Rubí donkey always does thinking on Tuesdays and she was pleased to receive an unofficial copy of the new recyclical by Pope Francis, which is embargoed and due for release on Thursday. Obviously that would have been too late for Rubi’s thinking day and it would have meant waiting till next Tuesday to think about it, so a rather kind soul in Rome, Sandro Magister, managed to smuggle a copy out of the Vatican via Rorate Caeli just for Rubí to read on a Tuesday.
The main obstacle was that Rubí doesn’t read Italian, so she had to rely on Morris to translate it for her. Morris doesn’t do thinking on Tuesdays (or any days), so he took a little while to settle into the project, but after several hours, Rubí and her foal Morris have managed to review this long-inflated recyclical and save you the trouble of thinking about it yourself this Tuesday.
It is a long while since I spent Tuesday doing thinking on climate change mysteries. I meant to spend this Tuesday doing thinking about the mysteries of straw; but since Signore Magister has smuggled a copy of Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’ out of the Vatican specially for me, I shall give it a go. Morris has addled his brain translating it from Italian into Spanish. I am of course writing in English but I do my Tuesday thinking in Spanish unless there are too many flies, and then I just get fed up and I don’t do any thinking at all. Until the following Tuesday.
Morris tells me the recyclical Laudato Si’ is subtitled: “Pope Francesco’s Amazing Climate Theatre,” and how appropriate this is. The recyclical provides fun for all the family: there’s something in the show for everyone: global warming enthusiasts, liberals, Buddhists, atheists, New Age hippies, greens, and everyone who enjoys those lovely pictures of Saint Francis surrounded by corgis, hummingbirds and My Little Pony, without asking awkward questions like, “What did Francis say about sin ?”
At the heart of this recyclical is the popular image of Saint Francis surrounded by cuddly animals, and this is where we find the real theological and philosophical challenge of Laudato Si’. Indeed how much of this can any of us really take?
“I believe that Francis is the example for excellence of care for what is weak and an integral ecology, lived with joy and authenticity. It is the patron saint of all those who study and work in the field of ecology, loved by many who are not Christians.” [Laudato Si’, 10]
This seems a rather curious way for a pope to introduce Saint Francis. Yes, despite the unfortunate fact that many Catholics venerate Saint Francis and are inspired by his teachings on conformity to Jesus, papal authority, sin, fasting, and abstinence, that hasn’t totally damaged the image of the saint for non-Christians. His traditional Catholic spirituality can be easily ignored because there is a fun side to him! The alternative-lifestyle Francis, the New Age Francis, the ashram Francis, the eco-warrior Francis: in fact there is whatever Francis you want. There is even the poor Pope Francis, smelling of the sheep and bravely riding along on a wounded institution, the poor Church, which can redeem itself in the world’s eyes by rebranding as a reformed and useful NGO.
According to Pope Francis, global warming is caused by humanity. People like you reading this. People who should care more about shiny eyed animals. “It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanism, and the variations of the orbit of the Earth, the solar cycle), but numerous scientific studies indicate that most of the global warming of recent decades is due to the large concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and others) issuing mainly from human activity.” [Laudato Si’, 23]
Mainly from human activity. There you have it: the clearest statement you could expect a pope to give, and entirely in conformity with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, one of whose members will be part of the official release ceremony for the recyclical on Thursday in Rome. I am relieved to see that the recyclical stops short of mentioning the plight of polar bears (who are actually a flourishing species, if you trouble to read polar bear experts), but it nevertheless falls into the trap of trumpeting the “global warming” alarms with more evangelical zeal than even the IPCC dare. These days they have been much more cautious in the wording of their reports.
The recyclical enters the contentious area of energy sources, where the arguments remain confused and the economics uncertain. The emotional brush is broad and the language is simplistic: “But many signs indicate that these effects may be worse and worse if we continue with current patterns of production and consumption. Therefore it has become urgent and compelling policy development in the coming years so that the emission of carbon dioxide and other heavily polluting gas is reduced drastically, for example, by replacing fossil fuels and developing renewable energy sources. In the world there is a small level of access to clean and renewable energy.” [Laudato Si’, 24] The simple fact is that technologically deprived developing countries cannot become more advanced by moving directly to renewable energy, for it is entirely out of their economic range! They could develop faster if they could be helped to use fossil fuels – e.g. gas and oil – instead of wood-fuel. The carbon punishments of the eco fascists are condemning millions in less developed countries to poverty, poor health, and developmental stagnation.
It is quite surprising that the rather depressing sentiments of the pope regarding electronic communications did not get edited out before this stage. (Maybe they will have gone before the official release of the recyclical on Thursday?) “At the same time, the real relationships with others, with all the challenges that imply, tend to be replaced by a type of communication mediated by the Internet. This allows you to select or delete relations according to your will, and so it often generates a new type of artificial emotions, which have more to do with devices and screens than with people and nature. The current means allow us to communicate among ourselves and we share knowledge and affection. However, sometimes even prevent us from making direct contact with the anguish, with the tremor, with the joy of the other and with the complexity of his personal experience.” [Laudato Si’, 47] There is an enormous lack of self-knowledge in these remarks, which seem to miss the enormous irony of the way this pontificate uses soundbites and particularly media images of this digital communications world to create the brand of the simple Bishop of Rome. He tells us he never watches television and yet he is never off the television, to the point where we may be tempted like Father Jack to pick up the whiskey bottle and hurl it at the screen.
The anti-globalist rabble will be delighted that the pope then has a go at “the economic system” and again paints a depressing picture of a banking system out of control. “Meanwhile the economic powers continue to justify the current world system, in which prevail speculation and a search for financial returns that tend to ignore each context and the effects on human dignity and the environment. So clearly it reveals that environmental degradation and human degradation and ethical are intimately connected. “ [Laudato Si’, 56] None of this acknowledges the fact of a rise in living standards for most people in developed countries and a continued use of that wealth to raise the living standards of others through development aid and trade. Fairer trade will come about through the globalised trading blocs which continue adapting to new technologies and newly industrialised countries.
It gets worse, and the pope then echoes the Gramscian voices of southern European far left parties like Syriza and Podemos: “Politics should not submit to the economy, and this should not submit to the dictates and the paradigm of efficiency-technocracy. Today, thinking of the common good, we need so inescapable that politics and the economy, in dialogue, place themselves resolutely to the service of life, especially human life. The bailout of the banks at all costs, by charging the price to the population, without the firm decision to review and reform the entire system, reaffirms an absolute domination of finance that has no future and that can only generate new crisis after a long, expensive and apparent cure.” [Laudato Si’, 189] I challenge anyone to spot the difference between this language and that of Spain’s far left Pablo Iglesias writing in the New Left Review shortly before the Spanish local elections this year. Theologically informed papal teaching here, there is none.
Pope Francesco manages to squeeze two more hummingbirds into the kitsch Franciscan collage that is Laudato Si’, by adding environmental prayers at the end. One for use by those who simply believe in a creative force, and one for use by Catholics. Or as he puts it: “After this prolonged reflection, joyful and dramatic set, I propose two prayers, one that we can share all of us who believe in God the creator and father, and another that we Christians know assume commitments for creation that the Gospel of Jesus offers us .” [Laudato Si’, 246] Once again, there is an irony, in that here we have two trite prayers offered by Pope Francis to end a document that has quoted the marvellous and powerful Canticle of Brother Sun by Saint Francis, the first poetry written in Italian. The weakness of the message and the political dabblings in this recyclical have nothing to do with the message of the Poor Man of Assisi. This is a poor pope indeed who may smell of the sheep but is not likely to nourish many of them spiritually.
I maybe a donkey and Tuesday is my only thinking day, but I think Giotto was better inspired by Saint Francis than the present Bishop of Rome.
Well, that’s done with the recyclical, and for the rest of this Tuesday I will do thinking about straw.
Update at the end of Tuesday
Rubí has finished her thinking for the day (earlier than usual due to the extent of the thinking), but she is quite distraught because Sandro Magister of L’Expresso – the main coffee trade newspaper for Italy – has now been banned from the Vatican Press Office because he released the embargoed encyclical to Rubí.
While Rubí has done her best, other people have also done their thinking on Tuesday and the Reverend Peter Mullen gives us these thoughts on the recyclical, probably on the same lines as Rubí, except he is even clearer about the left wing political motivation of Pope Francis: http://www.revpetermullen.com/laudato-si/