Friday, June 19, 2015

The Magna Carta of Integral Ecology: Cry of the Earth - Cry of the Poor: An analysis of Pope Francis' encyclical

By Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Jornal do Brasil (em português)
June 18, 2015

Before any commentary, it is worth emphasizing some unique aspects of Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si'.

It is the first time that a pope addresses the subject of ecology in the sense of integral ecology (so it goes beyond the environmental) so completely. Big surprise: he develops the theme within the new ecological paradigm, something that no official UN document has done to date. His argument is basic with the surest data from life and Earth science. He reads the data affectively (with sensitive or cordial intelligence) because he discerns that behind them are hidden human tragedy and much suffering of Mother Earth too. The current situation is grave but Pope Francis always finds reasons for hope and confidence that human beings can find workable solutions. He honors the popes who preceded him, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, quoting them frequently. And something absolutely new: his text is inscribed within collegiality as it is enriched by the contributions of dozens of bishops' conferences around the world ranging from the USA, to Germany, to Brazil, to Patagonia-Comahue to Paraguay. He welcomes the contributions of other thinkers such as Catholics Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Romano Guardini, Dante Alighieri,  his teacher -- Argentine Juan Carlos Scannone, the Protestant Paul Ricoeur, and the Sufi Muslim Ali al-Khawwas. Finally, its addressees are all human beings, for all are inhabitants of the same common home (a word used a lot by the pope) and suffer the same threats.

Pope Francis isn't writing as a Master or Doctor of the faith but as a zealous pastor who cares about the common home and all beings, not just humans, who live in it.

One element merits highlighting as it reveals Pope Francis' "forma mentis" (the way of organizing his thinking). This is attributable to the pastoral and theological experience of the Latin American churches that, in the light of the documents of the Latin American bishops (CELAM) from Medellin (1968), Puebla (1979) and Aparecida (2007), made an option for the poor against poverty and for liberation.

The text and the tone of the encyclical are typical of Pope Francis and of the growing ecological culture. But I'm aware that many expressions and ways of speaking also go back to what has been thought and written about primarily in Latin America. The themes of "common home", of "Mother Earth", the "cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor", "caring", the "interdependence of all beings", "the intrinsic value of each being", "the poor and vulnerable", the "paradigm shift" of "the human being as Earth" that feels, thinks, loves and worships, "integral ecology" among others, are recurrent among us.

The encyclical's structure follows the methodological ritual used by our churches and for theological reflection linked to liberation practice, now assumed and consecrated by the Pope: see, judge, act, and celebrate.

First, he reveals his greatest source of inspiration: St. Francis of Assisi, whom he calls "the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology...[and] particularly concerned...for the poor and outcast." (no.10; 66).

And then he starts with the see: "What is happening to our common home" (nos.17-61). Says the Pope, "we need only take a frank look at the facts to see that our common home is falling into serious disrepair." (no.61). In this part, he incorporates the most consistent data with reference to climate change (nos.20-22), the issue of water (nos.27-31), the erosion of biodiversity (nos.32-42), the deteriorating quality of life human and degradation of social life (nos.43-47), he denounces the high rate of inequality globally, affecting all areas of life (nos.48-52), the main victims being the poor (no. 48).

In this part, he uses a phrase that brings us back to a reflection made in Latin America: "Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor." (no.49). Immediately afterwards he adds: "the cries of sister Earth are united to the cries of the abandoned ones of this world" (no.53). This is absolutely consistent, since at the beginning he says "we are earth" (no. 2; cf. Gen. 2:7.), well in line with the great Argentinian indigenous singer and poet Atahualpa Yupanqui, "human beings are the Earth that walks, feels, thinks and loves."

He condemns proposals to internationalize the Amazon, which "only serve the economic interests of transnational corporations." (no.38) There is a very strong ethical statement: "[It is a] terrible injustice...[to] obtain significant benefits by making the rest of humanity, present and future, pay the extremely high costs of environmental deterioration." (no.36)

With sadness he acknowledges that "never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years." (no. 53) In the face of this human assault on Mother Earth that many scientists have denounced as the inauguration of a new geological era - the Anthropocene one, he laments the weakness of the powers of this world who, deluded, think that everything can continue as is as an alibi for keeping "their self-destructive vices" (no.59) as well as seemingly suicidal behavior. (no.55)

Prudently, he recognizes the diversity of opinions (nos. 60-61) and that "there is no one path to a solution." (no.60) Yet "the present world system is certainly unsustainable from a number of points of view, for we have stopped thinking about the goals of human activity" (no.61) and are lost in the construction of means for unlimited accumulation at the expense of ecological injustice (degradation of ecosystems) and social injustice (impoverishment of the people). Humankind has simply "disappointed God's expectation." (no.61)

The urgent challenge, then, is to "protect our common home" (no. 13), and for this we need, to quote Pope John Paul II, "a global ecological conversion" (no. 5), "a 'culture of care' which permeates all of society." (no. 231)

The seeing dimension having been accomplished, it's now time for the judging dimension. This judging is carried out in two aspects, one scientific and the other theological.

Let's look at the scientific one. The encyclical devotes the entire third chapter to the analysis of "the human roots of the ecological crisis." (nos.101-136) Here the Pope intends to analyze technoscience, without preconceptions, agreeing that it has brought "important means of improving the quality of human life." (no. 103) But this is not the problem. It has become independent, dominating the economy, politics and nature with an eye to the accumulation of material goods ( It starts from a mistaken assumption that there is an "infinite supply of the earth's goods" (no.106), when we know that we are already touching on the physical limits of the Earth and most of the goods and services are not renewable. Technoscience has become technocracy, a real dictatorship with its steely logic of domination over everything and everyone. (no.108)

The big illusion, now dominant, lies in the belief that all ecological problems can be solved with technoscience. This is a misleading endeavor because it implies "separat[ing] what is in reality interconnected." (no.111). In fact, "everything is connected" (no.117), "everything is interrelated" (no.120) -- a statement that permeates the entire text of the encyclical like a refrain, as it is a key concept of the new contemporary paradigm. The major limitation of technocracy is in fact "the fragmentation of knowledge" and "loss of appreciation for the whole" (no.110). The worst thing is that it "doesn't recognize the intrinsic value of other beings, and even denies any special value to humans beings." (no.118).

The intrinsic value of every being, however minuscule it may be, is permanently emphasized by the encyclical (no. 69), as it is by the Earth Charter. By denying that intrinsic value, we are keeping each creature from communicating its message and giving glory to God. (no. 33)

The largest deviation produced by technocracy is modern anthropocentrism. Its illusory assumption is that things only have value insofar as they are ordered to human use, forgetting that their existence has value in itself. (no.33) If it is true that everything is related, then "we human beings are united as brothers and sisters...[and] in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth." (no.92). How can we claim to dominate them and see them through the narrow perspective of domination by human beings?

All of these "ecological virtues" (no.88) are lost through the will to power and domination of others and of nature. We are experiencing an anguishing "loss of meaning of life and coexistence." (no.110) Several times, he quotes the Italian-German theologian Romano Guardini (1885-1968), one of the most read in the last century and who wrote a critical book against the pretensions of modernity. (no.83, Das Ende der Neuzeit, 1959)

The other aspect of judging is theological in nature. The encyclical reserves plenty of room for the "Gospel of Creation" (nos. 62-100). It begins by justifying the contribution of religions and Christianity since, being a global crisis, each body must, with its religious capital, contribute to the care of the earth (no.62). He doesn't stress doctrines but the wisdom present in the various spiritual paths. Christianity prefers to speak of creation rather than nature, because creation "has to do with God's loving plan" (no.76). More than once he quotes a beautiful text from the Book of Wisdom (21:24) where it says clearly that "creation is of the order of love" (no.77) and God emerges as "the Lord and lover of life." (Wis 11:26)

The text opens into an evolutionary view of the universe, without using the word, but making a circumlocution, referring to the universe "shaped by open and intercommunicating systems." (no.79). It uses the main texts linking the incarnate and risen Christ with the world and with the whole universe, making matter and the whole earth sacred (no.83) In this context, he cites P. Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955, no. 83 note 53) as a precursor of this cosmic vision.

The consequence of the fact of the Triune God being a relationship of divine Persons is that all things in relationship are echoes of the divine Trinity (no.240).

Citing the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of the Orthodox Church, he recognizes that sins against creation are sins against God. (no.7). Hence the urgency of a collective ecological conversion to rebuild the lost harmony.

The encyclical concludes this part, rightly: The analysis "has shown the need for a change of direction...[we need to] escape the spiral of self-destruction which currently engulfs us." (no.163). This is not about reform, but, citing the Earth Charter, seeking "a new beginning." (no.207) The interdependence of all with all leads us to think of "one world with a common plan." (no.164)

Since reality has multiple aspects, all closely related, Pope Francis proposes an "integral ecology" that goes beyond the usual environmental ecology (no.137). It covers all fields -- the environmental, the economic, the social, the cultural, the spiritual -- and also everyday life. (nos. 147-148) He never forgets the poor who also evidence their form of human and social ecology, experiencing bonds of belonging and solidarity with one another. (no.149)

The third methodological step is to act. In this part, the encyclical sticks to the great themes of international, national and local policy. (nos.164-181). It emphasizes the interdependence of the social and educational with the ecological and sadly notes the constraints that the prevalence of technocracy brings, making changes that would slow the voracity of accumulation and consumption and could inaugurate something new, difficult. (no.141). It again takes up the topic of economics and politics that should serve the common good and create the conditions for potential human fulfillment (nos.189-198) It goes back to stressing the dialogue between science and religion, as has been suggested by the great biologist Edward O. Wilson (cf. the book The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth, 2008). All religions should seek the protection of nature and the defense of the poor. (no.201)

Also within the act aspect, one challenge is education in order to create "ecological citizenship" (no.211) and a new lifestyle, based on caring, compassion, shared sobriety, the alliance between humanity and the environment, as both are inextricably linked and co-responsible for everything that exists and lives and for our common destiny (nos.203-208).

Finally, the moment of celebrating. The celebration takes place in a context of "ecological conversion" (no.216) which implies an "ecological spirituality" (no.216). This derives not so much from theological doctrines but the motivation to which faith gives rise to take care of the common home and nourish "passionate concern for the protection of our world." (no.216) Such experience is first of all a mystique that mobilizes people to live in ecological balance, "within ourselves, with others, with nature and other living creatures, and with God." (no.210). Here, "less is more" seems true and we can be happy with little.

In the sense of celebration, "rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise." (no.12).

The fresh fraternal spirit of St. Francis of Assisi permeates the entire text of the encyclical Laudato Si'. The current situation doesn't mean a predicted tragedy, but a challenge to take care of the common home and each other. In the text, there is lightness, poetry, and joy in the Spirit and unwavering hope that as great as the threat is, the opportunity to solve our ecological problems is greater still.

It ends poetically with the words "Beyond the sun," saying, "Let us sing as we go. May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope." (no.244)

I am pleased to end with the final words of the Earth Charter that the pope himself cites (no.207): "Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life."

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