Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Pope Francis Vs. Godzilla: Impressions of Laudato Si

It is summer and I am inclined to be very lazy.  I had not intended to read Pope Francis' encyclical because, to be honest, it's really long.

But Rick O. reminded me that I promised to read it and blog about it.  (Of course I have no memory of this conversation so maybe this was just a big trick).  Regardless, I finished reading it late last night and here are my impressions (they may be subject to correction and change):

1.  A rejection of a man-centered cosmos.
I have written an article for New Evangelizers that will be posted soon on this particular topic.  The most fascinating part for me was that Francis rejects the philosophy we inherited from the Renaissance and Enlightment: the conquest of nature.  Francis wants to remove man from the center of our cosmology.  But he does not place nature at the center.  Instead he places God at the center.  Nature and man are made by God and for God.  He condemns a "technocratic paradigm" that looks at the world as a blank slate for us to manipulate for our own ends only.  The point is that God designed everything, even man, with a nature and we must respect that nature.

2.  Urgency.
I could not help but think of the character played by Russell Simmons in Forgetting Sarah Marshall singing "We've Got to Do Something!"
You gotta do something,
We gotta do something,
Sometimes I sit in my room and I don't know what to do,
but we've gotta do something!

 If you accept the premise that man is causing great damage to the planet and causing it warm unnaturally, then the conclusion is that man must act now to stop the damage.  Pope Francis constantly laments that various nations and conferences have not acted boldly to save the environment.  The encyclical is filled with a strong sense of urgency.  But there is a problem…

3.  Uncertainty.
Francis mentions a few times that the letter is not written to give specific solutions because the nature of the solutions are scientific and the Church is not an authority on science.  As a result you have strong impression that SOMETHING has to be done, but it seems as though Francis only wants to get us talking.  He does reject some schemes like the selling of carbon credits.  But he still says SOMETHING has to be done.  For example, he writes, "That is why the time has come to accept decreased growth in some parts of the world, in order to provide resources for other places to experience healthy growth." (p. 193)  But he doesn't say what areas would have to be sacrificed for the growth of others.

4.  Cultural change.
While Francis points to the work need for governments and technologies to work to help the environment, his main point is that the change is cultural.  Pope St. John Paul the Great wrote Evangelium Vitae.  But John Paul used a different approach than Blessed Pope Paul VI used in Humanae Vitae.  In HV, Paul VI focused on a specific moral issue: artificial contraception.  John Paul instead focused not on fighting a particular wrong but in transforming the culture in general.  His goal was to move the culture from a Culture of Death to a Culture of Life.  Francis writes, "Any technical solution which science claims to offer will be powerless to solve the serious problems of our world if humanity loses its compass" (p. 200)  The environmental pollution he views as ultimately a symptom of a spiritual problem.  And the solution can only be sustainable through appreciating nature as God's gift.

Overall, reading Laudato Si reminded me of watching a Godzilla movie.  Francis says that the Earth is a precious gift.  But our technocratic paradigm has harnessed the power of nature and caused it harm.  The result is a catastrophe that requires a worldwide response and should change us internally.

And this is what happens in a Godzilla movie.  Humans harnessed the power of the atom and atomic testing have awakened the monsters of the deep.  As Ken Watanabe's character says in the last Godzilla movie, we make the mistake of thinking that nature is within our control.  As a result, monsters (including sometimes Godzilla), attack mankind causing a catastrophe requiring a untied response from countries.  In the aftermath, humanity can fundamentally change their approach to nature or Godzilla will return. 

Anyway, that's my overall impression.  I would love feedback here.


  1. I haven't read the encyclical, but I've also read Steven D. Greydanus's comparison of it to Wall-E. Cudos to you for finding a way to compare it to Godzilla.

    1. Thanks! I checked out your website. It's awesome.

    2. Thank you very much! Yours also!

  2. Reasons to Believe in Jesus

    Reasons to believe Jesus is alive in a new life with God can be found in quotes from two prominent atheists and a biology textbook.

    Thus the passion of man is the reverse of that of Christ, for man loses himself as man in order that God may be born. But the idea of God is contradictory and we lose ourselves in vain. Man is a useless passion. (Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology, New York: Washington Square Press, p. 784)

    Among the traditional candidates for comprehensive understanding of the relation of mind to the physical world, I believe the weight of evidence favors some from of neutral monism over the traditional alternatives of materialism, idealism, and dualism. (Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False, location 69 of 1831)

    And certain properties of the human brain distinguish our species from all other animals. The human brain is, after all, the only known collection of matter that tries to understand itself. To most biologists, the brain and the mind are one and the same; understand how the brain is organized and how it works, and we’ll understand such mindful functions as abstract thought and feelings. Some philosophers are less comfortable with this mechanistic view of mind, finding Descartes’ concept of a mind-body duality more attractive. (Neil Campbell, Biology, 4th edition, p. 776 )

    Sartre speaks of the "passion of man," not the passion of Christians. He is acknowledging that all religions east and west believe there is a transcendental reality and that perfect fulfillment comes from being united with this reality after we die. He then defines this passion with a reference to Christian doctrine which means he is acknowledging the historical reasons for believing in Jesus. He does not deny God exists. He is only saying the concept of God is contradictory. He then admits that since life ends in the grave, it has no meaning.

    From the title of the book, you can see that Nagel understands that humans are embodied sprits and that the humans soul is spiritual. He says, however, that dualism and idealism are "traditional" alternatives to materialism. Dualism and idealism are just bright ideas from Descartes and Berkeley. The traditional alternative to materialism is monism. According to Thomas Aquinas unity is the transcendental property of being. Campbell does not even grasp the concept of monism. The only theories he grasps are dualism and materialism.

    If all atheists were like Sartre, it would be an obstacle to faith. An important reason to believe in Jesus is that practically all atheists are like Nagel and Campbell, not like Sartre.

    by David Roemer


    David Roemer