The synod on the Amazon opened after months of concern following the publication of the working paper or Instrumentum laboris. The third article of our series studied the “integral ecology” proposed by Francis in his encyclical Laudato si’, a concept taken up again in the synod on the Amazon. Presently, we must examine the means recommended by the pope to remedy the ecological situation of the planet, considered to be catastrophic.
This part of the encyclical is very important to the pope, because it claims to set up a policy to save the planet and its inhabitants.
Remedies for the Current Situation
In the last two chapters of the encyclical Laudato si’, Francis proposes remedies to get out of “the spiral of self-destruction which currently engulfs us” (no.163).
Francis quotes his predecessor, who in 2007 encouraged “eliminating the structural causes of the dysfunctions of the world economy and correcting models of growth which have proved incapable of ensuring respect for the environment” (No.6). He calls for the revision of development models (No.138). Two elements are indispensable: to commit oneself to a preferential option for the poor (No.158) and to pay off the “ecological debt” by “by significantly limiting the consumption of non-renewable energy” (No.52). This requires “decreased growth in some parts of the world, in order to provide resources for other places to experience healthy growth” (No.193).
This also necessitates a common or global project, because of the interdependence of lifestyles, production, and consumption around the world (No.164). Which leads Francis to affirm that “it becomes indispensable to create a normative system” (No.53). Since some put their national or transnational interests above the “general” common good (No.169), it is necessary—while safeguarding the sovereignty of the states—to introduce “global regulatory norms” imposing obligations (No.173 and 175). This means devising “more efficiently organized international institutions” with sanctioning power (No.175). The pope concludes by quoting Benedict XVI, saying “there is urgent need of a true world political authority” (ibid.). It is interesting to note that this “world political authority” is evoked by Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate (June 29, 2009), which refers to John XXIII in the encyclical Pacem in Terris (April 11, 1963). This authority is presented as an “obvious requirement” by John Paul II in his message of January 1, 2003.
Another aspect developed is the role of “environmental education” (No.210), which must propose “a critique of the ‘myths’ of a modernity grounded in a utilitarian mindset (individualism, unlimited progress, competition, consumerism, the unregulated market)” and favor the development of “a new synthesis capable of overcoming the false arguments of recent centuries” (No. 121). The Pope emphasizes “the urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution” (No.114) because “it is we human beings above all who need to change” (No.202). The essential elements of this revolution are: “an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone” (ibid.). This change implies a new universal solidarity (Nos.14, 142, 158, 162, etc.) which will have to re-establish “worthy goals and values, or a genuine and profound humanism” (No.181). Taking up a speech by Benedict XVI for the World Day of Peace in 2010, Francis explains how a “sense of intergenerational solidarity” must be coupled with “an urgent moral need for a renewed sense of intragenerational solidarity” (No.162).
The model given by Francis is taken from the Earth Charter, “common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning,” which could be characterized by “the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life” (No.207). This is the challenge proposed by the vicar of Christ.
This Charter is distressing, full of empty words or words diverted from their meaning. Judge for yourself: “Respect the earth and all forms of life” (with or without abortion?); “Build democratic, just, participatory, sustainable, and peaceful societies” (with or without jihad?); “Ecological integrity ... ensuring universal access to health care that promotes healthy and responsible reproduction” (everyone will recognize birth control in its worst sense); “Affirm equality and gender equity” (with LGBTI rights?); “Treat all living things with respect and consideration” (which is about animals ... but not the child in the womb).
The pope goes on “to promote a new way of thinking about human beings, life, society and our relationship with nature” (No.215). It is necessary to develop an “ecological citizenship,” to educate, to bring about a personal change, to cultivate strong virtues that bring about an ecological lifestyle and commitment. And, to give some examples: “use less heating and wear warmer clothes”; avoid the use of plastics and paper; reduce water consumption; separate refuse; cook “only what can reasonably be consumed”; show “care for other living beings”; use public transport or car-pool; plant trees; turn off unnecessary lights; reuse “something instead of immediately discarding it” (No.211). All this, he concludes, can be transformed into “an act of love which expresses our own dignity”...
From the Keys of the Kingdom to Green Citizenship
Does taking such a line come within the competency of a pontifical encyclical? Does it not lower and ridicule the supreme magisterium? Is there nothing more urgent? All in all, speeches by some heads of state, such as that of Jacques Chirac in 2002 at the Earth Summit, say much the same thing in fewer words ...
When it is specifically addressed to Catholics, the tone of the encyclical is more parenetic. The pope offers them an “ecological spirituality” because the “ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion… an ‘ecological conversion’[in the sense of the encyclical]” (No. 217). It involves recognizing one’s sins and vices, repenting, and adopting different attitudes: gratitude for the gift of creation, universal communion with creatures, creativity and enthusiasm for dealing with the tragedies of the world (No. 219-220). Christian spirituality goes further by encouraging sobriety—limiting certain needs that stultify us—humility, peace with oneself, prayer and contemplation, thanksgiving after meals.
Finally, the recognition of universal brotherhood pushes the Catholic to participate in “every action that seeks to build a better world”: political, civil and social, in order to build a “culture of care” (No.231). These community actions “can also become intense spiritual experiences” (No.232).
Pope Francis’s Ecological Utopia
The pontifical teaching has all the characteristics of a vast and wide “ecological” utopia.
Utopia, by the urgency with which it is proclaimed: the need to act “immediately” is constantly recalled. It is a profound lack of human and political realism then by a declared universality. The pope states, “a strategy for real change calls for rethinking processes in their entirety” (No. 197). It is a question of totally revising all the political, economic, financial, and technological, but also anthropological, educational, philosophical, and spiritual processes, as if the planet and humanity had a “reset” button allowing everything to start again.
Moreover, the ecological conversion advocated by Pope Francis brilliantly illustrates what “secondary Christianity” is. Since John XXIII, ecology has become, under various names and in different ways, a preoccupation of popes and bishops. For the most part, it is a question of temporal ends and of earthly civilization, which rightly belong to the State. Professor Romano Amerio analyzed this fact: “Christianity can never take man’s temporal perfection as its primary or even co-primary end without negating its own nature…at Vatican II it took on the role of directly advancing man’s temporal welfare and has thus attempted to make secular progress part of the purpose of the Gospel.” And the author continues: “To integrate earthly well-being into the Gospel message is to obscure Christianity’s ultra-terrestrial goal.”
But the profound reason why the Pope pursues a utopia has to do with his vision of the future. This vision is connected with the common good, because everything depends on it. For the pope, it means the social conditions of this good, or collective goods, or even nature itself. All these names are insufficient or erroneous. By definition, the common good is a good realized in common, therefore an end. It is essential that it be the true good of man. To join together in order to promote commerce or to extend its conquests does not aim at the true good of man, which is the beatitude attained by the practice of virtue (as understood at the natural level)—and, simultaneously, supernatural bliss, by grace. This is the key defect of the encyclical, which renders the proposed solutions sterile or illusory.
At the political level, the common good appears as socializing globalism, a UN version modified by a vague spirituality that relies on a consciousness of interdependence—“everything is connected,” the pope repeats,—by the preference for the poor and ecological justice between nations.
To claim to realize a just world “for tomorrow” rests on an illusion of liberal and Masonic inspiration, of “socialist” type. It is a rejection of the Kingship of Christ and His grace, implicit or conceptualized.
At the social level, which includes economics and technology, the common good is embodied in a Teilhardian vision, an affirmed eschatology paradise. Witness this affirmation: “We are called to be the instruments of God the Father so that our planet is what he dreamed by creating it, and so that it responds to his project of peace, beauty and fullness.” To do this, it is necessary to establish a new synthesis by the consciousness of forming a universal family and ecological solidarity.
A Millenarian and Pelagian Utopia
Our Lord Jesus Christ never presented His kingdom as the restoration of Edenic bliss. This vision is opposed to the Gospel and supposes a kind of millenarianism.
On a personal level, participation in the common good is presented as an act of charity and “an intense spiritual experience.” It requires individual progress, personal and social virtues that sound like a return to original justice. St. Francis of Assisi is also given as a model to imitate in his protection of neighbor and nature, but we cannot get rid of the impression that every man can become a St. Francis, even without grace and conversion.
This is the most serious utopia: a Pelagianism, distinctive and permanent. The general “conversion” to which Francis aspires is conceived without the help of God. Certainly, Catholics are called to live it in their religion, but how to envisage a “civilization of love,” a “universal brotherhood,” or a “new synthesis,” without grace? This is to forget and despise the universal Kingship of Christ, the only One capable of restoring the wounded man, of giving him divine charity for himself and concerning his neighbor, and prudence for the respect of creation. It is seeking solutions outside the Cross of Jesus and His sacrifice, the only One capable of procuring for man true justice and true peace.