On Tuesday night I queued up Pope Francis’s Laudato Si and had Siri read it to me. It took about 90 minutes to get through the ~40,000 word encyclical, but it was nice to have it read to me even in Siri’s mechanistic voice.
Laudato Si is challenging because it demands engaging with creation and the environment in a much more comprehensive way than just through policy. Pope Francis explicitly calls for “attention to the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems” and rejects anthropocentric and technological-utopian thinking as the solution to environmental crisis.
He calls for “a change in humanity” as the fundamental first step in resolving environmental problems and the inequalities related to access to energy and environmental resources. Here is an example of that approach:
It cannot be emphasized enough how everything is interconnected. Time and space are not independent of one another, and not even atoms or subatomic particles can be considered in isolation. Just as the different aspects of the planet – physical, chemical and biological – are interrelated, so too living species are part of a network which we will never fully explore and understand. A good part of our genetic code is shared by many living beings. It follows that the fragmentation of knowledge and the isolation of bits of information can actually become a form of ignorance, unless they are integrated into a broader vision of reality.
When we speak of the “environment”, what we really mean is a relationship existing between nature and the society which lives in it. Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it. Recognizing the reasons why a given area is polluted requires a study of the workings of society, its economy, its behaviour patterns, and the ways it grasps reality. Given the scale of change, it is no longer possible to find a specific, discrete answer for each part of the problem. It is essential to seek comprehensive solutions which consider the interactions within natural systems themselves and with social systems. We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.
The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment.
Pope Francis also cites Saint Francis: “The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis 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.” And he leans on Benedict XVI to stress the spiritual dimension: “The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any higher instance than ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves.”
Laudato Si leaves me thinking about environmentalism in a much deeper way than I did before, so in that respect I’m already glad I read it.