Reading and Writing About the Pope & His Message in “Laudato Si” — Part 1

by S. Tom Bond on July 18, 2015

“Laudato Si” — What did the Pope say? (Part 1)
Commentary from S. Tom Bond, Retired Chemistry Professor & Resident Farmer, Lewis County, WV, July 18, 2015
Several accounts were available, and after reading several of them I began an article to be called “How the news is managed,” using several of the articles. It began this way:
“It has been amusing to follow the coverage of Pope Francis recent Encyclical “Laudato Si, On Care of Our Common Home” in the press. Makes you wonder how many of those authors have read it. And it shows very well that news is managed even ‘masssaged’.”
Actually, it’s pretty obvious that the news is not complete or impartial.  Some 90% of the television and much of the press and radio are originated by just six corporations: GE, News Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner and CBS.

At this point I decided I really should read the letter, Laudato Si, myself, which comprised 184 pages in the original printing. Wow, was I surprised!
The writing is a clear, densely written progression through many, many ideas. It could have been written as a source book for sermons, with much scholarship and quotable lines, very compact. It is far too complex to read casually because it links most of the world’s very large problems, not just ecology, to their source. Things as diverse as trash accumulation, declining supplies of sea food, species extinction, the political shift toward totalitarianism, war, and racial conflict come into the picture.
The letter begins with relating science to religion, and parts sing praise to “sister earth” which reminds me of American Indian religion. Respect for earth is something religion learns when the population is close to the “carrying capacity” of the region where it exists – the absolute dependence of life on the thin surface area of the earth on which the sun shines. A lesson which is most easily forgotten by protected elites who live indoors and not having to worry about food, shelter and security. Such people who, in our age, enjoy heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer, and are free to pursue a single abstract goal, such as profit, where ever it might lead.
We soon learn from Laudato Si who this elite is and what it does. Thus the reason big mouth Rush Limbaugh calls it a “Marxist Climate Rant.” That bilge can be read here, if you have a strong stomach.

This is paragraph 2 of 245 paragraphs:

2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. 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. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.
I included this latter paragraph for flavor.
This is the first little nip at the Dominionists, that segment of Christianity that interprets the Bible as saying we humans have been given dominion by God and we can do what we damn well please with His gifts. This idea gives support to the villains, and occupies space in “he said, she said” media, and doubtless they get their rewards on this earth (and don’t need any in heaven). That attack is repeated over and over in Laudato Si.
Several paragraphs are devoted to showing that concern for relations between man and the earth are not new in Christianity. He lists the 1971 “Pacem in Terris” of Pope John XXII, quotes Paul VI, who referred to the ecological concern as “a tragic consequence” of unchecked human activity: “Due to an ill-considered exploitation of nature, humanity runs the risk of destroying it and becoming in turn a victim of this degradation.”
He also quotes John Paul II who warned that human beings frequently seem “to see no other meaning in their natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption.” Even one from the Eastern Orthodox Church, Patriarch Bartholomew has spoken in particular of the need for each of us to repent of the ways we have harmed the planet, for “inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage”, we are called to acknowledge “our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation.”
Three paragraphs are devoted to Saint Francis of Assisi. Finally, I found this quote from Benedict XVI, who proposed “eliminating the structural causes of the dysfunctions of the world economy and correcting models of growth which have proved incapable of ensuring respect for the environment.” This begins to hint at the importance of political solution, which later becomes a main theme.
Now, the reader should be aware that I am not a Catholic; but, to the best of my ability, I write from the standpoint of a science realist, retaining the Christian ethic, with some additions from other religions.  And, it appears that the only institution in the modern world concerned with ethics is religion.


NOTE: The domains of science and religion cannot be rigid, as seen in Science and Religion: “The Meaning of Life in a Formula,” Michael Shermer, Scientific American, Volume 313, Number 2, Page 83, August 4, 2015.

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