Reading & Writing About the Pope and His Message in “Laudato Si” — Part 2

by S. Tom Bond on July 20, 2015

“Laudato Si” — What did the Pope say? (Part 2)

Commentary by S. Tom Bond, Lewis County, WV, July 18, 2015

CHAPTER ONE: What is Happening to our Common Home

At this point begins attention to the problems as Pope Francis sees them. The first section is “Pollution and Climate Change.” To the best of this author’s knowledge, no one denies pollution. There are many who deny climate change or human responsibility, yes; but pollution of land, sea and air, no. Pollution is everywhere, some places far worse than others. From Paragraph 20:

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.

Further, Laudato Si says: “These problems are linked to a throwaway culture… which affects the whole planet…. The climate is a common good… Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption… The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels….”

“Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms… such effects will continue to worsen if we continue with current models of production and consumption. There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy…”

With this, somebody’s toes are getting stepped on. In short, the biggest of big business and the governments increasingly controlled by them as well as the enabling financial institutions which gather the excess of production are particularly identified as villains.

The second section is “The Issue of Water:”

We all know that it is not possible to sustain the present level of consumption in developed countries and wealthier sectors of society, where the habit of wasting and discarding has reached unprecedented levels… it is also conceivable that the control of water by large multinational businesses may become a major source of conflict in this century.

The third section “Loss of Biodiversity:”

… a sober look at our world shows that the degree of human intervention, often in the service of business interests and consumerism, is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, ever more limited and grey, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound. We seem to think that we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something which we have created ourselves….

Here monocultures…diversity of life in oceans and fresh water…coral reefs, the forest of the sea…and the need for investment in research for understanding ecology all get attention.

The fourth section of the first chapter is titled “Decline in the Quality of Human Life and the Breakdown of Society:”

Three paragraphs convey the gist of the letter in this regard:

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.

45. In some places, rural and urban alike, the privatization of certain spaces has restricted people’s access to places of particular beauty.

46. … These are signs that the growth of the past two centuries has not always led to an integral development and an improvement in the quality of life. Some of these signs are also symptomatic of real social decline, the silent rupture of the bonds of integration and social cohesion.

This is due, in part. to “media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously. In this context, the great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of information overload… True wisdom, as the fruit of self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data that eventually leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution. Media “do enable us to communicate and to share our knowledge and affections. Yet at times they also shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences.”

Global Inequality” is the title of the next section:

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. In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet: “Both everyday experience and scientific research show that the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest.”

Awareness of other person’s problems, especially the poor and those far away, is a major part of the degradation. This is the result of “many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centers of power, being located in affluent urban areas, 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,” billions of people. A paragraph is devoted to the rich dumping on the poor. For example the manufacturing of products is sent to third world countries, such as China, and they are injured by and blamed for the refuse.

Next to last section of this chapter is “Weak Response:”

54. It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been…. the most one can expect is superficial rhetoric, sporadic acts of philanthropy and perfunctory expressions of concern for the environment, whereas any genuine attempt by groups within society to introduce change is viewed as a nuisance based on romantic illusions or an obstacle to be circumvented.

56. In the meantime, economic powers continue to justify the current global system where priority tends to be given to speculation and the pursuit of financial gain, which fail to take the context into account, let alone the effects on human dignity and the natural environment…

57. It is foreseeable that, once certain resources have been depleted, the scene will be set for new wars, albeit under the guise of noble claims…

The final section is “A Variety of Opinions:”

At one extreme, we find those who doggedly uphold the myth of progress and tell us that ecological problems will solve themselves simply with the application of new technology and without any need for ethical considerations or deep change… the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion; she knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts… we can see signs that things are now reaching a breaking point, due to the rapid pace of change and degradation… evident in large-scale natural disasters as well as social and even financial crises… the present world system is certainly unsustainable from a number of points of view, for we have stopped thinking about the goals of human activity.

CHAPTER TWO: The Gospel of Creation

As the letter goes on, religion assumes a greater importance interpreting the real world.

In the first section, “The light offered by Faith” lays out the objective of the chapter: to show how faith convictions can offer Christians, and some other believers as well, ample motivation to care for nature and for the most vulnerable of their brothers and sisters. Laudato Si is addressed to all people of good faith and explains the Christian account: Creation of man and woman in God’s likeness, the dignity of every individual, the Creator’s love for his creation, how each individual is necessary.

The second states that man has three vital relationships: with God, with his neighbor and with the earth itself. The rupture of any one of these is sin. We are to “till and keep” the earth. Then it focuses on “dominion” in Genesis 2:15 which the Pope (and many of the rest of us) says is distorted by dominionist thinking. To “have dominion” over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28) really is to “till it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). The present result is failure of relations between human beings and nature. We have a responsibility to use the earth’s goods responsibly, and that other living beings have value of their own.

Further, Pope Francis continues, “The universe did not emerge as the result of arbitrary omnipotence, a show of force or a desire for self-assertion.” And “we can finally leave behind the modern myth of unlimited material progress.” He then goes on to catalogue capacities other creatures lack.

Completely at odds with this [current] model [of development] are the ideals of harmony, justice, fraternity and peace as proposed by Jesus. The Pope emphasizes “every ecological approach needs to incorporate a social perspective which takes into account the fundamental rights of the poor and the underprivileged. The principle of the subordination of private property to the universal destination of goods, and thus the right of everyone to their use, is a golden rule of social conduct and “the first principle of the whole ethical and social order.”

At this point Laudato Si contains many references to bishops from the Global South, where poverty and income disparity are rampant.


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