Laudato Si’s Chapter 2 “The Gospel of Creation” is really a short treatise considering the basis of sacred scripture and God-inspired words from the Bible to help us better understand our role in our world.
One of the things I love about Pope Francis is his immediate and forthright approach that there is no reason why “religion” cannot be a part of this conversation about preserving the environment, and not just on the basis of taking care of our fellow man, though that is there as well. There is no doubt that faith and reason go together, in fact he lays out quite clearly that wisdom and knowledge should be called upon to address our plight. In fact, through my own studies, I don’t know that the Bible isn’t the first work of environmental activism in existence.
He tells us that “science and religion, with their distinctive approaches to understanding reality, can enter into an intense dialogue fruitful for both.” (P62)
Pope Francis, by addressing this encyclical to the entire world, calls us all to step forward and do something to change the dangerous direction we are heading and he points out that scripture “can offer Christians ample motivation to care for nature and for the most vulnerable of their brothers and sisters… Christians in their turn realize that their responsibility within creation, and their duty towards nature and the creator, is the central part of their faith.”(P64). We are reminded that creation is a good, we are intentionally here and that the earth is a creation that is to bring good for everyone… “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”(Genesis 1:31)
Pope Francis calls on our creation as God’s clear intent. “Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.” (P65)
Just as the Prophets of old have warned, if we rupture our relationship with God, in this case by turning our back on his creation, we have broken faith with him, one of the first and key covenants. When we do this through violence, abuse, neglect, disregard, not caring for, etc. we commit a sin against God, against our neighbor and against ourselves. We can lay the blame in many sophisticated ways, but no matter where we try to cast the blame, it is laid back at the doorsteps of humanity. (Paraphrased from P66) “The work of the church is not only to remind everyone of the duty to care for nature, but at the same time she must above all protect mankind from self-destruction.” (P79)
Semantics can make all the difference. In the story of creation, God calls us to till and keep the earth and He gives us dominion over the earth. With it we are to provide for ourselves, but also the poor, the foreigner, orphan, the widow and the forgotten. But these meanings are not always as easy as we would like them to be… Paragraph 67 speaks to this point clearly and in language that is understandable and acceptable. I think one of the hardest obstacles we must overcome is in getting others to read, comprehend and apply these wise words of Pope Francis:
We are not God. The earth was here before us and it has been given to us. This allows us to respond to the charge that Judaeo-Christian thinking, on the basis of the Genesis account which grants man “dominion” over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), has encouraged the unbridled exploitation of nature by painting him as domineering and destructive by nature. This is not a correct interpretation of the Bible as understood by the Church. Although it is true that we Christians have at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures, nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures. The biblical texts are to be read in their context, with an appropriate hermeneutic, recognizing that they tell us to “till and keep” the garden of the world (cf. Gen 2:15). “Tilling” refers to cultivating, ploughing or working, while “keeping” means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving. This implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature. Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations. “The earth is the Lord’s” (Ps 24:1); to him belongs “the earth with all that is within it” (Dt 10:14). Thus God rejects every claim to absolute ownership: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me” (Lev 25:23).
Reflecting on scripture in this way can bring us to new heights of understanding our role and our gift of leadership on this earth. Abraham’s contemplation of the stars and heavens, Job’s awe and wonder at the creatures of the earth and David’s Psalms all recognize the majesty of God’s creation and in many ways help us to address the questions and curiosities as to how humanity fits in.
If we acknowledge the value and the fragility of nature and, at the same time, our God-given abilities, we can finally leave behind the modern myth of unlimited material progress. A fragile world, entrusted by God to human care, challenges us to devise intelligent ways of directing, developing and limiting our power. (P78)
I loved that this chapter also delivered several points and acknowledgements from bishops around the world:
- The bishops of Brazil pointed out that nature as a whole not only manifest God but is also a locus of his presence. The Spirit of life dwells in every living creature and calls us to enter into relationship with him. Discovering this presence leads us to cultivate ecological virtues.
- The bishops of Paraguay stated that every [man] you know has a natural right to possess a reasonable allotment of land where he can establish is home, work for subsistence of his family and a secure life.
- The New Zealand bishops asked what the commandment “thou shall not kill” means when “20% of the worlds population consumes resources at a rate that robs the poor nations and future generations of what they need to survive”.
- The Canadian bishops rightly pointed out that no creature is excluded from the manifestation of God quote from panoramic vistas to the tiniest living form, nature is a constant source of wonder and awe. It is also a continuing revelation of the divine.
- The bishops of Japan, for their part, made a thought-provoking observation: “to see each creature singing the hymn of its existence is to live joyfully in the in God’s love and hope”.
Francis addresses the concept of human dominion over the earth in further and most exceptional ways, he reinforces the concept that each individual has unique and valuable capacities. That the individual person “can never be reduced to the status of an object.” (P81)
Yet it would also be mistaken to view other living beings as mere objects subjected to arbitrary human domination. When nature is viewed solely as a source of profit and gain, this has serious consequences for society. (P82)
I also appreciated the points made in Francis response to the overzealous environmentalists that would put all before humanity. That is the beauty of a true faith, you do not get to pigeon-hole it in one political camp or another. We are all called to care for our common home, but not at the expense of any creature, and certainly not at the expense of our brothers and sisters, particularly those in the greatest need or suffering the greatest poverty, hunger, neglect, etc. Respect for God’s creation should begin at home, with one another, and the beauty in that kind of caring for the lives of others we care for the world, all its beings and environs. The domino effect would improve our world politics, our ethical behavior, we would build relationships and appreciate diversity, and in the long run, the natural environment of the world would be improved as well.
The Holy Father reminds us that a “spirituality which forgets God as all-powerful and Creator is not acceptable. That is how we end up worshipping earthly powers, or ourselves usurping the place of God, even to the point of claiming an unlimited right to trample his creation underfoot. The best way to restore men and women to their rightful place, putting an end to their claim to absolute dominion over the earth, is to speak once more of the figure of a Father who creates and who alone owns the world. Otherwise, human beings will always try to impose their own laws and interests on reality.” (P75)
Over and over, Francis finds new ways to draw his reader to the same core conclusions, that everything is connected and how we behave in all areas of our life affects everything else. Deep connectedness to all of God’s creation cannot be substituted with shallow commentary, superficial donations and ineffective rhetoric.
A sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings. It is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor, or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted. Everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society. (P91)
Moreover, when our hearts are authentically open to universal communion, this sense of fraternity excludes nothing and no one. It follows that our indifference or cruelty towards fellow creatures of this world sooner or later affects the treatment we mete out to other human beings. We have only one heart, and the same wretchedness which leads us to mistreat an animal will not be long in showing itself in our relationships with other people. Every act of cruelty towards any creature is contrary to human dignity. (P92)
We can hardly consider ourselves to be fully loving if we disregard any aspect of reality…
Because everything is interconnected.