Eco-theologian Fr. Sean McDonagh: Don’t let this ‘Laudato Si” moment pass

On Sunday eco-theologian Columban Fr. Sean McDonagh wrapped up a three-city, 10-day speaking tour of the East Coast focused on his new book on Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home.”
The book, similarly titled On Care for Our Common Home and published by Orbis Books, takes the encyclical’s full text and adds McDonagh’s reflections on its various themes: among them, climate change, biodiversity, water scarcity and threats to the oceans, and the food crisis. In addition, McDonagh recaps the development of Catholic theology on creation of the past half-century, and offers ideas on how to transform Francis’ vision in Laudato Si’ into meaningful action and a central piece of Catholic theology.
The tour, which ran Feb. 26-March 6, took him to parishes, monasteries and college campuses in New York, Washington D.C., and Boston. McDonagh spoke with NCR on Monday, weighing in on his tour, the encyclical and what comes next for the document that he said marks “an exciting moment for the church.”
“There’s just extraordinary possibilities in this document,” he said.
Central to that, the Irish priest said, is a three-year synodal process aimed at taking the new teaching, “a new spirituality” that Francis offers in Laudato Si’ and finding ways to put it into practice of the faith.
“It’s new for a lot of us. Most of the people who go to seminaries and into theology didn’t actually deal with any of these issues, so there’s a difficulty,” McDonagh said, pointing in particular to Francis’ quoting of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in his frequent discussion of sins against creation, be it human-caused climate change or the loss of biodiversity due to pollution and deforestation.
“None of us here believe those are sins,” he added.
The first year of the synod would start at local parishes and dioceses, and ask people how they come to know the natural world, experience it and see their proper place within. Year two would shift to the national level, examining practices in each country, from energy usage to consumption to treatment of the oceans. In that process, he said, the church “would start to begin creating prayers and liturgies that support this new engagement and new spirituality and new ethics with creation.” The third year would take those efforts internationally.
“I think this would be a great service. It would be a catalyst, the church would be providing a catalyst. Because whether you like it or not, we’ve got to take these issues seriously. We haven’t taken them seriously for the last 50 years. If we don’t take them seriously, they don’t stop; they just continue, and we become less ready to deal with them into the future,” McDonagh said.
Francis’ encyclical offers the church an opportunity to become facilitators in the larger discussion of protecting the environment, the climate, the common earthly home. While the church has written and spoken of the need to care for creation before Laudato Si’, it was largely insufficient in depth — he notes that the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, published in 2004, included half paragraphs each on climate change and biodiversity, and nine graphs on biotechnology — or ultimately overlooked.
“This is potentially an extraordinary moment for the church,” he said. “… Now do we take it or do we go back into our burrows? I hope we take it.”
Below are excerpts from the McDonagh interview, which has been edited for clarity and length.
NCR: During this speaking tour, what were you hearing from people you encountered?
McDonagh: I was hearing from people that they would like to see the Catholic church giving leadership [on ecological issues], and particularly the theological side of things. There isn’t a Catholic institute here that actually has taken on board the theological side, with interdisciplinary approaches to this that would include physics, biology and chemistry and cosmology.
And the resources are there, and we need this. This is a huge effort, it’s not a simple thing into the future. We have an opportunity. If you would’ve asked me 10 years ago — I’ve been at this since 1978, so I’ve been at it a long time — if you had asked me six years ago, in my lifetime would something like this emerge, I would have no, there’s no possibility for this emerging. And it has emerged, but it’s 99 percent ahead of where most Catholics are. And it needs to be not 99 percent, it needs to be our lived doctrine and our lived practices from here on in. Now you need good theology to do that.
You were involved in the development of this encyclical. What was that process like? Were you focused on a specific aspect of the text?
Well, I was asked by Cardinal Peter Turkson in November 2013 to write a document for the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and I wrote it up, like 30,000 words … now eventually, in 2014, that kind of morphed into the beginning of the encyclical itself. So that whole section, basically, on what’s happening in our world, those were issues I developed.
You’re not the first theologian or church official that has made a point of talking about the encyclical in the U.S. — for instance, Cardinal Turkson has given numerous speeches on the document. Do you see a particular importance of raising this conversation around Laudato Si’ in the U.S.?
Sure. [Francis] quotes the New Zealand bishops saying 20 percent of the global population use up 80 percent of the resources of the planet. Now that’s not just the United States, that’s also Europe, that’s also Japan, that’s also 350 million people in China. So yes, he’s very strong on that. One of the things he’s very strong on he takes in from Centesimus Annus, in which Pope John Paul II talks about how, especially in the United States and Europe, we have a love affair with science, particularly with technology, because we think it’s great. And we actually do think that some technology is going to solve the issue of climate change for us. And [Francis is] very strong on that: He says, No, that’s not going to happen. He’s not saying that technologies are not important — and there’s wonderful work being done in the United States, particularly on alternatives sources of energy and on batteries — but he’s saying we need lifestyle changes.
… So, yes, there’s a huge message here. But I don’t think the church here, the episcopal church here — and that’s true of Ireland, too — have actually taken on board the profound message that it is. Because we’re focused on the culture wars, all those things they come easier to us. We think we know more about that side of moral theology. But like with this, you’re talking about making the planet a less livable place then for future generations — that’s the alternative. We could bring about geologic disorder, changes of magnitude within a hundred years if, for example, greenhouse gas emissions continue the way they do, the average global temperature rises to 4 degrees above what it was [before the Industrial Revolution]. That would be in 200 years, humans would have caused a geological change that is irreversible; most geological periods are 20 or 25 million years or 40 million years. So we don’t take those on board as part of our pastoral. Now I think we got to start doing it.
Beyond lifestyle changes, Are there other messages you see of particular importance for an American audience?
Two areas that will be most difficult is the new understanding of ethical imperatives. The people who opened up the prairies here in the 19th century did not think they were doing wrong. The people who destroyed the tropical forests in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s and ‘80s in the Philippines didn’t think they were doing morally wrong things. So that is a huge change. So how do we now develop the moral imagination that includes those things? That’s number one.
And then number two, from a theological and spiritual perspective, [Francis has] now come with an extraordinary new teaching that species have intrinsic value … and so a new spirituality has to include our understanding and intimacy with the natural world. So here in Boston College, how many trees actually have you named outside, and have you named how supportive they are of other species? That’s the kind of intimate understanding that will become part of an ecological theology.
Now, it’s challenging. I’m not saying that it’s going to be easy, but that’s what he has laid out for us, that we should be doing. And it’s going to take different kinds of spiritual and theological work to do that, but the most certain thing it’s going to do is we’re going to have to work with other people. We’re going to have to work with the scientific community, to work with other religious traditions, so we can’t do it alone. But we will also need very good rituals, very good prayers, very good concerns for our moral life: How do we actually assess this new change? So all of that would need to emerge from the pastoral world.
Your book tour arrived in the midst of a U.S. presidential election. How might reflection on Laudato Si’ relate to how someone may view the issues that arise this election season?
Very easy. I mean, you had one candidate the other night in Detroit telling us that he would take apart the Environmental Protection Agency. Now can you think of anything more irresponsible? So what he wants to do, he wants to give back to the corporate world the permission to pollute everything, with PCBs [man-made toxic chemicals banned from U.S. manufacturing in 1979] that continue in our system and the system of all creatures and actually poison and are toxins to our children and their children.
So I would say be seriously real about what people are saying to you. If they’re not saying anything to you on climate change, they’re living in cloud cuckoo land. And it’s your children that are going to face it, and your grandchildren. The reality of climate change is not the end of the next 1,000 years. We now know if we continue as is, even after the Paris Agreement with the things we’ve put in there we’re willing to do, it would still be a 3.8 degrees Celsius rise, which would be close to a geological order magnitude change. We’re only at the beginning, and anyone who tells you different is just not telling it as it is, and they’re fooling you.
You’ve said Laudato Si’ is not a policy document, but that it could help in that realm. What types of policies might develop from this encyclical?
Fundamentally, one is in power and energy. … In the United States and Europe we give billions, billions, billions of dollars to the fossil fuel companies. So we got to start a different way of actually creating energy. And to a fair assessment, a lot of it is beginning to be here, but it needs to be supported. And then we need to be extraordinarily critical of people of toxify our planet. … So we have to be careful that we don’t allow this planet to become more and more toxified. And the pope is very good on that. I mean, he studied chemistry himself, so he knows the persistent realities of toxins in the atmosphere.
How do you transition Francis’ vision in the encyclical to consideration by policymakers?
To a certain extent, that transfer is beginning to happen. I’ve been at a lot of the United Nations Framework Conventions on Climate Change. … The first time that the church ever made, on policy levels, an impact that I felt was actually at the Paris one in December. Many, many people quoted Laudato Si’ as the beginning of creating now policies in terms of the whole era of fossil fuel, reducing it — mitigation — and then also the alternatives, and how to support the alternatives and the kinds of economic policies that are necessary to do that. So here was a document that was being used and quoted for that. …
We’re beginning to come of age and this is a great era for us. Don’t let it pass — that’s my thing to anyone I talk. This is a wonderful time but wonderful times can be let pass. And I keep pointing out what Pope John Paul II said: “Concern for the environment is an essential part of our faith.” He said that in a 1990 document [World Day of Peace Message], which is 35 years ago, so it hasn’t actually percolated with the people because we didn’t actually teach them that. And that’s my great fear will possibly become of Laudato Si’, that if we don’t actually now address them in these couple of years with a good tool like the synodal process, 25 years from now, someone could be back here and say, ‘Sorry God we never got around to implementing these.’ That’s my concern.
In the period between Benedict’s resignation and Francis’ election, you wrote in NCR that the church’s teaching on the environment was “still light green.” How would you assess it now?
I think we’ve at least passed our master’s, and probably getting up to doing our Ph.D. It’s huge! It’s extraordinary, every aspect of [Laudato Si’] is extraordinary. And it’s only when you begin to think what was there beforehand, like the Compendium of the Social Teaching of the Church, a half a paragraph on climate change — and not serious. And you could say, ‘Well that’s not important,’ but it’s totally important. A half a paragraph on biodiversity? That is totally irresponsible.
So this is wonderful. It’s real, it’s of an age and the man has the courage to do it and write it well. So we have gone from just post-kindergarten to our master’s degree.
How do we get to that Ph.D. level?
We have to actually, when we’re reading it and we come to this thing from Bartholomew [sins against creation], we need to put the boots down to the floor and say none of us believes that, how are we going to do that here in this community? How am I going to get close to the oak tree? How am I going to know that? How am I going to know what the insects are doing in my community? How am I going to know the birds — there are 9,000 species of birds, 3,000 of them are on the red list, are they here in my community? Is there anything we’re doing? Add it to the theology that needs to be done and the prayers and the spirituality.
It’s a totally exciting, totally open world into the future. And I think it’s a great time to be a Christian. I say of Laudato Si’, everyone says, well, it’s about climate change; well that’s not it, it’s 10 other things. It’s a good ecological document. It’s a good social [document], he’s really good on the impact of the destruction of the earth on the poor, he’s very good on that. But it really is an evangelical document. If someone asked me, ‘Look could you give me a book, how to be a Christian in the 21st century?’ I’d say, take this book, and you can have the Bible, as well.
Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. His email address is broewe@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.

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  1. The Japan Mission Journal are publishing two superb essays by Stefano Zamagni on “An Integral Ecology” and “Economics, Ethics, Ecology” — if anyone would like me to email them the texts please contact me at josephsoleary@hotmail.com

  2. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Nice article Sean. Diplomatically played, I wonder if it is almost too politically correct. Francis needs a spokesperson, someone who knows and has been around this group for a long time. Apparently you have been and are an important link in the chain. I just wonder if you are portraying the frustration and angst that is felt by this current generation. If you listen to the youth on this issue, they are so frank with so much simple conviction, they scare you. When they start talking about the future, the one that is laid before them, there is an honesty in what they say that can’t be conveyed by us. If someone is going to be the spokespeople for Francis, it should be the youth and they should be posting through social media as quickly as possible. The truth is, it’s there future, not ours.

  3. Frustration and angst are indeed growing among those who see their future threatened. Oldies have the luxury of saying”après moi le déluge.” But Francis is an oldie and he is impassioned about this as his supreme duty to humanity and the Creator. It is disheartening that John Paul II’s words of 25 years ago [not 35] went unheard, and that big companies and bad politicians continue to invest in the propaganda of denial. Let’s hope that more will speak out like Leonardo di Caprio at the Oscars and rally the young to this urgent cause. Soon the problems may become so terrifyingly apparent that no one will have room for denial or inaction.

  4. Sean references the casual opening up of the American prairies, and rapid deforestation in the Philippines, as examples of not knowing what we are doing wrong. He then asks:
    “So how do we now develop the moral imagination that includes those things?”
    The answer lies surely in an awakening to the full meaning of covetousness, as revealed by a myriad of biblical examples and the insight of René Girard. Christendom completely hid from our theologians and pastors the contagious nature of acquisitive desire – the fact that it begins with ostentation on the part of the successful, and is endlessly replicated by the shame, envy and desire that this ostentation triggers, unconsciously, in everyone else.
    Early fathers such as Tertullian called this latter behaviour ’emulation’ – proving that they noticed its imitative nature. With the Constantinian shift and the social elevation of clergy all criticism of ostentation, and of unconscious imitation of the wealthy, stopped. Still today the most powerful wellspring of overconsumption goes unrecognised by both secular and religious critique. Instead we use mistaken critical terms like ‘consumerism’ and ‘materialism’ – implying that those who overconsume are doing so deliberately, and that we, the critics, are immune. Those terms are water off a duck’s back for ‘Christian’ billionaries.
    We need to become super-aware of the dangers of our gift, and scourge, of ‘learning by unconscious imitation’ – the root of all environmental damage. It is the most commercially gifted who are currently the models that less developed peoples seek to imitate – yet it is those who consume least who are the far better models for a sustainable earth. Pope Francis has pointed to this very paradox.
    Further, covetousness is also the primary root of all unjust inequality and violence too – because the frustration of just desire builds huge anger and rivalry. The challenge for global Christianity is to detach ourselves from ostentatious wealth by adopting and advocating lifestyle simplicity – through a complete revelation of the meaning of ‘do not covet anything your neighbour owns’.
    That’s why the ‘imitation of Christ’ needs to be passionately preached, without sparing those who may be donating most to the church. This is now no longer just an option for those ‘who want to get to Heaven’ but an obligation for all who want to save the Earth. There is no longer any excuse for failing to see, to preach and to model the binding connection between those two ends.
    It probably isn’t just Augustine’s fault that we identify ‘original sin’ primarily, and mistakenly, with sexuality. As Eve’s original response to Satan illustrates, we humans are endlessly subject to shame – the shame of NOT having what others have. All theology needs to become aware of this ‘original problem’ – and to see the life, teaching and death of Jesus as humanity’s greatest resource for overcoming it.

  5. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Be like Jesus. A real world example maybe. This awakening is not enough Sean. Can’t sit around and wait for the adults to come to. And the kids, well once they turn of age, they get sucked into the mimetic tide. It needs a huge lawsuit, the legal awakening that only truly opens eyes today. Sad we have to use their system against them, as corrupt and as dirty as it is, but this “awakening” is a pipe dream and preaching a better way, let’s focus on greening consumerism with eco-friendly locally produced wares that fuel our addictions first. Does anyone else have insight on how this is fast tracked?

  6. Joe O'Leary says:

    I think the category of “moral disengageent” might be invoked. It refers to those who work for financial organizations and must operate systems they know to be immoral. Ecologically criminal companies also function on the basis of moral disengagement.

  7. #5 I was addressing Sean McDonagh’s question ‘how do we develop the moral imagination’ to avoid environmental mistakes. Your abiding question is different, something like ‘how do we give their comepuppance to the 1% who control most of the world’s wealth and do the most damage’ – and then you suggest a ‘huge lawsuit’ and, later, ‘greening consumerism’.
    The first suggestion is surely baulked by the reality that the global legal profession is mostly owned by the 1%. As for the latter, consumerism is currently dominated by what Francis calls the ‘technocratic paradigm’ – which translates at groundlevel to ‘technobuzz’ – the fetishisation of consumer technology. (At any moment there will be another such ‘buzz’ about virtual reality heat-sets and folk will be whirling about blindly everywhere and bumping into one another in public spaces.)
    Meanwhile the world is watching how an inheritance of $200 million can so curtail the wising-up of the heir as to completely derail the US GOP – with unknown future consequences. Excess wealth can both blind and destabilise our political systems – and this lesson surely can’t be lost on the truly aware.
    One of the latter must be Bill Gates, currently getting double-Billing as world’s richest person and world’s greatest philanthropist. Will he risk losing the first Billing to go bananas on the second – for fear his own offspring might go the way of one of those of Fred Trump? His wiki article tells us he attends Catholic church with them, so maybe he’s hearing about the kingdom of God and how hard it is for rich men to enter it, so who knows what might come of that?
    With all of us, the Gates family must be plugged into everything from The Donald to global deforestation to the Syrian horror, to addiction-caused migration from central America and the increasing unpredictability of life for children everywhere. It’s easy to foresee things getting worse before they get better.
    It’s a race between global wisdom and global catastrophe, and the trouble with wealth is that it tends to postpone suffering, the very best context for wisdom to develop.
    For Christians this race will send them back inevitably to their texts. Some will bet on the Rapture while others will see something else: that the kingdom of God was never abdicated by its founder and is to be found via the full realisation that self-importance-via-wealth is the silliest game on earth. We are all exactly equal in dignity, right now.

  8. #8 Why do you imply that awareness-raising is somehow getting in the way of action of that kind? Among religious people generally there is still an inability to connect ‘Consider the lilies of the field …’,’Do not covet’, and global warming . It is surely the task of all Christian educators to make that connection as soon as possible for their congregations and students, so that Christian action will necessarily include what you so well illustrate.
    There’s nothing controversial in Ireland about environmental agitation. It’s ongoing near here, for example, in opposition to exploratory oil drilling in a forest. What’s lacking is a general awareness among Christian clergy and educators of the connection between the lifestyle of frugality and simplicity advocated by their founding model and the addressing of the environmental crisis. At their worst our Christian fundamentalists dismiss environmentalism as a phoney religion.
    The clergy I listen too on the other hand are simply caught in a crisis of irrelevance – unable to tune in to what Francis is saying as a solution to that. We get homilies that reference the Gospel past and the promised distant heavenly future – with no insightful, vital referencing of the crises of the present. Meanwhile in schools those involved in faith formation aren’t making these connections either, as far as I know.
    That’s the only obstacle I am fit to address with my skills – so why is doing that in any way an obstacle to action?
    Only when we get a critical mass of people downsizing their own material desires – and obviously happier for it – will there be a ‘greening’ of consumerism. That’s what the churches, and all religions, need to be advocating – not ‘God wants you to be a millionaire’ – as is happening with some strains of Christianity.

  9. Joe O'Leary says:

    Seán, the trouble is that topics such as greed and “the lifestyle of frugality and simplicity” are not centrally what the crisis that has overtaken us is about. Lots of Christians think that by practising these virtues they are effectively contributing to meeting the crisis. Isn’t that a bit like people at the time of World War II resolving to be kinder and non-violent in their daily dealings? A good thing, but with little bearing on the magnitude of the crisis.
    Some say that the only thing that will change the companies who are the main blockers of action, and liberate the well-meaning politicians (as well as curbing the bad ones such as the GOP), is a realization that it is economically more fruitful for them to invest in fighting human-generated climate disruption. Not conversion out of greed, then, but enlightened self-interest.
    Collective grass-roots political action should be encouraged and organized by the churches — though its efficacity is denied by some–but increasingly catastrophic news may change the play of forces here.

  10. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Sean, it’s not that awareness raising isn’t important; it’s because most adults hear the words but they have no framework to put anything into action. They can downsize but they have no tools. The Pope believes that technology is not the saviour but if we were a green planet, we wouldn’t be too overly worried about the oceans, fresh water and the air we breathe. Materialism would be an issue but controlled local production reigns on a green planet.
    The people to concentrate on are the 13-17 year old age range. At the end of Francis’s term (may God grant him 7.5 years) they are going to be the adults who see first hand whether the then current framework is acceptable or not. We as adults have to push through the legal requirement for such framework not concentrate on wishing our ageing demographic stop doing what they have been conditioned to do for so long. Joe hits the nail on the head with a perfect social assessment that walks hand-in-hand with mimetic desire; couple it with moral disengagement and it’s practically unbeatable among adults.
    Children between the ages of 13-17 need a constant outlet right now for this environmental push to continue. They need to be able to create the bridge between what they want the world to look like now and what they will be able to do in 7 years when they enter various stages of adulthood.
    There is a huge responsibility on all of us to ensure we are bridging the gap between what Francis is calling for and how it is reaching his target demographic. The message is that this generation of children can’t get lost in the same tide we all eventually get immersed in. They need to understand mimetic desire, how it is further complicated by moral disengagement, and how these two factors make the solvable problems we face on the planet practically untouchable.
    If there were a mandatory text for reading regarding mimetic desire, a quarterly group meeting, you could create a vehicle to promote Laudato si within that age range right now. That would go a long way towards bridging the gap. Do we know how Laudato si has been incorporated into the Catholic school system in Ireland?
    This is a huge responsibility for those in our midst. Fr. Sean, is there any way that a small team can be assembled within the ACP and the ACI to pilot a test project that could be rolled out into schools as a way to help bridge this gap?

  11. 10, #11
    First, I never use the term ‘greed’. Prince Alwaleed was genuinely upset when the Forbes rich list assessed his ‘net worth’ at several billion dollars below his own assessment – because that meant he was being scored unfairly (in his view) by the scorekeeper of the life game he was best at. As George Monbiot has noted, this big money game is not primarily about the money – its about points in the game. Its biggest players are mimetic rivals of one another. It’s because the rich man believes that his chosen rivals will sneer ‘loser’ if he throws it all away that he can’t do that.
    All environmentalists need to realise that the commercial world is driven by mimetic competition in similar games – with even the oil companies competing against one another, and their top executives too.
    As was the game of war. Ignored by his father Alois, Adolf Hitler was fascinated by that classic game – and bitterly angry at Germany’s loss of the first round of ‘World War’. He had something to prove to the ghost of his father, and everyone else too. That’s why there was a second round.
    And that’s why it is simply stunning to read that Joe thinks that those who steer clear of such games are making no contribution to ending them. If everyone in this part of Ireland had involved themselves in the mimetic war game of ‘The Troubles’ we would now be in a far worse state than Syria.
    He is also plain silly to argue that those who live simple Christian lives (often involving self-denying generosity) are making no contribution to stemming the environmental crisis. Of course they are – and the fact that activism is also needed doesn’t disprove that. They are mimetic models of frugality to their children.
    Could you both please get your heads around the fact that mimetic desire drives also our political systems at all levels. That game is ‘scored’ in terms of audience approval also – so Joe is right to say that clergies should be promoting activism. Politicians need to be beset by voters telling them they may lose that game if they don’t pay attention.
    The reason that clergy usually don’t promote environmental activism is that they still cannot connect their Gospel word ‘repentance’ with ‘waking up to the daftness of the game’ – which is what happened to the lone soldier in the film ‘Waterloo’. (There he stood as killing went on all around him, saying ‘Stop – why are we doing this’?)
    That’s the role of all true religion – to wake everyone up to the daftness of believing that it’s the game we invest ourselves in most deeply (whatever that is – even curial intrigue) that determines our importance.
    That is what Jesus meant by saying ‘I have overcome the world’. ‘The world’ is the global collective of all competitive games, driven by mimetic rivalry. (Never, ever did Jesus make a dead set against any individual.)
    I’ll finish with Lloyd Allan’s brilliant third-last paragraph:
    “There is a huge responsibility on all of us to ensure we are bridging the gap between what Francis is calling for and how it is reaching his target demographic. The message is that this generation of children can’t get lost in the same tide we all eventually get immersed in. They need to understand mimetic desire, how it is further complicated by moral disengagement, and how these two factors make the solvable problems we face on the planet practically untouchable.”
    That’s by far the greatest game of all, so count me in to the proposal in his last paragraph too.

  12. Joe O'Leary says:

    I don’t say that wholesome living makes no contribution at all to caring for the earth, and Francis does talk about such issues as greed, for instance in his quotation from the Patriarch Bartholomew. But he knows very well that the problem is a systemic one, which cannot be solved by the conversion of individuals. He is raising awareness of an objective world crisis and pointing to the basic biblical values that need to be reactivated as guidelines to concrete politicsl action:
    “The technocratic paradigm also tends to dominate economic and political life. The economy accepts every advance in technology with a view to profit, without concern for its potentially negative impact on human beings. Finance overwhelms the real economy. The lessons of the global financial crisis have not been assimilated, and we are learning all too slowly the lessons of environmental deterioration. Some circles maintain that current economics and technology will solve all environmental problems, and argue, in popular and non-technical terms, that the problems of global hunger and poverty will be resolved simply by market growth. They are less concerned with certain economic theories which today scarcely anybody dares defend, than with their actual operation in the functioning of the economy. They may not affirm such theories with words, but nonetheless support them with their deeds by showing no interest in more balanced levels of production, a better distribution of wealth, concern for the environment and the rights of future generations. Their behaviour shows that for them maximizing profits is enough. Yet by itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion. At the same time, we have “a sort of ‘superdevelopment’ of a wasteful and consumerist kind which forms an unacceptable contrast with the ongoing situations of dehumanizing ”
    deprivation”, while we are all too slow in developing economic institutions and social initiatives which can give the poor regular access to basic resources. We fail to see the deepest roots of our present failures, which have to do with the direction, goals, meaning and social implications of technological and economic growth.”
    He has named the evil, and suggested the dimensions that the fight against it must take. As symptoms multiply, there is a chance that the economic and political powers, as well as grassroots movements, will take up his call.

  13. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    It’s not easy to get kids involved. I know – I have a 14 and a 16 year old. It has to appeal to their intellect and be catchy if not completely ultra-cool.
    How do you make Laudato si cool?
    Give them a megaphone to amplify their voices.

  14. #13 Where does Pope Francis say that systemic evils cannot be solved by the conversion of individuals? I read the passage you quote, and the whole of that encyclical, as an appeal to the individuals who read it – precisely TO convert, if they haven’t already. Or are ‘systems’ capable of reading it too?
    Please explain to us, Joe, how systemic evils are to be overcome WITHOUT the conversion of individuals.
    As human systems are always composed of individuals, system V. individual is just another daft academic false dichotomy.

  15. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Well, I think the best game plan is to direct resources towards people who need no divine conversion but could use a little faith that not all the adults are bent on the consequences of personal gain, economic supremacy, and technological domination. That’s a start.
    Canada is going to become the world’s largest hemp producer in the next 10 years – watch for it. This plant can replace rampant consumerism with a healthier alternative in little time. 35 acres have been designated (around 2 miles from my home) for oil production. We have a client in Europe. We have 10,000,000 km2 of country to help this conversion.
    The reality is that our economic paradigm will suck every bit of timeline and push for every possible delay in existence to sell every last drop of oil it can but to what detriment? Well the biggest benefactors of this global destabilization will possibly be Africans because they hold the resource the world needs to convert and because more than half the world’s population lives in a city, there will always be a customer. How will this change life for them? Use your imagination.
    Action must be swift to be effective because for this to work, a message has to be disseminated throughout a generation very quickly.
    The environment is the ultimate victim (and ourselves) of chain that is connected with a global dependency on cheap labour, cheap energy, rampant consumerism (to drive profit), a technology fetish and all those other things we are constantly talking about on this site. These are all links in the chain. Now the alpha of all those, well you simply have to look at the controlling group who benefits the most : energy (oil).
    If the alpha is eliminated, it will cause the others to self regulate.
    Germany is one country everyone should read up on. They employ 300,000 people in the green energy sector with more than 150K individuals employed with citizen/cooperative/community run energy companies. It is really an economic saviour for any nation that has the space and the city dwelling customers.
    If there is an agenda for adults to push for right now, it is for politicians who constantly complain about the rate of unemployed to start educating themselves with what the Germans are doing. Everyone has a city close-by that needs “green” energy.
    I can assure you, China won’t be shipping dirty products world wide during the green revolution. Produce won’t travel thousands of miles before it hits your plates. Plastic which is made to break easily yet somehow last forever, will be replaced by a hemp bi-product which is biodegradable and super strong. Our throw-away textiles will be replaced with fibre that last 100 years.
    All these things are going to happen but we can’t let anybody decide how quickly.
    Don’t let the wind out of this ship’s sails, though. We can all agree that disaster is right around the corner. We can’t wait for the next disaster to somehow catalyse the change which is within our reach right now.
    That disaster will come whether or not we act on this paradigm that unfolds around us daily so it’s best to act swiftly and if there is time for squabbling, it definitely shouldn’t be about how dire a circumstance we are in.
    I will ask again, who within the ACP sees virtue in getting involved with such a project or are you still doubtful?

  16. “Please explain to us, Joe, how systemic evils are to be overcome WITHOUT the conversion of individuals.”
    That’s a bit like asking in 1942 “how is the War to be won without the conversion of individuals”. The point I am making is that the struggle to which Francis calls the world cannot be won ONLY by the conversion of individuals. To focus exclusively or primarily on the conversion of individuals is an ineffectual moralism that could impede clear thinking about the huge dangers now threatening the human race.

  17. #17 On the contrary, Joe, clear thinking is obfuscated primarily by specious dichotomies such as ‘systems not individuals’. To tell people the problem is primarily systemic is to tell them to switch off entirely – as so many do, saying ‘there is nothing I can do then’.
    In #13 you insisted that Francis knows that the problem “cannot be solved by the conversion of individuals” when the obvious truth is that it can ONLY be solved by a critical mass of individuals who have been converted – individually – to the need to do so. There were would be no point to the writing of Laudato Si’ otherwise.
    The blindingly obvious fact that we all tend to imitate lifestyle models that are unsustainable – e.g. the home as Aladdin’s cave of iWizardy – has now been persuasively linked to the basic decalogue warning ‘do not covet what your neighbour owns’ – so why is the working wisdom of the church still oblivious of that?
    Your method of argumentation answers that question perfectly. Too many theologians are taking refuge in ‘get me off the hook’ sophistries such as ‘the problem is primarily systemic’.

  18. Francis calls the world to action, and this of course means everyone. But the action in question is not primarily a matter of individual moral conversion to more frugal living etc. Even if all individuals in the world became frugal and uncovetous this could quite conceivably make no difference to the concrete situation of ecological crisis. The mismatch is comparable to preaching non-violence and gentleness at the domestic level in a situation like World War II. Such preaching would be no more than an ineffectual idealism, missing the practical urgency of the moment and the primacy of the need for collective action. Francis is focusing our attention on a huge, concrete, pressing, and immediate threat, not primarily on perpetual moral ideals. Indeed he is correcting the ineffectual generality of previous papal attempts to react to the ecological crisis.

  19. “When it comes to the challenge of climate change, Buddhist and non-Buddhists alike tend to focus on personal lifestyle changes such as electric cars, solar panels on roofs, and eating less meat. Although these are important, they are not sufficient responses to our increasingly urgent situation. As Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, wrote in an Orion article, if 10 or even 15 percent of us do everything we can to reduce our own carbon footprint, “the trajectory of our horror remains about the same.” Yet, he adds, if even 10 percent of us also work all out to change the system, that will be more than enough. The problem is not only personal but structural: the way our present economic and political institutions continue to favor fossil fuels and encourage consumerism generally.”

  20. Great, Joe – so tell us how you would change the ‘system’ WITHOUT converting anyone else to that cause!

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