Reading & Writing About the Pope and His Message in “Laudato Si” — Part 3

by S. Tom Bond on July 22, 2015

“Laudato Si” — What did the Pope say? (Part 3)

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

CHAPTER THREE – The Roots of the Ecological Crisis

Paragraph 101. “It would hardly be helpful to describe symptoms without acknowledging the human origins of the ecological crisis. A certain way of understanding human life and activity has gone awry, to the serious detriment of the world around us. Should we not pause and consider this? At this stage, I propose that we focus on the dominant technocratic paradigm and the place of human beings and of human action in the world.

“We are the beneficiaries of two centuries of enormous waves of change…. Technology has remedied countless evils which used to harm and limit human beings… How can we not feel gratitude and appreciation for this progress, especially in the fields of medicine, engineering and communications?” And there is the other side; war and totalitarianism, which kill millions of people. ” In whose hands does all this power lie, or will it eventually end up? It is extremely risky for a small part of humanity to have it. … The fact is that “contemporary man has not been trained to use power well. Our freedom fades when it is handed over to the blind forces of the unconscious, of immediate needs, of self-interest, and of violence….”

“…the relationship [between man and nature] has become confrontational. This has made it easy to accept the idea of infinite or unlimited growth, which proves so attractive to economists, financiers and experts in technology. It is based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit. It is the false notion that “an infinite quantity of energy and resources are available, that it is possible to renew them quickly, and that the negative effects of the exploitation of the natural order can be easily absorbed.” … “in the most radical sense of the term power is its motive – a lordship over all.”

Section III of Chapter Three [The Crisis & Effects of Modern Anthropocentrism]

Here the hits on dominionism become more intense. I cannot include summary of it all, just some flavor. Paragraph 116. “Modernity has been marked by an excessive anthropocentrism which today, under another guise, continues to stand in the way of shared understanding and of any effort to strengthen social bonds… 117. Neglecting to monitor the harm done to nature and the environmental impact of our decisions is only the most striking sign of a disregard for the message contained in the structures of nature itself….

“Once the human being declares independence from reality and behaves with absolute dominion, the very foundations of our life begin to crumble, for “instead of carrying out his role as a cooperator with God in the work of creation, man sets himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature… When the human person is considered as simply one being among others, the product of chance or physical determinism, then “our overall sense of responsibility wanes.”

“The culture of relativism [meaning dominion over the earth] is the same disorder which drives one person to take advantage of another, to treat others as mere objects, imposing forced labor on them or enslaving them to pay their debts. The same kind of thinking leads to the sexual exploitation of children and abandonment of the elderly who no longer serve our interests. It is also the mindset of those who say: Let us allow the invisible forces of the market to regulate the economy, and consider their impact on society and nature as collateral damage.”

“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 [it must be made available to all]… We are convinced that “man is the source, the focus and the aim of all economic and social life…” Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment. Helping the poor financially must always be a provisional solution in the face of pressing needs… To stop investing in people, in order to gain greater short-term financial gain, is bad business for society.

CHAPTER FOUR—Integral Ecology

This chapter reinforces the previous chapters, calling attention to how ecosystems provide invaluable services, calling for planning for sustainable use. It calls for preservation of cultures, as well as people and land. ” Authentic development includes efforts to bring about an integral improvement in the quality of human life, and this entails considering the setting in which people live their lives…”

It calls for recognition and preservation of things and places which have esthetic value. The principle of the common good is extoled. Consideration of future generations is a topic intensively discussed. ” Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.” Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain.

CHAPTER FIVE – Lines of Approach and Action

Begins with “Although the contemplation of this reality in itself has already shown the need for a change of direction and other courses of action, now we shall try to outline the major paths of dialogue which can help us escape the spiral of self-destruction which currently engulfs us.”

“An interdependent world not only makes us more conscious of the negative effects of certain lifestyles and models of production and consumption which affect us all; more importantly, it motivates us to ensure that solutions are proposed from a global perspective, and not simply to defend the interests of a few countries. Interdependence obliges us to think of one world with a common plan.”

“Until greater progress is made in developing widely accessible sources of renewable energy, it is legitimate to choose the less harmful alternative or to find short-term solutions… Politics and business have been slow to react in a way commensurate with the urgency of the challenges facing our world…thanks to [environmental group] efforts, environmental questions have increasingly found a place on public agendas and encouraged more far-sighted approaches…the countries which have benefited from a high degree of industrialization, at the cost of enormous emissions of greenhouse gases, have a greater responsibility for providing a solution to the problems they have caused.”

Laudato Si criticizes carbon credits, supports solar, condemns ocean dumping, and hints broadly at the problems with corporate encroachment on the power of national states. National states can and must include everyone. Cooperatives are good, particularly at exploiting renewable resources.

Dialogue and transparency are necessary for correct decision making. access to water is a fundamental right. Full scientific certainty is not necessary to start taking action. The burden of proof of safety to people and the environment is on the person or entity taking action. Two key assertions are: “Politics must not be subject to the economy, nor should the economy be subject to the dictates of an efficiency-driven paradigm of technocracy… The environment is one of those goods that cannot be adequately safeguarded or promoted by market forces.” Such ideas are the result of a “magical conception of the market.” And, “Where profits alone count, there can be no thinking about the rhythms of nature, its phases of decay and regeneration, or the complexity of ecosystems which may be gravely upset by human intervention.”

“Whenever these questions are raised, some react by accusing others of irrationally attempting to stand in the way of progress and human development. But we need to grow in the conviction that a decrease in the pace of production and consumption can at times give rise to another form of progress and development.” We need to “generate intelligent and profitable ways of reusing, revamping and recycling, and it could also improve the energy efficiency of cities and redefine our notion of progress.” In a word, businesses profit by calculating and paying only a fraction of the costs involved. Yet only when “the economic and social costs of using up shared environmental resources are recognized with transparency and fully borne by those who incur them, not by other peoples or future generations can those actions be considered ethical.

The mindset which leaves no room for sincere concern for the environment is the same mindset which lacks concern for the inclusion of the most vulnerable members of society.

CHAPTER SIX – Ecological Education and Spirituality

The final chapter of the letter talks about developing a new lifestyle with the end of consumerism, a product of the desire to sell unlimited product. People feel free if they have supposed freedom to consume, “but those really free are the minority who wield economic and financial power.” The ends are insubstantial for society, thus global uncertainty. “So our concern cannot be limited merely to the threat of extreme weather events, but must also extend to the catastrophic consequences of social unrest.”

“Purchasing is always a moral – and not simply economic – act.” We must consider the effect on others and on the environment. Environmental education should now include “a critique of the “myths” of a modernity grounded in a utilitarian mindset (individualism, unlimited progress, competition, consumerism, the unregulated market)…. All Christian communities have an important role to play in ecological education…. But we also need the personal qualities of self-control and willingness to learn from one another. We need an “ecological conversion,” or “change of heart.”
“We do not understand our superiority as a reason for personal glory or irresponsible dominion, but rather as a different capacity which, in its turn, entails a serious responsibility stemming from our faith.”

The final paragraphs talk about, joy and peace, civic and political love, and further connects the theme to traditions of the Roman Catholic Church.

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