Laudato Si, Chapter 2, Part 1: Biblical Evidence and Strange Gods

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Chapter 2 of Laudato Si starts out as sort of an “in-house memo,” He knows that there are those who don’t believe in or just barely tolerate (using the original definition of the word here) religion. In spite of what many, many people believe, science, religion, and yes, the environment are all connected to each other. It’s a relationship as old as faith and reason. (And yes, they actually work together.) He hopes that the encyclical will show how having faith provides the desire to make the world a better place. In other words, faith that inspires doing good works. (Are you sensing a pattern here?)

Part 2 of Laudato Si is a long dive into Scriptural evidence that supports Pope Francis’s thesis, to put things into college paper terms. He starts with the first creation account from the Book of Genesis. It follows the theme of last chapter about how being Pro Earth is part of being Pro Life, only in this case, he praises the dignity of every human being. In Paragraph 66, he looks into the relationships between humanity, God, and the Earth, all of which have been broken by sin. By choosing to be like gods, humanity desired “to ‘have dominion’ over the earth…” Today, the nature of sin takes the form of wars, “the various forms of violence and abuse, the abandonment of the most vulnerable, and attacks on nature.” It stems back from making what Elizabeth Scalia calls “The Idol of I.” We keep making ourselves into gods.

The idea that God created man to have “dominion” over the earth has led to people becoming destructively dominant towards nature. In Paragraph 67, Pope Francis says that the quote from Genesis 1:28 has been misinterpreted. The earth doesn’t belong to us alone, but to God and to future generations.

The relationship between humanity and nature also applies in terms of our relationships with animals. I don’t think the Pope is going to be supporting PETA anytime soon, but he shows Biblical evidence against animal cruelty. The respect for other creatures also extends to having respect for our fellow man as well, using the story of Cain and Abel and Noah to show how disharmony between man will reflect in the disharmony in nature. (Sort of Macbethian in that sense.) He emphasizes the importance of renewal periods, such as resting on the sabbath day, having a sabbatical year, and the celebration fo the Jubilee year. The fruits of the laborers were shared with everyone, especially the poor, the widows, the orphans, and the foreigners.

Paragraphs 72-75 look into the importance of having a good relationship with God, once again, citing the Bible as evidence. Without a relationship with God, we end up making anything and everything else our idol. If it sounds like I’m shamelessly plugging Strange Gods alongside reading Laudato Si, you’re probably right.

Standout Quotes

From Paragraph 65 (Emphases mine)

The Bible teaches that every man and woman is created out of love and made in God’s image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26). This shows us the immense dignity of each person, “who is not just something, but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons.” 

Saint John Paul II stated that the special love of the Creator for each human being “confers upon him or her an infinite dignity”. Those who are committed to defending human dignity can find in the Christian faith the deepest reasons for this commitment. How wonderful is the certainty that each human life is not adrift in the midst of hopeless chaos, in a world ruled by pure chance or endlessly recurring cycles!

The Creator can say to each one of us: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jer 1:5). We were conceived in the heart of God, and for this reason “each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary”.

Paragraph 67

Although it is true that we Christians have at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures, nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures. The biblical texts are to be read in their context, with an appropriate hermeneutic, recognizing that they tell us to “till and keep” the garden of the world (cf. Gen 2:15). “Tilling” refers to cultivating, ploughing or working, while “keeping” means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving.

Paragraph 69

Together with our obligation to use the earth’s goods responsibly, we are called to recognize that other living beings have a value of their own in God’s eyes: “by their mere existence they bless him and give him glory”,41 and indeed, “the Lord rejoices in all his works” (Ps 104:31).

Paragraph 70

Disregard for the duty to cultivate and maintain a proper relationship with my neighbour, for whose care and custody I am responsible, ruins my relationship with my own self, with others, with God and with the earth.

Paragraphs 72-75

72

The Psalms frequently exhort us to praise God the Creator, “who spread out the earth on the waters, for his steadfast love endures for ever” (Ps 136:6). They also invite other creatures to join us in this praise: “Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created” (Ps 148:3-5). We do not only exist by God’s mighty power; we also live with him and beside him. This is why we adore him.

73.

The writings of the prophets invite us to find renewed strength in times of trial by contemplating the all-powerful God who created the universe. Yet God’s infinite power does not lead us to flee his fatherly tenderness, because in him affection and strength are joined. Indeed, all sound spirituality entails both welcoming divine love and adoration, confident in the Lord because of his infinite power. In the Bible, the God who liberates and saves is the same God who created the universe, and these two divine ways of acting are intimately and inseparably connected: “Ah Lord God! It is you who made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you… You brought your people Israel out of the land of Egypt with signs and wonders” (Jer 32:17, 21). “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless” (Is 40:28b-29).

74.
The experience of the Babylonian captivity provoked a spiritual crisis which led to deeper faith in God. Now his creative omnipotence was given pride of place in order to exhort the people to regain their hope in the midst of their wretched predicament. Centuries later, in another age of trial and persecution, when the Roman Empire was seeking to impose absolute dominion, the faithful would once again find consolation and hope in a growing trust in the all-powerful God: “Great and wonderful are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways!” (Rev 15:3). The God who created the universe out of nothing can also intervene in this world and overcome every form of evil. Injustice is not invincible.

75.
A spirituality which forgets God as all-powerful and Creator is not acceptable. That is how we end up worshipping earthly powers, or ourselves usurping the place of God, even to the point of claiming an unlimited right to trample his creation underfoot. The best way to restore men and women to their rightful place, putting an end to their claim to absolute dominion over the earth, is to speak once more of the figure of a Father who creates and who alone owns the world. Otherwise, human beings will always try to impose their own laws and interests on reality.

Laudato Si, Chapter 1, Part 2: Pro-Earth = Pro-Life

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Being Pro-Life to me means going beyond saving the unborn babies. It also means having compassion for criminals (which means no death penalty), making sure that single mothers find work, education, supplies, and babysitters so that they can take care of their children, and caring for the terminally ill (no euthanasia). In Laudato Si, Pope Francis, in this encyclical, takes the idea of being pro-life and puts it on a global scale.

Part 5 of Chapter 1 talks about the quality of life, or lack thereof as the case may be. He acknowledges that there is a connection between the quality of life in terms of the environment and quality of life in terms of how well people are living. Unfortunately, not many people who have the power to influence the quality of life are choosing to do so outside of keeping up appearances.

Paragraph 50 particularly stands out here to the liberals who are dancing on tables about the Pope apparently agreeing with the party line. (Emphasis mine)

Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate. At times, developing countries face forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of “reproductive health”. Yet “while it is true that an unequal distribution of the population and of available resources creates obstacles to development and a sustainable use of the environment, it must nonetheless be recognized that demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development”. To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption. Besides, we know that approximately a third of all food produced is discarded, and “whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor”. Still, attention needs to be paid to imbalances in population density, on both national and global levels, since a rise in consumption would lead to complex regional situations, as a result of the interplay between problems linked to environmental pollution, transport, waste treatment, loss of resources and quality of life.

Overpopulation Myth Believers, consider yourselves hosed.

Part 6 of Chapter 1 looks into the lack of response and effort people have taken in trying to make the environment better. In his opinion, people in power see the environment as part of their agenda and wars could eventually break out over lack of resources under the guise of being for the greater good. There are positive examples of good change in the world. It’s not much, but it’s a start.  However, Pope Francis warns against sitting on our laurels.

Standout quotes

Paragraph 53

Yet we are called to be instruments of God our Father, so that our planet might be what he desired when he created it and correspond with his plan for peace, beauty and fullness.

Paragraph 54

There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected.

Paragraph 59:

Superficially, apart from a few obvious signs of pollution and deterioration, things do not look that serious, and the planet could continue as it is for some time. Such evasiveness serves as a licence to carrying on with our present lifestyles and models of production and consumption. This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen.

Part 7 is entitled “A Variety of Opinions,” which looks into the differing POVs on the issue of the environment and asks for genuine dialogue in order to find solutions.

Standout quote:

Paragraph 60:

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. At the other extreme are those who view men and women and all their interventions as no more than a threat, jeopardizing the global ecosystem, and consequently the presence of human beings on the planet should be reduced and all forms of intervention prohibited.

 

Looking Into Laudato Si Part 1: Charity Begins at Home

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One of my friends from college asked me this question recently in regards to Pope Francis’s latest encyclical Laudato Si.

No liberal, democrat millennial is going to read the encyclical so why in the world did he highlight the saving the environment (even though Catholics take care of it most) and not something else? There are so many lax Catholics and young Catholics who are missing something: The teachings of the Catholic Church. Why couldn’t he highlight that? Why aren’t things like that coming out from reading the encyclical instead of the environment?”

I’ll be honest when I say that I don’t have an answer for that right now. Pope Francis has never been one to go with expectations. And I’m not even halfway through finishing this encyclical!

From what I read so far, I’ve gotten two things. First of all, it reminds me of something my mother always said: “Charity begins at home.” Even though we were created for Heaven, the Earth is our home. A temporary home, yes, but still our home. So if we’re gonna start changing ourselves, we have to start by taking care of our home first.

I also felt major Josemaria Escriva vibes from this encyclical. Yes, Pope Francis is channeling major Franciscan spirituality, but there’s also the challenging tone that only St. Josemaria Escriva can bring to the table. The encyclical is direct and challenging, forcing us outside of our comfort zones, forcing us to think outside of ourselves. It could also be the Jesuit spirituality as well, given that St. Ignatius has a military background.

Tom McDonald of God and the Machine has been live-tweeting the encyclical, which has inspired me to do something similar here. I’ll be going through a chapter of the encyclical (or as much as I can, depending on how long the chapters are). Today, I will start with the introduction.

The encyclical opens with where the title of the encyclical came from: St. Francis’s Canticle of the Sun. He refers Earth as a sister, which makes sense because ontologically, we are related to the Earth by the fact that both the Earth and us are created by us. He also reminds us that we are created from the Earth and we depend on her to sustain ourselves.

Paragraphs 3-6 cite his predecessors’ viewpoints on the importance of taking care of the Earth. He starts with Pope Saint John XXIII and ends with Benedict, showing that this issue isn’t just a hot-button trend, but something that previous popes have brought up before.  The ones that stand out the most to me are, of course, the paragraphs where he refers to St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Standout quotes from Paragraph 5:

The destruction of the human environment is extremely serious, not only because God has entrusted the world to us men and women, but because human life itself is a gift which must be defended from various forms of debasement.” “Authentic human development has a moral character. It presumes full respect for the human person, but it must also be concerned for the world around us and ‘take into account the nature of each being and of its mutual connection to an ordered system.’

Being pro-environment is being pro-life.

Standout quote from Paragraph 6:

Pope Benedict asked us to recognize that the natural environment  has been gravely damaged by our irresponsible behavior. The social environment has also suffered damage. Both are ultimately due to the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence human freedom is limitless. We have forgotten that “man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature.

Have I ever mentioned how I hate existentialism?

Paragraphs 7-9 emphasize the universality of this issue by citing Patriarch Bartholomew’s views on the issue. The Patriarch’s opinions support Francis’s views on the connection between the fallen state of humanity and the fallen state of the world as a whole.

Paragraphs 10-12 brings up Pope Francis’s namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, and how exactly the saint inspired this encyclical. His love for nature isn’t “naive romanticism” or flower child delusions, but comes out of a genuine awe and wonder. And the lifestyle St. Francis chose to lead wasn’t done for show, but from “a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.” (Again, take that, existentialism!) I also liked that Pope Francis brings up Scripture a few times in this introduction.

The last four paragraphs of the introduction focus on Pope Francis’s appeal. He knows that the world is not beyond saving and he knows that “young people demand change.” He calls for a new dialogue about how to make the world better and for cooperation. He also says that there won’t be any easy answers to the questions that my friend asked me, but layers.

I look forward to continuing my commentary, but before I do, I have some snarking that I’ve been saving since last weekend.

Dear pundits and politicians, I really hope that you actually read this thing and aren’t just citing the party line script. I don’t care if you’re liberal or conservative, but the fact of the matter is that this encyclical is challenging you. So if you’re gonna go on your cable news program and talk about how you know more about economics and the environment than a man who actually lived in a country that had constant economic struggles and studied about the environment as part of his science degree, then do us all a favor and keep your mouth shut. Your logic is not compatible with our earth logic.