There seems to be two different approaches to life in the modern world. One is of a selfish, individualistic nihilism; it seeks no greater good than one’s own pleasures; those who follow this approach tend to be libertarian or authoritarian in their political stand, that is, they are libertarian in regards people telling them what to do, but they become authoritarian when they want others to be forced to do something that will please them and their particular desires. The other approach is one which pursues what is good and true, especially, the common good; those who follow this approach tend to look beyond mere desires, which can be and often are selfish, for they seek after the greater good, recognizing that when the greater good is embraced, everyone benefits (including themselves). To be sure, this second approach can end up being abused as an authoritarian can speak the right words but try to present their own desires as the common good, that is, they can subvert the common good with a particular good which they use to replace the common good. They can, then, say the right things, and convince people who promote the common good to work with them, but, in reality, their embrace of the common good is not real. The common good will encourage all kinds of checks and balances be put in place so that those who pursue it will be holistic in their approach, making sure all particular goods have their proper place affirmed without becoming so excessive in pursuit of one particular good that the common good is hindered. Christians have always recognized these two ways, calling one the way of death, and the other the way of life, as can be seen in the Didache:
There are two ways: one of life and one of death; and great is the difference between the two ways.
This is the way of life: ‘First you shall love God who made you, secondly, your neighbor as yourself; and whatever you would not like done to you, do not do to another.’”
The way of life is the way of love, a love which looks to and loves the greatest good (God), but also the common good (love of one’s neighbor). Those who pursue the common good will embrace life because life itself is a good. They will, of course, do so while taking into consideration every other good, seeking not only to promote life, but its dignity, recognizing that there can and will be situations where there will be rival claims as to what must be done for the common good, situations which require prudence to work through such gordian knots. They will recognize that in the real world, the perfect should not be used as the enemy of the good, that there can be and will be challenges which will have no easy answer, allowing for a diversity of actions to choose from. Anyone who finds themselves in such a situation must still work for and seek the common good and promote the dignity of all involved, so that they can and should be concerned about those adversely affected by their choice, hoping that they can find a better solution later. Those who do not care about the common good, those who do not care about their neighbors, will engage their own selfish interests even if it means others will needlessly suffer or die, which is why their way is truly the way of death.
We can see both approaches at play in the way people have responded to the COVID pandemic. Many of those who have claimed to promote life show that their way is the way of death as they would not listen to the government and health care professionals: they were unwilling to do what was needed to save lives. As long as they feel safe, they do not care about what happens to others, even if it means many will die. They do not care about the long-term consequences which follow from mass deaths.
We can also see both approaches at play in the they treat the environment and the disaster which lies before us with climate change. Once again, they do not want to be told what to do, despite the fact that the world and all that is on it faces an existential threat with climate change. They do not care about the good of their neighbor. They do not even care that God has said that the world should be protected, that humanity is called to be stewards of the earth. They think they should be free to do whatever they want, no matter the long-term harm of their actions, often because they believe they will not have to face those consequences themselves and do not care as to what happens to the world after they are dead. We find such people tend to use libertarian arguments against environmental concerns. They also like to take control of government positions and use that power to undermine all regulations which have been put in place to help protect the common good. Again, it is clear, such people have chosen the way of death. Those who choose the way of life will do what they can to protect the environment, to halt and reverse the effects climate change, for they know that by doing so, they are working to protect and preserve life, not just at the present, but for generations to come. Pope Francis has been making this a major concern for his papacy; not only has he written an encyclical on it, Laudato si’, he is now taking the time to write an update to it, as Philip Pullella reports on Reuters (8-21-2023):
Pope Francis said on Monday that he was writing a follow-up to his landmark 2015 encyclical on the protection of the environment and the dangers of climate change “to bring it up to date”.
He made the surprise announcement in a brief, unprepared addition in a speech to a group of lawyers from Council of Europe countries.
Sadly, instead of taking up the challenge to protect the world and all that is within it, we see a push back from those who follow the way of death, those who want to remove all regulations that have been set up to protect the common good. A representative of this selfish nihilism can be seen to prevail within the actions of United States Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and the interest he represents. Those interests seek to undermine most regulations put in place for the promotion of the common good since the Great Depression, as Thom Hartmann, in Raw Story (Aug 21, 2023) explained:
Republicans on the Supreme Court are, it appears, planning to gut most of America’s regulatory agencies, in what could be the most consequential re-write of the protective “deep state” since it was largely created during the New Deal in the 1930s.
If they pull it off, they could destroy the ability of:
— the EPA to regulate pollutants,
— the USDA to keep our food supply safe,
— the FDA to oversee drugs going onto the market,
— OSHA to protect workers,
— the CPSC to keep dangerous toys and consumer products off the market,
— the FTC to regulate monopolies,
— the DOT to come up with highway and automobile safety standards,
— the ATF to regulate guns,
— the Interior Department to regulate drilling and mining on federal lands,
— the Forest Service to protect our woodlands and rivers,
— and the Department of Labor to protect workers’ rights.
What could possibly go wrong if all those agencies are gutted? Not only will we find ourselves turning back to the brutal pre-New Deal approach to society, one which benefited the rich at the expense of the poor, we will do so at a time when such regulations are needed for the survival of humanity. The world is in dire shape, and, as the EPA is one of those agencies Gorsuch has as his target, if not his primary target, the world, as it is trying to deal with the major crisis of its time, might soon from the United States rigging the fight for the nihilists. If that happens, we should not be surprised that the United States will soon have to deal with the mess it has created. The poor nations of the world will be among the first to suffer the worst effects of climate change, making those living within them to want (or even need) to move, with the United States being one of the places they will try to migrate to. All the migrant issues the United States has had to deal with up to this point will be nothing as in comparison to what is to come.
We, of course, have a little time to deal with climate change; if we don’t use it, we will soon find it is too late. We must make it clear that we cannot accept the deregulation which many in the Supreme Court, and in the United States as a whole, want to promote. We must promote the way of life, even if it means we must inconvenience ourselves, not only by regulating our own actions, but taking the time to engage the political fight of our times. For, as Pope Francis has said in , Laudato si’ (#229) we must truly take the path of life, and embrace the common good:
We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it. We have had enough of immorality and the mockery of ethics, goodness, faith and honesty. It is time to acknowledge that light-hearted superficiality has done us no good. When the foundations of social life are corroded, what ensues are battles over conflicting interests, new forms of violence and brutality, and obstacles to the growth of a genuine culture of care for the environment.
 Francis X. Glimm, trans., “The Didache” in The Apostolic Fathers (New York: Christian Heritage Inc., 1947), 171.
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