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Life Arts    H3'ed 5/10/15

Get Ready to Debate the Pope's Encyclical About the Environment

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) May 10, 2015: Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope, plans to issue an encyclical about the environment and climate change. When the pope's encyclical is released, it will no doubt be widely discussed in the secular media for a time.

But already in advance its release, certain conservatives have issued pre-emptive criticisms to discredit his anticipated encyclical.

In light of the criticisms already advanced by conservatives, progressives and liberals who are interested in the environment and climate change might want to consider ways to support the pope's views when his encyclical is released -- or at least not join with conservatives in criticizing his views.

Now, over at the website of the Jesuit-sponsored America Magazine, Vincent J. Miller of the University of Dayton has published "Clues to the Encyclical: It Will Be a Theological, Not a Political, Argument" (dated May 7, 2015).

By a theological argument, he means an argument based on interpreting scripture in the Christian Bible. I agree with him that Pope Francis will undoubtedly use arguments based in interpreting scripture in the Christian Bible. Of course interpretations of scripture can be debated, so whatever scripture interpretations the pope advances in his encyclical, there will most likely be room for debating his interpretations.

As progressives and liberals know, certain Protestant fundamentalists believe in the so-called literal interpretation of the Bible, especially the two accounts of creation in Genesis. But those two accounts do not say exactly the same things. That might seem to pose an obstacle to holding the literal interpretation to both of them to be accurate and true. However, Protestant fundamentalists have figured out ways in which to interpret and harmonize those two accounts. Therefore, the Christian right is able to use the harmonized interpretation of those two accounts of creation to object vociferously to the teaching of evolutionary theory in public secondary education in the United States.

Now, Pope Francis is not committed to the literal interpretation of the Bible, and for years, the Roman Catholic Church has not objected to evolutionary theory along the lines of objection that Protestant fundamentalists in the United States use.

Even so, the American Jesuit Walter J. Ong (1912-2003) never tired of pointing out that the Roman Catholic Church does not have an up-date-cosmology based on modern evolutionary theory.

But the French Jesuit paleontologist and spiritual writer Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) advanced his own personal religious cosmology in his posthumously published works in the late 1950s and subsequently. For recent translations of Teilhard's two most important books, see THE HUMAN PHENOMENON, translated by Sarah Appleton-Weber (1999; orig. French edition, 1955) and THE DIVINE MILIEU, translated by Sion Cowell (2004; orig. French edition, 1957). The environment is part of the divine milieu.

Ong never tired of invoking Teilhard's name and work. No doubt Teilhard still has a certain number of dedicated followers, many of whom belong to the American Teilhard Association. However, despite their best efforts, the Roman Catholic Church today still does not have an officially approved up-to-date cosmology based on modern evolutionary theory.

If the Roman Catholic Church today did have an officially approved up-to-date cosmology based on modern evolutionary they, then Pope Francis would be able to use it as the theological framework in which to situate his forthcoming encyclical about the environment and climate change.

But I suspect that Pope Francis will not advance any policy proposals for specific practical actions to be undertaken by governments in various countries around the world. After all, he has used his theological framework of thought to voice certain pointed criticisms of global capitalism, but without making any specific practical policy proposals to be undertaken by governments in various countries around the world.

But taking a hint from Miller's article mentioned above about the pope's likely emphasis on interpreting scripture in the Christian Bible, I want to set forth four relevant texts and then undertake to comment on them. At times, my comments will be wide-ranging.

However, before I proceed further, I want to mention that American conservatives have used anti-60s rhetoric to advance movement conservatism, as Philip Jenkins shows in his book DECADE OF NIGHTMARES: THE END OF THE SIXTIES AND THE MAKING OF EIGHTIES AMERICA (2006).

Both Teilhard and Ong were part of the intellectual ferment of the 1960s, as was the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) in the Roman Catholic Church. Disclosure: I turned 16 in 1960. My undergraduate education from 1962 to 1966 coincided approximately with Vatican II.

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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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