Here is the text of Pope Francis’s new encyclical.
Dreher, predictably, loves it:
I have been struggling to know what to say about Pope Francis’s new encylical,Laudato Si. As my friend Frank Beckwith (who created the above graphic) notes, it really and truly hits the sweet spot for me — so much so that I have been stymied even knowing where to begin. So, like Francis, I’ll just start writing, with no idea where I’m going to stop.
Laudato Si (hereafter, “LS”) is sprawling, messy, wild, and visionary. It’s bizarre to consider that American conservatives were freaking out in advance about the prospect that the Pope was going to weigh in against climate change in this encyclical. He does, but to act as if that were the main thrust of the document is like judging Thanksgiving dinner by the quality of the cranberry sauce.
It is tempting to call LS a traditionally conservative document, but there is plenty in it that will unnerve free-market individualists, who generally call themselves conservative — and liberals will be just as challenged by it. What Francis has written is an encyclical that celebrates life as harmony, communion, and incarnation. He calls on all persons to revere nature as gift, and to think not as atomized individuals, but as stewards who owe a debt to others, as well as to the past and to the future.
George Weigel argues that the encyclical can’t be reduced to “the climate change encyclical”:
It is probably inevitable that Laudato Si’ will get labeled “the global-warming encyclical” and that the label will stick. This will please some and displease others, and they will have at each other — which is no bad thing if it helps clarify that there is no simple path to meeting the twin goals of environmental protection and the empowerment (through economic development) of the poor. But the label will be misleading, I think, not because there isn’t a lot about climate change in the encyclical, but because that’s, to my mind, the least important part of Francis-the-pastor’s call to a more integral, indeed more humanistic, ecology.
David Brooks is one of several prominent commentators to criticize Francis’s comments on the free market:
Hardest to accept, though, is the moral premise implied throughout the encyclical: that the only legitimate human relationships are based on compassion, harmony and love, and that arrangements based on self-interest and competition are inherently destructive.
The pope has a section on work in the encyclical. The section’s heroes are St. Francis of Assisi and monks — emblems of selfless love who seek to return, the pope says, to a state of “original innocence.”
He is relentlessly negative, on the other hand, when describing institutions in which people compete for political power or economic gain. At one point he links self-interest with violence. He comes out against technological advances that will improve productivity by replacing human work. He specifically condemns market-based mechanisms to solve environmental problems, even though these cap-and-trade programs are up and running in places like California.
Hey look–here is The New Yorker doing the very thing Weigel warns people not to do:
In general, the encyclical has been applauded by environmentalists, who have hailed it as a potential breakthrough. “World leaders of all dispositions should find inspiration in his words,” the campaign Go Fossil Free declared on its Web site. Meanwhile, even before it came out, the encyclical was being criticized by some Republican politicians, including Jeb Bush, a convert to Catholicism, who said at a campaign stop in New Hampshire on Tuesday, “I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.” But there is something in the hundred and eighty pages of the encyclical to dismay just about everyone, including many of those who agree with the Pope that climate change is an urgent concern.
Kathryn Jean Lopez explored similar issues:
There are, surely, debates to be had about some of the issues raised and recommendations made in Laudato Si’. Samuel Gregg, director of research at the Acton Institute, though concerned about the pope’s weighing in too deeply on some technical issues (like the impact of air conditioning), is clear that “it is perfectly legitimate for Pope Francis to address the moral dimension of man’s relationship with the environment. Our free choices and actions vis-à-vis the natural world unquestionably touch on issues of doing good and avoiding evil.” To be free, we need to know what the choices are in the first place. That’s where conscience comes in. That’s where the likes of Laudato Si’ come in.
Don’t miss this roundup of reflections from CC Pecknold, Norman Wirzba, and Charles Camosy.
Douthat notes that the conflict Francis is addressing is less about left or right and more about how we understand 21st century modernity:
What everyone wants to know, of course, is whether the pope takes sides in our most polarizing debate. And he clearly does. After this document, there’s no doubting where Francis stands in the great argument of our time.
But I don’t mean the argument between liberalism and conservatism. I mean the argument between dynamists and catastrophists.
Dynamists are people who see 21st-century modernity as a basically successful civilization advancing toward a future that’s better than the past. They do not deny that problems exist, but they believe we can innovate our way through them while staying on an ever-richer, ever-more-liberated course.
Dynamists of the left tend to put their faith in technocratic government; dynamists of the right, in the genius of free markets. But both assume that modernity is a success story whose best days are ahead.
Catastrophists, on the other hand, see a global civilization that for all its achievements is becoming more atomized and balkanized, more morally bankrupt, more environmentally despoiled. What’s more, they believe thatthings cannot go on as they are: That the trajectory we’re on will end in crisis, disaster, dégringolade.
Rusty Reno made a similar point at First Things:
Francis describes the root of our problem as a failure to affirm God as Creator. Because we do not orient our freedom toward acknowledging God, the Father, we’re drawn into the technological project. We seek to subdue and master the world so that it can serve our needs and desires, thus treating “other living beings as mere objects subjected to arbitrary human domination.” By contrast, if we acknowledge God as Creator, we can receive creation as a gift and see that “the ultimate purpose of other creatures is not found in us.”
In short, without a theocentric orientation, we adopt the anthropocentric presumption that we are at the center of reality. This tempts us to treat nature—and other human beings—as raw material to do with as we wish. For Francis, “a spirituality which forgets God as all-powerful and Creator is not acceptable.”
Of course, God is exactly what modernity has forgotten, which means that it too is “not acceptable”—exactly Pius IX’s conclusion. The Syllabus of Errors is exquisitely succinct. Laudato Si is verbose. But in a roundabout way Francis makes his own case against the modern world.
Joe Carter put together a nice guide for evangelicals to Laudato Si’.
The WaPo notes that Francis has shown some impressive (and somewhat surprising) political savvy in how he drafted the encyclical.
Maureen Malarkey disagrees.
Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry expanded on Francis’s point that reacting to climate change does not require reducing the birth rate:
In the 1950s, humanity was perhaps headed for a Malthusian nightmare of food scarcity and famine. The way this was avoided was — famously, perhaps, but not nearly famously enough — through the Green Revolution, a set of tremendous advances in agricultural technology that boosted yields and allowed us to feed ourselves reliably. (Today, famines, when they do exist, are more the result of political causes, like war or corruption, than an inability to produce food.)
The ensuing debate over overpopulation saw two scientists face off: Thenow-discredited Paul Ehrlich, and the (not-coincidentally, perhaps, Christian) economist Julian Simon. Ehrlich famously wrote that a “population bomb” was going to kill hundreds of millions of people by the 1970s, while Simon believed, in the words of his best-known book, that the ultimate resource is people. Simon won their bet — literally.
ESB, predictably, is a fan:
The categories Bush and Santorum rely on to restrict religious reasoning to convenient subjects are, of course, porous and unstable. Bush has shown no signs of attempting to exclude religion from politics per se; during theugly, protracted 2005 struggle over the life of Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman on life support in a persistent vegetative state, Bush campaigned fiercely to keep Schiavo alive. As governor of Florida, Bush was also a reliable anti-abortion advocate. The same is true of Santorum. Both havelinked their pro-life politics to their faith. These politicians appear to have no principled objection to religious reasoning governing aspects of political action; the objection that church and state should scarcely mingle only arises when religion becomes inconvenient to capital, as in the case of Francis’s entire papacy.
Through various accidents of history, American democracy has split down the middle, producing two increasingly acrimonious parties with diverging interests. The trouble for Catholics is that each party claims a share of morally upright positions. Thus we tend to either prioritize or, as in the cases of Bush and Santorum, invent specious disqualifiers for the pieces of Catholic moral theology that don’t mesh with our partisan preferences.
It is this tendency more than any other that Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home challenges, through its articulation of a robust moral ecology.
Peter Johnson thinks Francis doesn’t understand economics.
Alan Jacobs hones in a bit on specific aspects of the encyclical, including this interesting passage on technology:
A key passage comes early (pp. 16-17): “Technology, which, linked to business interests, is presented as the only way of solving these problems, in fact proves incapable of seeing the mysterious network of relations between things and so sometimes solves one problem only to create others.” (My emphasis.) That there is such a mysterious network of relations is central to Franciscan spirituality, and this concept points to a wholly different understanding of “network” than our technocracy offers.