12 Things Pagans Should Know About the Pope’s Environmental Encyclical

francis-green-encyclical_medYesterday, the Pope’s historic environmental encyclical was published.  The document is almost 200 pages long, which means that most of us won’t read it, at least not all of it.  So here are 12 things Pagans should know about the Pope’s environmental encyclical:

1. The Pope acknowledges the “human origins of the ecological crisis” (¶ 101), specifically that global warming is mostly due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases which are released “mainly” as a result of human activity.  He calls for the progressive replacement “without delay” of technologies that use fossil fuels.  (¶ 165)

2.  The Pope calls access to safe drinkable water “a basic and universal human right.” (¶ 11)  (Take that Nestle!)

3.  The Pope personifies the earth. He opens the encyclical with words from St. Francis, calling the Earth “Sister” (¶¶ 1, 2, 53) and “Mother” (¶¶ 1, 92)  This comes from the hymn of St. Francis’ “Canticle of Creatures”.  However, he does not refer to “Gaia” or any other goddess, and makes a point of saying that he is not “divinizing” the earth.  (¶ 90)

4. The Pope recognizes that we are part of the Earth. “Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live,” he says, “We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it.” (¶ 139) “[O]ur very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.” (¶ 2) This last sentence will sound familiar to many Pagans.  In fact, it closely resembles language from “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.”

5.  The Pope rejects Gnostic Christianity.  “Christianity does not reject matter,” he says.  (¶ 235)  According to the Pope, Jesus “was far removed from philosophies which despised the body, matter, and the things of the world.”  (¶ 98) He condemns those “unhealthy dualisms” which marked some Christian thinkers and “disfigured the Gospel.” (¶ 98)

6. The Pope recognizes that we are part of a vast interconnected system.  No less than 8 times throughout the encyclical, the Pope observes that “everything is interconnected,” a fact which, he says, “cannot be emphasized enough.”  (¶¶ 16, 42, 70, 91, 111, 117, 138, 240)

Pope-Francis-writing7.  The Pope condemns extreme anthropocentrism, but emphasizes humanity’s uniqueness.  Although the Pope criticizes “distorted” or “excessive” anthropocentrism (¶¶ 69, 116), he nevertheless insists on humanity’s “pre-eminence” (¶ 90) and “superiority” (¶ 220). He eschews “biocentrism” (¶ 118) and declines to “put all living beings on the same level.” (¶ 90)

8.  The Pope reinterprets the command in Genesis to exercise “dominion” over all the earth.  He rejects the notion that being created in God’s image and being given “dominion” over the earth justifies absolute domination over nature.  Instead, he says, a correct reading of Genesis, reads that language in the context of the commands to “till and keep,” the latter word meaning “caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving” which “implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature.” (¶ 67)

9.  The Pope calls for a “radical change” in our understanding of the economy and progress.   (¶ 171)  He condemns the “deification” of the market” (¶ 56) and a “magical conception of the market” (¶ 190) (referring apparently to the “invisible hand”).  He says, “The environment is one of those goods that cannot be adequately safeguarded or promoted by market forces” (¶ 190), and so he disapproves of the idea of carbon credits, which would allow wealthy countries to continue their excessive consumption (¶ 117).  The Pope also attacks the “modern myth of unlimited material progress” (¶ 78) and observes that economic development does not always result in a higher quality of life for people, and frequently diminishes people’s quality of life (¶ 194).  While he doesn’t go so far as to call for an anti-capitalist revolution, he does speak of the “subordination of private property” to the “global common good.” (¶¶ 93, 169). “The Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property.” (¶  93) “[T]here is always a social mortgage on all private property,” he says, quoting John Paul II. (¶ 93)

10.  The Pope calls for an “ecological conversion” of individuals and communities. (¶¶ 216, 219)  The Pope warns us against seeking only technological solutions to the environmental crisis.  (¶ 144)  He calls us to question “question the the logic which underlies present-day culture.”(¶ 197)  He also calls for an “environmental education,” which includes a critique of the myths of modernity, which he lists as “individualism, unlimited progress, competition, consumerism, the unregulated market.” (¶ 210).  And he observes that we need a spirituality capable of inspiring us to protect the planet (¶ 216), a sentiment which was also echoed in “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.”

11.  The Pope sees the ecological crisis and poverty as related, and he rejects population control as a solution.  Throughout the encyclical, the Pope emphasizes the “intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet” (¶ 16)  He sees “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” as one.  (¶ 49)  The Pope condemns proposals to reduce birth rates as an example of blame-shifting: “To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues.  It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption.”  (¶  50)  The also Pope speaks of an “ecological debt” owed by the global north to the global south.  (¶ 51)

12.  The Pope connects the “right to life” to the protection of the environment.  He suggests that the same principles which move us to defend the environment should be applied to human life. (¶ 136)  The Pope sees our disregard of the poor, the disabled, and human embryos as connected to our disregard of nature.  (¶ 117)  “Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion,” he says, “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 uncomfortable and creates difficulties?” (¶ 120)

 

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