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A Dialogue with Pope Francis' Eco-Encyclical (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) August 13, 2015: Melville Publishing House in Brooklyn has published Pope Francis' eco-encyclical with an incisive introduction by Naomi Oreskes of Harvard University as the book titled ENCYCLICAL ON CLIMATE CHANGE & INEQUALITY: ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME. On the back cover, Melville House Publishing has listed this book as political science. No doubt climate change is a hot-button issue in American politics.

At approximately 38,000 words in length, Pope Francis' eco-encyclical overflows with his church's culture and ideology of absolutism. From his church's spirit of absolutism (e.g., moral absolutes, as interpreted by church officials), he criticizes various forms of what he interprets as "relativism." By definition, relativism is the opposite of absolutism, and vice versa. Pope Francis himself has criticized his church for what he refers to as a clerical culture, or culture of clericalism. No doubt what he refers to as the church's culture of clericalism overlaps with what I refer to as the church's culture and ideology of absolutism.)

However, the church's officials reserve the right to change the church's official teachings. For example, in the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the bishops collectively changed certain official positions. Thus the church's spirit of absolutism might be described as relative. Nevertheless, whatever the church's officials say are the church's current-traditional positions are the church's current-traditional positions, and those positions are promoted with the church's spirit of absolutism.

In any event, my impression is that Pope Francis plans to devote the remainder of his time in office to talking up various themes in his eco-encyclical -- for example, during his scheduled visit to the United States in late September 2015. Therefore, in the spirit of dialogue, I propose to undertake a dialogue-commentary on the pope's eco-encyclical.

The pope's eco-encyclical contains 246 numbered paragraphs, and 172 numbered endnotes. Most of the endnotes give bibliographic information for the sources of quoted statements in the text. Not surprisingly, the document contains a lot of quotations from other popes and from other official church documents.

WHERE I'M COMING FROM

Before I retired from teaching at the University of Minnesota Duluth, I regularly taught an introductory-level humanities course on Literacy, Technology, and Society.

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In that course I used Walter J. Ong's thought as the general framework. His most widely known and most widely translated book ORALITY AND LITERACY: THE TECHNOLOGIZING OF THE WORD (1982) was required reading in the course, because it is an accessible summation of his work from the early 1950s onward.

Ong (1912-2003) was an American Jesuit cultural historian and theorist. Pope Francis is the first Jesuit pope, but he most likely is not familiar with Ong's work. In his eco-encyclical, Pope Francis does not refer to Ong by name or to any of his publications.

Disclosure: In my professional publications, I have written extensively about Ong's thought. In the present essay, I will bring his thought into dialogue with Pope Francis' thought in his eco-encyclical.

In his eco-encyclical Pope Francis is concerned about technology over "the last two hundred years" (par. no. 53). Ong's books ORALITY AND LITERACY: THE TECHNOLOGIZING OF THE WORD (1982), mentioned above, and RHETORIC, ROMANCE, AND TECHNOLOGY: STUDIES IN THE INTERACTION OF EXPRESSION AND CULTURE (1971) advertise his interest in technology in their titles.

In his eco-encyclical Pope Francis is also concerned about the spirit of economic competitiveness. Ong does not happen to advert explicitly to economic competitiveness in his book-length study of the male spirit of competitiveness, FIGHTING FOR LIFE: CONTEST, SEXUALITY, AND CONSCIOUSNESS (1981), the published version of his 1979 Messenger Lectures at Cornell University.

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In general, Ong's books are irenic in spirit. However, in principle, nothing he says in an irenic spirit would necessarily preclude critiques such as Pope Francis' various critiques in his eco-encyclical.

In his eco-encyclical Pope Francis works with a longstanding Roman Catholic framework of thought about modern philosophy. In Ong's massively researched book RAMUS, METHOD, AND THE DECAY OF DIALOGUE: FROM THE ART OF DISCOURSE TO THE ART OF REASON (1958), Ong also works with that longstanding Roman Catholic framework of thought about modern philosophy, at times, as does Pope Francis does in his eco-encyclical. However, in Ong's subsequent publications, he stopped criticizing modern philosophy. Nevertheless, Ong's criticisms of modern philosophy show that he was working out what has more recently been styled post-modernist thought.

But we may wonder why Ong stopped criticizing modern philosophy, as many other Roman Catholics continued to criticize modern philosophy. Perhaps he had worked the spirit to criticize modern philosophy out of his system. So perhaps he saw no point in beating a dead horse any further.

But it is also possible that the trajectory of Ong's own philosophical thought continued to emerge and develop in such a way that his own emerging philosophical thought stopped him from pursuing his criticism of modern philosophy further.

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www.d.umn.edu/~tfarrell
Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)
 

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