Monday, June 22, 2015

Reading Laudato Si' (4)

Continuing on to the encyclical's Chapter 4, Integral Ecology, Pope Francis is seeking "a vision capable of taking into account every aspect of the global crisis" (137). Again, foundational to this approach is the sense of the interrelatedness of nature and society. "Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it" (139). Thus, "the analysis of environmental problems cannot be separated from the analysis of human, family, work-related and urban contexts, nor from how individuals relate to themselves, which leads in turn to how they relate to others and to the environment" (141).

So, contrary to those who would ignore the issue, the care of our common home requires renewed and explicit attention to the natural environment, but that attention cannot be isolated from such social, political, and cultural concerns as drug use (142), the homogenization of the local and historical variety of cultures as a consequence of consumerism (143-145), and also "special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions" (146).

Our modern world is an increasingly urbanized one; and it is my impression at least that this is increasingly especially so in the developing world (which, of course, is where Pope Francis comes from). This is an urban pope from the global south, who understands the challenges of contemporary urban living, especially in the mega-cities of the developing world. "The feeling of asphyxiation brought on by densely populated residential area is countered if close and warm relationships develop, if communities are created, if the limitations of the environment are compensated for in the interior of each person who feels held within a network of solidarity and belonging" (148). As an urbanite, born and bred, myself, I find myself resonating particularly with his diagnoses of urban living's challenges. In particular, I applaud the priority he accords to public transportation (153), which is, I am convinced, a critical ingredient in maintaining the genuinely communitarian character of urban living.

Recalling Vatican II's definition of the common good in Gaudium et Spes, Pope Francis highlights this traditional moral notion of the common good as "a central and unifying principle of social ethics" (156). That, of course, is what this encyclical is - a teaching on social ethics, an exercise of the Church's moral magisterium.

In keeping with this foundational principle of the common good, Pope Francis recalls some traditional themes - the value of intermediate groups in society and in particular the family (157) and again "the universal destination of the world's goods" and "an immense appreciation of the dignity of the poor in the light of our deepest convictions as believers" (158).

The environmental crisis particularly highlights our (increasingly neglected) responsibility to future generations. "Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others" (159) The Pope identifies our current difficulties in fully facing up to this challenge "with an ethical and cultural decline which has accompanied the deterioration of the environment. Men and women of our postmodern world run the risk of rampant individualism, and many problems of society are connected with today's self-centered culture of instant gratification" (162).

The encyclical seems to keep circling back to this theme, so central to the traditional biblical diagnosis of the human condition and to much of the tradition of political philosophy enshrined in Catholic Social Teaching. As one of my canon law professors once remarked decades ago, when certain points get repeated with regularity that is a good indication of their importance!

No comments:

Post a Comment