Sunday, June 28, 2015

Pope Francis's Climate Change Warning

Prince Myshkin, protagonist of Dostoyevsky's The Idiot, is an “idiot” because he takes the words of Jesus quite literally, not realizing (as the mature adults around them do) that such sentiments are all very well in their place but not to be acted upon. 
Pope Francis seems a little that way. In a traditional situation where the Pope displays his humility, Pope Francis chose to do so with juvenile delinquents in a jail; and rather than any ceremonial washing, he chose to kneel down and give their feet a good washing. Clearly he didn’t get it at all!

He keeps getting himself in trouble by speaking plainly to power and saying things that just aren’t said. 
But like the Idiot, he’s no fool.

Notably, he’s suggested that while Catholic traditions consider homosexuality and abortion bad conduct, it might make sense in the 21st Century for the Church to prioritize its causes. 
The Church does not think people should make love out of wedlock, with same-sex or heterosexual loves, and where heterosexual conduct causes pregnancy, that pregnancy should not be terminated except by God. But to Pope Francis those individuals are not enemies, or lost souls. They are to be reached out to as people who have erred. Unlike some who seem drawn to religion as an excuse to bash others who have different beliefs, he endeavors to maintain human connections even while criticizing.

And the world has more urgent needs. 
Extreme and growing world-wide economic inequality threatens to destroy the fabric of society. The Church’s clannish protection of child-molesting priests has caused many more kids to suffer molestation by priests who should have been defrocked, not coddled and transferred. And scientists agree overwhelmingly that “global weirdness” threatens to destroy civilization as we know it, that human activities are a significant contributor to that, and that it’s probably already too late to spare ourselves at least some of the consequences. 
Further, since most secular governments are controlled by or beholden to wealthy interests that benefit from the growing inequality and can’t pause profiting long enough to address the mess humans are making of their nest, Prince Myshkin – uhh, the Pope – can clearly see that world-politics-as-usual ain’t gonna get it done.

And so we have this beautifully-written encyclical, Laudato Si
Good for the human population and great for the Church, which seemed to rival only Bill Clinton as an inexhaustible source of sexual jokes. Suddenly instead of preparing for the punch-line when someone says “priest” people see in their mind's eye a courageous fighter for good – and for the best-possible future.

Jesus may preach of love and fairness, but over the centuries love is not always what the world has experienced from the Church: the Inquisition was hardly love; the selling of indulgences was more like extortion than love; the long, vicious wars between Catholics and Protestants were not unlike the madness we see now between Shi'a and Sunni; and the Church's record during the Holocaust is a murky chapter marked by occasional heroism but frequent compromise – and worse. Then the priests who couldn't keep it in their cassocks, and the “organization men” who protected them.

Francis seems determined to right the ship. 
All is not light. An able cross-examiner would chew up the inconsistency between discouraging contraception and expressing concern about the environmental deterioration to which overpopulation contributes. 
But we are watching something remarkable. We are watching someone remarkable. The contrast with his predecessor – and with other world leaders is dizzying. Will we hear soon from Christian church leaders uneasy about our casual destruction of God's bounty.

We should not take this lightly. 

[This column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-New this morning, Sunday, 28 June, and will appear shortly on the KRWG-TV website.]

[A recent "Sound-Off" in the Sun-News took the Pope to task, mentioning the Vatican's indefensible treatment of Gallileo and his nutty idea that the Earth actually revolved around the Sun, rather than the reverse.  Unfortunately, there's no parallel: then, the Vatican was too attached to its traditional view of things to recognize a promising scientific point.  Here, the Vatican has studied up on modern science and joined the chorus trying to get through to the folks who don't want to face some significant problems.  It's the Republican office-holders and office-seekers, like Rick Santorum, who are too stuck in their own ideological quicksand to move.  I mention Santorum because his objection that the Pope wasn't a scientist applies equally to himself, except that th Pope apparently worked in chemistry at some point in his youth, which, though irrelevant, is more than Santorum can claim.]

[Like Santorum and the Pope, I'm not a scientist.  Anticipating an attack on that ground, likely from a retired local meteorologist, I readily confess.  I'm not a hip surgeon or biologist, either; but when I'm faced with deciding who to have replace my hip or how to treat an illness, I read and listen as widely as I can, recognizing I don't understand every detail, and make the best decision I can.  I rely on secondary indices of credibility and draw reasonable inferences.  Here, the local fellow could cross-question me about his weather charts and make me look as dumb as a Republican Presidential candidate, but a couple of prominent facts stick out: the Pope is on the side of the overwhelming consensus of serious scientists (whose near-unanimity doesn't make them right, but establishes them as odds-on favorites to be close to the mark); peer-reviewed journals show a dearth of articles demolishing the idea of climate change (or global-weirdness); yet the vast wealth of the Koch Brothers and much of U.S. industry stands ready to turn a smart young scientist into Croesus if s/he can come up with a really significant disproof.  Even the U.S. Army, not noted for frivolousness or fads, is observing and dealing with and planning for the problem.  All of which seems pretty significant in trying to figure out who's right here.]

1 comment:

  1. I'm not Catholic. I follow no religion. I absolutely adore Pope Francis. A breath of fresh air, indeed. My friend, Jack Marshall, thinks Pope Francis is an "ethics dunce." His denunciation is worth a read if you feel up to it. The readers' comments, for me, are worth the long slog.