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Critics of Laudato Si’ are missing the essential point

John Gummer, the Lord Deben, chairperson of the United Kingdom’s independent Committee on Climate Change, writes in the Catholic Herald that both those who have welcomed Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’ and those who have dismissed it have missed the point of its disconcerting and prophetic call.

Lord Deben asserts that the encyclical is an unforgettable document, with the truths of the gospel “compellingly written and lovingly interpreted.” Saying it is no mere commentary on the world’s present concerns, he notes its “direct evangelical call to action, personal and collective” and that it “lifts and intensifies the debate by demanding that we see these great issues of pollution, poverty and powerlessness as direct personal challenges—challenges to the way each one of us lives, to the businesses we run, the jobs we do, and the choices we make.”

However he writes that,  “When the environmental world welcomes the pope as a powerful ally and the religious right dismisses him as a disingenuous radical, both have missed the essential point.” 

He observes that Laudato Si’ is “not just the declaration of assent to a programme of international environmental action, but also the prophetic voice of the Church.” 

It is, he puts it, the call of the gospel, “as disconcertingly direct today as was Jesus’s confrontation with the rich young man, the scribes and the Pharisees, or the moneychangers in the Temple.”

This, he observes, is the unique quality of the encyclical making it much more disturbing and uncomfortable at a fundamental level, as it demands “an individual response that will change our lives forever.”

Lord Deben goes on to observe “Pope Francis is at pains to set the whole process in its religious context.” For the pope, the encyclical is not a quick response to a secular agenda; it is the natural progression of the Church’s teaching.

He writes that Pope Francis’ direct statement of fact: “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth” because of a throwaway society that pollutes the planet at the particular expense of the poorest, is not without the light of immediate hope in the encyclical where the pope points to an alternative path that may provide a sustainable future for all: “We have not yet managed to adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for present and future generations, while limiting as much as possible the use of non-renewable resources, moderating their consumption, maximising their efficient use, reusing and recycling them.” 

Lord Deban points to the challenge of climate change and its impact as being the most urgent message and that the science that backs it up is extremely accurate. 

He writes, “There is now no serious scientific argument that does not accept that climate change is happening and that it is overwhelmingly caused by human action, particularly through the burning of fossil fuels. No learned society or major climate institution doubts that reality or the extensive risks of climate change.”

He goes on to say that while those most immediately at risk are the poor who do not have the resources to adapt, Pope Francis in unequivocal in stressing that the threat is universal with serious consequences for all. 

There is, Lord Deban says, “No get-out for that dwindling number who still refuse to accept the science. This is so overwhelming a risk that it requires action by us all.”

He says that it is this clarity that explains “why some on the right in America and Britain have been quick to dismiss the whole encyclical.”

He goes on to cite his fellow British peer, Lord Lawson, as saying Laudato Si’ is based on “junk science, junk economics, and junk ethics” and says that reality is the dismissers and deniers can’t bear the light of the gospel.

Lord Deban continues, “(Pope Francis) is not entering into an argument with the self-interested opponents of the science. Instead, he simply exposes their views to the radiance of gospel teaching and, like the rich young man and the Pharisees and Sadducees, they cannot bear its brilliance” and neither can the rest of us.

He calls Laudato Si’ a deeply uncomfortable encyclical “because it is not content simply to face up to the institutional and moral issues of climate change and environmental degradation, but addresses the deeper tragedy of humanity itself.”

He points out that the analysis by Pope Francis speaks of the deepest nature of humankind as he shows how our consumerist rush to acquire more has resulted in an inner emptiness. 

“We are diminishing, damaging and ultimately destroying ourselves. We are involved in a vain attempt to fill the void which modern society creates in the heart of man,” he writes.

Lord Deban writes that we who have asserted ourselves as masters have lost our sense of gratitude, joy in little things and “respect for the worth of even the least of God’s creatures.”

However, he emphasises that Laudato Si’ does not condemn market economics or science and technology, rather it presents them as manifestations of humankind’s God-given intelligence and that these must be expressed and used within a moral order. 

He goes on to write that Pope Francis shows himself fully in touch with the world to which he seeks to reveal the truths of the gospel. 

He says, “It is this authenticity that strikes home so directly. These are not the words of a commentator, still less of a philosopher, but the fatherly injunctions of one who has understood the deepest concerns of his children.”

But, Lord Deban observes that, “Like all children, we will resent the analysis. Indeed, the truer we know it to be, the more resentful we are likely to become. Yet the truth is stark and the moral requirement is to accept and act on that truth. Those lifestyles that rape the earth and destroy the climate’s equilibrium also destroy man’s soul. We were not made for this and we have it in our power to change—to change ourselves and the world.” 

He concludes that Laudato Si’ remains utterly hopeful and diffused with Christian joy, noting the words of Pope Francis: “For all our limitations, gestures of generosity, solidarity and care cannot but well up within us, since we were made for love.” 


UCAN via the Catholic Herald