I have finished my first, albeit quick, reading of Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si'. My first thought is no one should draw any conclusions about this encyclical unless you read it yourself. There are enough phrases and ideas that can be cherry picked to support diametrically opposed ideologies and media news outlets are already doing so. This encyclical is not wed to any ideology. This is not an encyclical about climate change though climate change is discussed. It is a statement about the reality of Man and his place in the world. Such truth transcends politics.
The overarching theme is that as human beings we are in a relationship with God, in a relationship with each other, and in a relationship with the natural world. These relationships are intrinsically interconnected and any distortion of one of these relationships will distort the others. They cannot be addressed in isolation from each other.
The Pope reminds us we are called to be good stewards of creation. A consumerist-focused culture that does not take into account the larger impact of more production of consumer goods is disordered. We cannot expect to have wealthy segments of the world population generating large amounts of waste at the expense of the environment for the poorer, less technologically developed societies.
At numerous points in the Encyclical, Pope Francis goes to great lengths to state that genuine concern for the environment must be accompanied by a genuine respect for all human life. He pointedly states that concern for endangered species is meaningless if such concern is not also extended to the most vulnerable humans including the unborn, the elderly, the disabled, and the poor.
The Pope is not anti-technology but he states over and over again that technology must be our tool and not our master. The one paragraph that I would like to quote right now seems strange to do so on this digital platform of communication but perhaps because my work requires me to have such an extensive presence on the internet it strongly resonated with me:
Furthermore, when media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously. In this context, the great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of an information overload. Efforts need to be made to help these media become sources of new cultural progress for humanity and not a threat to our deepest riches. True wisdom, as the fruit of self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data which eventually leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution. Real relationships with others, with all the challenges they entail, now tend to be replaced by a type of internet communication which enables us to choose or eliminate relationships at whim, thus giving rise to a new type of contrived emotion which has more to do with devices and displays than with other people and with nature. (47)There is a great deal of wisdom in this Encyclical but many will miss it because they insist on reading it through the lens of politics and power.