Jerome Fourquet, political analyst author of The French Archipelago (Seuil, 2019), described in Le Figaro on August 30, 2019, what he calls a “change of matrix”: Catholicism, which founded France and gave it its culture, in the most general sense of the term, is gradually being replaced by a new “matrix,” ecology.
A New Religion
The analysis is not irrelevant. It describes the new prophets of what must be called a new religion, such as Greta Thunberg, who received “a revelation that she must now announce to the powerful of this world and to public opinion.” Jérôme Fourquet notes that “the environmental movement attaches great importance to adolescents, a type of children of the choir of the religion of climate,” who must spread “the good word to the bosom of the home.”
The vocabulary itself is revealing—are they not talking about a “sanctuary” of biodiversity or a “conversion” to organic for farmers? Further, there regularly appears “apocalyptic announcements in environmentalism”—books announcing the end of the industrial era are making a fortune. Thus was born “collapsology,” a recent neologism that refers to the study of the collapse of industrial civilization.
As Jérôme Fourquet observes: “For both environmentalists and Christians, the end of the world is provoked by the guilt of men, who must then expiate their faults.” This leads to the opposition of Good and Evil: the rich countries of the North opposed to the poor people of the South, the multinationals against the NGOs who defend the disinherited, the “new missionaries of our time.”
The author concludes by pointing out the profound influence on people’s lives, of this new matrix, which “is proper to religion.” We find “the good deeds of scouts”—sorting waste, saving energy, as well as very precise food precepts—“the environmentalists make every day Lent...since one must avoid many foods (fruits out of season, meat, palm oil).”
The Pope's Environmentalism
It is striking to see how this explanatory grid sheds light on Pope Francis’ last message for the World Day of Prayer for Care of Creation, on September 1, 2019. All the ingredients are there, however, with some specificities proper to the author and to his position.
The Pope begins by painting an apocalyptic picture: “Constant pollution, the continued use of fossil fuels, intensive agricultural exploitation and deforestation are causing global temperatures to rise above safe levels... Melting of glaciers, scarcity of water...testify to the urgent need for interventions that can no longer be postponed. We have caused a climate emergency that gravely threatens nature and life itself, including our own.”
Then an explanation: “Now is the time to rediscover our vocation as children of God, brothers and sisters, and stewards of creation. Now is the time to repent, to be converted and to return to our roots.” But from which sin and which conversion does he mean?
There is an ecumenical couplet: “I strongly encourage the faithful to pray in these days [from September 1 to October 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi] that, as the result of a timely ecumenical initiative, are being celebrated as a Season of Creation." This prayer should allow us to listen in silence to “the symphony of creation” and “inspire us to raise a song of cosmic praise to the Creator.”
This must result in our conversion: “It is also a season to reflect on our lifestyles, and how our daily decisions about food, consumption, transportation, use of water, energy and many other material goods, can often be thoughtless and harmful…Let us make an effort to change and to adopt more simple and respectful lifestyles!” But also, “to abandon our dependence on fossil fuels and move, quickly and decisively, towards forms of clean energy.”
The Pope concludes this part with a nod to the next synod on the Amazon: “Let us also learn to listen to indigenous peoples, whose age-old wisdom can teach us how to live in a better relationship with the environment.”
Francis goes on to another characteristic of the environmental matrix: “This too is a season for undertaking prophetic actions. Many young people all over the world are making their voices heard and calling for courageous decisions… The young remind us that the earth is not a possession to be squandered, but an inheritance to be handed down.” This message is aimed above all at “raising the awareness of political and civil leaders.” Then Francis adds, “Let us say ‘no’ to consumerist greed and to the illusion of omnipotence, for these are the ways of death. Let us inaugurate farsighted processes involving responsible sacrifices.”
Finally, he gives some recommendations to the United Nations, urging it to “show the political will to take drastic measures to achieve as quickly as possible zero net greenhouse gas emissions and to limit the average increase in global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius with respect to pre-industrial levels, in accordance with the Paris Agreement goals. Next month, in October, the Amazon region, whose integrity is gravely threatened, will be the subject of a Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.”
In the papal message, conversion appears as turned towards nature: it is no longer a question of obtaining salvation, of deepening the theological virtues, or of practicing moral virtues. We are in the most complete horizontality. It really is the MASDU.
This acronym appeared from the pen of Fr. George de Nantes in 1965, and is used to designate the Movement for the Spiritual Animation of Universal Democracy. He defines it as “the project of a new and universal religiosity of which the Church would be the organ, in the service of the Human City to be built.” The idea was inspired by a quote from Paul VI (Christian and Public Affairs, address to the Italian Civic Committees, January 30, 1965, Catholic Documentation, No. 1442, pp. 294-296.): “The Church cannot be indifferent to the ideological, moral, and spiritual animation of public life...It invites us to work with confidence, yes, with confidence in the order that constitutes the norm and the history of our society, and which is today that of democracy.” MASDU realizes the old dream of liberal Catholics: to unite the Church and the revolution, but in a sense even more expansive and more profound than they themselves ever thought.
Let’s conclude with a question: how does Francis’ Christianity differ from the new environmental matrix? In other words: what is there that remains Catholic in such a message?