Technocratic Model vs. An Integral and Integrated Vision

Chapter Three of Laudato Sí is entitled “The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis;” it could well be called “Original Sin, Reprise.” Once again, humans have participated with God in creating things with enormous potential for good, in this case all that falls under the term “modern technology,” then proceeded to spend an inordinate amount of time distorting that potential goodness.  We have done it now to the point that we worship (there is hardly another word for it) “an undifferentiated and one-dimensional technocratic paradigm” [italics his], increasing the tendency of the scientific method as “a technique of possession, mastery and transformation” (L.S. 107) to the point that this paradigm devastatingly dominates the world economy. “The economy accepts every advance in technology with a view to profit, without concern for its potentially negative impact on human beings” (L.S. 109).

As if that critique were not disturbing enough, the Holy Father goes on to strike at the very root of the distortion, “an inadequate presentation of Christian anthropology” that has resulted in an “anthropocentrism” of mastery over rather than stewardship of the rest of Creation (L.S. 115-6).  (Notice how deeply ingrained the distortion is: we tend to say “creation” when we mean “everything except us.” The paradigm of dominance is woven into our everyday language.) Pope Francis wisely highlights the interconnectedness of the reality, and hence of the distortion: we cannot heal our relationship with the rest of creation in isolation, nor heal our human relationships without addressing the former: healing, like violence, is of a package (L.S. 119).

The counterpart of the technocratic model in which we are living according to Pope Francis in Chapter 3 is the need for a humanism with an integral and integrated vision, as Pope Francis explains,

We urgently need a humanism capable of bringing together the different fields of knowledge, including economics, in the service of a more integral and integrating vision. (LS, 141)

This integral and integrated vision of reality is urgently need right now because modernity img_0856based its great progress in the separation of the subject form the object. For Roberto Goizueta, theology professor at Boston College, modernity gave birth to “the autonomous agent of his or her own life” who does not just live in history but makes history. In this way “history is a product of the human activity or praxis.” The consequences of this view are reflected in our own language: “The modern subject ‘makes’ a living, ‘makes’ love, and strives to ‘make something’ of himself or herself.” This “making” of everything creates a separation of the subject from the object that Goizueta sees as a “precondition for the subject to control the object in order to manipulate it.”

The separation of the subject from the object implicit in the understanding of human activity as praxis has lead us to great advances in modernity. However, what caught Goizueta’s attention is the fact that “human beings can control and transform their natural and social environments, as well as their own lives,” which also carries with it the ideology of progress characteristic of modernity.

Thus, for Goizueta, modernity gave birth to the human subject as “maker” of history, as alienated from the object and able to “control” and “work on” his or her environment.

Human action–praxis, grounded in the separation of the subject from the object as modernity understood in Goizueta’s view has also “laid the foundation for the devastation of the environment”

This devastation of the environment which foundation was laid on by the separation of the object from the subject and that brought great progress, today is in need of an integral and  integrated  vison or what Pope Francis calls integral ecology, an approach to ecology that insist that environmental and social problems are interconnected, as Pope Francis explains,

We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature. (LS, 139)

This integral and integrated approach to ecology described by Pope Francis implies an “economic ecology” which considers that   “the protection of the environment is in fact ‘an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it.’” (L.S. 141). A “social ecology” that understand that” the health of a society’s institutions has consequences for the environment and the quality of human life.” Because as Pope Benedict XVI in Caritas Veritate says, “Every violation of solidarity and civic friendship harms the environment.” (51) Finally, this integral and integrated vision of ecology requires a “cultural ecology” that lead to accept that “Culture is more than what we have inherited from the past; it is also, and above all, a living, dynamic and participatory present reality, which cannot be excluded as we rethink the relationship between human beings and the environment” (L.S. 143).

Nelson Araque teaches History of Latino Catholics in the Ministry to Latino Catholics Certificate Program and Pamela Hedrick teaches Sacred Scripture and spirituality forSaint Joseph’s College Online.

Ecumenism, One of the Fruits of Laudato Si’

This is the first of a three-part series celebrating the anniversary of Laudato Si’.

We just celebrated the first anniversary of Laudato Si’ and we are still reaping it fruits. This papal letter has positioned the environmental crisis directly within the social sphere, requiring a comprehensive response and commitment from all of us. Undoubtedly, I think the most recent result of this encyclical on caring for “our common house” is ecumenism.

Unitatis Redintegratio defines ecumenism as “the initiatives and activities planned and undertaken, according to the various needs of the Church and as opportunities offer, to promote Christian unity.” (UR 4).

Clearly, one of the major concerns of our time is the environmental crisis. Pope Francis uses it as a springboard to promote the unity of Christians. He quotes Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew’s concern for “the need for each to repent of their own ways for damaging the planet “(LS 8) and the Patriarch’s view of the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems (LS 9).

The call of Pope Francis to ecumenism is also demonstrated in last year announcement on the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord on August 6: “I wish to inform you that I have decided to set up also in the Catholic Church, the “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation” which, beginning this year, will be celebrated on the 1st of September, as the Orthodox Church has done for some time now.”

This time it is the Pope, the representative of the Catholic Church, who recognizes the value of this commemoration by the Orthodox Church and invites Roman Catholics to unite with them as fellow Christians to celebrate this Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation together.

The announcement of the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation and its first celebration in September, 2016, seems implied in Laudato Si’ and becomes clear when presenting the encyclical as valued by the representative of the Patriarch Bartholomew, Metropolitan Ioannis of Pergamon. The text for the institution of the World Day for Care of Creation by Pope Francis makes this point:

“Sharing with my beloved brother the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew his concerns for the future of creation (cf. Encyclical Letter. Laudato Si’, 7-9) and taking up the suggestion by his representative, the Metropolitan Ioannis of Pergamum who took part in the presentation of the Encyclical Laudato Si’ on the care of our common home, I wish to inform you that I have decided to set up also in the Catholic Church, the ‘World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation’ which, beginning this year, will be celebrated on the 1st of September, as the Orthodox Church has done for some time now.”

This ecumenical observance that will be celebrated every September 1 invites us to pray with our Orthodox brothers and sisters. It will require a deep inner conversion, as Unitatais Redintegratio says:  “There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without a change of heart. For it is from renewal of the inner life of our minds from self-denial and an unstinted love that desires of unity take their rise and develop in a mature way. “(UR 7).

That change of heart spoken by the decree Unitatis Redintegratio also involves a constant review of the motivations fueling our passion for the care of creation and spirituality, as it is clearly expressed in 2016 Message for the World Day of Prayer for Creation: Show mercy to Our Common Home.

“The first step in this process is always an examination of conscience, which involves “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… 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.”

This examination of conscience that Pope Francis is asking us for will renew our connection with God’s creation, achieving a communion with all that surrounds us, to look for the solutions to this ecological crisis, as our Pope expressed in Laudato Si’:

“More than in ideas or concepts as such, I am interested in how such a spirituality can motivate us to a more passionate concern for the protection of our world. A commitment this lofty cannot be sustained by doctrine alone, without a spirituality capable of inspiring us, without an ‘interior impulse which encourages, motivates, nourishes and gives meaning to our individual and communal activity.’ Admittedly, Christians have not always appropriated and developed the spiritual treasures bestowed by God upon the Church, where the life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body or from nature or from worldly realities, but lived in and with them, in communion with all that surrounds us.” (LS 216)

An ecumenical gesture of openness, to universally see the good in other churches is yet another gift that Laudato Si’ offers us, and calls us to witness this in our lives. In the words of our Holy Father: “This Day of Prayer for Creation Care will be a valuable opportunity to bear witness to our growing communion with our orthodox brothers.” It is precisely by this communion in prayer and reflection that we will take important steps to overcome common challenges more easily and be more credible and effective. In the words of our Holy Father, “We live in a time where all Christians are faced with identical and important challenges and we must give common replies to these in order to appear more credible and effective.”

Nelson Araque teaches History of Latino Catholics in the Ministry to Latino Catholics Certificate Program and Pamela Hedrick teaches Sacred Scripture and spirituality for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

The Elderly and Laudato Si

In his encyclical released this past week, Laudato Si, Pope Francis calls for “justice between generations,” by which he means frank, honest discussion and action about “the kind of world we are leaving to future generations.” This discussion requires a “struggle with … deeper issues,” and the pope raises the issue of how consumer lifestyles are reflected in environmental degradation. He also asks, even more importantly, now this lifestyle affects the moral character of society.

The pope’s words imply an important role for the elderly in wealthy societies. The elderly of today’s industrialized societies have lived in a period of astounding economic growth, and many of them have accumulated substantial wealth. The industries they have built have both increased pollution and have developed powerful means to clean up that pollution. Reflecting upon their lives and historical era, the elderly today must have something to say about the issues raised in Laudato Si and confronting every society in the world today.

For example, what are the most important values? Presuming that financial security is an

St. Jeanne Jugan, Foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor and a patron saint of the elderly

St. Jeanne Jugan, Foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor and a patron saint of the elderly

important, but not the most important value, how does a family acquire and manage whatever wealth it has, in order to live both comfortably and generously down the generations of a family line? How do its members enjoy the fruits of God’s providence without becoming blind to the material and spiritual poverty of those in their own society and in other parts of the world? How do they place the needs of the poor before their own desires?

In order to begin reflecting upon their lives, the elderly in industrialized societies today might look at Pope Saint John Paul II’s “Letter to the Elderly” (1999). It is a difficult read in places, so I will point out some of the highlights.

In this letter, John Paul II looked back over his life in order to discern its meaning and place his life’s meaning in relation to God. In the second paragraph of the letter John Paul II writes “in my memory I recall the stages of my life, which is bound up with the history of much of this [the 20th] century, and I see before me the faces of countless people, some particularly dear to me: they remind me of ordinary and extraordinary events, and happy times and of situations touched by suffering” (1). The words “bound up with a history of much of this century” are all the more striking when one considers the pope’s role in world events such as the collapse of communism and in the Church’s response to modern secular culture. At the same time, the pope’s words reflect an investment of the heart in those whom he has touched and the vulnerability to the loss of friends and loneliness. Finally, this recollection becomes an occasion to recognize that his life has been part of God’s plan and to thank God for all his gifts.

The pope points out the advantages of age. Writing in a conversational tone to his fellow elderly people, he notes that their “retrospective gaze makes possible a more serene and objective evaluation of persons and situations we have met along the way. The passage of time helps us to see our experiences in a clearer light and softens their painful side ” (2, emphasis added) For this reason the elderly are “guardians of shared memory” and “the privileged interpreters of that body of ideals and common values which support and guide life in society” (10).

The pope also offers moral and theological principles necessary for grasping the meanings of one’s life and of the history of one’s own time in relation to God’s love and God’s plan. For example, in reviewing one’s life and the history of one’s own time, it is important to look for how God and man bring good from evil: “Like so many other times in history, our own has registered lights and shadows. Not all has been bleak. Many positive aspects have counterbalanced the negative, or have emerged from the negative has a beneficial reaction on the part of the collective consciousness” (3).

The pope acknowledges the hard lessons of the past. For example, he reminds us that “it would be both unjust and dangerous to forget… that unprecedented sufferings have affected the lives of millions and millions of people [as in World War II]” (3). He values the “blunt realism” that comes with age, and is reflected in the biblical proverb “all is vanity” (6; quoting Ecclesiastes 1:2). For him, this blunt realism is part of scripture’s overall “positive vision of the value of life” and its history of great deeds performed by God working through human beings, including the elderly.

Sixteen years after the “Letter to the Elderly,” Pope Francis asks the Church and the world for a dialogue about how to develop an integral ecology that lifts the poor from poverty without destroying the environment. The elderly in industrialized societies, which have both fostered economic growth and attempted to address the environmental problems it has causes, should make a contribution to this dialogue an important part of their legacy.

Grattan Brown teaches Ministry to the Aging, Sick and Dying for Saint Joseph’s College Online.