By Irene F. Starkehaus -
…There is also the fact that people no longer seem to believe in a happy future; they no longer have blind trust in a better tomorrow based on the present state of the world and our technical abilities. ~ Pope Francis… LAUDATO SI
On June 17, I submitted a critique to Illinois Review of the not then released but heavily leaked version of the Papal Encyclical LAUDATO SI with my analysis not specifically on the content of the unavailable encyclical but on the pope's tendency to provoke social justice fervor through imagined environmental apocalypses.
When LAUDATO SI was release a couple of days later, I gave it a cursory, sort of Evelyn Wood once-over to see if my assumptions were right.
Radical environmentalism? Check.
Social justice treatise? Check.
Angry at America? Check.
Advocacy for forced redistribution? Check.
Minimized emphasis on abortion, the nuclear family, the need for spiritual revivalism? Meh. Half a check.
And I'm glad for that half a check, but the essence of my concern was validated by the official document, so I moved on not feeling particularly motivated to further discuss LAUDATO SI which is pretty much what I thought it would be.
I then received an email from an IR follower who thought my preemptive treatment of LAUDATO SI required revised commentary, so I honor this reader's request and revisit my critique with the official document in front of me.
For the record, I wish now that I had kept to the Evelyn Wood perusal because I was far more certain that Catholicism could be relied upon during turbulent times before I read the official LAUDATO SI in depth. LAUDATO SI has deprived me of that serenity, and it has been an anguishing experience witnessing the Church that I love misdirected in her earthly purpose. I am utterly convinced that the Catholic Church has entered into a dark period in her history. For clarification, this is not a call to abandon her. It is a call to protest.
Speaking for a moment as a Catholic rather than a political essayist, there were passages in LAUDATO SI that so literally aggrieved me that I had to pause, bow my head and beg for direction. There have been many times of frustration throughout the years over growing political discord in the world, but I have never before felt afraid for my children the way the pope's words have struck fear and revulsion in my heart. But there it is. I will not feign politeness. I believe the pope's encyclical is a grotesque misuse of Church traditions and doctrines.
The document consists of six chapters and a little less than 250 paragraphs. I'm suggesting what I always suggest when publically reviewing someone else's writing. Read it for yourself. Don't take my word for it. Don't take HuffPo's word for it. All I'm doing is telling you what I think. You may see it differently and more power to you.
It's not the theology being used to support the thesis of LAUDATO SI that leaves me feeling inadequate in my task. It's that there isn't a thesis at all but rather several competing, conflicting hypotheses with surprisingly little theology woven into it. Where there is a cohesive message in LAUDATO SI, it is in its frequent return to misapplied social justice themes.
The reader will see that particular message emerge almost immediately in paragraphs 8 and 9 within the preamble:
"As Christians, we are also called 'to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbors on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God's creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet'."
I will sidestep the devotion to the language of nature…earth sister and brother wind… only hinted at in this quote and which distorts the poetic license of St. Francis of Assisi into what I personally saw as a borderline earth worship because I just don't know what to do with it. Let's push past our anthropomorphized sister pond scum to the "seamless garment" if you don't mind, and I will reiterate that you should read it for yourself. If you think I'm wrong then so be it. We can all hold hands and sing along to Colour of the Wind at your leisure.
What do we mean by the "seamless garment?" The term stems from writings of St. John that reflected on the seamless robe of Jesus being akin to the seamless nature of God's love. It has been misappropriated by Church progressivists to mean that sin and social challenges are one in the same – that abortion exists and poverty exists on the same moral plane – that there is a moral equivalency between economic struggle or a supposed right to universal health care versus murder, adultery and covetousness. As the term "community organizer" is not rightfully understood by the general public as a euphemism for revolutionary, neither is "seamless garment" understood to mean the redefining of sin to mean inconsistency of outcomes.
The seamless garment analogy in its current form desensitizes the Catholic faithful to the immediate need to end grievous sin. To equate the existence of poverty which will be with us until the end of time with the grievous sin of euthanasia as a for instance is to minimize actual heinous acts against humanity and to ensure that preventable evils will not be ended.
Acts of charity are most certainly required from Catholics, but neither wealth nor poverty of wealth are in themselves states of sin. Yes, acts of sacrifice are required by Catholics. But no, by merely owning more than my neighbor, I have not imperiled my immortal soul.
With due respect, for the pope to offer warnings that inequality of outcome…and yes, he does go there….will necessarily lead to violence and war only illustrates the incompetence of religious leaders in adequately explaining the immorality of covetousness. My car does not lead my neighbor to temptation. My neighbor's lack of spiritual formation leads him to temptation just as my handsome husband does not lead my neighbor to temptation, but my neighbor's lack of spiritual formation leads her to temptation. (And to my actual neighbors, I am using the term "neighbor" universally. *Grin*)
But this comes back to the same arguments that conservatives have with liberals over the First and Second Amendment. My right to access the freedoms listed in the Bill of Rights does not depend on my neighbor's ability to behave himself. My right to enjoy the fruits of my honest labor does not dependent on my neighbor's understanding of the Ten Commandments.
Yes. LAUDATO SI calls America out. That the pope designates the launch of global inequity as something that began around 200 hundred years ago is neither the first nor the only clue to his perturbation with American success. Yet, that America has been successful is not something that happened overnight or just by chance or because we happen to be sitting on a boatload of natural resources.
I dare say, if we were to airdrop our nation's 100 most innovative people into the most desolate and hopeless places on the globe and told them they were completely free to use American principles of universal freedom, enterprise and liberty to teach solutions to problems of iniquity, those places of desolation would prosper in short order. Mexico, for her part, does not lack resources. Mexico lacks access to her natural rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. America would like nothing better than to teach Mexico how to prosper, but giving Mexico our wealth will not make the Mexican people prosper. Only constitutional, enforceable liberty will allow them to duplicate our success. Give a man a fish and he's fed for a day, so the saying goes.
For the Church to teach about environmentalism as a way of advocating institutional redistributive policies is a misuse of authority. And for the Church to bemoan the loss of biodiversity and the excess of progress while advocating the universal right to possess an allotment of land, the universal right to receive technical education, the universal right to credit, and the universal right to insurance is manifestly incongruous and absolutely misreads our natural right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
We can't have it both ways. We are either mandated by God to sit in caves without the advent of air conditioning (which is a huge pet peeve of this pope), technology or chemicals which will decrease human life expectancy exponentially (also a huge pet peeve of this pope) or we are permitted to use those gifts of talent and resource that God has bestowed upon us to improve ourselves with always God at the center of our successes. I can't imgine God would be happier if we increased our misery to prove our love of the poor. That makes no sense.
For the Church to openly wonder if consumption by 20% of the population (and yes, he did go there) constitutes the murder of the remaining 80% is an egregious error in the formation of conscience and ought to just as openly be rejected as the worst kind of sophistry.
Additional incongruities: The pope condemns any challenge to what he considers to be settled science while calling for lively debate as long as we will all concede that climate change is a manmade problem. He condemns the free market principles that made America successful as sinful because it has allowed an unfair advantage as he asks that immigrants be allowed to enter the country without challenge so that they too can live in the sinful land of excess. He decries the technology, the productivity and the chemical solutions that have given the Western nations freedom from epidemic and disease but disdains the epidemic and disease in less developed nations that are pristine and free of human development. He condemns the waste and the monopoly of resources that large cities command, but advocates redistributive policies that would simply encourage the migration to large cities where resources might be easily distributed.
Finally, he promotes the inversion of true wisdom within the family paradigm by flattering Millennials as holding the cleverest kind of attitudes about the environment while explaining that their parents refuse to change their evil ways. There's simply no rationalization between the condemnation of older generations as wasteful and evil while still expecting that those precocious, secularized children steeped in their apocalyptic melancholy to either respect parental authority by not euthanizing elders or to end abortion in spite of dire, despondent warnings of human damage to the planet.
And I'm distressed now, because 1800 words later, I have barely scratched the surface of the bleakness, the discrepancies and enigmas that present themselves within LAUDATO SI. I will end this here rather than write a book on the subject repeating that readers should take the time to see LAUDATO SI for themselves, asking that you seek out the Doctors of the Church to understand what authentic teachings on the human experience in relation to our neighbors and our planet actually are and respectfully reminding you that this is simply how I see the situation. You may view it differently and that is your prerogative.