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Pagans and Pope Francis - In favour

Pagans and Pope Francis


Lynn Rishworth

See if you can guess where I found each of the following quotes. They all came from a document on this list: Mission Statement of the Order of Bards and Druids; Jeremy Corbyn's response on a radio interview; John McDonnell's speech at PCSU Conference; Greenpeace bulletin November 2014; Pope Francis' Encyclical Letter 2016; Guardian editorial March 2015; my diary 2015. Now, the quotes:   

'Since the market tends to promote extreme consumerism in an effort to sell its products, people can easily get caught up in a whirlwind of needless buying and spending. Compulsive consumerism is one example of how the techno-economic paradigm affects individuals. This paradigm leads people to believe that they are free as long as they have the supposed freedom to consume. But those really free are the minority who wield economic and financial power.'

'If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs.'

'The specialisation which belongs to technology makes it difficult to see the larger picture. The fragmentation of knowledge proves helpful for concrete applications, and yet it often leads to a loss of appreciation for the whole, for the relationships between things, and for the broader horizon, which then becomes irrelevant. Life gradually becomes a surrender to situations conditioned by technology, itself viewed as the principal key to the meaning of existence.'

'I wish to address every person living on this planet - to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. [and] to recognize, encourage and thank all those striving in countless ways to guarantee the protection of the home which we share. Particular appreciation is owed to those who tirelessly seek to resolve the tragic effects of environmental degradation on the lives of the world's poorest. Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded.'

OK, I cheated. Or, at least, I was sneaky with grammar. The quotes above all come from one of the documents mentioned/imagined. They are all from Pope Francis' recent letter to the World.  I've taken the liberty of extracting some of the useful and inspirational items and sorting them into an essay which I hope people will find thought-provoking; maybe even action-provoking.

 Not surprisingly, Pope Francis begins by citing a popular Christian historical figure who has obviously been an influence on His Holiness:

 'Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.  This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts,  is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor. We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth; our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.  St Francis, we are told,  'represents care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically.  He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.'  And, in case you missed that important little word, we are reminded that  'He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy. [my emphasis]  His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection.'

Patriarch Bartholomew's contribution to the debate is also appreciated.  Apparently, he  'has drawn attention to the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems, which require that we look for solutions not only in technology but in a change of humanity; otherwise we would be dealing merely with symptoms. He asks us to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing.'   There seems to be a call for an asceticism which goes rather further than may (I hope) be necessary but so far I can't ~ as we say in Sheffield ~ fault him.

How can you disagree with these sentiments? 

'Inner peace is closely related to care for ecology and for the common good because, lived out authentically, it is reflected in a balanced lifestyle together with a capacity for wonder which takes us to a deeper understanding of life. Nature is filled with words of love, but how can we listen to them amid constant noise, interminable and nerve-wracking distractions, or the cult of appearances?  We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature.  The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone.  If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all.  A sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings.  No system can completely suppress our openness to what is good, true and beautiful, or our God-given ability to respond to his grace at work deep in our hearts. I appeal to everyone throughout the world not to forget this dignity which is ours. No one has the right to take it from us.' 

OK, the expression 'God-given' & reference to 'his (sic) grace in our hearts'  is a basis for an interesting theological debate but, in this context, I'm not inclined to be picky.

   And it's not just about spiritual approaches.  There's some good socio-political thinking, too.

  'The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation. In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet.  We are agreed today that the earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone.  Hence every ecological approach needs to incorporate a social perspective which takes into account the fundamental rights of the poor and the underprivileged. We cannot fail to consider the effects on people's lives of environmental deterioration, current models of development and the throwaway culture.'  His Holiness' predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI also, apparently, had something to say on this score, he likewise proposed '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'.  'The book of nature is one and indivisible', and includes the environment, life, sexuality, the family, social relations, and so forth. Benedict urged us to realize that creation is harmed 'where we ourselves have the final word, where everything is simply our property and we use it for ourselves alone.'

Pope Francis suggests that  'We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.  Obstructionist attitudes,  can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity.  The establishment of a legal framework which can set clear boundaries and ensure the protection of ecosystems has become indispensable.'

'The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected.'

'The social dimensions of global change include the effects of technological innovations on employment, social exclusion, an inequitable distribution and consumption of energy and other services, social breakdown, increased violence and a rise in new forms of social aggression, drug trafficking, growing drug use by young people, and the loss of identity.'  Strong stuff (is it acceptable to say 'waytogo, Francis!'?)  But, is he having a dig at technology here?  Does he yearn, romantically, for some imagined pre-industrial paradise?  Does he heckaslike!  After a paragraph or two of reminding us what science/technology have achieved in making life better for so many of us, the Pontiff goes on to propose a new way of moving forward. We do not need to (we may not have time to) get embroiled in futile science vs spiritualty debates.

/Men and women, Pope Francis reminds us 'have constantly intervened in nature, but for a long time this meant being in tune with and respecting the possibilities offered by the things themselves. It was a matter of receiving what nature itself allowed, as if from its own hand. Now, by contrast, we are the ones to lay our hands on things, attempting to extract everything possible from them while frequently ignoring or forgetting the reality in front of us.  There is a growing awareness that scientific and technological progress cannot be equated with the progress of humanity and history, a growing sense that the way to a better future lies elsewhere. This is not, we are reminded, to reject the possibilities which technology continues to offer us. But humanity has changed profoundly, and the accumulation of constant novelties exalts a superficiality which pulls us in one direction. It becomes difficult to pause and recover depth in life.'  'The accumulation of constant novelties' is a phrase I like a lot. I don't know about you, though, but I feel it pulls us every which way but loose and, as Harry Nielsen said, 'a point in every direction is the same as no point at all.'  Either way; we need to change the way we live & the way we think.  Me & the Pope, we're as one on that.   Oh, and it seems Pope Paul VI was with us too.  He said 'the most extraordinary scientific advances, the most amazing technical abilities, the most astonishing economic growth, unless they are accompanied by authentic social and moral progress, will definitively turn against man.'  Maybe we can even include Mary Shelley in the group!

'There is; (we're back with Pope Francis here) 'a tendency to believe that every increase in power means 'an increase of 'progress' itself; as if reality, goodness and truth automatically flow from technological and economic power as such'. because our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience.  The same ingenuity which has brought about enormous technological progress has so far proved incapable of finding effective ways of dealing with grave environmental and social problems worldwide. A global consensus is essential for confronting the deeper problems, which cannot be resolved by unilateral actions on the part of individual countries.' But - recent World Summits on the environment have not lived up to expectations because, due to lack of political will, they were unable to reach truly meaningful and effective global agreements on the environment.

What is needed is a politics which is far-sighted and capable of a new, integral and interdisciplinary approach to handling the different aspects of the crisis.'