Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The pope's climate change message is really about rethinking what it means to be human.

by Stephen P. White on June 24, 2015

Given the media coverage since its release, and the political implications of the pope throwing his moral weight behind one side in a high-stakes debate about climate policy, one could be forgiven for thinking that Pope Francis's new encyclical is mostly about climate change and what we need to do to combat it.
Except it is and it isn't. In fact, mostly it isn't.

What makes this encyclical controversial is its reading of contested questions of science, economics, and politics. What makes it radical — in the sense of going to the root — is the pope's reading of the profound human crisis that he sees underlying our modern world. Abuse of our environment isn't the only problem facing humanity. In fact, Pope Francis sees the ecological crisis as a symptom of a deeper crisis — a human crisis. These two problems are related and interdependent. And the solution is not simply to eliminate fossil fuels or rethink carbon credits. The pope is calling on the world to rediscover what it means to be human — and as a result, to reject the cult of economic growth and material accumulation.
Reading the encyclical, one quickly realizes that the "pope fights climate change" narrative is far from the whole story. In fact, that line leaves out the most fundamental themes of the encyclical: the limits of technology and the need for what he calls an "integral ecology," which "transcend[s] the language of mathematics and biology, and take[s] us to the heart of what it is to be human."

The science

Most of what Pope Francis has to say about climate change — and pollution, loss of biodiversity, lack of access to water, etc. — is in the first chapter. This section has garnered the most headlines — along with a later chapter, which looks at practical solutions — because it touches most directly on contested questions of science and policy.
The pope's assessment of the current environmental crisis is grim: "The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth." On climate change, he writes, "A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system." He goes on to warn: "If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us."
Pope Francis sees the ecological crisis as a symptom of a deeper crisis — a human crisis
As for who is responsible for all this, he places the burden at the feet of the developed world: "Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change."
Francis warns especially of the damage that our "culture of waste" does to the poor. He dismisses attempts at population control while leveling broadsides against financial markets, inequality, and the indifference of the rich. Moreover, he sees all these disturbing trends as interconnected. A casual attitude toward material goods leads to a casual attitude toward people. A willingness to exploit creation is deeply connected to a willingness to exploit human beings.

The limits of technology

While much has been said about the pope's embrace of the scientific evidence of climate change and the dangers it poses, the irony is that he addresses this crisis in a way that calls into question some of the oldest and most basic assumptions of the scientific paradigm.
Francis Bacon and RenĂ© Descartes — two fathers of modern science in particular — would have shuddered at this encyclical. Bacon was a man of many talents — jurist, philosopher, essayist, lord chancellor of England — but he's mostly remembered today as the father of the scientific method. He is also remembered for suggesting that nature ought to be "bound into service, hounded in her wanderings and put on the rack and tortured for her secrets." Descartes, for his part, hoped that the new science he and men like Bacon were developing would make us, in his words, "masters and possessors of nature."
At the very outset of the encyclical, before any mention of climate change or global warming, Pope Francis issues a challenge to the Baconian and Cartesian view, which sees the world as so much raw material to be used as we please. Neither Descartes nor Bacon is mentioned by name, but the reference is unmistakable. Pope Francis insists that humanity's "irresponsible use and abuse" of creation has come about because we "have come to see ourselves as [the Earth's] lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will."
Global warming, explained

Global warming, explained

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Put another way, Pope Francis insists that the material world isn't just mere stuff to be dissected, studied, manipulated, and then packaged off to be sold into service of human wants and needs. The pope repeatedly warns against the presumption that technological advances, in themselves, constitute real human progress. In a typical passage, he writes, "There is a growing awareness that scientific and technological progress cannot be equated with the progress of humanity and history, a growing sense that the way to a better future lies elsewhere." The pope writes critically of "irrational confidence in progress and human abilities." He writes hopefully of a time when "we can finally leave behind the modern myth of unlimited material progress."
This isn't to say that Pope Francis is anti-technology or even, as some have suggested, anti-modern, but he is deeply critical of both our technological mindset and modernity's utilitarian propensities. While he acknowledges with gratitude the benefits humanity has derived from modern technology, which has "remedied countless evils which used to harm and limit human beings," he also calls into question — forcefully — the idea that utility is the proper measure of our interaction with creation.

An integral, human ecology

The utilitarian mindset that treats creation as so much "raw material to be hammered into useful shape" inevitably leads us to see human beings through the same distorted lens. Pope Francis is unsparing in his criticism of the disregard for human life, insisting, as his predecessors did, that any authentic ecology must be built on what Pope John Paul II called "human ecology." Pope Francis states directly:

[C]oncern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?

It's not just abortion that is incompatible with an authentic ecology. "There can be no ecology," Pope Francis writes, "without an adequate anthropology." That means we have to recognize the limits to our own freedom, even with regard to ourselves. "[T]hinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation." Francis goes on to warn against unhealthy attempts to "cancel out sexual differences."
"Everything is connected" is a constant refrain in this encyclical, and it serves to underscore the way Pope Francis understands the vocation — the calling — of the whole human race. We were made by God and for God. His gift of creation is also part of that vocation and comes with responsibility for its care and development. We're part of creation, but also is custodians. Creation's greatest beauty is in its ability to reflect the glory of its maker.
Christians believe in a God who entered into his own creation in order to redeem it Most religions understand that reality is not limited to physical existence; there are also spiritual realities. But Christians, and Catholics in particular, have always insisted that while the spiritual and physical are distinct, they aren't so easily separated. Even material reality is more than just material.
Many Christians, and certainly Catholics, take a sacramental view of reality: a view in which mere things are never just mere things. All that exists is shot through with meaning, since it bears the fingerprints of the one who made it. Pope Francis quotes Scripture to this effect: "Through the greatness and the beauty of creatures one comes to know by analogy their maker" (Wisdom 13:5).
Moreover, Christians believe in a God who took on human flesh — entered into his own creation — in order to redeem it. "For Christians," Pope Francis writes, "all the creatures of the material universe find their true meaning in the incarnate Word, for the Son of God has incorporated in his person part of the material world, planting in it a seed of definitive transformation."
This sacramental view of the world changes the way Catholics estimate the worth and value of things, which have their own intrinsic worth and meaning apart from any utility they might hold for us. Because creation is the gift of a loving God, entrusted to us all for its care and maintenance, we are not free to simply do with it as we please. For Pope Francis, the world is most definitely not what we make of it; it's much more.

The critics

Critics will (and do) argue that the pope does little to grapple with the tension between the economic growth and development that has allowed billions to escape dire poverty — development fueled, literally, by the same polluting technologies Francis sharply criticizes and would see curtailed — and the pope's call for all to share in the very benefits that such growth and development has made possible. For all its problems, the fact that the global economy has lifted billions out of the worst poverty must count for something. Would the pope have us hamstring the engine of economic development for the sake of environmental conservation? And if so, how are the poor to receive the incredible benefits that our modern economy has made possible?
The pope's answer, it seems, is that the material benefits of our modern economy might not be quite so wondrous as we like to think. In a poorer world, a world less able to afford self-reliance, solidarity between people will be all the more important. As he writes toward the end of the encyclical:
Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption. We need to take up an ancient lesson, found in different religious traditions and also in the Bible. It is the conviction that "less is more."

This may be rather shocking to some, perhaps even most. So let me suggest a way to understand how the "pope of the poor" can, essentially, advocate for a poorer world. Francis is a man who understands that abject poverty grinds men down and crushes their human dignity. It is inhumane and unjust, a source of scandal and a cause for moral outrage. But the pope is also a man who understands that there is a kind of relative poverty in which basic material needs are met but there is limited room for luxury and no room for waste.
This kind of poverty can provide detachment from material things, allowing us to enjoy them for what they are — gifts from a generous and loving God. This understanding of poverty — which has deep Christian roots going back to the Gospel itself — is far from an unqualified evil. In fact, it's a virtue. And for Pope Francis — a man who long ago took his own vow of poverty, and took as his namesake a man of profound poverty, Francis of Assisi — this understanding provides a crucial insight into the way human beings relate to the world around us and to one another.

Like I said, the pope's views on climate change aren't what make this a radical document.

Stephen P. White is a fellow in the Catholic studies program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC.


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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

“Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain,” the pope writes.

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You might call it his first miracle. Pope Francis has succeeded in getting the New York Times NYT 0.28 % to do what perhaps no pope has done before: hail a papal teaching as “authoritative.”
For decades the Times has warred with popes over moral issues such as marriage or the value of unborn life. But when it comes to science and climate change, the paper that likes to regard itself as the paper of record is now on record as recognizing the authority of a papal encyclical.
True, the Times did modify its praise with the adverb “unexpectedly.” And in fairness, it was Pope Francis who crossed the Tiber to embrace the Times’s orthodoxy here rather than the other way around. But such is the glee at having a papal imprimatur on the notion of man-made climate change leading the planet to catastrophe, those busy applauding are willing to overlook the pope’s critique of an environmentalism that protects endangered species but not the unborn child.
Then again, perhaps that’s because they recognize he has embraced their logic if not their conclusion. For if resources are truly finite, and if man is driving climate change, then each additional human being means a smaller slice of the pie for everyone else—and a larger carbon contribution that brings us closer to environmental Armageddon. The point is, it’s not the logic the greens have wrong; it’s their assumptions.
Which brings up a striking characteristic of this document: its bleakness. Only months ago, Pope Francis warned members of the Vatican Curia against being too dour. His earlier apostolic exhortation was called “The Gospel of Joy.” But for a document whose title is taken from a St. Francis of Assisi hymn celebrating God’s creation, “Laudato Si’ ” (“Be praised”) is steeped in pessimism. “Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain,” the pope writes.
Other popes have issued bracing critiques of modern Western culture. Pope Francis, however, goes deeper. This encyclical is less a corrective to the excesses of science and technology and markets than it is an argument that they are fatally flawed.
In an online article for the religious journal First Things, editor R.R. Reno describes the encyclical as a “dark reflection on the systemic evils of modernity,” one that sees “perversion and decadence in a global system dominated by those who consume and destroy.” Pope Francis at one point declares business “a noble profession,” but you’d never know it from the rest of the document.
Indeed, the pope seems to embrace the idea that global capitalism exploits those in poor countries—even though investing in a factory or opening a business in the developing world is inherently an affirmation. It means a company recognizes that a place and its people have untapped potential: They have something to contribute to the global economy. The pope often denounces the “economy of exclusion,” and rightly so. But economic growth and the expansion of markets are inclusive.
As for the environment, yes, there are plenty of examples when businesses befoul the environment and leave the costs to the community. But if profit is the problem, why is it that the cleanest water, the healthiest air and the greenest environments are in rich and developed lands rather than poor and undeveloped ones?
In some ways the conflict is not new. After all, it was a cleric, the Rev. Thomas Malthus, who gave his name to a zero-sum view of life that saw men and women breeding to their own destruction. In sharp contrast, the first economist, Adam Smith, wrote that to complain about population growth was to lament “over the necessary effect and cause of the greatest public prosperity.”
Nor is Smith alone. Gary Becker won the 1992 Nobel Prize in economics for his work on human capital. Julian Simon called people “the ultimate resource” in his 1981 book by that title. In the 1970s when predictions of a global apocalypse were also in vogue, Lord Peter Bauer of the London School of Economics countered Malthusian materialistic assumptions by highlighting the absurdity of the idea that when a calf is born the national wealth goes up, but when a baby is born it drops.
Put it this way. If you were a parent whose family was languishing in soul-crushing poverty in some desperate part of Africa, you’d hear two messages today:
The economist and entrepreneur will tell you that there is no nation so poor that its people cannot lift up themselves if they have the freedom to take advantage of modern technology and participate in the global marketplace. In the process, their neighbors will also be enriched and the environment improved.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis suggests that the impoverished in the developing world can never have better lives or a cleaner environment until the West imposes a much-reduced standard of living on itself.
Which offers the more hopeful and human way forward?


Taken from:

Monday, June 22, 2015

Pope Francis suggests those in weapons industry can't call themselves Christian

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At rally of young people in Turin, Francis issues his toughest condemnation to date of the weapons industry, criticising investors as well as workers
Pope Francis
Pope Francis arrives in Turin on 21 June: ‘If you trust only men you have lost,’ he says. Photograph: Massimo Pinca/AP

Francis issued his toughest condemnation to date of the weapons industry at a rally of thousands of young people at the end of the first day of his trip to the Italian city of Turin.
“If you trust only men you have lost,” he told the young people in a longcommentary about war, trust and politics, after putting aside his prepared address.
“It makes me think of ... people, managers, businessmen who call themselves Christian and they manufacture weapons. That leads to a bit of distrust, doesn’t it?” he said to applause.
He also criticised those who invest in weapons industries, saying “duplicity is the currency of today ... they say one thing and do another.”
Francis also built on comments he has made in the past about events during the first and second world wars. He spoke of the “tragedy of the Shoah”, using the Hebrew term for the Holocaust.
“The great powers had the pictures of the railway lines that brought the trains to the concentration camps like Auschwitz to kill Jews, Christians, homosexuals, everybody. Why didn’t they bomb (the railway lines)?”
Discussing the first world war, he spoke of “the great tragedy of Armenia”, but did not use the word “genocide”. Francis sparked a diplomatic row in April, calling the massacre of up to 1.5 million Armenians 100 years ago “the first genocide of the 20th century”, prompting Turkey to recall its ambassador to the Vatican.


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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Pope Slams ‘Great Powers’ Over Mass Deaths in 20th Century

He also cited what he called the "great tragedy of Armenia"

Pope: ‘Powers’ did nil when Jews were taken to Auschwitz

(TURIN, Italy) — Pope Francis on Sunday denounced what he calls the “great powers” of the world for failing to act when there was intelligence indicating Jews, Christians, homosexuals and others were being transported to death camps in Europe during World War II.
He also decried the deaths of Christians in gulags in Russia under the Stalin dictatorship, which followed the war.
The pope’s harsh assessments came in impromptu remarks during his visit to Turin, northern Italy, when he told young people he understands how they find it hard to trust the world.
“The great powers had photographs of the railway routes that the trains took to Auschwitz to kill Jews, Christians, homosexuals, everybody,” Francis said, citing the death camp in Poland, and asked: “Why didn’t they bomb” those railroad routes?
Referring to the gulags in Russia, Francis said: “How many Christians suffered, were killed” there.
Lamenting the cynicism of world players in the 1930s and 1940s, Francis said: “the great powers divided up Europe like a cake.”
He also cited what he called the “great tragedy of Armenia.”
“In the last century, so many, millions, (of Armenians) died. But where were the great powers then? They were looking the other way,” the pope said.
In April, the pope angered Turkey when he referred to the slaughter of Armenians by Turkish Ottomans as “genocide.”
In today’s world, he told the young people: “Everything is done for money.” He criticized those advocating peace while manufacturing or selling arms.
Francis reiterated his view that conflicts in the world today are tantamount to “a Third World War in segments.”


Friday, June 19, 2015

Pope Francis calls for action 'here and now' to tackle climate change and halt 'unprecedented destruction' of ecosystems

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The Pope has issued a call for the world to act quickly to prevent climate change from destroying the planet, saying the Earth is starting to resemble "an immense pile of filth".

In the first papal document, or encyclical, dedicated to the environment, Pope Francis demanded swift action on Thursday to head off what he sees as looming environmental ruin, and urged world leaders to hear "the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor."
He called for "decisive action, here and now", to stop environmental degradation and global warming, squarely backing scientists who say it is mostly man-made.
Arguing environmental damage was intimately linked to global inequality, he said doomsday predictions could no longer be dismissed and "the Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth".
In the encyclical, titled Laudato Si (Praise Be), On the Care of Our Common Home, Francis advocated a change of lifestyle in rich countries steeped in a "throwaway" consumer culture and an end to an "obstructionist attitudes" that sometimes put profit before the common good.
He also took on big business, appearing to back "what consumer movements accomplish by boycotting certain products" in order to force companies to respect the environment.

Developing countries need help from polluting nations: Pope

The encyclical left no doubt that the ponitff believed the world was on a fast-track to disaster after decades of inaction.
"If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us," he wrote.
Bemoaning the "remarkable" weakness of political responses to this, Pope Francis accused sceptics of cynically ignoring or manipulating the scientific evidence.
"There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected," he wrote.
"We know how unsustainable is the behaviour of those who constantly consume and destroy, while others are not yet able to live in a way worthy of their human dignity," he added, saying the time had come for parts of the world to accept decreased growth.

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The Pope said fossil fuel-based technology needed to be "progressively replaced without delay".
Developing countries would need financial help to do this from "countries which have experienced great growth at the cost of the ongoing pollution of the planet" and this pact had to be enshrined in binding accords.

Calls backed by Melbourne archbishop

Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart backed the Pope's calls.
"I think the Pope has put it front and centre that climate change and the needs of our world have to be part of the program of all Catholics," he told Lateline.
"He's saying that we've got a serious obligation to be responsible for our brothers and sister, to be responsible for the world, and if we do nothing about that, then we are doing wrong."
Archbishop Hart said he did not believe Pope Francis had crossed a line into politics.
"I think the message will gradually spread that we can't just go ahead with the culture of waste, with allowing ourselves just to consume ... and think of ourselves and not think of anyone else," he said.
"And so from our pulpits these matters have to be put to people ... that we are brothers and sisters, we have to care for our common home – the world."
But Gerard Henderson, executive director of the Sydney Institute, said the Pope's call put the church in a "fashionable position".
"If you are going to decrease the living standards of people who are trying to get out of poverty in China and India, I don't think this is a very smart way to do it," he said.
Dr Paul Collins, a former Catholic priest and author, agreed the Pope was sending a clear message on the world's obligation to tackle climate change.
"What the Pope is trying to get at here is that sin is not just about what individuals do. Sin is also about what communities and institutions do," he said.

Greens groups hail pontiff's calls; sceptics dismiss document

Green activists hailed the pontiff's widely-trailed intervention as a potential game-changer in the debate over what causes global warming and how to reverse it.
"Everyone, whether religious or secular, can and must respond to this clarion call for bold urgent action," Kumi Naido, the international executive director of Greenpeace, said.
"Climate change is no longer just a scientific issue; it is increasingly a moral and ethical one," Yolanda Kakabadse, president of WWF, said.
"It affects the lives, livelihoods and rights of everyone, especially the poor, marginalised and most vulnerable communities."
Christiana Figueres, head of the Bonn-based UN Climate Change Secretariat, said the encyclical provided a powerful impetus to governments to agree on a strong pact when they meet in Paris in November.
"This clarion call should guide the world towards a strong and durable universal climate agreement in Paris at the end of this year," she said in a statement.
Mark Maslin, professor of climatology at University College London, said the Vatican had moved the issue forward.
"When theological, political and scientific leaders all call for rapid decarbonisation of our global economy it must be time we finally listen and create a binding international climate change agreement," he said.
But even before the encyclical's official publication, climate change sceptics dismissed the document's argument that the phenomenon is primarily man-made and that humanity can reverse it through lifestyle changes including the phasing-out of fossil fuels.
"I don't get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinal or my Pope," United States presidential candidate Jeb Bush said on the eve of the release in comments that underlined the depth of opposition in the country to a binding agreement to curb greenhouse gases.
The encyclical referenced the arguments of the sceptics by acknowledging that volcanic activity, variation in the Earth's movements and the solar cycle are factors in climate change.
But it maintained that "most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases released mainly as a result of human activity".

‘Gift of Unity’: Will Pope Francis Change the Date of Easter?

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The date of Easter is established based on the lunar calendar.

06/19/2015 Comments (1)
CNA/L’Osservatore Romano
Pope Francis prays on Easter Sunday morning in St. Peter's Square on April 5.
– CNA/L’Osservatore Romano

VATICAN CITY — Speaking to a global gathering of priests, Pope Francis signaled an openness to changing the date of Easter in the West so that all Christians around the world could celebrate the feast on the same day.
The Pope on June 12 said “we have to come to an agreement” for a common date on Easter.
His comments came in remarks to the World Retreat of Priests at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. The event drew priests from five continents.
Noting jokingly that Christians could say to one another: “When did Christ rise from the dead? My Christ rose today, and yours next week,” he said that this disunity is a scandal.
The Orthodox Churches normally celebrate Easter a week after the Catholics. Some Orthodox leaders have also reflected on the dating of the Christian holy day. In May, Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II wrote to the papal nuncio in Egypt suggesting a common date for Easter.
Historian Lucetta Scaraffia, writing in the Vatican daily newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, said the Pope is offering this initiative to change the date of Easter “as a gift of unity with the other Christian churches.”
A common date for Easter, she said, would encourage “reconciliation between the Christian churches and …a sort of making sense out of the calendar.”
She noted that the proposal could help reinforce the identity of persecuted Christians, particularly those in the Eastern churches that are at risk of disappearing.
Scaraffia wrote that the simultaneous celebration of the Resurrection by all Christians “would increase the importance of the central feast of the faith in a moment when changes seem to be suddenly coming throughout the world.”
“The Pope’s remarks implicitly underscore an important fact: In the countries where Christian identity is being overshadowed, the marking of time continues to be tied to the life of Jesus,” she added. “We also know also that the calendar is not only a convention but also something profound and symbolically relevant.”
Scaraffia said Easter and related feasts “constitute a distinct aspect of the liturgical year because they are connected with a cycle of time that repeats every year and marks the returns of the seasons.”
She also pointed out that the date of Easter is established based on the cycle of the moon, just as the Muslims and Jews establish their important feasts with the lunar calendar. According to Catholic Answers, “On the Gregorian calendar (the one that we use), Easter is the first Sunday after the Paschal full moon, which is the first full moon on or after March 21.”