This post continues a guide to reading the encyclical, picking up at Chapter Three.
Chapter Three: The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis. In a challenging Encyclical, this may be a big hurdle for many Americans. If you follow the European press on this topic, you’ll find the explanation to European readers again and again, “…in the United States, conservatives do not believe that global climate changes are caused by human activity…” or words to that effect. In Europe, everyone, conservatives included, acknowledge that our practices have effected the climate. Liberals and Conservatives, Green Party, Socialists, whatever, propose different solutions, strategies and approaches but all agree that our current practices have had a dangerous impact on the environment. I find a two-pronged conclusion here; first, recognizing our negative impact on the natural environment is not bound to a particular ideology; second, Europe is also crippled by it’s political ideologies and needed changes are frustrated by political expediency.
The Third Chapter itself confronts the reader with the disconcerting disconnect between technological (and economic) developments and the bigger picture of the limited resources of our planet. This development has been unchecked by any criteria or end beyond its own dynamism. Whereas there is a creativity in such development and a potential for good, it has not been subject to any goal transcending its own potential. Culturally, such flourishing has been abetted by anthropocentrism, with man as the sole measure, and man in the immediacy of now, disregarding future consequences. It is really an outgrowth of isolation, ignoring both the concrete human other and the divine Other without whom no true humanity is possible. I believe it is worth quoting from paragraph 122: In the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I noted that the practical relativism typical of our age is “even more dangerous than doctrinal relativism.” When human beings place themselves at the center, they give absolute priority to immediate convenience and all else becomes relative.
What is significant in this Chapter is that the Holy Father not only identifies the human responsibility of ecological deterioration but the moral vacuum that feeds it. This chapter concludes with need to protect employment–again, identifying the neglected ramifications of the issue–and further problems raised by developing technologies (experimentation on animals, genetic modification, etc.)
Chapter Four: Integral Ecology. If the propositions of Chapter Three could be the most challenging for some readers, Chapter Four may be one of the most insightful Chapters of the encyclical. Pope Francis had already pointed several times in the previous chapters that creation is a web of life and we effect one another. In this Chapter, he explores connections, contexts, beyond the biological. That is part of being human, generating culture, society and economics as we also generate a human environment. All the same that distinctly human environment id not detachable from the natural world and part of the responsibility for being human is giving voice to the voiceless creation, protecting it, learning to be good stewards of God’s gift. Conversely, we can no longer afford to ignore how bad stewardship limits other human beings culturally, socially and economically–and environmentally.
Throughout, the Holy Father has lauded groups, agencies and individuals who work to improve the natural environment and raise consciousness; the ordinary individual can, through awareness, education and consciousness contribute to the healing of our planet. And it is in this arena that God’s gift of love must be allowed its scope. This is not just solving a physical problem but a mode of relating to one another, including individuals we will never meet or know. It strikes me that in a culture of virtual “community” and presence-less “friends” (who may be electronically tailored to suit our expectations or “unfriended” to suit our insecurities) I actually have the opportunity by my choices here to “connect” in a very vital way with someone half-way around the world. By making a conscientious and informed choice, I could truly “friend” another person. I may never know who they are but I could actually save a life.
Basically it is a question of respecting who we are as human beings, as self-transcending beings, necessarily interdependent (open to others, receiving from and giving to others) through love (charitas) and justice. This is what Pope Benedict XVI referred to as “human ecology”. Without that ecology we cannot truly become good stewards of the natural world. We could only be technicians.
to be continued…