This is my regular reminder: don’t fall for the traps and snares of the wily Pope. He’s been getting a lot of praise lately for his rejection of climate change denialism (and even I have felt faint twinges of affection for a Pope who can get Bill Donohue to puff out his lower lip and pout), but it’s not good enough. I didn’t find his Papal Encyclical to be that good — it’s great that it acknowledges the scientific evidence in the first chapter, but it’s theme is fundamentally anti-science, and he’s more than willing to abandon evidence if it contradicts his dogma.
Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate. At times, developing countries face forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of “reproductive health”. Yet “while it is true that an unequal distribution of the population and of available resources creates obstacles to development and a sustainable use of the environment, it must nonetheless be recognized that demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development”.
The whole second chapter is nothing but Biblical authority and faith-based bullshit. The third chapter is all about how science has gone too far. The fourth chapter is all about building a harmonious “social ecology”, in which Catholic values are paramount. The fifth is about approaches to solutions, and again wants to shackle science.
It cannot be maintained that empirical science provides a complete explanation of life, the interplay of all creatures and the whole of reality. This would be to breach the limits imposed by its own methodology. If we reason only within the confines of the latter, little room would be left for aesthetic sensibility, poetry, or even reason’s ability to grasp the ultimate meaning and purpose of things. I would add that “religious classics can prove meaningful in every age; they have an enduring power to open new horizons… Is it reasonable and enlightened to dismiss certain writings simply because they arose in the context of religious belief?” It would be quite simplistic to think that ethical principles present themselves purely in the abstract, detached from any context. Nor does the fact that they may be couched in religious language detract from their value in public debate. The ethical principles capable of being apprehended by reason can always reappear in different guise and find expression in a variety of languages, including religious language.
That reeks vaguely of the usual accusations of scientism: well, you can’t explain poetry with science. And that’s true; I actually agree that science is not a complete solution to a fulfilling human life. But the presence of a gap in science doesn’t justify filling it with Catholicism, especially if you’re going to make waffly words about “ethical principles”. On ethical principles alone, the Catholic church needs to go hide shamefacedly in a corner; it doesn’t even have the excuse of providing practical understanding.
The sixth chapter is more babbling about a coherent life-style, and is strikingly anti-materialist. Again, I agree in general that we need more than greed and machines, but that isn’t a justification for “Christian spirituality”.
Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption. We need to take up an ancient lesson, found in different religious traditions and also in the Bible. It is the conviction that “less is more”. A constant flood of new consumer goods can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment. To be serenely present to each reality, however small it may be, opens us to much greater horizons of understanding and personal fulfilment. Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little. It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack. This implies avoiding the dynamic of dominion and the mere accumulation of pleasures.
Simplicity! Be happy with little! Says the man living in a golden palace surrounded by centuries worth of priceless art. I’ll believe this when the Vatican divests itself of all that worldly wealth. Christian spirituality seems to be as invisible and ineffectual as the Holy Ghost.
I’ll say this — he’s really, really good at taking bits of reality with which I agree and twisting it to support, of all things, medieval theology. He’s also really good at including just enough science to make you think he’s a rationalist, even almost, a secularist. But don’t be fooled: he’s not on our side.
By some sorcery of PR, the Catholic Church has convinced a frightening number of progressives, humanists, and otherwise rational thinkers that Francis is one of their own—but this is a man who rejects gay marriage in fear of its potential to destroy the “traditional” family; a man who passionately supports, on theological grounds, and much like his predecessors, an international prohibition on birth control, even in poor and AIDS-ravaged countries; a man who has compared transgender people to nuclear weapons in their ability to wreak havoc on the “natural order of creation”; and a man who, in response to the Charlie Hebdo attack, victim-blamed the dead writers with the suggestion that free speech must end where criticism of religion begins. He is a man who, in the tradition of all popes before him, and through either indifference or intention, continues to incubate the epidemic of pedophilia that so plagues the ranks of his subordinates. I’ll say it again: Pope Francis is not a good person.