Sunday, June 28, 2015

Laudato Si, Chapter 2

Chapter Two of the Pope's letter on the environment is about religious views on the environment. Pope Francis believes that science and religion can be mutually enriched by each other, since they have distinctive approaches to understanding reality. Neither side should reject the other, out of hand; "If we are truly concerned to develop an ecology capable of remedying the damage we have done, no branch of the sciences and no form of wisdom can be left out, and that includes religion and the language particular to it."

He begins by discussing the creation narrative in Genesis. God created everything out of love, which means everyone and everything has an immense dignity. There was harmony between humans, God, and the rest of creation. Original sin shattered the bonds between humans and God, as well as the bonds between human and nature. The murder of Abel also highlights the connection between humans and nature. As God says, "What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground" (Gen 4:9-11).

The creation account says that humans have dominion over the earth; they must "till and keep" the garden of the world (Genesis 2:15). It is incorrect to say that this gives humans free reign over the planet. The Hebrew words here mean "cultivate, plough, work" and "care, protect, oversee, preserve". You don't just take what you want from the earth. You take what you need, and save the rest for future generations. In the same way, it's incorrect to say that the Bible is giving humans free reign to conquer the animal world. Indeed, the law books have many laws, focused on protecting animals. "Clearly, the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures."

The Psalms exhort all creation to praise God, especially Psalm 138. The prophets draw a connection between God the Savior and God the Creator, who intervenes to save his people during their captivity. Pope Francis also talks about the Sabbatical year, which was designed to let the land rest and rebuild after years of harvest. At the same time, it was designed to share the fruits of the land with everyone, especially the poor and the widows, because the earth belongs to everyone, not just the rich.

"A spirituality which forgets God as all-powerful and Creator is not acceptable. That is how we end up worshipping earthly powers, or ourselves usurping the place of God, even to the point of claiming an unlimited right to trample his creation underfoot. The best way to restore men and women to their rightful place, putting an end to their claim to absolute dominion over the earth, is to speak once more of the figure of a Father who creates and who alone owns the world. Otherwise, human beings will always try to impose their own laws and interests on reality."

"Creation" has a broader meaning than "nature". Nature is a system that can be studied, whereas creation is a gift, freely chosen by God, which calls us into universal communion. Even the least being of nature contains God's love. The early Jews had to contend with people who falsely believed nature was divine, like the Egyptians who worshipped Ra. We must contend with the modern myth of unlimited material progress, by recognizing the value and frailty of nature.

God can bring good, out of evil. Many things appear to be evil, but they are actually a way for God to bring us closer to himself. Humans have a uniqueness, which presupposes a direct relationship between people; the creation account lets us know that humans can't be reduced to objects. Neither should we reduce other creatures to objects. It is wrong to say "might makes right", and besides, we know that perfect fulfillment can not be found in this world.

"Our insistence that each human being is an image of God should not make us overlook the fact that each creature has its own purpose. None is superfluous. The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God." The universe, in its complexity as a whole, shows the inexhaustible riches of God.

It is wrong to but all living beings on the same level as humans, and it is wrong to prevent humans from working on and protecting the Earth. But sometimes, we see people who are more concerned with protecting animals, than protecting humans. We should be particularly indignant at the great inequalities among humans; we should not tolerate people who place themselves above others. Without compassion for other human beings, our compassion for nature is hollow. That is because humans are connected to each other and nature. Everything is related, and no humans should be rejected or discarded.

Creation is a shared inheritance, as everything is related and all humans are united. Therefore, any ecological approach needs to take the poor and underprivileged into account. This trumps all other rights, including the right to own private property. The right to own things is NOT more important than a person's right to live. This is especially important, as many people are robbing poor nations and future generations of what they need to survive.

Finally, the Pope discusses what Jesus said on ecological topics. Jesus emphasized the paternal relationship that God has with all creation, and that God does not forget them. (Luke 12:6, Matthew 6:26). Jesus often retreated to be alone with nature, he used nature-based images frequently, and he worked a simple job with his hands. The prologue to John's Gospel is about Jesus entering the created world, and the New Testament letters confirm that even the resurrected and glorious Jesus is connected to this world; "he came to reconcile all things, whether or earth or in heaven, to himself" (Colossians 1:20).

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