it inspires. Liberal mainline Protestant Christians, and more recently, conservative Evangelicals, have also found their ecological conscience. So Francis’ encyclical would seem to be a capstone that unifies the main divisions of Christianity on at least the fundamental recognition that we have a shamefully neglected duty to care for the Earth out of which we evolved, and to share the Earth’s life support more equitably with each other, with the future, and with other creatures. Many atheists also agree, while claiming that their agreement owes nothing to Judeo-Christian tradition. That is historically questionable, but their support is welcome nonetheless.
Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical “Laudato Si, On Care for our Common Home” was released on June 18. Photo credit: Aleteia.org
This theology of Creation should not be confused with the evolution-denying, anti-science views of some Christian biblical literalists (confusingly called “Creationists” rather than “literalists”). Mankind’s duty to care for Creation, through which humans have evolved to reflect at least the faint image of their Creator, conflicts headlong with the current dominant idolatry of growthism and technological Gnosticism. The idea of duty to care for Creation also conflicts with the materialist determinism of neo-Darwinist fundamentalists who see “Creation” as the random result of multiplying infinitesimal probabilities by an infinite number of trials. The policy implication of determinism (even if stochastic) is that purposeful policy is illusory, both practically and morally. Creation care is also incompatible with the big lie that sharing the Earth’s limited resources is unnecessary because economic growth will make us all rich. Francis calls this magical thinking. He skates fairly close to the idea of steady-state economics, of qualitative development without quantitative growth in scale, although this concept is not specifically considered. Consider his paragraph 193:
In any event, if in some cases sustainable development were to involve new forms of growth, then in other cases, given the insatiable and irresponsible growth produced over many decades, we need also to think of containing growth by setting some reasonable limits and even retracing our steps before it is too late. We know how unsustainable is the behaviour of those who constantly consume and destroy, while others are not yet able to live in a way worthy of their human dignity. That is why the time has come to accept decreased growth in some parts of the world, in order to provide resources for other places to experience healthy growth.
In the last sentence “decreased growth” seems an inexact English translation from the Spanish version “decrecimiento,” or the Italian version “decrescita” (likely the original languages of the document), which should be translated as “degrowth” or negative growth, which is of course stronger than “decreased growth.”3
Laudato Si is already receiving both strong support and resistance. The resistance testifies to the radical nature of Francis’ renewal of the basic doctrine of the Earth and cosmos as God’s Creation. Pope Francis will be known by the enemies this encyclical makes for him, and these enemies may well be his strength. So far in the US they are not an impressive lot: the Heartland Institute, Jeb Bush, Senator James Inhofe, Rush Limbaugh, Rick Santorum, and others. Unfortunately they represent billions in special-interest money, and have a big corporate media megaphone. The encyclical calls out the opponents and forces them to defend themselves. To give them the benefit of the doubt, they may really think that Francis is rendering to God what actually belongs to Caesar’s oligarchy. But neither Caesar, nor the market, nor technology created us, or the earth that sustains us. Thanks to Francis for making that very clear when so many are denying it, either explicitly or implicitly.
1. John T. Noonan, Jr., Contraception: A History of its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists, Belknap Press, 1986. Noonan demonstrates the lack of a biblical basis for opposition to contraception, as well as the origins of church doctrine in secular Roman law, which was absorbed into canon law. The ancient Roman meaning of “proletariat” was “the lowest class, poor and exempt from taxes, and useful to the republic mainly for the procreation of children.” Clearly contraception was not indicated for them, although tolerated for patricians. This literal meaning of proletariat as the prolific class was lost when Marx redefined the word to mean “non owners of the means of production.” But the Malthusian connection with overpopulation and cheap labor has remained real, even if downplayed by Marxists as well as Catholics.
2. The Pope’s condemnation of carbon trading reflects a common misunderstanding of the cap-auction-trade policy, unfortunately shared by some leading climate scientists. See Joseph Heath, “Pope Francis’ Climate Error,” New York Times, June 19, 2015.
3. Thanks to Joan Martinez-Alier for pointing this out.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR|
Herman Daly has received numerous significant awards (e.g., the Right Livelihood Award and the NCSE Lifetime Achievement Award) that recognize the value of his ideas for making this world a better place. For decades, he has been an inspiration to students of economics and public policy — how often do you see students lining up at the end of the semester to have their professor sign their textbooks?
Over his career, Herman has taken a courageous stance, swimming upstream against the currents of conventional economic thought. Not content to bequeath his ideas on economic development solely to the academic realm, he did time at the World Bank to change policies in the real world. He also has written books that are popular with citizens around the world.
It’s a rare combination indeed to have keen insight, kindness, razor-sharp analytical skill, wit, amazing capacity for work, humility, and an uncanny way with words all rolled up into one human being. It’s a good thing, too — the planet needs Herman Daly. His books, lectures, papers, and essays are filled with ingredients for cooking up a better economy and better lives.
Our Common Home: Climate Change Brings Moral Change
Mary Evelyn Tucker
Originally published in
Yale Global, 14 July 2015
Rights: Copyright © 2015 YaleGlobal and the MacMillan Center
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION
Stemming climate change is a moral responsibility, suggests Pope Francis in encyclical on need for sustainability
On June 18th, news outlets around the world reported on the Pope's Encyclical Praised Be: On the Care of Our Common Home. The encyclical is a global call for creating an “integral ecology” that brings multiple disciplines together for a sustainable future. This movement reflects a major shift in thinking regarding environmental issues – one where religious, cultural and secular values are seen as crucial for social transformation.
For decades the public has assumed that scientists or policymakers would solve environmental problems like climate change. Market-based and technological solutions were also pursued. While these approaches are necessary, we are realizing they are not sufficient to resolve pressing environmental challenges. Ecological issues are no longer viewed as simply scientific or policy issues, but also moral concerns. That is the significance of the encyclical and why it is provoking such strong reactions. Ethics is meeting ecology – a powerful formula for change.
The encyclical marks a historic moment. An encyclical is the highest-level teaching document in the Catholic Church, and this is the first in 2000 years concerned with the environment. It is addressed to the faithful, some 1.2 billion Catholics. Pope Francis makes it clear, however, that he is speaking not just to Catholics, or the larger Christian community of another 1 billion members. Rather, he is speaking to all people on the planet about our common home.
Even before its release there was a flurry of news stories – on its meaning and long-term significance – with attention from both supporters and detractors. The debate will continue for years to come for we are witnessing a historic moment.
Pope Francis makes it clear that he is speaks to all people on the planet about our common home
The message has world-changing potential. The Pope is a popular leader who speaks simply and yet authoritatively, drawing on his MA in chemistry and his theological training as a Jesuit. And the encyclical was delivered as there is growing consensus that the human community needs to make changes on both global and local levels. The encyclical was released before the December climate talks in Paris and before the pope speaks at the United Nations and the US Congress in September.
The pope is calling for an integral ecology that brings together concern for people and the planet. He makes it clear that the environment can no longer be seen as only an issue for scientific experts, or environmental groups, or government agencies like the US Environmental Protection Agency alone. Rather, he invites all people, programs and institutions to realize these are complicated environmental and social problems that require integrated solutions beyond a “technocratic paradigm” that values an easy fix.
Climate change threatens the poor and most vulnerable, although they are not the major cause.
Under this framework, for example, he suggests that ecology, economics and equity are intertwined. Healthy ecosystems depend on a just economy that results in equity. Endangering ecosystems with an exploitative economic system is causing immense human suffering and inequity. In particular, the poor and most vulnerable are threatened by climate change, although they are not the major cause of the climate problem. Within this integrated framework, he calls for bold new solutions. This includes what he calls a “cultural revolution” of values from Christianity and the world’s religions.
Thus to contribute to global warming and compromise our planetary life systems is seen by the pope and many others as morally problematic. This is a watershed moment – a broadening of ethics that encompasses both humans and nature. The move in the United States from segregation to civil rights in the 1960s was sparked by moral voices, such as Martin Luther King. So, too, ethical concerns now led by the pope encourage the growing turn from unsustainable environmental and economic practices. Indeed, he calls for “ecological virtues” to overcome “ecological sin.” No wonder there is pushback; it is not surprising that climate skeptics are wavering. And just as with civil rights, this moral shift will take time.
For 25 years, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the US National Academy of Sciences have issued numerous scientific reports. All warn about irreparable damage to ecosystems with human-induced climate change. The US Pentagon has acknowledged that climate change is a major security risk and urged efforts at mitigation. Yet, citizens of the United States along with others in the developed world have not changed our consumptive habits regarding energy use. Moreover, political gridlock dominates on both national and international levels, preventing enforceable agreements from being negotiated.
From Pope Francis, a penetrating moral message is emerging. This man who washes the feet of prisoners and lives in simple quarters has captured the hearts of millions yearning for authentic leadership and genuine change. And he follows in the footsteps of his namesake, Francis of Assisi from eight centuries ago, a man who abandoned family wealth and spoke of Brother Sun and Sister Moon recognizing the kinship of humans with nature and the cosmos.
Pope Francis has also embraced the poor, threatening the status quo of privilege and power.
He is encouraging transformation in religious, spiritual and secular communities working for ecology and justice. In doing so, he acknowledges the need for believers and non-believers alike to help renew the vitality of Earth’s ecosystems and expand systemic efforts for equity. He is making visible an emerging worldwide phenomenon of religious environmentalism already working on greening seminaries and houses of worship as well as developing new ecotheologies and ecojustice ethics. This diverse movement is evoking a change of mind and heart, consciousness and conscience.
The Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology highlights diverse ecological values of the world’s religions.
This is the focus of the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology, which has worked for two decades to highlight the diverse ecological and cultural values embedded in the world’s religions. The work began at Harvard from 1995 to 1998 with 10 conferences and then 10 edited volumes on World Religions and Ecology published at Harvard. The forum has since moved to Yale, continuing research, education and outreach; its website documents the publications, statements, and engaged projects that have emerged in the religious communities around the world.
The pope’s encyclical also happened to run in tandem with a conference in Beijing on the efforts in China to create an interdisciplinary “ecological civilization” drawing on science, business, education and cultural values – sponsored by the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology. The conference is among more than 25 organized by the forum.
The rising moral force for ecological and social transformation can be witnessed on every continent and in every religious tradition, as covered in my book Ecology and Religion, co-authored with John Grim: Indigenous communities preserve forests in the Amazon and in North America; the film Renewal examines eight case studies of religious environmentalism in the United States; Buddhist monks protect forests in Southeast Asia. Hindu practitioners restore sacred rivers in India; Jews, Christians, and Muslims conserve the Jordan River.
These examples of religious communities caring for our common home offer hope that Francis' message will not only be heard, but acted on. Indeed, the future of the Earth community may depend on it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR|
Mary Evelyn Tucker is co-director with John Grim of the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology, with the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and Yale Divinity School. They are authors of Ecology and Religion, published in 2014 by Island Press, and producers of the Emmy Award–winning PBS film Journey of the Universe.