the new Papal Encyclical on the environment hadn't even been released yet, but was already drawing controversy. Now that Laudato Si is out, it really is.Lex Anteinternet: Let the whining commence: Pope Francis is releasing an encyclical on the environment. People have been complaining about it for nearly a year. The encyclical, w...
One thing that should not be missed about the encyclical is that it's probably the single most widely noticed essay on the environment that has ever existed. Other environmental works have drawn widespread attention, Silent Spring comes to mind, but this is the first pronouncement by a single human being that's drawn this sort of attention. It isn't as if prior global figures haven't spoken on environmental topics. Al Gore did, of course. Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands has as well. In terms of religious figures, Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamo famously has as wells, and for years.
But of these figures, perhaps only Gore drew really widespread attention. The Dutch Queen's statements drew notice in Europe, but only briefly, and I dare to suspect that most Americans associated the world "Queen" only with the name "Elizabeth". The Metropolitan's comments did draw global notice, but really only the sort of audience that subscribes to First Things or The New Republic. The Pope, however, proves to be impossible for anyone to ignore. It's an answer, once again, to Stalin's old question, "how many divisions does the Pope have"? Well, quite a lot, it would seem.
So, not surprisingly, the encyclical is drawing praise and condemnation. Perhaps somewhat ironically, and again, perhaps very much in its favor, some of the praise its drawing comes form quarters that desperately ignore or are even hostile to the Pope's Catholic faith otherwise, and whom are probably self consciously squeamish about seeing the mantle of conservationism retrieved from a species of pagan environmentalism, but whom are praising it none the less. And some of those condemning it are squirming in their seats as they otherwise would normally be fully behind elements of Catholic social conservatism.
All this is a good thing, as it refocuses this topic where it ought to be. In human terms, not in pagan terms, and neither from the right or the left.
Now, I haven't read the entire document by any means. Its very long. But one quote here should stand out:
The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish.Agree with the Pope on climate change or not (and only a portion of the document is on that topic), this is true.
And the Pope then goes on to criticize both the pagan nature of radical environmentalism and the tunnel vision nature of those who focus only on technology and the generation of economic capital.
In this, the Pope, it seems to me, has taken up the cause of Rerum Novarum and set it out in modern economic terms. Probably the only world leader who can do so, he's answering the question posed by Wendell Berry in What Are People For? and is reminding us that life is for the living, and a decent living, not just for the generation of work. It is essentially, it seems to me, a document drafted in the spirit of the Distributist really, which of course makes sense as Rerum Novarum gave rise to that movement.
All the furor aside, and whether or not a person agrees with the science in the document, this is something that should cause people to think again about what people are for, and what sort of world those people get to live in. That shouldn't be provoking cries from industry (and it really isn't), nor should it be provoking rejoicing in liberal camps who would otherwise ignore nearly everything that Pope Francis stands for. By coming in from the middle as he has, he's really come from where most people instinctively live, and hopefully taken these topics out of the hard core left and right partisan camps where they seem to be residing these days.