The Pope’s Encyclical is a welcome wake-up call for the Christians, particularly Catholics of course, and some Protestants and maybe other people of other faiths as well. It reminds the Catholics of the importance of the environment and of other forms of life, a welcome move since to the Christian view, Man is the lonely apex of creation.
After a review of the environmental problems and its associated sociological problems, the Encyclical comes with a more theological chapter on Christianity and its understanding of our relationship with nature. Another chapter attempts to go into the root cause of environmental problems, i.e. the technological paradigm. The Pope considers it to form a set of beliefs that over-rides all other beliefs, in particular the notion that Man’s well-being (in a holistic, spiritual understanding) should be the aim of all activities. In economy for example, we are promised future happiness in a world with infinite resources. Optimist technocrats also prophesy solutions to all our problems with science and technology. This attitude percolates into all our lives with a conception of progress that pushes people to “go forward” without thinking twice. And in the Christian perspective, this is considered a sin because this mindset causes a shift from God, the source and the purpose of all existence on whom our focus should remain. This false “wealth” god creates environmental destruction and I must agree with the Pope that our planet is in dire straits. At last a leader is courageous enough to say it.
I don’t believe in happy technological endings and I don’t see the Eldorado some economists promise us. We are richer, maybe. Are we happier or better off? See in your own city how people are ready to kill early morning, stuck in traffic jams. As an ecologist I believe in frugality and in God, depending upon the airline, the weather, and the experience of the Captain. Otherwise, I am a rationalist, empirical sceptic as Nassim Taleb (a trader turned philosopher) puts it. With this prudently laid disclaimer, I would humbly disagree with the Pope on the source of the problem. To me, the source of all problems is political. Even in democratic regimes, we just don’t have abandoned our judgements (sold our souls) regarding technology. We have abandoned our very responsibilities in delegating our power. When we delegate our power with a vote, we hand over responsibilities to professional politicians who do what want their rich sponsors. They become kings. They form dynasties. Early democratic experiment in Greece had citizens taken for a short time at random, to write the Constitution (the law of the law). In that way, common people kept control of the law without conflict of interest. No one could be the king but everyone was involved in the public life.
What would happen to the environment if we dare try empower citizen to write and control the law? This, I believe, could save our planet and is worth trying. Amen.