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NYT Criticism of Pope Francis' Encyclical: an Early Right Wing Response

By       Message Mike Rivage-Seul       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink

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In Sunday's New York Times, Ross Douthat offered a critique of Pope Francis' new encyclical, "Laudato Si'." His piece was entitled "Pope Francis' Call to Action Goes beyond the Environment."

The op-ed is valuable since it offers a preview of the right wing critiques of "Laudato Si'" (LS) that we're likely to hear over the next few months. Let's consider them one-by-one.

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To begin with, the author is correct. Pope Francis' encyclical does go far beyond climate change. It is brilliantly overwhelming in its breadth of scope which sees climate chaos as but one symptom indicating that the present world system is fundamentally unsustainable.

Other symptoms include deforestation and loss of wetlands (8), "water poverty" and infant mortality (28), species extinction (33), over-fishing (40), destruction of coral reefs (41), uncontrolled urbanization (44), food waste (50), the north's "ecological debt" to the global south (51), debt crises in general (52), war (57), information manipulation (54), desertification (89), cruelty to animals (92), economic domination by unproductive financial interests (109), resource depletion (111), dangerous market-driven production of GMOs (134), secret negotiations of trade deals (135) and human anxiety, loss of purpose and of human community (110).

Additionally there are related problems of human trafficking, organized crime, the drug trade, commerce in blood diamonds, and the fur of endangered species . . . buying and selling of organs of the poor for resale or use in experimentation. . . and the elimination of children because they are not what their parents wanted (123).

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In the pope's vision, all of these problems are interconnected. In fact, that's the basic thesis underlying the Francis tour de force: EVERYTHING IS INTERCONNECTED (42, 117, 120, 137, etc.). At root what causes the problems are the unregulated nature of free markets, blind reliance on technological development, and excessive anthropocentrism (LS Chapter 3). Causes are rooted in "the lie" which denies that there are any limits to economic growth (106).

What are needed to combat such manifestations are radical changes in the ways humans live, produce and consume (23). Francis says we need a "bold cultural revolution" -- a recovery of values and great goals that have been swept away by human "delusions of grandeur" (114).

Not surprisingly, the pope finds such values and goals embodied in the Judeo-Christian tradition, its teachings about divine ownership of creation, human stewardship of the same, and its unswerving reverence for all forms of life, from the least to the greatest (Chapter Two). All life forms, the pope teaches, from algae to human embryos and the planet itself have intrinsic worth. None of them should be treated as insensate instruments put on earth for human profit and pleasure.

On Douthat's analysis, such reflections might be all well and good. However, they represent only one viewpoint. And this brings us to the right wing arguments against the pope's analysis that we can anticipate over the next months. They have to do with papal negativism, the success of the market in eliminating poverty, the Catholic approach to overpopulation, and the capacity of future technological development to solve the planet's problems.

For starters, Douthat calls the pope's approach "catastrophism." The other viewpoint -- evidently Douthat's own -- he terms "dynamism."

Dynamists are far more optimistic than the pope. They believe that the market and technological advances will possibly head off what the pope sees as inevitable catastrophe especially for the world's poor absent that earlier-mentioned bold Cultural Revolution.

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Coming from his dynamic perspective, Douthat argues that (1) poverty is diminishing world-wide, (2) overpopulation (spurred by the Catholic vision of marriage and fecundity) plays an important role in the problems the pope enumerates, and (3) who knows, the pope could be wrong: technology and the market just might automatically solve the world's problems.

On the pope's holistic analysis, each of such conservative arguments fails miserably.

The first (that world poverty is diminishing) is questionable on two counts.

First off, Douthat's thesis is based on a World Bank study showing that "extreme poverty" as opposed to normal poverty is diminishing. (Normal poverty is defined as an income of $2.00 per day.)

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Mike Rivage-Seul is a liberation theologian and former Roman Catholic priest. Recently retired, he taught at Berea College in Kentucky for 40 years where he directed Berea's Peace and Social Justice Studies Program.Mike blogs (more...)
 

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