The papal encyclical has the opposite impact of what was intended. Instead of using his office to start a conversation about changing the “throw-away culture,” the pope paints himself into a partisan political corner.
As luck would have it, I was about to jump into the pope’s new environmental encyclical when I stumbled on an old story out of Israel. It seems that archaeological researchers found plaque on the teeth of people who lived 400,000 years ago.
One researcher told the Times of Israel that the plaque contained soot, indicating that early humans suffered smoke inhalation when they cooked meat inside caves. “As in other cases, progress was associated with environmental damage,” the researcher said.
Too bad Pope Francis didn’t see the story before releasing his severe critique of modern life. The history lesson might have tempered his approach.
You can call Francis’ environmental treatise bold, provocative and even visionary. You can call it anything you want — except well informed and wise. It is neither.
At a time when blood is flowing like rivers around the globe, when Christians are being persecuted and when genocide and oppression are spreading, the world’s foremost religious figure ventures too far afield and gets lost in the socialist weeds.
Francis has shaken up the Vatican by showing a common touch, and you don’t have to be Catholic to admire his compassion for the poor and downtrodden. But his contempt for capitalism and anything resembling free markets strikes an un-religious chord, and he makes himself easy to dismiss when he complains the Earth “is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”
“Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last 200 years,” he declares. He decries the reliance on fossil fuels, blasts the “myth of progress,” is no fan of the fruits of technology and scorns multinational companies that produce commodities.
A Catholic newspaper from Great Britain called him “unduly pessimistic.” I agree, and would add that he is also unduly harsh.
His tone echoes that of an earnest high-school student who casually mixes anecdotal facts with preconceived notions to draw sweeping conclusions. The result is an unpersuasive mash-up beneath the pontiff’s stature.
Like all planners of utopia, he apparently believes the way to help the poor is to demand ever more government control and redistribution. But he also denounces the universal desire for the very fruits he wants to redistribute, so his ultimate goal is unclear.
Most troubling of all, Francis calls for dramatic action on climate change by adopting both the views and the language of the most strident greens. He demands “sustainable” development and denounces “obstructionists,” “special interests” and “selfish” leaders.
At times he sounds like he spent a week at communist summer camp, as when he shows contempt for even air conditioning. Let’s see how many greenies want to follow him over that cliff.
And his linking of abortion to the environment is not likely to please those, like The New York Times, which heaped praise on the climate-change language. Finally, the Times found a selective reason to admire the church.
In fairness, the nearly 200-page encyclical also focuses on traditional church teaching, but the environmental emphasis is clearly something the pope is very passionate about. Although he interrupts his frequent scolding of consumerism to say he is not urging a return to the Stone Age, he never reconciles the fundamental contradictions of his goals.
It’s the poor who would suffer most if economic progress stops. Longer, healthier lives, more and better food and greatly improved standards of living are all byproducts of technology and industrialization. Hundreds of millions of people around the world moved into the middle class in recent decades thanks to capitalism, innovation and global trade.
Of course, there are downsides, pollution, waste and some spoiling of nature chief among them. But air and water quality actually improved in the last half-century in most developed nations, a fact the pontiff doesn’t seem to fully grasp or appreciate. Perhaps that’s not surprising given that he said he hadn’t watched television since the 1990s.
In the end, the treatise has the opposite impact of what was intended. Instead of using his office to start a conversation about changing the “throw-away culture,” the pope paints himself into a partisan political corner.