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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 6/18/15

The Pope Might Save the Planet

Author 90190
Message Rabbi Michael Lerner

Pope Francis is helping to save the earth
Pope Francis is helping to save the earth
(Image by Rob Kall)
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Pope Francis' letter to the Catholic Church, and to the people of the world, called Laudato Si , is a powerful plea for environmental sanity and a serious recommitment to the Bible's call for humanity to be stewards of this planet earth. This plea, from the leader of the world's one billion Catholics, just might make a huge difference by puncturing through the emotional depression that keeps most of the people of the earth paralyzed in face of the growing crisis. You don't have to be religious or Catholic to join us in supporting the direction he outlines in his important call. Let me explain.

It is not that people don't know about the environmental crisis that keeps us stuck in our current situation. It is rather that most people are unable to see any way out of the mess that global capitalism has created for us. Feeling hopeless about the possibility of the kinds of fundamental transformations needed to save the planet, much of humanity has chosen the ostrich strategy: deny the problem, and focus instead on getting as much as one can for oneself in the decades ahead as the planet whimpers under the increasing destructiveness of the capitalist imperative to growth without limits and accumulation of money, power or things as the only meaning to life. Yet it is this very growth and accumulation of things, produced at the expense of the earth, that guarantees earth-destruction if not of the planet than at least of its life-support-system that makes human life on it possible.

The Democrats have been a huge failure at developing a serious strategy to stop climate change and preserve the earth for the same reason that most of the environmental groups have failed: they are not prepared to take on the capitalist system with its inherent dynamic that requires growth and requires endless conditioning of people to believe that they will achieve happiness and meaning in life through accumulation and growth.

Nor have they been willing to recognize that people impoverished by global capitalism around the world will not jump onto an environmental bandwagon proposed by the richest countries of the global North when the imperatives of feeding their families seem easier to meet by cutting down rain forests to grow cash-rich produce like cattle that will feed the global North's hunger for beef, pork, and other animal products.

The Pope recognizes the centrality of eliminating poverty to an environmental program. So do many socialists, but socialist-style global redistribution of wealth is only a necessary but not sufficient condition for addressing the environmental crisis, because giving the poor more money to spend may only increase demand as long as we are operating within the materialist, looking out for number one, growth-as-necessary, more as better consciousness created by capitalist societies.

And that is why the Pope is providing a unique kind of leadership. He is the first international spiritual progressive voice who can go beyond the "common sense" of global capitalism and articulate a different world view.

The essence of the Spiritual Progressive world view is this: We need a New Bottom Line, so that all institutions, corporations, economic policy, governmental policies, our legal system, our education system, our media, and even our personal lives get to be assessed as productive, efficient or rational not to the extent that they maximize money or power (the Old Bottom Line) but to the extent that they maximize our capacities to be loving and caring for each other and for the planet earth, generous and kind, promoting economic and social justice, treating everyone else on earth as equally valuable and equally entitled to share in the benefits of our planet and equally responsible to protect it, responding to others as embodiments of the sacred and not simply as means to our own ends, and responding to the planet earth and the entire universe with awe, wonder and radical amazement rather than simply treating it as a "resource" to satisfy human needs.

It is from this standpoint that spiritual progressives can challenge the values that underlie global capitalism and materialist versions of socialism and instead chart a path to a fundamentally different global economic, political and social world. We at the Network of Spiritual Progressives have begun to do that with our proposed Global Marshall Plan (please download the full version at and our proposed ESRA--Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (please read it at Of course, the Pope's stand is generating considerable opposition from conservative Catholics who have already found ways around the Bible's social justice teachings so that they could explain why they are champions of the rich and still call themselves Christians. All the more reason for the rest of us to embrace this Pope, even as we gently and lovingly chide him to consider applying his message of caring for everyone more fully by embracing full rights for women and homosexuals.

The best way to support the Pope is to build an interfaith movement based on these values articulated in the New Bottom Line. It is only when people begin to see a spiritual progressive movement in the public sphere with a strategy for how to save the planet that they will be able to imagine overcoming their own passivity, emotional depression, and mistaken certainty that "nothing will ever make possible a new economic system." It is only when they see millions of us working together for a fundamentally different world that they will overcome this mistaken commitment to "being realistic" and instead recognize that "we never know what is possible until we join with others to struggle for what is desirable."


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Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun Magazine, chair of the interfaith and secular-humanist-welcoming Network of Spiritual Progressives, rabbi of Beyt Tikkun synagogue-without-walls in Berkeley and (more...)
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