Thursday, July 2, 2015

Laudato Si, "The Curate's Egg" I. The Excellent Parts

fBishop: "I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr Jones"; Curate: "Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!"
"True Humility" by George du Maurier, originally published inPunch, 9 November 1895.
"(1) He [the Pope] cannot speak as a private theologian but in his official capacity as vicar of Christ and head of the Church; (2) He must officially define a doctrine relating to faith or morals (unfortunately, the pope is not infallible when it comes to science, politics, weather, and the outcome of sporting events); and (3) The pronouncement must not be directed only to a single individual or particular group of people, but it must be promulgated for the benefit of the entire Church" Patrick Madrid, The Papacy and Galileo
"Every judgment of conscience, be it right or wrong, be it about things evil in themselves or morally indifferent, is obligatory, in such wise that he who acts against his conscience always sins." St. Thomas Aquinas. III Quodlibet 27.
There has been much heat and just a little light engendered by Pope Francis's recent Encyclical, Laudato Si. Unlike many who have either praised or condemned Laudato Si, I have read the whole work, not once but three times. What I propose to do in this post is to list, with minimal comment, the sections that I find laudatory (that's a pun, son) and then in a second post, the parts that I find questionable or objectionable. The Encyclical is 184 pages, so it will be necessary to focus selectively on the material.

THE EXCELLENT PARTS

Pope Francis enjoins against abortion and the culture of death, and promotes the value of the family, as has been done in previous encyclicals  by other Popes.
When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities – to offer just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected.  Item 117.
The sheer novelty involved in the emergence of a personal being within a material universe presupposes a direct action of God and a particular call to life and to relationship on the part of a “Thou” who addresses himself to another “thou" Item 81.
Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is un comfortable and creates difficulties?  “If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away."  Item 120, quote from Caritates in Vertate, 2009.
I would stress the great importance of the family, which is “the place in which life – the gift of God – can be properly welcomed and protected against the many attacks to which it is exposed, and can develop in accordance with what constitutes authentic human growth. In the face of the so-called culture of death, the family is the heart of the culture of life”.   Item 213

Pope Francis calls us on us to reject consumerism, not to rely solely on technology, and to focus on that which has human values.
 Furthermore, when media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously. In this context, the great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of an information overload. Item 47
 “while it is true that an unequal distribution of the population and of available resources creates obstacles to development and a sustainable use of the environment, it must nonetheless be recognized that demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development” Quoting the Pontifical Council for Justice Peace(483). Item 50
 Each of us has his or her own personal identity and is capable of entering into dialogue with others and with God himself. Our capacity to reason, to develop arguments, to be inventive, to interpret reality and to create art, along with other not yet discovered capacities, are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology. Item 81
The basic problem goes even deeper: it is the way that humanity has taken up technology and its development according to an undifferentiated and one-dimensional paradigm. This paradigm exalts the concept of a subject who, using logical and rational procedures, progressively approaches and gains control over an external object. This subject makes every effort to establish the scientific and experimental method, which in itself is already a technique of possession, mastery and transformation. It is as if the subject were to find itself in the presence of something formless, completely open to manipulation  Item 106
 It cannot be maintained that empirical science provides a complete explanation of life, the interplay of all creatures and the whole of reality. This would be to breach the limits imposed by its own methodology. If we reason only within the confines of the latter, little room would be left for aesthetic sensibility, poetry, or even reason’s ability to grasp the ultimate meaning and purpose of things. Item 199
Pope Francis calls on us to enter into a relationship with Christ in the Eucharist.
It is in the Eucharist that all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation. Grace, which tends to manifest itself tangibly, found unsurpassable expression when God himself became man and gave himself as food for his creatures. The Lord, in the culmination of the mystery of the Incarnation, chose to reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter. He comes not from above, but from within, he comes that we might find him in this world of ours. In the Eucharist, fullness is already achieved; it is the living centre of the universe, the overflowing core of love and of inexhaustible life. Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God. Indeed the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love. Item 236

THE PARTS THAT ARE EXCELLENT BUT MAY GO BAD

In the first sections of Laudato Si Pope Francis exhorts us to be one with nature and to realize God in  His creation, emulating Saint Francis in his paean to Brother Sun and Sister Moon.     There is much beautiful in these sections, and I emphasize with them.   I recall the times more than 70 years ago when I lay underneath the big trees in Yosemite (as a summer Forest Service worker), or sat in the Griffith Planetarium marveling at the night sky  in other times and other places.

He cites the works of past Popes who have been concerned about the environment,  Paul VI, Saint John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and quotes at length the remarks of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew:
At the same time, Bartholomew has drawn attention to the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems, which require that we look for solutions not only in technology but in a change of humanity; otherwise we would be dealing merely with symptoms. He asks us to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, an asceticism which “entails learning to give, and not simply to give up. It is a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what I want to what God’s world needs..."   Item 9, Quoting from Lecture at the Monastery of Ulstein
I can't quarrel with any of those statements.   What concerns me, however, is that they are adopted and corrupted by those who do not believe in a Creating God, but instead worship the creation--Gaia, Mother Earth.*    We see the farmers in San Joaquin Valley in California struggling to produce food--their water supply has been diverted to the San Francisco Bay to preserve (presumably) a small fish, the snail darter.    One extreme faction of the Green worshipers of Mother Earth would have human reproduction minimized or eliminated.   Thank God, Pope Francis spoke against that.

MORE TO COME

In the post to follow, I will present what Pope Francis has to say on the relation of politics and economics to the environment and climate science.   And  I'll explain why I disagree with many of these positions.

*A comment on this post published in another blog (William Briggs, Statistician to the Stars) remarked that I had the order of support mixed up--Pope Francis is following the Greens and Gaia worshippers, rather than the converse.     Indeed, he had Naomi Klein, invited to Rome, to help support his campaign against global warming.    Naomi Klein holds all the popular, extreme left/radical views. She is anti-capitalist (nationalize the industries), anti-Israel, pro AGW, and very probably a pro-abortion advocate. Here’s a quote–population control relevant-from an interview:
Well, to be honest, for a long time, I just couldn’t see a future for a child that wasn’t some, like, Mad Max climate warrior thing. And, you know, I’d joke about it with my husband, like, you want to have a little climate warrior? [laughter] And it seems like that was the best thing I could imagine for a child. I couldn’t see a future that wasn’t just incredibly grim — maybe I’d seen too much sci-fi and read too much climate science. But I just couldn’t see it. ”
So I wonder what sort of conversations Pope Francis and Naomi Klein will have about “be fruitful and multiply”…there are some inconsistencies with what is good in the Encyclical, arguing against population control, and inviting Naomi Klein to Rome.

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About Me

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Retired, cranky, old physicist.   Convert to Catholicism in 1995.   Trying to show that there is no contradiction between what science tells us about the world and our Catholic faith.   Intermittent blogs and adult education classes to achieve this end (see http://rationalcatholic.blogspot.com/   and http://home.ptd.net/~rkurland)

Extraordinary Minister of Communion volunteer to federal prison and hospital; lector, EOMC.
Sometime player of bass clarinet, alto clarinet, clarinet, bass, tenor bowed psaltery for parish instrumental group and local folk group.

And, finally, my motivation:
“It is also necessary—may God grant it!—that in providing others with books to read I myself should make progress, and that in trying to answer their questions I myself should find what I am seeking.
Therefore at the command of God our Lord and with his help, I have undertaken not so much to discourse with authority on matters known to me as to know them better by discoursing devoutly of them.”
St. Augustine of Hippo, The Trinity I,8.