A Response to Laudato Si
As is usually the case, the Pope did something and the liberal media came in their pants with excitement. My less-involved Catholic friends and some non-catholic friends then asked me what he actually said and did and what it means, media spin aside. I make it a point to read Encyclicals as they come out, as often as possible. While I'm skeptical of Catholic social teaching for a number of reasons, it would be unbecoming of a Catholic intellectual critical of some social teachings to not keep abreast of progress made in that regard. Also, with the persistent questions from others, I find that it is beneficial to myself, my friends, and our relationships to be able to provide a service in the form of translating 170-odd pages of teaching that's very involved and built on millennia of scholarship into something digestible to a more secular mind.
In interest of defending Church teaching against the portrayal it will receive in the mainstream (RE: pagan) culture, I spent a good chunk of yesterday and this morning reading and re-reading Laudato Si and reading many short commentaries written by various clergymen and lay Catholic journalists. I have several pages of handwritten notes, addressing specific things that were said, the general theme of the encyclical, and its relationship to history and standing Church teachings, and I'm not sure how much use those notes are going to find in this post, as there's some very important general themes that need to be addressed. These issues far overshadow individual lines or phrases that may be misinterpreted or otherwise used contrary to the goals set out for the encyclical, so these smaller issues may be overlooked in this post.
The most important point to get out of the way is the relationship between Catholic social teaching and the general body of scholarship within the Church. Many Catholics, even devout Catholics do not understand the role that the encyclicals and other works in Catholic social teaching play in the Faith. Catholic social teaching is not Doctrine or Dogma, it is not an infallible pronouncement by the Pope acting alone and in persona Christi. Catholic social teaching is, essentially, the magisterium of the Church saying, “Based on what we have to work with, here, this looks like the best solution to a particular problem the Church faces.” In the case of this encyclical, it identifies several problems, some real and some imagined, and looks for a root cause for these problems in order to make “a variety of proposals possible, all capable of entering into dialogue with a view to developing comprehensive solutions.” In such a dialogue, “...the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion; she knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views.” This post (that will be wholly invisible to the magisterium and to those who could and would affect change) is an attempt to address the issues presented, their root causes, and continue the dialogue sought by Pope Francis. No, I don't claim to be an “expert” as indicated in the encyclical, but I am confident that I am no more or less an expert than a substantial majority of the people involved in and affected by this dialogue. As such, I am as entitled as anyone else to express my informed assessment of the situation.
This document is essentially three different encyclicals blended together in a frenetic and haphazard arrangement, a departure from the more analytic and procedural voice and style of Francis' immediate predecessors. It may sound strange, but I will do my best to explain what I mean.
One of the encyclicals is an assessment of mankind's relationship to it's environment, the role that we play in our environment's well-being and the role that our environment plays in our well-being, both spiritually and physically. It explores how exploitative and irreverent practices with regards to creation develop vicious attitudes within the practitioners which results in the exploitation and irreverence being directed at other human beings as well. In a surprising but well-defended argument, the Pope lays out how industrial monoculture farming is culturally related to inhumane medical experimentation and abortion, for example. This encyclical reads as a slightly less poetic text that one would expect Francis' namesake to have written, waxing on and on about the glory of the Creator as seen in His creation, our role as stewards of that creation, and the teleology of all things. This encyclical appears to be addressed to the traditional audience of the encyclicals: the people of the Church in the world at large and within the magisterium. It calls for a pastoral approach centered on acknowledging the almost panentheist nature of reality, how God Himself is part of his creation and His presence in His creatures must be respected, lest one fall into the habit of not acknowledging that same presence on one's fellow humans. With typical Franciscan flair, the primary focus is on how the poor are marginalized and harmed the most by these irresponsible and irreverent practices.
Another one of the encyclicals is drawing a connection between this renewed environmental focus and the greater body of Catholic teachings, the relationship between abortion, postmodernism, consumerism, the destruction of the family, the evils of war and violence, etc. These passages are, unsurprisingly, the main focus of the articles popping up all over the internet titled some variation of “Ten things that the mainstream media will ignore in Laudato Si”. This encyclical is, essentially, a reaffirmation in the long-standing tenets of the Church: Abortion is murder, contraception is bad, gay marriage is a metaphysical impossibility, postmodernism is an intellectual cancer that is killing humanity and faith, etc. The only new addition to this litany that is presented is to try and add “and mind your greenhouse gasses” somewhere in-between “Postmodernism is bad,” and “We have to be careful with GMOs.”
The main focus for everyone, myself included, is this third encyclical. This one is addressed to “world leaders” and the UN in particular, as opposed to the Church and its people. This encyclical is rife with praise for worldwide economic manipulations, the use of government violence to accomplish the ends of the Church, an appeal for granting all governments more authority and force to implement stricter environmental regulations, broader economic manipulations, and redistribution of wealth. This encyclical explicitly calls for a progressive carbon tax, a world government with a navy and police force with authority to supersede national governments, national and local governments to implement “free” public housing and utility access, and heightened enforcement of drug laws.
Worse, though, than pleading with the state to use it's swords and shackles to coerce responsible behavior out of humanity at large, Francis takes a page out of Pope Urban VIII's book. Overstepping his authority in moral and theological matters, the Pope attempts to side with the “scientific consensus” and endorse a worldview that is anti-scientific and empirically falsified. Declaring human-caused global warming to be an existential threat to creation of a magnitude equivalent to the great flood which God repented of in Genesis, Francis demonstrates that he needs to hire better researchers and ought to be more reticent before declaring Galileo anathema. He makes this mistake twice, in rapid succession. After demonstrating an unwillingness to critically assess the legacy academic stance in light of empirical evidence in science, he does so again in the realm of economics. Using Keynesian economic prescriptions and “green” socialist rhetoric, he creates a straw-man of the free market which is even more flimsy and caricatured than those manufactured by liberal college students on social media.
“Civil authorities have the right and duty to adopt clear and firm measures in support of small producers and differentiated production. To ensure economic freedom from which all can effectively benefit, restraints occasionally have to be imposed on those possessing greater resources and financial power. To claim economic freedom while real conditions bar many people from actual access to it, and while possibilities for employment continue to shrink, is to practise[sic] a doublespeak which brings politics into disrepute.” p96
This quote is taken from the midst of pages upon pages of diatribe against international outsourcing of labor, speculative investment, development of trade infrastructures, the automation of menial tasks. While lamenting these actions, the Pope calls for an increase in the policies which are the direct cause of them. Economic regulations, such as the minimum wage, intellectual property legislation, and progressive corporate taxation and subsidies creates innumerable perverse incentives within the market, as a natural matter of course which is empirically verifiable. To blame “the market” and paint such claims as “a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals,” demonstrates a wholesale ignorance of the science that is economics. One should expect a former scientist to understand the limitations of his understanding of others' fields and at least call upon them to inform his opinion. If he has done so, he needs to look harder for a reliable resource.
The reason this sudden interest in mainstream sciences and display of ignorance in these matters is offensive is because the Pope is a moral authority in the world, and to draw upon obviously false data, bundle it up in moral language and issue ethical and political proclamations demeans both the sciences he misrepresents and the position which he occupies in the See of Peter.
These three encyclicals are blended together in a manner that makes them inextricable from each other. In one sentence, Francis will point out a theological understanding concerning substantive relationship of the trinity, move to an analogy concerning the nature of agriculture, and indict private ownership of resources. Because of this, it is impossible to tell where the Pope is addressing individual Catholics and exhorting them to consider their role in creation from a theological perspective and where he is exhorting politicians to use violence in order to protect the poor in the developing world from global warming from an economical perspective.
There is no denying that people everywhere in the world are facing ecological crises: living in cities that are not conducive to human flourishing, living near industrial mining operations, facing evictions from tribal lands or private property in the interest of economic gains for the powerful, the destruction of biodiversity in inhabited areas, and a general disregard for the inalienable rights of human beings are all issues that need to be addressed, and quickly. However, to blame “the free market” when there is no such thing, to pin the blame on people that are merely doing their best to survive when faced with systematic violations of their rights, and to fall back on methods that are the direct cause for the decline of Christianity and the rise of the postmodern world seriously misdiagnoses the cause of the problem and results in a very dangerous situation, both in the world at large and in the Church itself.
This political edict in the guise of moral teaching places those that are well-versed in science and economics in the difficult position of trying to justify the teachings of the Church that are explicitly contrary to what they know to be true. Some may lose their faith, either in the Church or in reason. The loss of faith in either is a tragedy, and it can be prevented simply by Francis double-checking his work and being cautious not to overstep the bounds of papal authority. An even greater tragedy than some umber of individuals losing their faith due to a contradiction in moral teaching and empirical fact is the alienation that such teachings has formed between the Church and the people and institutions best situated to aid the Church in pursuing a more Christian world. Economists the world over are denouncing the Church and discovering the long-standing trend on Catholic social teaching towards full-blown socialism. The scientific communities that tend to lean more socially and fiscally conservative (like the Church) also happen to be the ones that have disproven any substantial causal relationship between human activity and global climate change, in outright ignoring their findings, the Pope has alienated the scientific community once again, driving the long standing wedge between reason and faith even further. Even in moral and philosophical circles, there is outrage that the pope would undermine basic human rights (such as the right to be secure in one's property) for the sake of the rights of woodland critters and soil bacteria, which is explicitly done in this document.
TL;DR: Despite all of my defenses of Pope Francis to-date, my re-interpretations of his words in the light of reason and Church teaching in order to explain to others how one can rationally support his teachings, there is no way to deny that he is a full-on socialist with a callous disregard for economics and science. While I am not a sedevacantist or about to apostatize, this is an excellent opportunity to begin picking apart the whole of Catholic social teaching and calling for reform in the Church, not concerning matters which are doctrinally secure (such as prohibitions on gay marriage or abortion) but concerning instances where the Church draws too heavily on philosophically and scientifically flawed information. Many lament that this encyclical will be remembered as “the global warming encyclical”. I lament it as well, the global warming was merely a pretext for pushing a theologically-backed call for one world socialist government, and to remember it as the “global warming encyclical” discounts the very real damage that has already been done by the document to the integrity of the Church and the incalculable damage that will be done if world leaders heed the Pope's plea.
Discovering that the See of Peter is occupied by a died-in-the-wool socialist is a good opportunity to review Church history. I've found, in my limited education of the subject, that the delineation between a Doctor of the Church and a heretic is a razor-thin one between those who are willing to admit the possibility of error and those too prideful to do so.
Only time will tell.
You can read the full text of Laudato Si here: