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.

Firefly Month: The False Gods and Broken Bibles of Jaynestown

Every Browncoat worth their salt knows the story of the man they call Jayne, but what they don’t realize is that the moral of the story involves learning about idolatry and how broken Bibles can fix people.

The crew of Serenity goes to a far off moon called Canton to make a deal. Jayne is a bit more paranoid this time around because he went to Canton before and believes that there are people there that have a bad history with him. Simon comes along, posing as a buyer of the mud produced by the laborers. The foreman establishes that the laborers are basically slaves.

It’s not until Mal and the others spend some time in a tavern that they learn why there’s a statue of Jayne: according to the song, Jayne stole money from the magistrate and gave it to the laborers. Basically, they saw him as their Robin Hood, rebelling against the magistrate out of compassion for the poor. Unfortunately, the truth was that Jayne had to eject the money he stole to survive an anti-aircraft tag. It just so happened that he released the money he stole right over the mud farmer’s village.

When the villagers realize that their hero has come back, Jayne is at first elated at how much attention he’s getting. Mal decides to take advantage of the situation to use Jayne as a distraction while the rest of them get the job done.

Unfortunately, there was something Jayne left out of the story: he had a partner in his robbery, one who got captured and got the blame while Jayne got away. The guy is out for revenge. Jayne is also conflicted of the lie he’s now living. He’s proud that the villagers gained the confidence to stand up for themselves, but their courage came from an act of circumstance and not from anything he really did. A villager gets killed trying to protect Jayne from his partner when he shows up in the town’s square intent on killing the hero of Canton.

It’s the fact that a villager gave up his life for him that Jayne realizes how wrong the situation is and knocks down the statue. At first, it seems like the crew of Serenity is stuck on Canton when they find the ship land-locked. Thankfully, with the inadvertent help of Inara motivating the magistrate’s son, the crew of Serenity was able to get away. But what really bugs Jayne is the fear that the villagers won’ t really lose their faith in him.

The theme of Jaynestown is obvious: Jayne is made an idol and he knows he’s not a god, so he had to take down the statue.

To quote Elizabeth Scalia’s Strange Gods

“We get ideas, and we embrace them and pet them and polish them until they own us and hinder us, and we are no longer free.”

Jayne didn’t want the villagers to have their faith in something created from a lie, mostly because he knows he didn’t really deserve their love and certainly didn’t deserve a villager sacrificing himself to save him. He also knows that they are capable of standing up to the magistrate on their own, which is why he had to take himself out of the picture. And no, the fact that his initials are JC are not lost on me, but Jayne also knows he’s not the second coming of Christ, either.

But there’s also something else learned from this episode that comes from the subplot centering on River and Book, in which River Tam is “fixing” Book’s bible. The two of them have a debate on the stuff she’s reading. Later on, she apologizes for her actions only to get scared off by Book’s hair, which he keeps unkempt as part of the rules of his order.

The subplot between Book and River bugged me to heck because I know that Joss is an atheist, so at first glance, the dynamic between River and Book is reminiscent of your typical atheist vs believer conflict. Thankfully, my fellow Patheos blogger Kyle Cupp has a different take on this scene, which he explains in his book Living By Faith, Dwelling in Doubt.

“Shepherd Book says the the Bible isn’t about making perfect sense but about faith ‘You don’t fix faith,’ he tells her. ‘It fixes you. I would say that faith doesn’t fix you so much as it gives you the fortitude to press on in your brokenness. But Shepherd Book’s underlying lesson is spot on. To live according to a plurality of stories means living with tension and inconsistencies and irreconcilable differences, sometimes because the fragments tell a false tale or conceal much more than they reveal, often because each fragment, taken in hand, becomes a new way of looking at the whole, disclosing something different about a reality that passes all understanding. Shattered stories are part of the human condition. People have dealt with fragmentation and uncertainty since the beginning of our species.”

So even though Jayne’s actions in Canton were not altruistic, he gained a sense of compassion for the people, enough so to force them to look to someone bigger than himself to find their courage and willingness to fight. Unfortunately, Jayne won’t always be this humble or compassionate. But that’s a few episodes from now.

For now, let us sing the song!

JMJ