Friday, June 19, 2015

Laudato Si - initial impressions

At the behest of a colleague, I did an initial skimming of Laudato Si. I am not a Roman Catholic and the bishop of Rome does not supreme juridical and doctrinal authority in my eyes. As such, I will keep things as brief as I can. It is only fair - members of the Roman Church should be the ones to engage in a deep reading of this document.

Briefly then, it is not certain that the impending doctrinal apocalypse predicted by RC Traditionalists came to pass with this encyclical. Much of the document is common sense and has enough shades born from the various contours of the Christian tradition to merit consideration.

The document is not revolutionary in its charges of land/resource abuse on the part of the wealthy at the cost of victimization of the poor. Ambrose of Milan strikes the same chord in De Nabothae. Indeed, he is fair more invective towards the wealthy. The only degree of difference is whether the land and resource exploitation of the modern era is having an ecological impact.

In many respects, the document pivots back to John Paul II's papacy. Like John Paul II, Francis attempts to build circle around Roman Catholicism, comprised of the Orthodox, other Christians, and then other religions, and extending to people with no particular religious persuasion.

When one recognizes the attempts at recapitulating John Paul II's papacy, one begins to recognize how much Benedict's papacy was seen as a break from the pattern of the papacy in the late 20th century. This is perhaps most pronounced in the encyclical's condemnation of global technocracy and capital. Put another way, this is a more refined descriptive of globalization. The anti-globalization wing in the Roman Church reached its peak in the late 90s. Benedict XVI's papacy coincided with decline of the same movement. Whether this was intentional or not may be debated, but certainly Caritas in Veritate was somewhat lukewarm in its criticism of globalization. Benedict's papacy was, to be sure, a stark disappointment to those groups who saw globalization as a moral issue (if not spiritual) during the pontificate of John Paul II. Although JP II did not come down critically on globalization, the anti-globalization wing certainly had room to breath. Francis seems to be tapping back into that strain of contemporary Catholicism. Francis proposes that the negative impact of global technocratic capitalism on the Earth's climate correlates directly with a new paradigm for humanity that is inherently self destructive. If there is any theological and spiritual muscle left in the Roman Church, this section of the encyclical must become the focal point for subsequent discussion and action.

A final consideration is that Francis is trying to extract concern over climate change from its more extreme positions. Climate change activists typically include abortion and other depopulation methods as solutions. Francis argues these positions are incompatible with a genuine concern for preserving the environment and addressing the issue of climate change. To this extent, the bishop of Rome should be applauded. The emerging climate change orthodoxy is increasingly anti-human and if Francis is a shrewd politician and can maneuver his particular understanding of the issue into the political mainstream he will have considerable impact. This being noted, Vatican II tried to re-frame modernity and failed to do so. We'll see how well this maneuvering pays off.

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