Sunday, June 28, 2015

We Have To Behave as Emissaries of Our Lord

It’s no secret that, since Obergefell, Christians who stand for the defense of marriage as God intended it have become something of pariahs on social media, and having our faces rubbed in the ruling. People have been unfriended because they defend Christian morality, accused openly of being bigots. Between the comments and the “rainbowized” pictures, it can be very difficult to avoid lashing out at the people who seem to want to throw the #lovewins and #loveislove in our faces when we know we are being misrepresented and demonized. But it is lashing out that we must not do, and—unfortunately—some Catholics have lashed out in ways which will lead those who support “same sex marriage” to view it as just that much more “proof" that we are the bigots they always thought we were.

We have to remember that it is Our Lord who commanded us:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?* 48 So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. [Matthew 5:43-48]

It doesn’t matter how badly we are treated. In our response, even if we are forced to block them because of abusive attacks, we have to show that we love those who hate us—not as an act, but in sincerity. That means we have to be civil when we debate with them, avoiding insults, sarcasm or other rudeness. Now yes, that is hard. I confess I created a few sarcastic memes that I had to sit on when I really wanted to post them. (Through the grace of God, I was given a sense that to publish them was not in keeping with Christian witness). But we have to remember that the example we provide may be the only witness they have as to how a Christian bears witness to what they believe. If it is a bad witness, we become a stumbling block that keeps others from seeing God’s call.

Now that doesn’t mean that we have to be silent and not say that homosexual acts are wrong, as those who oppose us try to argue. As Emissaries of Our Lord, we have to carry His message telling the world to live according to God’s will. Indeed, when it comes to the State legalizing “same sex marriage,” the Church has made it very clear that we cannot give our assent:

In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection.


[#5. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2003).

So, we cannot recognize the diktat given to us in the Obergefell ruling as valid or cooperate—we must oppose it. But in doing so we have to be charitable. Being insulting or verbally (textually?) abusive is not the way we are to go about it. “Rainbowizing” Hitler or the Devil is not a charitable tactic for example. Regardless of whether a person is deliberately acting abusively or is unaware of how they come across, we must show the love of Christ while teaching the truth.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

An Open Letter From a Catholic to Supporters of Obergefell v. Hodges

To the Reader:

After yesterday’s ruling by the Supreme Court, I have seen many anti-Christian (in general) and anti-Catholic (in specific) attacks which seek to dismiss our teachings as the inventions of “homophobic bigots.” The rhetoric has gotten sharp—and I confess to sharing the guilt. However, many of the attacks I have seen demonstrate a profound lack of understanding about our beliefs. So I thought that rather than do a sarcastic blog with a Condescending Wonka theme (it wasn’t very nice), I should try to just write this open letter trying to explain why we must hold our position even in the face of misunderstanding and hostility.

I hope this does not come across as rude or condescending. I hope to give an insight into our beliefs on sexual morality without getting too technical or passionate. But I am only human and therefore a sinner who needs the grace of Our Lord, just like everyone else. So some things might slip past my editing. So let us begin.

We do understand the justification people use in championing “same sex marriage.” It is a combination two things. First, of thinking that love between any two consenting adults is love regardless of gender (hence the #loveislove hashtag), and feeling sympathy for people with a same sex attraction who (until yesterday) were unable to marry. Second, the belief that the situation of people with a same sex attraction is similar to the situation of persecuted minorities in American history, and that the Supreme Court ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges is seen as something similar to the victories of the Civil Rights movement. Because you do see things in this way, it is easy to understand why you see those of us who think the Obergefell ruling was wrong as filling the same role that Southerners filled in opposing Civil Rights. Certainly we deplore the fact that some who held the title of Christian have taken part in the mistreatment of minorities which causes you to mistrust  us and our motives.

But, though we understand your perspective, we cannot accept it as being accurate. The two situations only have a superficial resemblance. The Civil Rights case was about ethnicity, which was apparent by simply looking at the individual. People were judged as inferior simply because of the color of their skin. There was no behavior to modify. In the eyes of those who were racist, no matter how the black man acted, no matter how educated he might turn out to be, laws were aimed at preventing them from being equal to whites in the eyes of the law. Segregation and Slavery before it were dehumanizing and aimed at telling non-whites to “stay in your place."

But this is not the case when it comes to the support of “same sex marriage.” The area of contention is not in believing that ethnicity is a stigma. The division is over the claim that a sexual relationship between two people of the same gender is morally acceptable and there is no reason to forbid them from getting married. Right and wrong is recognized by most people. If we didn’t acknowledge that some acts were always wrong, we would be unable to condemn Nazis, Slave Owners, Terrorists or Rapists. The difference between the two sides in this dispute is over where the line is to be drawn between right and wrong. 

That brings us to the problem. We understand, even though we do not accept, your reasons for supporting “same sex marriage.” The problem is, many seem not to understand our reasons for opposing same sex marriage? Let me deny some of the common accusations against us. It is not, as is widely claimed, that we have a fear or hatred of people with same sex attraction. Nor is it the “ick factor” that we are accused of holding over the physics of the sexual act between two people of the same gender. The reason of our opposition is based on what we believe the purpose of marriage is for.

We do not accept the idea that marriage is a sexual relationship where the partners have feelings for each other and undergo a civil ceremony. We believe that the sexual act is properly based on the complementarity of one male and one female in a lifelong relationship aimed (to the best of their circumstances and ability) at establishing a family  (Father, Mother, the children they brought into the world) with the aim of raising new generations, teaching them the values needed to sustain that society.

Thus, Christianity must speak out and label as “misuse of the sexual act” those actions which either cannot or refuse to accomplish this. Thus the Catholic Church says that acts such as masturbation, fornication, adultery, same sex acts, and contraception all fall under the category of “misuse.” (Other sexual acts like polygamy, rape, incest, bestiality, pedophilia, and necrophilia are condemned for not only violating the purpose of marriage but for other reasons as well. But since many people jump to conclusions and assume that the mention of this means the person is equating them with same sex acts, I will not use them as examples to avoid useless distractions).

The point is, we do not single out people with same sex attraction as being wrong. (Completed acts of sodomy and oral sex between husband and wife are also condemned). Rather, we include sexual acts by people of the same gender alongside other sexual acts which misuse the purpose of what the sexual relationship is intended for.

Unfortunately, many people do not understand our technical terms and assign them a meaning that we never intended in the first place. For example, the term “unnatural act.” People do not understand what the term means and assumes it means “extra special bad, go directly to hell.” But that’s not what it means. What we mean runs along these lines:

  • A sexual act which would ordinarily be considered morally acceptable between husband and wife (i.e. male-female genital acts), but is used in ways not part of the marriage act (rape, fornication, adultery etc) are considered “natural sins.”
  • A sexual act which uses the sexual organs in a way for which they were not designed (masturbation, sodomy, oral sex) is considered “unnatural sins.” 

The reason for this difference of classification is not to say that homosexuality is “worse” than rape (Rape is more serious). The classification is intended to show how it is wrong. The “natural sins” use the sexual act in the way it was physically designed but not for the purpose it was designed for. But a person who misunderstands what we mean by these terms will draw the wrong conclusions and accuse us of saying something we never said.

When a person understands how the Catholic Church understands marriage, it becomes clear that the teaching that says homosexual acts are a sin is not based on the hatred of the people who have such an attraction. It is based on the belief that God designed the sexual act for marriage, and this design precludes everything except the relationship of one man and one woman in a lifelong relationship with the openness to raising children (if possible).

Now it is true that some Christians have done reprehensible things to people with same sex attraction, and we deplore that. But, while I can only speak about my own religion (if you want to hear non-Catholic perspectives, I believe you should speak to someone who is an informed member of that faith),I can point to our teaching that while sexual acts between people of the same gender are morally wrong, the Catholic Church recognizes that this inclination is a trial and that we may not treat such people unjustly. Our Catechism says:

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. (2333)

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection. (2347)

Now, you the reader may not agree with what we hold. But please understand that we do not hold our beliefs out of hatred of the people who do what we call wrong. We believe that acts which are sinful separate us from God and must be avoided if we would show our love for Him (see John 14:15). Since we believe that God made clear, for reasons which are not arbitrary, that marriage exists between one man and one woman (see Matthew 19:4-5). Since we believe this command is from God and is not manmade, we do not believe that we have the right to change this teaching.

I hope this open letter helps explain our concerns.

God Bless

Friday, June 26, 2015

They Will Hate Us

Zechariah Stoned(The Stoning of Zechariah)


The Supreme Court has ruled today legalizing “same sex marriage” in a very poorly reasoned decision. This is something a Christian cannot support in good faith. Of course we believe that we are called to treat each individual with all the love and respect that is due a human person. But that love we are called to does not mean that we are required to recognize a morally bad act as if it were good. Therefore we deny that our actions are motivated by hatred when we say that homosexual acts are wrong. However, people will accuse us of hatred anyway. 

Because those political and cultural elites have decided that the only moral wrong is “hatred,” and because they decide that any action or belief they dislike is “hatred,” it stands to reason that we will become social pariahs in society. I fully expect that families will be divided as Our Lord warned in Matthew:

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. 35 For I have come to set 

a man ‘against his father, 

a daughter against her mother, 

and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 

36 and one’s enemies will be those of his household.’  (Matthew 10:34-36)

So, when those of us who believe that marriage can only exist between one man and one woman encounter those who believe that any sexual relationship can become a “marriage,” they will accuse us of bigotry, hatred, homophobia and so on. They will falsely compare themselves with the Civil Rights movement and equate us with being Klansmen. To bolster their claim, they will trot out every extremist who comes along and equate them with being the “typical” example of Christian opposition.

This is false of course. The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes quite clear that, despite moral opposition to same sex sexual acts, we are not to treat people with such an inclination with hatred or do harm to them:

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. (2333)

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection. (2347) [Emphasis added]

Of course this hostility in the face of rejecting society’s values in favor of Our Lord’s values. Is nothing new. The pagan Romans viewed the early Christians as “enemies of humanity” and a danger to society because we rejected the vicious (in the sense of “vice filled”) practices they accepted as normal. Any government which finds our moral stance to be a barrier to what they want to do will find a way to label us as an enemy of the state, being cheered along by the crowds.

Christians to the lions

Of course, we must make sure our behavior as Christians is worthy of Our Lord. We have to love and bless those who hate us, and rebuke those extremists who confuse the teaching of what is right with the hatred of those who do wrong. And there will be extremists out there. When something offensive is done, there will always be a small percentage among the offended who think an unjust response is acceptable—and the greater the offense, the larger the amount offended and a corresponding larger number of extremists. We must urge them to remember that we may not do evil to those who wrong us.

So, we will no do evil, but, we will not surrender doing what is right before God either, because we must obey God, rather than men. We cannot "burn the pinch of incense” that society demands to get along. So, just as we did after Roe v. Wade, we will refuse to accept the validity of the Supreme Court decision. We will work to bring a fallen society back to Christ. In doing so, we will reject the charge of “hatred” towards those who hate us. We may be fired, fined, sued or imprisoned. We may find the Supreme Court will invent a “workaround” to evade the First Amendment and justify direct attacks on denominations they despise. But despite that, we will continue to love those we are called to teach the truth about how God calls us to live.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Taking A Hard Look At Ourselves: Chapter VI of Laudato Si

The Pharisees Question Jesus


One of the things that strike me about Our Lord’s interactions with the Pharisees is that the Pharisees clearly believed they were living God’s Law as He wanted the Jews to live it. So when Jesus began pointing out how they were missing the point on some crucial areas and putting emphasis on things that were less important (“straining the gnat and swallowing the camel”), they resented it. The fact that Jesus was telling them that they too needed to repent offended them. Indeed, Our Lord was seen as dangerous in their eyes and a threat to their comfortable view on what was right and wrong with the world.

The Church tends to get treated the same way as Our Lord does (which He warned us about). The Pope teaches on a topic which threatens our comfortable ideas on what is wrong in the world, and suddenly we get offended. We accuse him of being ignorant, or of being political or of being heretical. But when we consider what the Pope is supposed to do (shepherd the Church as the vicar of Christ), we should be considering whether we are blind to faults that interfere with our relationship with God.

That brings us to today’s discussion on the encyclical. 

Considering Where We Are and Where We Should Be

The Pope starts Chapter VI by stating that human beings need to change (¶202). We are unaware of our common origin, mutual belonging and shared future, and we have to become aware of them if we are going to face the changes in life. Basically, this is an application of metanoia—changing direction and repenting of our past wrongs and turning back to God again.

The problem (which St. John Paul II called the “Culture of Death”) in the eyes of the Pope is a focus on consumerism and the equating of freedom with the freedom to consume (¶203). As he puts it:

When people become self-centred and self-enclosed, their greed increases. The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume. It becomes almost impossible to accept the limits imposed by reality. In this horizon, a genuine sense of the common good also disappears. As these attitudes become more widespread, social norms are respected only to the extent that they do not clash with personal needs. So our concern cannot be limited merely to the threat of extreme weather events, but must also extend to the catastrophic consequences of social unrest. Obsession with a consumerist lifestyle, above all when few people are capable of maintaining it, can only lead to violence and mutual destruction. (¶204)

However, he does not stop with the negative, as if we were totally depraved and could not do otherwise. He says we are capable of rising above these behaviors with the help of God-given abilities. In doing so, we can consider what changes we need to make to our lifestyle and how that can impact the world. He reminds us of the successes of boycotts in the secular world as an example of effecting a moral change, and says we can do the same with the moral issues in relationship to the environment (¶206).

He also calls for environmental education, which makes a lot of sense. We tend to use ideological preferences as a substitute for informing ourselves. We have two factions (I leave for others to decide what percentage they make of the whole) who assume that the other side is based on politically motivated bad will. Such education needs (¶211) to help instill good habits at the basic level for individuals. Basically we need to ask ourselves whether we could change our behaviors in such a way which leads us to be the good stewards of creation that God calls us to be.

He then gets into the role of Christians in ecological education. It’s important to keep chapter II in mind here, because the Pope stressed there the fact that God created everything and saw it was good. He makes a good point that seems to bring hope to the faithful (or, at least those who did more than selectively read chapters I and V):

217. “The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast”.[152] For this reason, the ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion. It must be said that some committed and prayerful Christians, with the excuse of realism and pragmatism, tend to ridicule expressions of concern for the environment. Others are passive; they choose not to change their habits and thus become inconsistent. So what they all need is an “ecological conversion”, whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them. Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.

In other words, even committed Christians can be misled into rejecting the concerns of the environment. That’s understandable. In my 20s, environmentalism, when it was considered at all, was considered part of the whole “New Age” “Gaia” concept of Pantheism. The only part of St. Francis that we ever saw was the rather goofy Brother Sun, Sister Moon. So, yes, we were skeptical. But actually we were guilty of the argument from ignorance fallacy—we assumed that because we never saw any orthodox discussion about the environment, that it didn’t exist. But it does exist, as Pope Francis and his predecessors have pointed out—indeed it was Benedict XVI who first persuaded me that we had to consider moral implications as to how we treated the environment.

He points out that an attitude of repentance involves considering all of our “our errors, sins, faults and failures, and leads to heartfelt repentance and desire to change” (¶218). Logically that includes our abuse of God’s creation. But it’s not enough to do individual actions—individuals who feel alone can be crushed (see ¶219). It takes communities to make a stand that can be effective. 

He then describes the kind of conversion we need to have:

220. This conversion calls for a number of attitudes which together foster a spirit of generous care, full of tenderness. First, it entails gratitude and gratuitousness, a recognition that the world is God’s loving gift, and that we are called quietly to imitate his generosity in self-sacrifice and good works: “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing… and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Mt 6:3-4). It also entails a loving awareness that we are not disconnected from the rest of creatures, but joined in a splendid universal communion. As believers, we do not look at the world from without but from within, conscious of the bonds with which the Father has linked us to all beings. By developing our individual, God-given capacities, an ecological conversion can inspire us to greater creativity and enthusiasm in resolving the world’s problems and in offering ourselves to God “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable” (Rom 12:1). We do not understand our superiority as a reason for personal glory or irresponsible dominion, but rather as a different capacity which, in its turn, entails a serious responsibility stemming from our faith.

In other words, we need to apply to our stewardship for God’s creation the same things we are called to apply in the rest of our life. Moderation, being grateful for what we have, overcoming materialism with the attitude of “less is more.” (¶222) If you think this sounds like liberalism, I strongly advise you to pick up the old Lives of the Saints by Alban Butler and read about how the saints—even those who were kings and queens—carried out this mindset. The Pope also urges people to get back in the habit of saying grace before and after meals (¶227) because it reminds us of the blessings God has given us in life, reminding us of our dependence on Him and being grateful for what we have been given.

He also reminds us of the fact that love has civic and political impact (¶231) in working to build a better world out of love for God and neighbor. Finally, he points to the sacraments, especially the Eucharist:

236. It is in the Eucharist that all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation. Grace, which tends to manifest itself tangibly, found unsurpassable expression when God himself became man and gave himself as food for his creatures. The Lord, in the culmination of the mystery of the Incarnation, chose to reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter. He comes not from above, but from within, he comes that we might find him in this world of ours. In the Eucharist, fullness is already achieved; it is the living centre of the universe, the overflowing core of love and of inexhaustible life. Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God. Indeed the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love: “Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world”.[166] The Eucharist joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation.


Laudato Si is not a climate change document. It is a document about the stewardship God has given us over the Earth. Such a stewardship is not a license to use or abuse the world in whatever way benefits us. Ultimately, we are called to love God and love what He has created. That’s obvious when it comes to our fellow human beings—or rather, it used to be obvious. But ultimately, we in the industrialized world have become utilitarian and look at the Earth, each other, and even God in the sense of “how can this benefit me?"

Pope Francis reminds us that our first approach is love of God. Out of love for Him, we love our brothers and sisters and do not do things which cause them harm. Also out of love for Him, we show gratitude for the world He has made and use it responsibly. When our actions break one or more of these obligations, we have turned away from God and towards sin. Hence, the Pope calls us to turn back to God—in all areas of our life.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Taking Responsibility for What We Have Done: Thoughts on Laudato Si Chapter V

Chernobyl nuclear disaster 384072564(Chernobyl—Harm to the Environment must be dealt with)


This is the chapter where a superficial reading of the Pope’s encyclical is going to lead people astray, with all the accompanying accusations of “explaining away” when we actually point out the missed nuances. Because many of the terms the Pope uses have been dumbed down into buzzwords, a person who assumes these buzzwords are what the Pope means is going to be misled into thinking the Pope is endorsing a “whacko” environmentalist position.

The fact is, he is doing nothing of the kind. This chapter is about obligations that follow from our moral principles. Now a person who firmly rejects the concept of climate change is going to think of this as non-binding opinion over a “hoax.” But others who read this encyclical seriously will find that this chapter carries Catholic principles to a logical conclusion—the question is whether we have the courage to follow the reasoning or whether we try to explain our obligations away.

Of course, even with a careful reading, some people won’t like this. The Pope expresses a view that ecological damage is real, serious and needs to be addressed. Others disagree with this and claim that the claims are nothing more than opinions with some science attached. The problem is, people on both sides accuse the other side of being partisan in their science. The problem with this is, even if ecological damage is not as bad as some claim it is, there is some damage out there and concern for those most affected is in keeping with the Church moral theology. The danger of course is that members of the Church may find themselves divided over political disputes when they should be united in doing what is right before God.

What is important to remember when you study chapter V is that the moral teachings he gives are valid whether you believe in climate change or not.

Finding Solutions That Don’t Harm the Poor

I think the best way to begin is by giving a (somewhat vulgar) quote by conservative political humorist, P.J. O’Rourke:

There’s not a g*dd**n thing you can do about it. Maybe climate change is a threat, and maybe climate change has been tarted up by climatologists trolling for research grant cash. It doesn’t matter. There are 1.3 billion people in China, and they all want a Buick. Actually, if you go more than a mile or two outside China’s big cities, the wants are more basic. People want a hot plate and a piece of methane-emitting cow to cook on it. They want a carbon-belching moped, and some CO2-disgorging heat in their houses in the winter. And air-conditioning wouldn’t be considered an imposition, if you’ve ever been to China in the summer.

Now, I want you to dress yourself in sturdy clothing and arm yourself however you like—a stiff shot of gin would be my recommendation—and I want you to go tell 1.3 billion Chinese they can never have a Buick. Then, assuming the Sierra Club helicopter has rescued you in time, I want you to go tell a billion people in India the same thing.

O'Rourke, P.J. Don't Vote It Just Encourages the Bastards (p. 150). 2010. Grove/Atlantic, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

While Pope Francis would reject Mr. O’Rourke’s conclusion, he would probably agree (going by what he has to say in this chapter) with the concerns that lead Mr. O’Rourke to his conclusions—that people who live less well off than Americans do want to improve their quality of life, but given their level of technology, will not be able to achieve this improvement without pollution that those concerned about the ecology want to eliminate. Indeed, this chapter involves a consideration for these concerns.

The Pope discusses (¶164) the growing recognition that the planet is our homeward and humanity is one people. This is not a contradiction of previous points about recognizing different cultures and avoiding homogenization. Rather he is talking about the fact that things impact all of us. The interdependent world makes us more aware about the negative aspects about certain lifestyles, forms of production and consumption. He says that solutions need to consider the global perspective not defending the self interest of a few countries.

It is beginning with ¶170 that the Pope begins discussing the issues that P.J. O’Rourke says will doom the discussion of climate change. The Pope seems to agree that this is a valid problem. He warns about policies that internationalize environmental costs because they risk imposing burdensome commitments on countries that have fewer resources in comparison with the more highly industrialized nations. In such cases, the poor end up paying a price they cannot afford. He points out that countries with fewer resources need assistance to adapt to the effects already produced and responsibilities need to be differentiated—countries which benefitted from industrialization at the cost of increasing the greenhouse gasses do have a greater responsibility.


That makes sense when you think about how the pollution we have did not just suddenly happen in the third world in the end of the 20th century. The west had the industrial revolution in the 19th century with little or no restrictions on what sort of pollution could be emitted. Our current quality of life is based on what we created with massive pollution. So we do have responsibility for what we have done, and we have to realize that poorer countries with a level of technology we find more primitive also want to improve their quality of life, but in doing so will be polluting grossly as well.

Beginning with ¶172, the Pope addresses the needs of the poor countries. He says that their priorities must be to eliminate extreme poverty and and promote the social development of their people. But at the same time they need to deal with the excessive consumption of certain privileged sectors of the population and to combat corruption. Because we now know about the effect of fossil fuels, they need to develop less polluting forms of energy production. But, lest we assume the burden falls solely on these poor nations, the Pope says that they need to be assisted in doing so by countries which experimented their growth at the cost of gross pollution. The poor countries will need subsidies to establish cleaner energy. Compared to the risks of global warming, the Pope sees these costs are a good investment. 

He also calls for establishment of enforceable international agreements, though they should respect sovereignty and not of the type imposed by diktat. He sees these as necessary in dealing with regional crises (¶173). He also believes that the protection of the environment cannot ignore the development of poverty stricken regions. Individual states cannot ignore their own responsibilities.

He also points out the limits that must be imposed by a healthy society (¶177):

The limits which a healthy, mature and sovereign society must impose are those related to foresight and security, regulatory norms, timely enforcement, the elimination of corruption, effective responses to undesired side-effects of production processes, and appropriate intervention where potential or uncertain risks are involved. There is a growing jurisprudence dealing with the reduction of pollution by business activities. But political and institutional frameworks do not exist simply to avoid bad practice, but also to promote best practice, to stimulate creativity in seeking new solutions and to encourage individual or group initiatives.

Subsidiarity is kept in mind in the encyclical, but this is something that has to be done at whatever level can achieve it. A politics which is driven by immediate results and consumerism (which, remember, St. John Paul II called the culture of death), focuses on short term growth and the fear of politicians to give bad news to the electorate. He points out that (¶178):

True statecraft is manifest when, in difficult times, we uphold high principles and think of the long-term common good. Political powers do not find it easy to assume this duty in the work of nation-building.

That is certainly true regardless of the topic discussed, and the Church certainly has had collisions with governments which choose a perceived good over a real good.

He rejects a “one size fits all” approach because each nation and culture has different situations to be addressed (¶180). Moreover, a consistency is needed which continues over a change of government (¶181). Thus, the public has a role to play in keeping elected officials on track and not getting bogged down in partisan fighting. The impact on the environment needs to be considered from the beginning when setting policy, not tacked on as an afterthought. He says we have to ask questions about planned activities:

What will it accomplish? Why? Where? When? How? For whom? What are the risks? What are the costs? Who will pay those costs and how? In this discernment, some questions must have higher priority. For example, we know that water is a scarce and indispensable resource and a fundamental right which conditions the exercise of other human rights. This indisputable fact overrides any other assessment of environmental impact on a region. (¶185)

This is clearly part of Catholic moral teaching in general. Actions which deny people their due are unjust, and private property rights are not absolute to the point that a person can be allowed to die over them.

He makes clear he is not opposed to technical innovation in general, but he denies that profit can be the sole consideration (again, this is solidly Catholic social teaching). However, lest people accuse the Pope of having the Church embrace a specific scientific theory or political platform, he recognizes prudential judgment is necessary and calls for open debate on how to accomplish these things (¶188).Politics and economics are supposed to be aimed at the service of life (¶189). This is nothing that has not been said by the predecessors of Pope Francis. He goes on to say that “the market” will not magically fix anything by itself (¶190). When profits alone are the motive, the intricacies of other concerns get overlooked. (How much concern did the 19th century laissez faire market concern itself with the environment?). He cites Benedict XVI, saying “technologically advanced societies must be prepared to encourage more sober lifestyles, while reducing their energy consumption and improving its efficiency” (¶193).

He also points out that:
198. Politics and the economy tend to blame each other when it comes to poverty and environmental degradation. It is to be hoped that they can acknowledge their own mistakes and find forms of interaction directed to the common good. While some are concerned only with financial gain, and others with holding on to or increasing their power, what we are left with are conflicts or spurious agreements where the last thing either party is concerned about is caring for the environment and protecting those who are most vulnerable. Here too, we see how true it is that “unity is greater than conflict”.
He concludes the chapter by discussing the role of religion in dialogue with science. If the world loses its compass, science will be unable to find a moral solution (¶200). Therefore believers are called to live according to their faith and not contrary to it and engage in dialogue with members of other religions in trying to establish the common good.

As I said at the beginning, people who approach this encyclical as a document on climate change have missed the point of what this is about. This is an encyclical about the moral obligations in relationship to the environment. So, even if climate change does turn out to be false, each nation has the responsibility to use their natural resources responsibly. I would sum it up as, “What we have done, we must repair.” But that cannot be understood as an individual project. Because pollution impacts the world beyond the borders of a nation, there needs to be the ability to respond beyond the borders of a nation.
Of course, prudential judgment requires us to consider the specific circumstances of a region and not do a “one size fits all policy."
In short, the Pope’s encyclical is not a matter of opinion here. Yes, you can disagree with global warming without being a bad Catholic. But you can’t say that care for the environment is not part of the Christian obligation.
Next time, I finish up the series on chapter VI.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Nothing is Isolated: Thoughts on Laudato Si, Chapter IV



In Chapter IV, the Pope discusses the integral ecology. While some readers with preconceived notions may think that the term sounds like some kind of new age “we are all one” pantheism, this is not the case. This is said in the Catholic sense that what we do has a farther reach than we anticipate and, in finding solutions, we have to look at the full sense of the impact. It seems to me that a number of critics must have skimmed this chapter, because the Pope deals with a number of topics that they say he never considered—especially the impact on people.

Again, this is no innovation. It has long been a part of Catholic moral theology that the consequences of an act can involve far more than what people consider. So let’s look at what he has to say in this section.

Integral Ecology means Considering All Aspects

The Pope says (¶137) that when dealing with solutions, we have to consider all aspects—which includes the human and social aspects. This will be important because the Pope rejects what many impute to him—that he would let people suffer in exchange for the environment. Indeed, he says that fragmentation of knowledge and isolation of bits of information can actually become “a form of ignorance" (¶138) and need to be integrated into a broader view of reality. In fact, he insists that the environment is “is a relationship existing between nature and the society which lives in it.” Solutions cannot be aimed at specific symptoms but have to be comprehensive (¶139).

In reading this, I am reminded, of all things, about a passage from the Michael Crichton novel, Jurassic Park:

They’re both technicians. They don’t have intelligence. They have what I call ‘thintelligence.’ They see the immediate situation. They think narrowly and they call it ‘being focused.’ They don’t see the surround. They don’t see the consequences. That’s how you get an island like this. From thintelligent thinking. Because you cannot make an animal and not expect it to act alive. To be unpredictable. To escape. But they don’t see that.”

“Don’t you think it’s just human nature?” Ellie said.

“God, no,” Malcolm said. “That’s like saying scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast is human nature. It’s nothing of the sort. It’s uniquely Western training, and much of the rest of the world is nauseated by the thought of it.”

[Crichton, Michael. Jurassic Park: A Novel (p. 317-318). Random House Publishing Group.]

By being focussed on only one thing, without considering how that thing interacts with other things can lead to creating something when something good is intended. This can happen when proposing something or cleaning up after it.

Hearkening back to a theme he referenced in chapter 3, the Pope says that looking at the whole means recognizing the intrinsic value independent of usefulness. For example, considering the aspects of how the ecology regenerates in sustainable use. He says that economic ecology needs a broader view than simplifying procedures and reducing cost (¶140). The environmental analysis cannot be separated from the analysis of human, family work-related and urban contexts. Nor can we consider the environment apart from relationships with the self and others.

He speaks of the fact that the health of a society’s institutions impact the environment and the quality of human life. In this he stresses the family as the “primary social group,” (and it should be remembered that the Pope has been strongly defending the family against “gender ideology.”) He says that whatever weakens these institutions will have a negative impact on the other aspects (¶142).

Indeed, he stresses the fact that any ecological solution must respect the culture involved, and sees the consumerist views as leveling the variety which is the heritage of peoples. Uniform regulations can overlook the complexity of social issues, so the imposition of an outside framework can be a problem. Merely technical solutions (refer back to chapter 3) risk addressing only the solutions. But quality of life considerations must be understood with respect to the rights of people and cultures (¶144).

He also discusses the fact of how exploitation can exhaust resources and undo social structures, and even goes so far as to say that the disappearance of a culture (which, as we saw earlier, fits in with the discussion about relations with God, neighbor and creation. This is, of course a rejection of the anti-human view that many environmentalists take, and shows the accusations that he does not care about the effect on human beings is false. Indeed, he points out (¶144) that authentic development seeks to improve the quality of life. This leads to a discussion of homes and transportation and their impact on this quality of life.

Human Relationships and Moral Law

When it comes to human ecology, it involves the relationship between human life and moral law (¶155). Indeed, building on his many statements on gender ideology, he says we have to respect our own bodies instead of thinking we have absolute control over them. This respect means accepting the masculinity or femininity it comes with and respecting the differences between male and female. This is something timely in light of the recent Bruce “Caitlyn” Jenner case.

One aspect that some might misinterpret as political buzzwords is the fact that he says that the common good cannot be separated from the human economy (¶156). It starts with recognizing that the person has basic, inalienable rights and the welfare of society—beginning with the family. Society has the obligation to provide this common good. Moreover, this common good extends to future generations and we need to ask ourselves what sort of world we leave to them? (¶159). We cannot view these things in a utilitarian way. The changes we want must begin with the question of what sort of world we want to leave behind (¶160).

He finishes up this chapter by pointing out that...

162. Our difficulty in taking up this challenge seriously has much to do with an ethical and cultural decline which has accompanied the deterioration of the environment. Men and women of our postmodern world run the risk of rampant individualism, and many problems of society are connected with today’s self-centred culture of instant gratification. We see this in the crisis of family and social ties and the difficulties of recognizing the other. Parents can be prone to impulsive and wasteful consumption, which then affects their children who find it increasingly difficult to acquire a home of their own and build a family. Furthermore, our inability to think seriously about future generations is linked to our inability to broaden the scope of our present interests and to give consideration to those who remain excluded from development. Let us not only keep the poor of the future in mind, but also today’s poor, whose life on this earth is brief and who cannot keep on waiting. Hence, “in addition to a fairer sense of intergenerational solidarity there is also an urgent moral need for a renewed sense of intragenerational solidarity”

Because we tend towards individualism today, we tend to focus on instant gratification in a way which is wasteful and are unable to think of how our actions exclude or harm the poorest.


Chapter IV actually sets a moral framework for our consideration on all issues—not only for the environment. In pointing out the moral considerations we need to make, we see he advocates nothing that his detractors allege. He rejects the idea of imposing an attempt to cure the situation that does not consider the impact on all aspects of life. Going along with the previous chapters, we see that the forms of environmentalism that his detractors claim he is advocating are actually rejected.

Whether we are choosing a to do a thing or choosing to correct the damage, we have to think about the impact it will have on different groups—including human groups, and especially the family. It’s when we refuse to do this that we cause harm. We use the home of a people as a nuclear testing ground, we develop efficient ways to produce a thing without considering how the materials will effect people and the environment in the future (asbestos as a flame retardant) on one hand, and we develop environmental policies that are harmful to communities to repair the damage, never considering how they impact people or how people might respond to them when considered a threat.

Like every other aspect of moral theology, we need to consider the harm our actions can do, and not simply focussing on a technocratic, “thintelligent” way of looking at things.

Next time, Chapter V—Lines of Approach and Actions 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Dangers of Technocratic and Anthropomorphic Thinking: Thoughts on Laudato Si, Chapter III



Chapter III of Laudato Si is the chapter titled, “The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis,” covering ¶102-136, and it is here that people will probably begin to interpret what the Pope has to say depending on what prior understandings they hold. Based on ideological concerns, such people will read selectively and praise or condemn the Pope (depending on the political slant of the reader in relation to the sections read).

But that’s a real pity because the Pope has some excellent insights into the problems of society. Building on Chapter II on the relations of human persons with God, neighbor and creation, he discusses and develops two themes of his predecessors—Blessed Paul VI, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI—the problems of technocratic and anthropomorphic thinking that miss the point of what is important. Speaking against technocracy is not a condemnation of technology, but a condemnation of certain ways of looking at humanity—just as a condemnation of scientism is not a condemnation of science but a condemnation of certain ways of looking at the world. Both cause harm and if we want to avoid the harm, we need to start thinking in different ways.

The Technocratic Mindset

He begins by praising the good that technology has done (¶102) when it modifies nature for the benefit of mankind, so anyone who invokes the old canard of the Church or the Pope being anti-science is demonstrating he or she has not read the encyclical or only read it superficially. However, the danger is that humanity is discovering extraordinarily powerful things which can be harmful, and there are no brakes to stop us from misusing them. He points out (¶104) the fact that totalitarian regimes have misused technology for terrible purposes and that the control of technology in the hands of the few is a dangerous thing.

He warns (¶105) about the view that the increase in power is an increase in progress is the result of an erroneous view that things give us freedom, but do not consider what the responsibilities are in using them. This makes a lot of sense—I recall hearing the old saying of “you can’t stop progress!” It assumes that technical progress is automatically thought of as proof of benefitting humanity as a whole. The Pope points out that economic and technological advances do not automatically equate with real good when we have very little control over what we do, saying " .

He warns (¶106) that we begin to think about things in terms of their utility and how they can be manipulated without thoughts to their consequences. As a result we treat resources as if they were easily renewable and don’t think about the consequences of their consumption. Indeed, we tend to think of the aims of technology as if they were the aims of society and views which question this are seen as countercultural. Technology isn’t used for the betterment of society, but in terms of profit and gratification.

I think the Holy Father makes some good insights here. We tend to think more about the features on the new Apple Watch than the effect of technology on helping people in the poor world, and we do have the idea that with the proper development of science and technology, we can eliminate all wants—look at Star Trek, with the backstory of technology eventually eliminating all want on earth and, consequently all crime and poverty and greed and places without this technical advance are seen as backwards societies. But the reality is, in the First World we get smart phones while people in the Third World die of diseases that are treatable and could be eliminated.

The Holy Father goes on to talk about the problems of specialization in technology making it harder to get the big picture about things in finding solutions to problems, and says that we need to go beyond just thinking in terms of science and technology, and consider social ethics and philosophy. Thus technology needs to be directed towards the big picture of the good of the whole and help improve the lot of all instead of being aimed at the what’s in it for me? mindset (¶109).

This all makes a lot of sense here. We tend towards gadgets which improve our high-tech lives while not thinking too much about whether that work could be used to benefit humanity as a whole. I mean tablets and laptops are useful, but they tend more towards the convenience of the person in a high tech society and less towards the survival of an individual in a low tech society. Of course, when someone suggests a change of priorities, we get bombarded with a lot of (irrelevant) arguments that “me not buying a new iPhone isn’t going to change the way things are!” True, but the decisions over where to focus on technology will.

The Pope points out this becomes even more significant when we consider that the personalized technology we have doesn’t seem to satisfy and we tend to look for novelties to fill that emptiness [¶113]. We can either confront the technocracy mindset or we can go on looking for new forms of escapism—which might explain why entertainment is growing more immersive and more extreme. It certainly explains my binge playing World of Warcraft for many years.

The Anthropomorphic Mindset

He also discusses the problems of anthropomorphism (¶115-128)—the view of humanity being the center of the universe with the productivity of humans being measuring their worth—thus the unborn and the disabled end up being viewed as having no value. [Hence, the push for abortion and euthanasia]. But, unless we recognize the value of humanity, we can’t form a proper value of creation. Thus he rejects abortion as being incompatible with a love of nature (¶121). Indeed, he points out:

122. A misguided anthropocentrism leads to a misguided lifestyle. In the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I noted that the practical relativism typical of our age is “even more dangerous than doctrinal relativism”.[99] When human beings place themselves at the centre, they give absolute priority to immediate convenience and all else becomes relative. Hence we should not be surprised to find, in conjunction with the omnipresent technocratic paradigm and the cult of unlimited human power, the rise of a relativism which sees everything as irrelevant unless it serves one’s own immediate interests. There is a logic in all this whereby different attitudes can feed on one another, leading to environmental degradation and social decay.

Contrary to the accusations that the Pope was proposing things that were anti-business, he says that labor (which involves people) needs to be considered [¶124-128] as a relationship with something other than ourself. He points out that labor costs have human costs and vice versa. To stop investing in people for short term gain will have long term costs and harms society. Again, this is in keeping with the social teaching of the Church—thinking in terms of profits alone and not the good of the person working is a shortsighted mindset.

The chapter concludes [¶130-136] with discussion of biological technology and their impact. This may seem like a sudden jump-cut, but when you keep in mind the warnings against technocracy and anthropomorphic thinking, it serves as an example of how to approach science ethically.

Genetic manipulation that turns people and creation into exploitable commodities is wrong, but he recognizes that experimentation on animals can be valid when used for maintaining human life—which is consistent with his previous speaking against divinizing nature or reducing humanity to a cog or a menace. Science is good when used in love of God, neighbor and creation. He calls it difficult to assess the use of genetic modification in food, agriculture, medicine and animals. (He mentions the use of crossbreeding as an example of legitimate practices). But he also lists problems which need to be considered. He calls for broad scientific debate to look into the issues.

However, in keeping with his opposition to technocracy and anthropomorphism, he flat out condemns the genetic tampering with human embryos, finishing the chapter by saying (¶136):

There is a tendency to justify transgressing all boundaries when experimentation is carried out on living human embryos. We forget that the inalienable worth of a human being transcends his or her degree of development. In the same way, when technology disregards the great ethical principles, it ends up considering any practice whatsoever as licit. As we have seen in this chapter, a technology severed from ethics will not easily be able to limit its own power.


Once again, we see the outrage/praise by people (depending on their political views) about the Pope writing a “climate change” encyclical are shown to be false. He speaks about a moral whole, where equating “technology” with progress and focusing on human individuals as the center of life without considering the relationship with God, neighbor and creation are the cause of harm done to self and others. What he says is true regardless of whether a person thinks “climate change” is true or thinks it is junk science. These attitudes the Pope warns against cause harm to people—morally, physically, socially and we need to change how we think about things if we want to improve things.

Next time, I will move on to Chapter IV—Integral Ecology.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Humanity's Relationship With God, Neighbor and Creation: Thoughts on Chapter II of Laudato Si

Adam Names Animals(Adam Names the Animals)

Chapter one of this encyclical was an overview of the fact that when human beings abuse Creation, it affects people in ways we often don’t consider and that the poorest people who depend most on the land to farm, raise livestock, hunt, fish and for drinking water are the ones most affected by the pollution effects. The media has portrayed this as a “Climate change” encyclical. But that’s to miss the point. This is an encyclical about us and our relationships—with God, our neighbor, and with Creation (which, as we will learn ≠ “nature”). If people think of this encyclical as being about “environmentalism” with all the baggage the term involves, will misinterpret what the Pope says in light of that term. But people who realize that the Pope is writing about God’s love shown through creation will find many wonderful insights into God and how we should behave.

That brings us to today’s look at the encyclical in the second chapter.

In Chapter II, we get into the theological reflections on the fact that God created us in harmony with Himself, our neighbor and Creation, but the fall damaged all three relationships. It really is a beautiful reflection on these things. Here, the Pope begins with the fact that the religious views of creation do have relevance in the discussion. We are told that because God brought creation into being, and, being made stewards, we have a responsibility in how we are to use the gifts we were given. The Pope rejects the view that human beings are an enemy of the planet.

God did give us dominion over the Earth, but what dominion means is distorted. We are corrupted by sin in thinking of it in terms of our own use—that we can exploit the Earth and not worry about what happens after. What dominion means is that we are called to make a responsible use of creation, keeping in mind the aftereffects and what will be left for future generation—who also have a share in the role of dominion. So, we are called to respect the laws of nature and not abuse it in ourselves or in others.

Indeed, as the Pope describes the fall and the murder of Abel, and how Cain is cursed from the ground, we are shown that the violation of our relationship with our neighbor damages our relationship with God and with His creation. Creation is an important word here. While nature is part of creation, the Judaeo-Christian idea of creation is greater than the idea of nature in meaning. The meaning of creation shows it as planned by God, while nature is something that can be studied and controlled.

But at the same time, contra New Age environmentalists, the Judaeo-Christian view demythologizes nature by refusing to treat it as divine, even as it insists on respecting it as being created by God. This sets us up for some excellent insights that reject the distorted environmentalism that people wrongly accuse/praise the Pope as holding.

Rejecting those two extremes, he calls it “mistaken” (¶82) to view the rest of creation solely for our gain—something that leaves the resources of creation as being solely for those who get there first, or have the strength to seize them. This is something that entirely fits in with the totality of the Church social teaching from Leo XIII to the present. In rejecting the idea that creation is for our personal gain, he points out that all of creation has its purpose that speaks of God’s love, and therefore we need to grasp the meaning of each part of creation as part of God’s plan (¶86).

However, he stresses the fact that we cannot reduce humanity to the level of creature and rejects the idea that we can elevate the Earth to being divine:

90. 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. Such notions would end up creating new imbalances which would deflect us from the reality which challenges us.[68] At times we see an obsession with denying any pre-eminence to the human person; more zeal is shown in protecting other species than in defending the dignity which all human beings share in equal measure.

He denounces a focus on saving endangered species which accepts the harm of the human person, especially the unwanted (¶91). The individual is not called to hate the pleasant things in life (citing Jesus in Matthew 11:19 in ¶98). But he does remind us of the Catholic principle that private property, while a right, is not an absolute right that we can use to the detriment of others (¶93).

Ultimately, Chapter II is a good framework we need to consider when it comes to the questions of “How shall we act?” If we consider how our behavior affects our relationship with God, our neighbor and God’s creation, it will help us rethink how we approach the way we live between the extremes of environmentalist whackos and indifferent exploitation.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Laudato Si! Dissension No! Reflections on Sections 1-61


So, the encyclical has been released. I had it copied to Scrivener by about 5:30am and converted it into a Verbum book to make it searchable and a Kindle book for ease of reading on a tablet. (Before you ask, no I won’t be giving out copies of this project. I respect the rights of the Holy See to decide how they will license this work, and when official e-book versions become available I will purchase them).

So far I am impressed by what I have seen. The Pope’s encyclical is well written, expressing itself clearly. What I have read thus far (¶ 1-61) is a discussion of the problems and the need to change attitudes. In doing so, he brings up two major themes—the obligation to take responsibility for how our interaction with the environment affects others and how our interaction with the environment uses or abuses God’s creation.

The Authority of the Encyclical

First of all, contrary to the denials of the authority of the encyclical, Pope Francis makes clear that this is part of Church teaching, not an opinion. In ¶15, he says:

It is my hope that this Encyclical Letter, which is now added to the body of the Church’s social teaching, can help us to acknowledge the appeal, immensity and urgency of the challenge we face. (emphasis added)

“[A]dded to the body of the Church’s social teaching” is significant, affirming that it is part of the ordinary magisterium of the Church which requires us to give assent. People who try to deny its authority are being Cafeteria Catholics. Like it or not, Catholics have to think about taking responsibility for the actions that affect us. Sure, there may be different ways to carry out the Church teaching and some disagreements on what is the best way to do what we are required to do, but we do not have the right to say “X is OK” when the Church says “X is wrong."

The Encyclical and the Preemptive Ideological Rejections

Let’s start by responding to the major ideological challenge to Laudato Si that I’ve seen on Facebook and forums for the past few weeks. Does Pope Francis accept climate change as a given? Short answer, yes. Longer answer, yes in the sense that he acknowledges that human action is being added on top of the natural climate changes. I suspect ideological readers will stop at the short answer and rush off to praise or lambaste the Pope. That’s a pity though. His discussion here is on the fact that the environment involves many complex interactions where changes can have unexpected effects. He indicates that while we cannot control the natural changes in climate, we are responsible for what we do. So, if our pollution has an effect on the weather, we have to take responsibility for that effect.

The next question is, do Catholics have to believe in global warming? Short answer, no. Long answer, hell no. This is about the responsibility to care for the environment in the sense of “God’s gift of stewardship requires responsible, not inconsiderate use."

Pope Francis had said in the lead up to the release that this encyclical will challenge everyone. He has things to say that will force changes in thinking by both conservatives and liberals. Remember all the Facebook quotes that said “Why doesn’t the Pope write on moral issues instead of the environment?” Well as it turns out, he does both. As we will see, he has some strong things to say on moral issues that reject the modern view of gender identity and rights.

But in short, the anti-Francis comments that have been building up are calumny, and are not justified. There is no heresy, no junk science, no ideology here. What we see here has been discussed by past Popes about our moral obligations in what we do and how they affect others.

Themes In the Encyclical 1-61

One of the major things that struck me about this section of the encyclical was the making clear of different areas of responsibility. He does acknowledge [¶23-24] that there are natural events that can impact the environment, for example, volcanoes. But he makes clear that our responsibility is for the part of climate change that we cause, not the parts caused by nature. I find that significant because it counters the polemics that claim that we cannot control changes in climate—no, we can’t control what is natural, but not everything involved is natural. 

Indeed, later on [¶59], he will speak about people who argue that the issues of the environment are “unclear,” using that claim as an excuse to avoid changing behavior—and the morality of our behavior is a a major part of the encyclical.

The problems with the human impact on the environment is that it affects a wide range of nature and this wide range is interrelated. This means that the human actions have a cumulative effect [¶24]. But in doing so, he does not start with a “hippy dippy” approach about it. He starts with the poor and how they are the most affected by the abuse of the environment as short-sighted policies can disrupt the ecosystem. They depend on the land and the waters far more directly than those in wealthier nations. Pollution in the waters affect the agriculture, fishing and drinking water, for example. Weather disasters impact them more and what might seem minor in a developed country can prove ruinous in poorer ones. He points out that the short-sighted use of the environment impacts the poor and we must keep them in mind in how we use the resources of an area.

Section 25-43 deals largely with discussing our obligations to consider the consequences of our actions—not just by waste, but in how we try to fix things. Often times, the poor get hurt by both the ecological damage and attempts to repair the damage that do not take human beings into account. That’s right, the Pope is aware that one can go too far in both directions.

In Section 60, he points out that two extremes must be rejected—the view that technology will eventually solve the problem and the view that human beings are parasites:

60. Finally, we need to acknowledge that different approaches and lines of thought have emerged regarding this situation and its possible solutions. At one extreme, we find those who doggedly uphold the myth of progress and tell us that ecological problems will solve themselves simply with the application of new technology and without any need for ethical considerations or deep change. At the other extreme are those who view men and women and all their interventions as no more than a threat, jeopardizing the global ecosystem, and consequently the presence of human beings on the planet should be reduced and all forms of intervention prohibited. Viable future scenarios will have to be generated between these extremes, since there is no one path to a solution. This makes a variety of proposals possible, all capable of entering into dialogue with a view to developing comprehensive solutions.

For example, contra the accusations that he will support population control, he explicitly rejects this as a valid option (¶50). In fact, he calls the attempts at population control to be nothing more than an attempt to avoid changing behaviors by wealthier nations:

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.

The Pope finishes Chapter 1 by saying that the Church does not intend to offer opinions on matters that must be explored by experts (contra the allegation that the Church will get involved in ruling on science), but considers it obvious that damage is being done, even if there is dispute on the how and why. Ultimately, this encyclical is about our relationship to God, neighbor and Creation—which in chapter II he will distinguish against “nature."

I am really impressed thus far, and I will keep delving into it and give my thoughts as I go. I recommend that the reader doesn’t get bogged down by the media claims and ideological Catholic blogs with an axe to grind against the Pope. The Pope isn’t advocating the ridiculous new age environmentalism people accuse him of. This is solidly Catholic.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Ordinary Magisterium and the Authority of Encyclicals


The encyclical Laudato Si is coming out tomorrow. Personally, I have no intention of commenting on the text until I see the official release and the official translation. But many are up in arms based on the text of the draft, unofficially translated, as if the media reports—always inaccurate thus far—have reported the nuances of the final version accurately. It seems to me that such objections are to miss the point of what an encyclical is and what it is for.

This seems to stem from a gross misunderstanding on the part of some Catholics on the matter of what is binding and what is not. One of the greatest errors going about is the misunderstanding on what manner the Church uses to teach authoritatively. Many have expressed the view that the only thing that binds Catholics is an ex cathedra teaching when the Pope formally defines something declared to be held by all the faithful. The problem is, this is an extraordinary (done outside the normal means) method, normally used in cases where a serious need make a teaching clear.

Ordinary Teaching Authority

But when you have extraordinary decrees, it implies that there is an ordinary means which the Church teaches to inform the faithful as to how the teachings of the Church are to be applied—what must be done, and what must not be done.

Then-cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in an official SCDF document explained the difference between ordinary and extraordinary magisterium this way:

23. When the Magisterium of the Church makes an infallible pronouncement and solemnly declares that a teaching is found in Revelation, the assent called for is that of theological faith. This kind of adherence is to be given even to the teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium when it proposes for belief a teaching of faith as divinely revealed.


When the Magisterium proposes “in a definitive way” truths concerning faith and morals, which, even if not divinely revealed, are nevertheless strictly and intimately connected with Revelation, these must be firmly accepted and held.


When the Magisterium, not intending to act “definitively”, teaches a doctrine to aid a better understanding of Revelation and make explicit its contents, or to recall how some teaching is in conformity with the truths of faith, or finally to guard against ideas that are incompatible with these truths, the response called for is that of the religious submission of will and intellect. This kind of response cannot be simply exterior or disciplinary but must be understood within the logic of faith and under the impulse of obedience to the faith. [Donum Veritatis #23]

In other words, while the ordinary magisterium does not intend to teach things in such a way that we accept it as “divinely revealed,” they do require us to offer the submission of our will and intellect and accept these moral teachings as binding us to obedience. The document goes on to label as dissent (#33) the idea that teachings that are not ex cathedra can be ignored:

33. Dissent has different aspects. In its most radical form, it aims at changing the Church following a model of protest which takes its inspiration from political society. More frequently, it is asserted that the theologian is not bound to adhere to any Magisterial teaching unless it is infallible. Thus a Kind of theological positivism is adopted, according to which, doctrines proposed without exercise of the charism of infallibility are said to have no obligatory character about them, leaving the individual completely at liberty to adhere to them or not. The theologian would accordingly be totally free to raise doubts or reject the non-infallible teaching of the Magisterium particularly in the case of specific moral norms. With such critical opposition, he would even be making a contribution to the development of doctrine.

Dissent is opposition to the lawful teaching authority to the Church—often “justified” by offering spurious arguments that say the teaching authority has not made (or does not have the right to make) a binding teaching in a certain case or area of human activity. So, to call a spade a spade, to disobey the Church in a matter which is not ex cathedra when she teaches on the Christian obligation, is dissent, and thus, contrary to the obligations of a faithful Catholic

Where Do Encyclicals Fit In?

An encyclical is an expression of the ordinary magisterium of the Catholic Church. The 1887 Catholic Dictionary describes an encyclical as:

encyclical (literœ encyclicœ). A circular letter. In the ecclesiastical sense, an encyclical is a letter addressed by the Pope to all the bishops in communion with him, in which he condemns prevalent errors, or informs them of impediments which persecution, or perverse legislation or administration, opposes in particular countries to the fulfilment by the Church of her divine mission, or explains the line of conduct which Christians ought to take in reference to urgent practical questions, such as education, or the relations between Church and State, or the liberty of the Apostolic See. Encyclicals are “published for the whole Church, and addressed directly to the bishops, under circumstances which are afflicting to the entire Catholic body; while briefs and bulls are determined by circumstances more particular in their nature, and have a more special destination.” [William E. Addis and Thomas Arnold, A Catholic Dictionary (New York: The Catholic Publication Society Co., 1887), 290.]

In other words, the encyclical does intend to teach the whole Church about matters of faith and morals in situations affecting the Church or the world in the time it is written—it is not an opinion piece written by a Pope that we can ignore. It is a teaching by the successor of Peter. Many of the teachings listed in Denzinger come from encyclicals, showing this is not a new claim about their authority, usurping the true teaching of the Church. Indeed, Ven. Pius XII had taught in 1950:

20. Nor must it be thought that what is expounded in Encyclical Letters does not of itself demand consent, since in writing such Letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their Teaching Authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: "He who heareth you, heareth me";[3] and generally what is expounded and inculcated in Encyclical Letters already for other reasons appertains to Catholic doctrine. But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that that matter, according to the mind and will of the Pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians. [Humani Generis]

So, we cannot exclude an encyclical from what we are called to obey—the very nature of an encyclical shows that the Pope intends to pass judgment on a matter, and obedience to these teachings are not optional.

Moreover, Vatican II (Lumen Gentium #25) tells us...

In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.

…so we can see that the type of document or the frequent reputation of the teaching shows that a Pope is making his will known as head of the Church.

Denying Ordinary Magisterium Can Bind Is Cafeteria Catholicism

So, given that the ordinary magisterium of the Church binds, and given that an encyclical is a way of expressing the ordinary magisterium of the Church, it logically follows that the moral teaching of an encyclical requires assent. But if one chooses to refuse assent, he or she is guilty of dissent, refusing to do what is required as a member of the faithful. So let’s stop with the illusion that one can ignore the teaching of an encyclical as being not binding. It is quite clear that it is binding, and if one is not faithful in small things (Luke 16:10), he or she will not be faithful in larger matters.

Quick Quips: Faithfulness, Messy Church, Failure to Respond

I thought I would try something different today. Instead of trying to create a long article out of one of the ideas bouncing around in my head and losing much of the other ideas in the process, I thought I’d try posting some short reflections under the heading of Quick Quips

Whoever is Trustworthy in Small Matters...

Our Lord has some things to say which seem especially fitting for our time and the attitude of rebellion which we are facing. In Luke 16:10, He tells us, “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.

I was struck by this passage the other day when seeing a large number of Catholics on Facebook objecting to Pope Francis’ upcoming encyclical Laudato Si. One of the objections which was voiced was the complaint that, “Why is the Pope focussing on something so insignificant, compared to all the other issues out there?” Some have gone so far as to say that the Pope is neglecting souls while speaking about the environment.

But instead of cataloging and refuting every objection that is made, I’d like to point out one thing here. If you think that the moral obligations towards the environment is an insignificant matter compared to other issues that trouble you more, why not just seek to be faithful in these “small matters” instead of using your belief that it is “unimportant” as a justification to ignore the moral teaching an encyclical involves?

After all, if a person is faithless in what they see as a small matter like heeding the moral obligations of Catholics in regards to the environment, then why should he or she be seen as trustworthy when it comes to teaching the faith in greater matters? If a dissenter sees you rejecting the authority of the Church in a matter you disagree with and find unimportant, then why should this dissenter respect the authority of the Church in a matter he or she disagrees with?

Now I don’t mean we have to hold to a scrupulous or pharisaical legalism, in obedience. But, when the Pope says “We have this obligation,” why not say “OK,” instead of looking for ways to justify disobedience?

The Church is a Mess? Why do you say this like it is Something New?

Dissenting Priests, whacko nuns, bishops who seem weak in the face of sin, corruption and defiance. Such things do scandalize the Church today. But, when you read the unabridged Lives of the Saints, a history, or other works from the past—back before Church teaching was considered debatable—you can see that the Church was always a mess because the Church is made up of people who see things differently on how things should be done, even when they are acting out of good faith.

Sometimes a saint was opposed by a person who misunderstood their calling. Sometimes a person dissuaded a saint from something they wanted to do to keep them on track. Sometimes opposition was rooted in heresy or schism. Sometimes it was rooted in natural disagreements. But when you read the lives of some saints in past centuries, the situations they faced sound remarkably similar to the situations of today.

But there’s a myth today that back in the pre-Vatican II Church, the Vatican stopped every dissent and disobedience cold. Actually, no. Heresies lasted for hundreds of years, kings tried to impose their will on the Church in their realms, people took a lax view towards their faith, and allegations about the immorality of clergy circulated as widely then as now. That’s why the Church back then needed saints who were preachers and confessors in the nations who had formerly embraced the faith.

But I think we need to ask ourselves a couple of things here—Are we willing to answer the call (as opposed to waiting for someone else to do it)? And are we willing to work with the Church (as opposed to treating the magisterium as an adversary)?

What Can Separate Us From the Love of Christ? Nothing—But that Doesn’t Mean We Won’t Fail to Respond.

I was reading Romans 8 this morning and was struck by a thought. When St. Paul was speaking about not fearing the trials and tribulations, it struck me that he was talking about the fact that in the battle for our souls, nobody is going to defeat Our Lord and steal us away from Him against His our will. It’s not going to be a case of Our Lord being left defeated on the battlefield, scratching His head and wondering, “How did that happen?"

So if this is the case, how do people go to hell? I would say that the devil works by convincing people that they don’t need to fight and don’t need to change. Whether he does this by persuading people to reject religion, or to practice religion in a way which is focussed on the self instead of God, he deceives us by having us put our own will first while making what God calls us to be a secondary matter,  Our Lord’s words on straining the gnat and swallowing the camel (Matthew 23:24) come to mind here. We focus on things that may be good in themselves, but do it in a way which neglects the bigger picture—like focusing on liturgy and neglecting social justice; or focussing on social justice while neglecting the moral issues.

In other words, when we make adherence to only part of God’s teaching while choosing to ignore the rest, we are failing to respond to God’s love as we are called.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Thoughts On Bigotry and Bigoted Defenders of "Tolerance"


Doing a word search of the word bigot and its variants is a pretty useless activity. The word exists of course, but it is defined so broadly in modern dictionaries as to be meaningless—the Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “a person who is prejudiced in their views and intolerant of the opinions of others.” But when you think about it, anything could be considered bigoted if you have a strong view (favorably or unfavorably) about it. For example, if you refuse to consider the point of the Nazis as valid, and go out of your way to oppose them, you are a bigot under this definition.

Merriam Websters Collegiate Dictionary defines the term as, “a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices especially: one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.” But such a definition is very subjective. Who defines what is obstinate or intolerant? Who defines whether a view is a prejudice or not? Remember the comment I stated above? How do you distinguish a moral repugnance for Nazism from bigotry? The problem with these definitions of bigot is they make it impossible to distinguish between holding a belief from conviction and holding a view out of hatred of any view which does not come from a preferred view. 

That leads us to another problem—that a large portion of people who throw the word around “bigot” do appear to be obstinately devoted to their opinions to the extent that they want to silence people with different views on a subject—that is, the irony of this position is that this attitude by the self-appointed champions of tolerance against bigotry fits the description of bigotry.

For example, the Christian is targeted for saying “X is morally wrong,” and people who disagree will not even consider the actual position of the Church. The fact that the position exists is considered proof of bigotry while the only way of getting away from that label is to abandon any beliefs that the cultural elites dislike. The champions of tolerance find Christianity to be morally offensive when it teaches that something must not be done because it goes against what humanity is called to be, both naturally and in relationship to God. 

Personally, I think we can start to understand the term bigotry through a statement by GK Chesterton:

The difficulty was expressed to me by another convert who said, "I cannot explain why I am a Catholic; because now that I am a Catholic I cannot imagine myself as anything else." Nevertheless, it is right to make the imaginative effort. It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong. [Chesterton, G.K. The Catholic Church and Conversion (Kindle Locations 137-140). Kindle Edition.

He makes this statement to demonstrate that he has not refused to consider other positions—only that he will show that he has considered them and found them to be wrong in some aspect. So, I think that to have a proper understanding of what a bigot is, it is a person who refuses to admit the possibility of getting something wrong when he or she opposes the view. So, it is not bigotry if a person investigates Islam or Mormonism and says, “I’m sorry, but I have investigated this and believe this is not true, so I will not accept it and will counter it with the truth when needed.” But it is bigotry when someone says “I don’t see how someone could be so stupid as to believe this!” If you don’t look into the reasons as to how a person could believe something, how do you know they are not right?

So, this is the point of contention here. First, do you understand what it is you are opposing (that is—do you actually know what they stand for)? Second, do you understand why you oppose that position as being wrong? If you don’t understand the position in the first place, it requires investigation. For example, I have a clear idea what I am opposed to and why I oppose them things like racism, nationalism and the like. It doesn’t change my views of the people who espouse these things (they still deserve to be treated as human beings), but I know that what they hold is wrong. I also know why I hold to the teachings of the Catholic Church—because I have tested them and found that they had answered my objections (at first) and then laid down solid reasoning for why we were obligated to avoid X and to do Y.

A person is free to use the word “bigoted” as a club, bashing all people he or she disagrees with, but the term is an ad hominem attack (marked by or being an attack on an opponent’s character rather than by an answer to the contentions made) in this context. But this is a case of the person who accuses another of bigotry is the one actually guilty of the charge. Unless a person understands what an informed (as opposed to those ignorant louts the media likes to point to) Christian believes (as opposed to what people wrongly attribute to us) and why we hold to it in the face of such hostility, such a person is unable to imagine how he might possibly have gone wrong—which is to say, bigoted, prejudiced against the views of others.