September 1, 2015 by John Crapper
1. a letter addressed by the pope to all the bishops of the church.
2. (of a letter) intended for a wide or general circulation; general.
3. a letter from the Pope to the Roman Catholic clergy on matters of doctrine or other concerns of the Churcht to be read from the pulpit.
1. Regarding humans as the central element of the universe.
2. Interpreting reality exclusively in terms of human values and experience.
You don’t get much more anthropocentrically centered than the Judeo-Christian belief that God created the entire world to serve man’s every need. There are plenty of passages found in the Bible that lend support and rationalization for this belief. Take for example the following verses.
First Genesis 1:26 –
Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ (from the New International Version (NIV)
Then there is Genesis 1:28 (from the New International Version (NIV)
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Genesis 9:1-29 (from the English Standard Version)
And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. …
All of these versus lend credence to the notion that God intended man to be in control of the environment around him.
It is not at all uncommon for ecologists to challenge anthropocentrism. Here at the Church of the Holy Shitters we steadfastly and routinely do just that.
But it’s something else for the pontiff of the Catholic Church to do it. But that is what Pope Francis did in his latest Encyclical Letter – Laudato SI’. The significance of this letter cannot be overstated.
And the Pope has plenty of biblical references to bolster his own argument challenging anthropocentrism. Here are a few examples:
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:15)
“You shall not pollute the land in which you live…. You shall not defile the land in which you live, in which I also dwell; for I the LORD dwell among the Israelites.” (Numbers 35:33-34)
“The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers, the heavens languish together with the earth. The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth; its inhabitants suffer for their guilt.” (Isaiah 24:4-6)
“You have polluted the land with your whoring and wickedness. Therefore the showers have been withheld, and the spring rain has not come.” (Jeremiah 3:2-3)
I recently took the time to read this encyclical in its entirety. I wanted to know first-hand what the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics had to say about climate change and man’s obligations to resolve this man-made problem.
+++ Note: All quotes of the encyclical letter are taken from the official transcript. It is quite a lengthy document but well worth the time to read. This diary, although lengthy itself, contains only a small portion of the territory covered in the encyclical. +++
Pope Francis acknowledges the problem of anthropocentricity in just the second paragraph of his recent encyclical when he says:
We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will.
And as you might guess the Pope couches this egocentric mindset in terms of sin.
“For human beings… to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins”. For “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God”.
And he accurately goes on to say:
If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us. A rise in the sea level, for example, can create extremely serious situations, if we consider that a quarter of the world’s population lives on the coast or nearby, and that the majority of our megacities are situated in coastal areas.
And he admirably identifies the importance of addressing the needs of the poor as it relates to climate change.
Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited. For example, changes in climate, to which animals and plants cannot adapt, lead them to migrate; this in turn affects the livelihood of the poor, who are then forced to leave their homes, with great uncertainty for their future and that of their children. There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. They are not recognized by international conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever.
He goes on accurately to list the problems of fresh clean water, the loss of biodiversity, the decline in the quality of human life and the increase in global inequality. He points out the breakdown of society and the weak response to date of addressing all these problems.
He makes special mention of the increasing rate of change taking place in our societies.
The continued acceleration of changes affecting humanity and the planet is coupled today with a more intensified pace of life and work which might be called “rapidification”.
And he does a good job of pointing out this rapidification is coupled with super-consumerism.
But a sober look at our world shows that the degree of human intervention, often in the service of business interests and consumerism, is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, ever more limited and grey, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound limitlessly. We seem to think that we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something which we have created ourselves.
And finally, he points out the fallacy of blaming over-population exclusively for the problem.
To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption.
No one can fault the Pope for analyzing the problem of climate change through the eyes of the position he holds; that of being the spiritual leader of the Catholic Church. As I read the encyclical I kept this in mind as I traveled down the path of his logic. His insights and analysis of the problem of anthropogenic climate change is groundbreaking and a huge step forward for the Catholic Church and the community of faith as a whole.
But that spiritual perspective must be recognized for what it is. A fundamental orientation of perception that filters all thought through the lens of faith. And this lens of faith limits and blinds the pontiff from clearly analyzing certain human aspects of this human caused problem.
The problems in perception I identified while reading the encyclical fell into the following two broad categories.
1. The difficulty religion poses of reconciling the belief in the divine nature of mankind with man’s animal connections distorting man’s correct placement in the “natural grand scheme of things”.
2. The divine nature of man orientation tends to blind a person’s perception inhibiting the close examination of man’s bodily functions and needs as they relate to the environment.
The starting point for the Pope is that he believes in the wisdom of the Bible.
The Bible teaches that every man and woman is created out of love and made in God’s image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26).
The Pope argues from the perspective that the earth was “given to man”.
“Not only has God given the earth to man, who must use it with respect for the original good purpose for which it was given, but, man too is God’s gift to man. He must therefore respect the natural and moral structure with which he has been endowed”.
He analyzes from a perspective of man being above nature.
Human beings, even if we postulate a process of evolution, also possess a uniqueness which cannot be fully explained by the evolution of other open systems. Each of us has his or her own personal identity and is capable of entering into dialogue with others and with God himself. Our capacity to reason, to develop arguments, to be inventive, to interpret reality and to create art, along with other not yet discovered capacities, are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology.
And above other creatures.
Christian thought sees human beings as possessing a particular dignity above other creatures; it thus inculcates esteem for each person and respect for others.
And this elevation of human life leads to the elevation of our role in the grand scheme of things in the eyes of believers.
Human beings, endowed with intelligence and love, and drawn by the fullness of Christ, are called to lead all creatures back to their Creator.
His religion insists that each human being is an image of God but this should not make us overlook the fact that each creature has its own purpose. But as he states, other creatures are not at the same level as humans. Because of our elevated, in the image of God nature, we have a special responsibility.
This is not to put all living beings on the same level nor to deprive human beings of their unique worth and the tremendous responsibility it entails. Nor does it imply a divinization of the earth which would prevent us from working on it and protecting it in its fragility.
And it puts the value of human life in a special category as indicated by the Church’s stand on abortion (and although not mentioned here birth control too.)
Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties? “If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away”.
And finally he analyzes from the perspective of everlasting eternal life promising a new and better existence.
At the end, we will find ourselves face to face with the infinite beauty of God (cf. 1 Cor 13:12), and be able to read with admiration and happiness the mystery of the universe, which with us will share in unending plenitude. Even now we are journeying towards the sabbath of eternity, the new Jerusalem, towards our common home in heaven. Jesus says: “I make all things new” (Rev 21:5). Eternal life will be a shared experience of awe, in which each creature, resplendently transfigured, will take its rightful place and have something to give those poor men and women who will have been liberated once and for all.
In the meantime, we come together to take charge of this home which has been entrusted to us, knowing that all the good which exists here will be taken up into the heavenly feast.
So, although Pope Francis acknowledges the problem of anthropocentricity in just the second paragraph of his encyclical, he does not come to the conclusion that humans are not the central element of the universe. He therefore continues to interpret largely in terms of human values and experience. In his mind, the problem lies not in us realizing we are not all that special in the grand scheme of things but in us not acting as God wants us to act and being sinners and not living up to God’s expectations. We need to be more aware of God within ourselves and in the universe.
The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things. Saint Bonaventure teaches us that “contemplation deepens the more we feel the working of God’s grace within our hearts, and the better we learn to encounter God in creatures outside ourselves”.
The human person grows more, matures more and is sanctified more to the extent that he or she enters into relationships, going out from themselves to live in communion with God, with others and with all creatures.
So, although the Pope does an admirable job attempting to put the anthropocentric orientation his religion demands in a different light he still has to maintain its anthropocentric elements. Consequently, he spent very little time delving into the issues most closely related to our “animal connections”.
I found it also blinded him to certain aspects of the problem closely associated with certain bodily functions and needs. The most well-known of these is man’s sexuality. I don’t want to dive into this aspect of our “animal connectedness” but it is well known the Church’s stand on such things as birth control, pre-marital sex, a woman’s right to choose and the acceptance of the LGBT orientations. The Catholic Church basically struggles with all things sexually as evidenced by the belief in the Immaculate Conception and the requirement for both priests and nuns to be celibate.
Much more under the radar of most people’s awareness was his ignoring of fecal matters. Although the needs of the poor was a main theme of his encyclical, sanitation was only mentioned cursorily stating simply that the poor need access to it.
But it is a huge issue for the poor and it matters.
It matters because 2.6 billion people don’t have sanitation. “Four in ten people have no access to any latrine, toilet, bucket, or box.” “Diarrhea—nearly 90 percent of which is caused by fecally contaminated food or water—kills a child every fifteen seconds.” “The number of children who have died from diarrhea in the last decade exceeds the total number of people killed by armed conflict since the Second World War.” “The 1.8 million child deaths each year related to clean water and sanitation dwarf the casualties associated with violent conflict. No act of terrorism generates economic devastation on the scale of the crisis in water and sanitation. Yet this issue barely registered in this encyclical.
To take this brief look at sanitation one step further let’s look at the predominant modern sanitation system used in the world today. Each of us pays good money to have purified water pour into our toilets. We then do our business and flush it into the sewer system. We also pay hard-earned money to carry our excrement away to a sewage treatment plant. Along the way it is mixed in with all kinds of foreign substances including chemicals, solvents and medical waste. At our sewage treatment plants varying energy intensive expensive processes are utilized to separate out the contamination from the water to return it to its pure state to be recycled. The remaining sludge’s value, as a result of human excrement being mixed with other sources of contamination, is diminished. It must be further sterilized, with questionable results, before it can be used as a fertilizer. This never-ending expensive cycle of mishandled waste indicates just how out of touch we are with our true nature. It also points out to what lengths we will go to deny our bodily functions and ignore our relationship and dependence on nature.
The final point I want to bring up in this regard was the lack of mention of Ecological Sanitation.
Ecological sanitation (Ecosan) offers a new philosophy of dealing with what is presently regarded as waste and wastewater. Ecosan systems enable the recovery of nutrients from human feces and urine for the benefit of agriculture, thus helping to preserve soil fertility, assure food security for future generations, minimize water pollution and recover bio-energy. They ensure that water is used economically and is recycled in a safe way for purposes such as irrigation or groundwater recharge.
The main objectives of ecological sanitation are:
* To reduce the health risks related to sanitation, contaminated water and waste
* To prevent the pollution of surface and ground water
* To prevent the degradation of soil fertility
* To optimize the management of nutrients and water resources.
Again, Pope Francis deserves all the accolades he has received for stepping up and publishing this encyclical on climate change. It was a huge step forward for the Catholic Church and all faith-based communities.
But, as head of the secular environmental religion Church of the Holy Shitters, I am obligated to point out its shortcomings from our perspective.
Category Climate Change, Religion | Tags: Ass-backward consumerism, ass-backward thinking, ass-forward thinking, Climate Change, consumer diarrhea, Consumerism, Environment, Fossil fuel, Global Warming, Holy Shitters, our religion, religion, Sanitation, Soft and Fluffy Consumerism, Super-consumerism, Sustainable energy, thinking