Sunday, June 14, 2015

Laudato Si: Pope's Encyclical on Environment to Come out Next Week

Here's a pleasant Sunday thought: The National Catholic Reporter says the forthcoming encyclical on climate change and ecology has a title and will be out next week:
"Laudato Si,' " the title Pope Francis chose for his encyclical on the environment, comes from a hymn of praise by St. Francis of Assisi that emphasizes being in harmony with God, with other creatures and with other human beings, said the head of the Franciscan order....

The hymn praises God and the reflection of God's glory in "Brother Sun" and "Sister Moon," "Brother Fire" and "Sister Water," and "our sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs."...

By praising nature's harmony with God, St. Francis' canticle helps people understand what kinds of relationships they must have in order to live in peace and to give glory to God, he said. Stories about St. Francis, such as the one about him taming a wolf who was attacking the people of Gubbio, could really be stories about how "the population was really terrorizing itself" with family feuds, neighbors fighting and towns battling each other for control of territory and wealth, the Franciscan said.

As with the people of 13th-century Gubbio, so today with climate change and drought and more violent storms,... "nature is barking, nature is chasing after us, telling us we have got to wake up. It's disturbing us; it is not disturbing in order to threaten our lives. It is telling us we are already a threat to ourselves. We're a threat to the world. Nature is telling us, 'Step back from the brink before it's too late.'"
But hold on! Not so fast. Via MSN and from a British perspective, the Guardian says,
Leading figures on the American right are launching a series of pre-emptive attacks on the pope before this week’s encyclical, hoping to prevent a mass conversion of the climate change deniers who have powered the corps of the conservative movement for more than a decade.

The prospect that the pope, from his perch at the pinnacle of the Catholic church, will exhort humanity to act on climate change as a moral imperative is a direct threat to a core belief of US conservatives. And conservatives – anxious to hang on to their flock – are lashing out.
Could the debate and conversation around the encyclical be this generation's Silent Spring moment?

It seems like even if you don't accept the cosmological, soteriological, or theological claims entailed by the encyclical's Catholic background, the fundamental act of framing climate change as one of the great moral quandaries of our time represents an advance and potentially decisive moment in our history. Even the atheists should take it very seriously as a valuable contribution to the debate and a bridging document in conversation.

You might, for example, have gone to a talk by Kathleen Moore, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at OSU, on environmental ethics. She's given a couple of talks here in the last few years. But they might reach 100 people and tens of thousands across the country.

The Pope, and the ripples outward from him, represents a reach and a moral authority orders of magnitude greater - much greater even than Al Gore and his "inconvenient truth" or Bill McKibben and

Truly, the encyclical's a big deal and almost certainly is something to rally behind and celebrate in a great ecumenical way, no matter what are your personal spiritual beliefs.

This is a little awkward, perhaps, to jam in here, but it is striking that Justice Kennedy, a Catholic, is deploying in his opinions a notion of "human dignity" that doesn't seem far at all in essentials from the notion of "human dignity" in more traditional Catholic teaching and which appears many times in Laudato Si - though it departs, of course, quite dramatically, in the particulars on gay marriage. But it is interesting to wonder if this represents a larger moment in doctrines of human personhood.

From the encyclical:
43. Human beings too are creatures of this world, enjoying a right to life and happiness, and endowed with unique dignity. So we cannot fail to consider the effects on people’s lives of environmental deterioration, current models of development and the throwaway culture....

[65....]The Bible teaches that every man and woman is created out of love and made in God’s image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26). This shows us the immense dignity of each person, “who is not just something, but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons”. Saint John Paul II stated that the special love of the Creator for each human being “confers upon him or her an infinite dignity”. [etc - the word "dignity" appears 23 times in a text search]

Update, August 24th

A review from Bill McKibben...
More, Sept 21st
From the piece:
Putting a low price on valuable environmental resources is a phenomenon that pervades modern society. Agricultural water is not scarce in California; it is underpriced. Flights are stacked up on runways because takeoffs and landings are underpriced. People wait for hours in traffic jams because road use is unpriced. People die premature deaths from small sulfur particles in the air because air pollution is underpriced. And the most perilous of all environmental problems, climate change, is taking place because virtually every country puts a price of zero on carbon dioxide emissions.


Anonymous said...

"153. The quality of life in cities has much to do with systems of transport, which are often a source of much suffering for those who use them. Many cars, used by one or more people, circulate in cities, causing traffic congestion, raising the level of pollution, and consuming enormous quantities of non-renewable energy. This makes it necessary to build more roads and parking areas which spoil the urban landscape."

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thank you!

Here's the full encyclical in English translation.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

About it, Bill McKibben says, "My own sense, after spending the day reading this remarkable document, was of great relief. I’ve been working on climate change for a quarter century, and for much of that time it felt like enduring one of those nightmarish dreams where no one can hear your warnings. In recent years a broad-based movement has arisen to take up the challenge, but this marks the first time that a person of great authority in our global culture has fully recognized the scale and depth of our crisis, and the consequent necessary rethinking of what it means to be human."

(I was also remiss about mentioning the lectures in 2013 on the feast of St. Francis that Barbara Rossing gave on apocalypse and ecology at St. Mark's.)

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

updated with thoughts on "dignity."

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

updated yesterday with link to thoughts from Bill McKibben