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.
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…
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.