Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Pope Just Might Save the Planet

I’m not only thrilled, my hope is renewed. Today is a historic day. 

Who’d have thunk it would be the leader of the Holy Roman Catholic Church to forcefully and so persuasively call for leaders in the developed world to drastically reduce the amount of carbon that we human beings consume. And Pope Francis is clear why this must happen: the poorest in the world are the most effected by global warming.

Today the Pope issued a powerful letter called Laudato Si. He calls on the people of the world and particularly Catholics to help save the planet from environmental destruction--and make this the great urgent focus in the 21st century. And now we people of compassion and people of varied faith--and even no faith--have an ever more clear opportunity to join a collective effort to support this extraordinary and so needed vision.

Here is the appeal, followed by detailed challenges that we face. From today's Encyclical from Pope Francis:
The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home. Here I want to recognize, encourage and thank all those striving in countless ways to guarantee the protection of the home which we share. Particular appreciation is owed to those who tirelessly seek to resolve the tragic effects of environmental degradation on the lives of the world’s poorest. Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded.
I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all. The worldwide ecological movement has already made considerable progress and led to the establishment of numerous organizations committed to raising awareness of these challenges. Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity. As the bishops of Southern Africa have stated: “Everyone’s talents and involvement are needed to redress the damage caused by human abuse of God’s creation”. All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents.

Pope Francis has just invited the members of his church to surpass many religions when it comes to facing reality honestly. For millennia, Catholics have affirmed that the locus of religious authority is in the pope, the priests, and church teaching. But Pope Francis is adding on to this in a critical way. He is willing to look at evidence as scripture. He has just publicly jumped into what my friend Michael Dowd calls the “Evidential Reformation.” 

Pope Francis respects science and is willing to prioritize evidence--scientific facts that come from observing reality, measuring it, and validating it. He is willing to accept the overwhelming scientific consensus that global warming is occurring and that global warming is caused by human agency. 

All sorts of people in our midst already have been convinced of this; however, so many of us have been unable to see a way out of the mess that our unchecked consumption has gotten us. Pope Francis has articulated a powerful call that we must overcome our selfishness and contribute to a better future for the people of this earth. This will require new ways of looking at the world, new lifestyle choices, and a new worldview of living respectfully with the earth.

There’s a challenging implication: we have a global economic system that cannot continue indefinitely. Many people have been saying this, but no one with the following and platform as Pope Francis.  

The more people of faith who recognize that science doesn’t only make for a higher quality of life but that science doesn’t have to clash with religion, the more likely we human beings and particularly we Americans will change our ways and stop contributing to global warming. 

The more we people of faith respond to reality with a respect for science rather than hold to fantastic notions of divinity that fly in the face of science, then younger people and thoughtful people will return to religion--not the old religion that smacks of hypocrisy and otherworldliness, but authentic religion that is relevant to the greatest challenges we face today.

I have long believed that when we human beings listen to one another and get real about what is really happening within, among, and beyond us, then we can address any challenge. When religious people deny scientific fact it dooms us to not only poor understanding of our wider world but it puts our future in danger.

One problem is that there is such strong evidence that even if we stopped using all carbon today, the process of the warming of the earth shall continue. The question is not whether we will curtail global warming but to what degree will we contribute to its acceleration. The Pope, familiar with the suffering of the poor, recognizes the urgency of this issue in alleviating the suffering of the most vulnerable among us. 

One of the great environmentalist thinkers of the past several decades is Thomas Berry. He calls himself, not a theologian, but a geo-logian. He sums up our present predicament in 3 sentences. 
  • In the 20th century and early 21st century, the glory of the human is becoming the desolation of the earth. 
  • The desolation of the earth is becoming the great shame of the human.
  • Therefore all programs, policies, activities, institutions must henceforth be judged primarily by the extent to which they inhibit, ignore, or foster a mutually enhancing human-earth relationship.
Pope Francis calls us to work together to recognize that we can live in respectful relationship with the earth and be in right relationship with God. 

I so appreciate Michael Dowd’s recognition that:

Religion is undergoing a massive shift in perspective. It is a shift at least as wrenching as the Copernican revolution, which required humanity to bid farewell to an Earth-centered understanding of our place in the cosmos. The religious revolution on the horizon today might well be called the “Evidential Reformation.” We humbly shift away from a human-centric, ethnocentric, and shortsighted view of what is important. At the same time, we expand our very identities to encompass the immense journey of life made known by the full range of sciences. In so doing, we all become elders of a sort, instinctively willing to do whatever it takes to pass on a world of health and opportunities no lesser than the one into which we were born.

At the heart of this theological and spiritual transformation is a profound shift in where we find our best guidance regarding two fundamental orientations: How things are (that is, What is real?) and Which things matter (that is, What is important?). The shift thus centers on both

The good news—the really good news--is that tens of millions of us around the world, secular and religious alike, agree that living in right relationship with reality in the 21st century requires us to value collectively discerned scientific, historic, and cross-cultural insights. The more we move in this direction together, the less our inherited scriptures will continue to divide us, and the more we can work together for the vision Pope Francis shared today. 

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