Jamaica Gleaner

Pope’s mes­sage to the world

- Martin Henry is a univer­sity ad­min­is­tra­tor. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com and med­hen@gmail.com. Martin Henry

THE POPE has writ­ten to the world about the en­vi­ron­ment, which is in deep trou­ble, much of it caused by hu­man ac­tion.

The Bishop of Rome is the only head of state who be­lieves he can send with au­thor­ity a let­ter to the whole world. His latest en­cycli­cal con­cerns Our Care

for Our Com­mon Home. The ti­tle comes from a song of St Fran­cis. More usu­ally, en­cycli­cals are meant for the bish­ops over whom the Ro­man pon­tiff pre­sides and for their con­gre­ga­tions.

In the face of a global cri­sis of ecol­ogy, eco­nom­ics and hu­man well-be­ing and sur­vival, Pope Fran­cis is plead­ing for “an eco­nomic ecol­ogy” in de­fence of the “com­mon good”. Dooms­day pre­dic­tions can no longer be met with irony or dis­dain. We may well be leav­ing to com­ing gen­er­a­tions de­bris, des­o­la­tion and filth,” the en­cycli­cal warns. “Our con­tem­po­rary lifestyle, un­sus­tain­able as it is, can only pre­cip­i­tate catas­tro­phes such as those which even now pe­ri­od­i­cally oc­cur in dif­fer­ent ar­eas of the world.”

The He­brew prophet Isa­iah an­nounced that “the earth will grow old like a gar­ment”, and else­where solemnly pro­claims that “the earth mourns and fades away, the world lan­guishes and fades away”. The prophet ex­plains why, and the Pope agrees: “The earth is also de­filed un­der its in­hab­i­tants, be­cause they have trans­gressed the laws, changed the or­di­nance, bro­ken the ev­er­last­ing covenant.”

The en­cycli­cal ex­ten­sively doc­u­ments the hu­man dev­as­ta­tion of the Earth and the grow­ing con­se­quences. “The earth her­self, bur­dened and laid waste, is among the most aban­doned and mal­treated of our poor; she ‘groans in tra­vail’.”

(Ro­mans 8:22)

ROOTS OF THE PROB­LEMS

The en­cycli­cal re­peat­edly em­pha­sises the eth­i­cal and spir­i­tual roots of en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems, sug­gest­ing a cer­tain kind of lead­er­ship for so­lu­tion. Lament­ing the weak­ness and frag­ment­ed­ness of in­ter­na­tional re­sponses to the global cri­sis of ecol­ogy and eco­nom­ics, the en­cycli­cal says, “The ur­gent chal­lenge to pro­tect our com­mon home in­cludes a con­cern to bring the whole hu­man fam­ily to­gether to seek a sus­tain­able and in­te­gral de­vel­op­ment,” sug­gest­ing a cer­tain kind of cen­tral au­thor­ity. “Never have we so hurt and mis­treated our com­mon home as we have in the last 200 years [and] it is re­mark­able how weak in­ter­na­tional po­lit­i­cal re­sponses have been.”

“We lack,” the en­cycli­cal laments, “lead­er­ship ca­pa­ble of strik­ing out on new paths and meet­ing the needs of the present with con­cern for all and with­out prej­u­dice to­wards com­ing gen­er­a­tions. The ex­ist­ing world or­der proves pow­er­less to as­sume its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.”

The first of six chap­ters of the world en­cycli­cal de­tails “what is hap­pen­ing to our com­mon home”: pol­lu­tion and cli­mate change, the is­sue of wa­ter, loss of bio­di­ver­sity, de­cline in the qual­ity of hu­man life and the break­down of so­ci­ety, and global in­equal­ity. Chap­ter Three ex­pounds upon ‘The Hu­man Roots of the Eco­log­i­cal Cri­sis’ through the un­bri­dled power of tech­nol­ogy and mar­ket-driven con­sumerism.

The Pope at­tacks poverty and un­em­ploy­ment, abor­tion, ar­ti­fi­cial lim­its on pop­u­la­tion, hu­man traf­fick­ing, sex­ual ex­ploita­tion, abuses of an­i­mal ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and stem cell use, ur­ban blight, drugs, dig­i­tal media over­load, rich-poor-North-South in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions, debt, and a range of other ills.

As the Con­fer­ence of Do­mini­can Bish­ops put it, as cited in the let­ter, “Peace, jus­tice and the preser­va­tion of cre­ation are three ab­so­lutely in­ter­con­nected themes which can­not be sep­a­rated and treated in­di­vid­u­ally with­out once again fall­ing into re­duc­tion­ism.” And since ev­ery­thing is in­ter­re­lated, the en­cycli­cal ar­gues, “Con­cern for the pro­tec­tion of na­ture is also in­com­pat­i­ble with the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for abor­tion.”

FIND­ING SO­LU­TIONS

The Pope is sharply crit­i­cal of the re­duc­tion­ism of mod­ern thought, par­tic­u­larly of science and of the frag­men­ta­tion of knowl­edge. “Ev­ery­thing is re­lated”, and “given the com­plex­ity of the eco­log­i­cal cri­sis and its mul­ti­ple causes, we need to re­alise that the so­lu­tions will not emerge from just one way of in­ter­pret­ing and trans­form­ing re­al­ity. Re­spect must be shown for the var­i­ous cul­tural riches of dif­fer­ent peo­ples, their art and po­etry, their in­te­rior life and spir­i­tu­al­ity.

“If we are truly con­cerned to de­velop an ecol­ogy ca­pa­ble of rem­e­dy­ing the dam­age we have done, no branch of the sciences and no form of wis­dom can be left out, and that in­cludes re­li­gion and the lan­guage par­tic­u­lar to it.” The anal­y­sis of en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems can­not be sep­a­rated from the anal­y­sis of hu­man, fam­ily, workre­lated and ur­ban con­texts, nor from how in­di­vid­u­als re­late to them­selves ... to oth­ers and to the en­vi­ron­ment, the en­cycli­cal makes clear.

“We can see the signs that things are now reach­ing a break­ing point, due to the rapid pace of change and degra­da­tion; these are ev­i­dent in large-scale nat­u­ral dis­as­ters as well as so­cial and even fi­nan­cial crises, for the world’s prob­lems can­not be an­a­lysed or ex­plained in iso­la­tion.”

While some be­lieve that sev- eral crit­i­cal tip­ping points have al­ready been reached and the stages for dis­as­ters of var­i­ous kinds have been set, the en­cycli­cal is hope­ful that “there is al­ways a way out ... we can al­ways re­di­rect our steps ... we can al­ways do some­thing to solve our prob­lems.”

In an ex­e­ge­sis on ‘The Gospel of Cre­ation’, the Pope em­pha­sises that the “laws found in the Bi­ble dwell on re­la­tion­ships, not only among in­di­vid­u­als, but also with other liv­ing things”. This in­cludes the Sab­bath law. Rest on the sev­enth day is meant not only for hu­man be­ings, but also so “that your ox and your don­key may have rest”.

The bib­li­cal tra­di­tion shows clearly, the let­ter ex­plains, that re­newal “en­tails re­cov­er­ing and re­spect­ing the rhythms in­scribed in na­ture by the hand of the Cre­ator. We see this, for ex­am­ple, in the law of the Sab­bath. On the sev­enth day God rested from all His work. He com­manded Is­rael to set aside each sev­enth day as a day of rest, a Sab­bath.” And “even now we are jour­ney­ing to­wards the Sab­bath of eter­nity.”

But later on, in an in­ex­pli­ca­ble the­o­log­i­cal twist, the en­cycli­cal makes the Cre­ation Sab­bath for hu­mankind the “Jewish Sab­bath”.

IM­POR­TANCE OF FAM­ILY

The en­cycli­cal stresses the great im­por­tance of the fam­ily which, in the face of the ‘cul­ture of death’, is the “heart of the cul­ture of life”, the place in which life, the gift of God, can be prop­erly wel­comed and pro­tected. But it does this with­out, I think, any proper as­sess­ment of the poor state of the fam­ily across the world to­day and the new grand ex­per­i­men­ta­tion of re­defin­ing mar­riage and fam­ily to in­cor­po­rate struc­tures in­ca­pable of pro­duc­ing life.

In the fi­nal chap­ter, ‘Eco­log­i­cal Ed­u­ca­tion and Spir­i­tu­al­ity’, the Pope calls for “eco­log­i­cal con­ver­sion” and a covenant be­tween hu­man­ity and the en­vi­ron­ment. The chap­ter calls for a re­turn to so­bri­ety and hu­mil­ity, to peace with the self and rest­ful­ness and thank­ful­ness, to civic and po­lit­i­cal love, and to other virtues. But how to achieve this is left hazy in the let­ter.

The en­cycli­cal closes out with a tour de force of el­e­ments of Ro­man Catholic the­ol­ogy, which will lose many of the peo­ples of the world which the let­ter in­tends to reach and will raise the the­o­log­i­cal hack­les of oth­ers. It lauds the sacra­ments, in­clud­ing the Catholic in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Eucharist, Sun­day as the Chris­tian Sab­bath, Mary as the Queen of all cre­ation, and Joseph as ap­pointed cus­to­dian of the uni­ver­sal Church.

On one thing the peo­ples of the world can easily agree: Our com­mon home is fac­ing con­sid­er­able dis­tress in its en­vi­ron­men­tal, eco­nomic and so­cial ecol­ogy. We should agree to live with greater re­spon­si­bil­ity for our com­mon home.

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POPE FRAN­CIS
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