Why the environment was such a great encyclical topic

I must say, Pope Francis’s latest encyclical focuses on the perfect topic: the environment. While I’ve seen a lot of commentary on the content of what Laudato Si says, I haven’t seen a great deal of commentary on the choice of topic.

Here’s why I think the environment was such a good topic for the encyclical:

1. Liberals love it. Not that we’re trying to appease liberals. It’s just that liberals don’t seem to know that the church isn’t purely conservative; they know we don’t like abortion, so all the sudden we’re Republicans. (I’ve talked more about the downfalls of the bipartisan system here.) Pope Francis’s concern for the environment helps show that Catholicism is not as one-dimensional as people sometimes think.

2. It shows that Catholicism is smart. Oddly, there seems to be this perception that either you believe in the Big Bang or you believe in creationism. Psych! A Catholic priest devised the Big Bang Theory. For realz. Anyway, the Catholic Church believes in one Truth. So, if we find something is true by science, it must also fit into the truth of faith. Now, the Big Bang theory seems to be a good scientific explanation of why the universe is expanding. In no way does the Big Bang theory solve the entire issue of creation though!! The question then becomes, “Who/What propagated the Big Bang?” Who/What created the matter in the universe? Perplexing, huh? Catholics do not read the creation stories of Genesis literally like many Protestant groups do, i.e., we need not believe God created the world in 7 days. The important thing to take away from those stories is that He is the Creator of the universe. In this sense, creationism and the Big Bang theory are entirely compatible.

3. It promotes world peace. Pope Francis’s call to safeguard Creation is a group effort. He talks a lot about the connectedness of the world. We’re all in this together; we need to cooperate if we’re going to pass on a healthy earth for the next generation.

4. It takes a stance that most people agree with. Again, we aren’t trying to agree with the world though. But people are more likely to read something they agree with. For example, if Pope Francis had written about the sanctity of marriage, most non-Catholics would just say, “Ew. There goes that antiquated church again.” Of course, I don’t mean to diss the Catholic stance on the sanctity of marriage; in fact, I agree with it. It’s just that the environment is not so controversial. The common non-Catholic might actually read some of this encyclical. And then they will be swept off their feet by the beauty of the holistic treatment of the environment from a Christian perspective. Most people don’t really think about the environment in terms of God. This encyclical is changing that. What I’m trying to say is that it could have more of an impact in drawing people to the Church.

Read Laudato Si here on the Vatican website.

Response to Reader Comment: Genesis, Manipulating the Religious, and Epistemology

I recently received a comment from Guy Winter on this post that I would like to address here.

Guy Winter writes:

No matter how hard anyone tries, no matter how advanced the technology is, it is physically impossible to prove that any religious text is an account of actual happenings.
It is my belief that religion was created in order to control people and generate profit, which catholism does very well. If this if true, then surely they would cover every aspect of doubt in people’s minds that the stories are true.

You justify your reason for believing these to be true by saying ‘we’ use historical ‘happenings’ such as the death of Alexander the Great in our mainstream history textbooks, even though his biography was written hundreds of years after his death (among other similar examples). Given this information, it would not be wise to take this as truth either. Just because it is in textbooks, does not make it true, similarly what is written in the bible is not likely to be true.

All information should be questioned unless witnessed first hand. Even today we receive information from all sources which has been manipulated to portray a certain perception of events. When something happens, and witnesses are asked about what they saw, even a few hours after the event, everyone perceives the event differently and remembers it in different ways.

You mentioned gospel writers risking their life, and if what they were writing wasn’t true, why would they risk their life? So explain to me why Muslims who strap bombs to theirselves do so? There are people willing to sacrifice their life for all kinds of things, it’s all a matter of belief. The gospel writers had no first hand experience of the truth of their writings therefore you cannot say you doubt they would risk their life for their belief, if they even risked their lives at all, which again you don’t know. You have no credibility for any gospel writers actually risking their life? How do you know? Because it says so on a piece of paper. Every point you make to justify believing what is written on paper, is made through information you obtain from history records which are written on paper.

The likelyhood is, they were all written by a group of people wishing to control the masses, as well as making a profit from them at the same time. It would be the perfect plan, and evidently it works very welI. If you trust all historical records just because everyone else does, (which you imply many times in your response) if you follow the masonry origins all the way back, you will find they date back thousands of years before Jesus’ supposed day of birth.

It seems all logic is completely lost when it comes to Christianity. Not so long ago, I believed in God, and heaven, and I trusted my family and everyone around me to allow me to not think about it. However when I started thinking about it as I reached my late teens (I am now 20), I realised how proposerous the whole idea was, and it was then I was able to see my ‘faith’ was based upon fear that God would think bad of me for questioning him. I realised that just because millions of people believe something which is probably a lie, does not make it true. Now I can see life outside the box, and my whole perception of truth and the world has been changed. We must only trust entirely what we experience ourselves, questioning all we read, all we are told and most importantly what we believe, and if things don’t add up, have the courage to admit so.

If you think critically and analyse the argument with an unbiased viewpoint as a whole, whoever wrote and compiled together the many stories, gospels and manuscripts together has a vested interest in making it believable. They make money, and they are able to keep order in towns, with the mind as the police force. With the masses believing God is watching their every move, they would be less likely to steal, kill…..(sin). Perfect.

How do you explain the book of genesis and it’s story of how god created the world, and Adam and Eve? Who wrote those? Whoever it was certainly wasn’t watching what was happening. This is the baseline of which Christianity sits, it is where Christians draw their belief of god being the infinite force creator, yet the credibility of the story is zero.

I apologise for the delay of my response, and I thank you for reading it.

Guy Winter

Minding the Authors Intentions: Genesis: 

I would like to begin with your last point. I do not believe in a literal interpretation of the creation story in Genesis. In fact, only since the nineteenth century have some Christians taken that literally. Scholars and theologians generally agree that the author’s (or authors’) intention was to write an allegorical piece to communicate the idea that God created the world (which can be deduced via a priori reasoning- we need not rely on the creation story to see this), among other things. (Pope Benedict XVI has an insightful book about this called In the Beginning: a Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall.) Some books of the Old Testament are intended to be allegories, others are histories, others are laws, others are prophecies. I am no expert on the art of determining the authors’ intentions, but based on the little I’ve read about it, I get the sense that it comes from examining styles and comparing them to ancient works which we believe fall into a certain genre. 

So how can we say that the Old Testament is to be taken figuratively sometimes, and then turn around and say that the New Testament is not? Again, by looking at contemporary styles, scholars can determine the writer’s intentions. 

The Apostles, their Belief, and their Martyrdom:

I should have been clearer in my original response. Yes, it is true that just because the Apostles believed in Christ does not make it true. It does, however, show us that the Apostles believed what they were saying, even to the death. So that rules out the possibility of them creating the religion of Christianity for their own personal gain. (I could point you to non-Biblical sources that attest to their martyrdom, but since you question written sources, that probably would not be very helpful.)

Altered Sources and Religion’s So-Called Manipulation of Adherents:

You have said that written documents are often altered in order to manipulate the masses and make profit. It takes time to tamper with sources. There is this theory out there (probably propagated by Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code, which, yes, I have read and enjoyed) that the Roman Empire rewrote the Bible (or created it in the first place) under Constantine to keep order in the empire. This is actually absurd when you consider that we have ancient fragments of the New Testament (that are consistent with our modern New Testament) that have been carbon-dated to as early as 100-150 AD. (Constantine reigned in the early 300s AD.) 

Furthermore, if I am a ruler of an empire (or the head of a religion) and I want to manipulate people and make money, what kind of religion would I create? I would definitely want to claim that I am divine so that I can scare people into obeying me. Yet Pope Francis does not claim divinity. The Catholic Church teaches that only the three Persons of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) are divine. Popes obey the same rules that laypeople follow. Popes even go to Confession, just like any ordinary Catholic. 

Some Points on Epistemology:

As is clear by this point, I have continued to use evidence from texts that tell me things I have not experienced first hand. I agree with you that we must question things that we have not experienced first hand. For my part, I have come to the conclusion that certain texts can be trusted. Otherwise it is almost impossible to talk about anything.

For example, I have never personally witnessed that the moon is more than a bright speck in the sky. I don’t know that one can actually stand on it as one stands on the earth; I don’t even know if it is three-dimensional because from my perspective it looks pretty two-dimensional. Yet, I trust that science is accurate and that Neil Armstrong being truthful.

As another example, I was not alive to witness the Israel-Palestine problems throughout the ages that have led to the current Gaza mess. But I believe that the events (though not necessarily the slant on them) reported in textbooks must have happened, especially because I see the result of them today. (Likewise, I see the result of Jesus’s resurrection today in the many, many believers worldwide, 2000 years later.)

It may come as a shock, but I was initially quite skeptical of the Bible and Christianity. Like you, I started exploring these ideas in my late teens (I was 16). But I came to the opposite conclusion. My family is marginally Catholic at best, but a bit agnostic at worst. After exploring the issues and reading a lot, I came to believe in Christianity and in the credibility of the Bible and other sources.