Andersen: The pope and ‘sins against creation’
November 26, 2015
The first thing to examine in an environmental screed from the Holy See are population and reproduction. Pope Francis is in a tight spot trying to square his eco-ideology with an institutional prohibition on birth control.
Francis does it like this: "To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism is one way of refusing to face the issues." Care of the environment is not a matter of numbers, he suggests, but of how those numbers consume resources and emit pollutants.
Still, can any discussion of ecology not dead-end in population? As much as I appreciate Francis as the most Christ-like representative of the Christian church to come along in years, population is still beyond his See.
Otherwise, the pope's encyclical letter "On Care for Our Common Home" is manna from heaven for anyone concerned with the materialistic malfeasance of Homo consumptus. The letter exerts deep moral force authorized by one of the most respected thought leaders in the world. It's a courageous stand.
What better source to begin the encyclical than St. Francis of Assisi, one of the most revered in the saintly pantheon of Catholicism? The pope quoted St. Francis where he referred to Mother Earth as a "sister" who is being maligned by man's immorality.
"St. Francis' response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus," the pope wrote. "To him, each and every creature was a sister united by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists."
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Pope Francis lauded St. Francis for his universality with "all that exists." The pope therefore deems it a sin to violate our covenant with nature as "masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters" who are unable to set limits on our material appetites.
"The poverty and austerity of St. Francis," the encyclical states, "were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled."
This philosophical point bristles against the failure of humanity to respect creation as something other than material resources, as more than economic metrics, as more than mere scenery or backdrop. Nature is more than an object.
The pope reveres St. Francis as "a mystical and simple pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society and interior peace."
Both pope and saint called for "integral ecology" — the integration of man and nature with heartfelt care for both.
"The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any higher instance than ourselves," the pope warned.
Industrial man, given his egotistical superiority, breaks a sacred covenant with God. Pope Francis makes each of us culpable, "for inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage to the disfigurement and destruction of creation." Our unenlightened actions result in widespread "sins against creation," for which he issued an indictment:
"For human beings to destroy the biological diversity of God's creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the Earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the Earth's waters, its land, its air, and its life — these are sins. To commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God."
Pope Francis called upon us to "eliminate the structural causes of the dysfunctions of the world economy and correct models of growth which have proven incapable of ensuring respect for the environment." He exhorted us to realize that "the book of nature is one and indivisible."
The pope called for a human transformation as profound as anything Christ spoke, achieved by ennobling the human spirit through contact with nature in the role of caring stewards. He called for a strain of love that revolves not around self but around all else.
Population is still taboo, but with Pope Francis, that may not stand for long.
Paul Andersen's column appears on Mondays when he's not converting to Catholicism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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