Pope Francis’ encyclical was released today, and already the battle lines are reforming. Those on the green side are celebrating the vindication of their message, as are those on a similar yet different side known as the mainstream (does that word really ever get used anymore?) scientific community. Likewise, the deniers are equally celebratory, because for them the Pope has once and for all shown that he is a liberal and a bully, putting them in a position where they are the underdog (and America always roots for the underdog, even if the underdog is a multi-national corporation whose earnings exceed the GDP of all but 25 nations throughout the world). And I am sure Limbaugh woke up with heart palpitations this morning… Relevant once more for the moment.
To be honest, and as usual, I am on neither side. It’s hard to support the massive deforestation that is destroying the rain forests in Brazil. Likewise it is profoundly saddening to see the vast and putrid expanses of landfills throughout the country and throughout the world. And then to the fossil fuel concern, which affects not only the quality of our air, but also plays the most significant role in determining our political direction: who are our allies? with whom shall we war? and which will receive tacit blessings and blind eyes, just to keep the oil flowing?
Yet I am a consumer. I drive great distances every week (*in a Prius, which I am unsure if it is better or worse at this point to do so), I use a computer every day, I listen to music, I use power tools. Each of these things comes at a cost that is paid for by some of the things mentioned in the previous paragraph. In short, I am complicit, because I do not see that changing anytime soon. I do ride a bike, but I am not riding a bike 60 miles one way to do what I do on a routine basis.
Side note: You want America to go to war with you? Threaten to impinge on their way of life. Tell them they have to reduce their consumption. Get rid of their monster cars, SUVs and Pickups. The war will start in 5 minutes.
Side note 2: For as lousy as the most recent three Star Wars movies were, it is absolutely haunting how terrifyingly accurate they were in describing the American political scene. There will be some swell in the waters from the encyclical, but at the end the bureaucratic process will deaden the force, the victimizer will play victim and the climate (in Washington or globally) will not change one single solitary bit. Talk about your phantom menace!
I am more and more convinced that we are all closet Calvinists, believing in some form of determinism that exists just beyond our reach, manipulating who and what we are, and forcing us to be what we are to become. When you mix that with a society that is totally fixated on self-expression, self-realization, self-actualization, self-satisfaction you get the bonfire of the vanities. Not the Wolfe book, but the liberal and wanton amplification of passions that are ultimately soul corrupting, not soul profiting.
It seems the first two points are disparate, but they are not. We all too easily give in to our desires and our passions, and that plays out in a number of ways. Some are like the ways in Point 2, others are in the form of mass and crass consumption. I likely will never be accused of being an ecologist, yet as a Christian I think it is my responsibility to be a good caretaker of the world that God has provided for us. And here, us extends beyond human beings to all things that are living. I do think we need to live in harmony with the natural world, and I do think that we as human beings all too often fail to live up to our responsibilities in that way.
Side note 3: I do not believe in American exceptionalism, I believe in Christianity.
Side note 4: Nor do I believe in human exceptionalism. We are stewards according to Genesis, we are to have dominion, yes. But a king does not use his subjects as resources, as commodities, as things that are to be sucked dry and left as empty shells in landfills. He guides, governs and strives to provide, echoing what God does for us. We don’t do so hot on the third one.
Racism is not dead, not by a far, long road. Want it to be? Start with yourself and work outwardly. It’s not going to happen systemically through institutions. One key to this is to love your neighbor as yourself (which is seen in Leviticus as well as in the Gospels – so Old and New Covenant alike, FYI…). Your neighbor is everyone. Christ used the example of a Jew and a much hated Samaritan, we can pick anyone we choose. We are to love without discrimination, without self-interest, without worrying about being loved back.
Finally, and perhaps most obscurely for most of yinz…
I think, by and large, that John Milbank and David Bentley Hart are correct: we have a choice between an ontology of violence and an ontology of peace. We wallow in the former. We desperately need to live in to the latter.