Thursday, June 18, 2015

Laudato Si

Pope Francis' encyclical on caring for the earth begins like this:
1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.

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.

Nothing in this world is indifferent to us.
Reading the whole thing is an interesting exercise for a secular, scientific person. Sentences that strike me as sensible and even moving alternate with the meaningless. More deeply, the argument works its way from fundamental principles that I do not accept at all to many conclusions that I completely accept.  Yes, our indifference to both our fellow humans and our planet are horrific. But is that really because we have turned from God? Consider this:
113. People no longer seem to believe in a happy future; they no longer have blind trust in a better tomorrow based on the present state of the world and our technical abilities. There is a growing awareness that scientific and technological progress cannot be equated with the progress of humanity and history, a growing sense that the way to a better future lies elsewhere. This is not to reject the possibilities which technology continues to offer us. But humanity has changed profoundly, and the accumulation of constant novelties exalts a superficiality which pulls us in one direction. It becomes difficult to pause and recover depth in life. If architecture reflects the spirit of an age, our megastructures and drab apartment blocks express the spirit of globalized technology, where a constant flood of new products coexists with a tedious monotony. Let us refuse to resign ourselves to this, and continue to wonder about the purpose and meaning of everything. Otherwise we would simply legitimate the present situation and need new forms of escapism to help us endure the emptiness.

114. All of this shows the urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution. Science and technology are not neutral; from the beginning to the end of a process, various intentions and possibilities are in play and can take on distinct shapes. Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.
By all means, let us avoid drowning in petty distractions and keep our eyes on higher things, and we could certainly use better architecture. But past, more religious ages have been much more cavalier in their treatment of nature than we are in the 21st century, which makes me doubt that Iron Age creeds will really answer our current needs.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

The message simply isn't meant for the secular. Its intended audience is the faithful and the zealous, and it speaks to them in their own language.

The argumentation it employs may not be the most rationally compelling stuff, but it isn't meant to be. The point is to promote good behavior in the faithful by stirring their religious passion and fervor to motivate them.

Remember, this is a portion of the population for whom more secular arguments would be anathema. If reason isn't sufficient to motivate them to do the things which are necessary for the good of us all, then appealing to their spirituality instead just might do the trick.

Francis continues to earn my respect by being amazingly aware of the destructive schism between his devoted believers and the secular elements of the world, and continually fighting to bridge that terrible gap.

He understands that if left to their own devices, most ordinary Catholics will never make the sort of meaningful progress that will be necessary for their religion to remain relevant in the future. He understands that they are held back by their various collective insecurities and neuroses, and he knows that if meaningful change is going to occur, then there needs to be someone they trust who can lead his wayward flock toward it. Thus he is striving to be that leader.

He's actually starting to remind me quite a lot of the Dalai Lama, who knows that Tibetan Buddhism can never go back to the way things used to be and is trying to gently modernize his religion from the inside out. They both know if they keep resisting the future, it will destroy them in the end, and both leaders have worked to begin reversing their respective religions' stances on topics like homosexuality, gender inequality, and even cultural divisions.

Francis wants to reform his church from the inside out. He wants to slowly and gently convince them to accept the future by appealing to their faith in their own language - rather than leaving them to have modern values forced painfully upon them by the rest of the world as it continues to inextricably change around them. And for that he has my very great respect.