Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home, the much-discussed encyclical of Pope Francis on human care for the creation, embraces what the pope calls a “very solid scientific consensus” that humans are causing cataclysmic climate change that has been endangering the planet for decades. This conclusion has caused some conservatives, especially talk-show hosts and their followers, to trash the pope’s thought and motives.

One evangelical talk-show host/author called Pope Francis a socialist liberal. He told his audience that the pope has no idea what he is talking about when it comes to the real science of environmentalism. But he has bought an agenda and misled the church and the public. Another suggested that the pope needed to study science more closely, an odd criticism since this pope has seriously studied science and is surrounded by an entire body of serious scientists who served his writing of this encyclical.

AP989948985495-1024x682Let’s be honest – the devil is always in the details. Most people admit that the environment is changing, mostly for the worse. What is debated is the cause. The overwhelming majority of scientists who study the environment are not interested in politics. The exception, I suppose, is that some scientists want political leaders to act responsibly with the facts that they have studied and observed. Some conservatives want to appeal to conspiracies, or to politically liberal ideas about economics being the true force behind climate science. I even had one person tell me this week that the whole issue is being driven by Al Gore who is making big money on creating wide-scale fear. (Maybe he is making big money but this has nothing to do with the pope’s encyclical or the majority of what climate science is telling us about the cause of global warming.)

In this encyclical the pope lambastes global political leaders for their “weak responses” and their general lack of will to address this issue forcefully.

One thing is sure. This is the most debated papal encyclical letter in recent memory. The most debated in my lifetime was Pope Paul VI’s famous Humane Vitae.) Francis urgently calls on the entire world’s population to act, lest we leave to coming generations a planet of “debris, desolation and filth.” He writes: “An outsider looking at our world would be amazed at

[our] behavior, which at times appears self-destructive,” the pope writes at one point in the letter.

Addressing world leaders directly, Francis asks: “What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?”

Francis writes, “As often occurs in periods of deep crisis which require bold decisions, we are tempted to think that what is happening is not entirely clear. … Such evasiveness serves as a license 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.”

I am not really amazed at how some Christians respond to issues like climate change. Their response is consistent with how they view a lot of issues. It seems to me that the following are (generally speaking) simple truisms:

  1. We have embraced a “confirmation bias” that causes us to lean into views that fit with our larger view of life. When anything challenges this view we quickly reject it as dangerous or foolish.
  2. We do “thought association” freely. In this case the pope writes about an issue that divides us politically so we attack his research and public conclusions based upon the notion that a pope has no business speaking to political concerns in this manner. If he does speak in such a manner it must be because he is a liberal who is not truly interest in freedom, jobs or the production of needed energy.
  3. We defend macro-business by giving it a virtual “free pass” to pollute the environment because we do not see creative ways to save money and improve life and (also) protect the environment. Let me ask some simple questions: “Let’s assume that climate science has gotten this issue wrong. We then work to clean up the planet for the next five decades only to see that very little changes. Isn’t it better that we tried to improve our response to the earth than to have done little or nothing at all? Isn’t a greener and safer planet a responsible goal even if it creates some financial hardship temporarily? Or is the only thing that really matters how much gas and oil we can produce so that we can live the good life that we are accustomed to living in the industrialized West?”

It is particularly interesting that this document shows a notable reorientation of the church’s understanding of the human person, from a being that dominates over God’s gifts to one that responsibly serves creation as a human steward of God’s earth. The first view has been defended by some Christians because of Genesis 1:27, a text which remarkably supports creation care.

The title Laudato Si’ comes from St. Francis of Assisi’s famous 13th-century prayer “The Canticle of the Creatures.” Translated into English it means either “Be praised” or “Praised be.” It is an Umbrian-Italian phrase that was used throughout the prayer of St. Francis to give thanks to God for creation.

Two Catholic U.S. presidential candidates have already attacked the document. Now Mitt Romney has shown a willingness to embrace the pope’s ideas. I am watching closely to see how this gigantic field of GOP candidates responds since their 2012 standard-bearer has embraced the basic ideas of the pope.

I have not read the document in entirety but plan to do so this week. Based upon reports from those who have read it the main issues and themes touched upon in the letter include:

•Environmental degradation causing lack of access to drinking water, loss of biodiversity, and decline in quality of human life;

•Pervasive global inequity that leaves billions experiencing “ecological debt”;

•The search for long-term solutions to replace fossil fuels and other unsustainable energies;

•Tying together the ecological crisis with a global social crisis that leaves the poorest in the world behind and does not make them part of international decision-making;

•Changes in global lifestyle that could “bring healthy pressure to bear on those who wield political, economic and social power.”

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  1. Chris Criminger June 22, 2015 at 12:42 pm - Reply

    Hey John,
    Good thoughts . . . It seems to me as long as Christians and the idea that “the church” opposes science at so many levels from evolution to the environment, Christianity will continue to be seen as irrelevant, and at worse, dangerous.

  2. Eric June 24, 2015 at 10:39 pm - Reply

    I just finished reading it. He covers a lot of angles, echoes what a lot of less prominent spokespeople have said, concurring with most Christians who have reflected deeply on the issues.

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