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Creating a Culture of Solidarity, Encounter and Relationship In Laudato Si by Pope Francis

In Aathi, Gift of Green, writer Sara Joseph says, “An unprecedented environmental awareness is rising in our midst today. Pro environmental awareness sponsored in particular by feminist and Dalit activist groups and many others… now challenge us to engage with environmental issues urgently”( Joseph 5). The unchecked human invasion over nature in the name of development has made the green planet sapless. “Greenness”, the symbol of spontaneity of life is far disappearing as the human species adds more comfort to their lives, thus leaving other species to suffer the ramifications. The flawed structure of economic advancement and perverted models of development have proved incapable of ensuring respect for the environment.

It is true that authentic human development has a moral character. The environmental problems are indeed a result of unchecked human activity. So concerning the global environmental deterioration, attention has to be paid to the ethical spiritual roots of environmental problems, which require that we look for solutions not only in technology but a change in the attitude of humanity; otherwise it would be like treating the symptoms when the far more urgent ailments are not diagnosed.

Concerning the ethical spiritual roots of environmentalism, the element of religion has a lead role. So instead of dealing with ecological crisis in the language of biology and economics, which is the secular and scientific approach, there is the need of a spiritual language with a definite moral tone.”The universal interconnectedness and independence of all phenomena and the intrinsically dynamic nature of reality are recurrent in the mystical thought of many different religious traditions”(Capra 330). Prominent religions that are caught up in the traditional dogma of anthropocentrism have been apathetic to the spirituality of environmentalism.

The objective of this study is to find the changing course of Catholic Church in its praxis of environmental discourse with the publishing of Laudati Si, “Praise be to you”, an encyclical by Pope Francis, the head of Catholic Church, which is the prominent section of the christianfold. The encyclical letter which is part of the church’s social teaching, provides a concrete foundation for the ethical and spiritual aspects of the ecology and its preservation. Francis in his second encyclical letter underlines the need for an ecospirituality with its roots firm on religious environmentalism. Francis in Laudato Si, when lamenting pollution, climate change and an overall decline in “culture of life” is blowing a clarion call for ‘the greening of the religion”. Given the universal nature of our common home, Francis makes it clear that the encyclical is addressed to not only members of the Church but is a vehicle to “enter into dialogue” with all people who are “united by the same concern” [L S 3, 7].

The document looks to St. Francis of Assisi and St. Bonaventure, as well as St. Thomas Aquinas, but also to Eastern Christian traditions. It even quotes a Sufi Mystic. Twentieth-century thinkers Teilhard de Chardin and Romano Guardini deserve special mention. The reader is also struck by the many references to secular documents such as the Rio Declaration from 1992 and the 2000 Earth Charter are referred to as well. “Francis through his ecosophia unites and converges the knowledge spheres of the religious and secular for a constructive environmentalism”(Naluparayil 29)

The prominent religion of the western world, Christianity, in the course of its time has incorporated many strains of anthropocentrism. Though anthropocentric theorization is not intrinsic to Christian theology, theological discourse on man and nature unfortunately progressed in the theory of dominion; dominance of men over nature that took cues from the famous dominion passage in the book of the Genesis. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and conquer it, and hold sway over the fish of the sea and foul of the heavens and every beast that crawls upon the earth”.

Passages from the bible such as these were taken of the context and subjected to isolated interpretation by the propagators of “human dominance” to establish their view. Also in Genesis it is seen that man named all the animals, thus establishing his dominance over them. So many prominent figures from the western scholarship believed that God planned and created everything explicitly for Man’s benefit and rule: no item in the physical creation had any purpose but to serve man’s interests.

But this “dominance” was never meant to be tyrannical. The phrase “subdue the Earth” (means to destroy ) is by no means plausible inference to unleash powers of destruction. There are instances in history wherein the verses had been misread and distorted, rather than assimilating the spirit of what they were supposed to mean. Nonetheless, in creation narrative, God pronounces the result of each day’s work as “good” even before Man is created. The correct understanding of this dominance is given in Genesis 2:15, which says Adam and Eve were put into the Garden “to dress and keep it”.

There are instances in which the huge burden of guilt, regarding environmental destruction is put solely on religion. In human history, the marriage of scientific theory and technology has been the dogma of man’s mastery over nature. To address the environmental conservation theorists of deep ecology do not identify scientific reparations as the absolute cure, but the remedy must also be essentially religious.

It is here that “Laudato Si” gains prominence, because it blows the clarion call to the occidental realization of Christian scholarship to incorporate the theology of nature. It is infact an urge from Francis to the Christian consciousness of the time for a collaboration movement towards conservation of nature. The present context of the ecological crisis and the concomitant bio-geological change demands an urgent, comprehensive response in order to restore the integral functioning of the Earth’s processes. Since the ecological crisis is deeply rooted in a mechanistic and reductionist worldview and a spirituality of alienation from the Earth, Laudato Si attempts to develop a functional and ecological spirituality.

Deep Ecologist Marti Kheel distinguishes between anthropocentrism and androcentrism: “The anthropocentric worldview perceives humans as the centre or apex of the natural world, the androcentric analysis suggest that this worldview is unique to men”(Kheel129). It is this anthropocentric theory established by androcentrism that Francis challenges in Laudato Si. The encyclical thus becomes a direct attack on the western notions of anthropocentrism, because in the western discourses on humanity and nature, humanity given title position has subdued nature.

It is a sad irony that the destruction of the natural world appears to be proceeding apace with the construction of moral theories. Unable to trust or draw upon a felt sense of connection most environmental theorists endorse reason as the sole guide in our dealings with the natural world. Carol P. Christ writes ” I share the conviction that the crisis that threatens the destruction of the Earth is not only social, political, economic and technological, but is at root spiritual.”

On religion transforming into spirituality, Dr A P J Abdul Kalam writes,

“Religion has two components-theology and spirituality. Even though Theology is unique to all religions, the spiritual component is unique to every religion, the spiritual component spreads the value to be inculcated by human beings for promoting a good human life and welfare of the society, while pursuing the material life”. (34)

“Deep ecological awareness seems to provide the ideal philosophical and spiritual basis for an ecological lifestyle and for environmental activism”(Capra 141).Therefore the preservation of the Earth requires a profound shift in consciousness.: formulation of a spiritual view that revere the profound connection of all beings in the web of life and a rethinking of the relation of both humanity and divinity to nature. This is what Laudato Si aims at. Here an attempt is made to explore some of the aspects of ecospirituality discussed in the encyclical letter.

In this article the term “ecosophy” is used in its broadest sense, to describe current biocentrist attempts to revise our relationship to the environment, and to modify our current construction of the environment. In short, “ecosophy” describes an ecologically informed approach to nature and literature, an approach which questions the hegemony of anthropocentric constructions of environment. Ecosophical thinking has already begun to exert an influence upon the way literary texts are created, interpreted, and taught. Ecosophical critiques of the humanities’ relative unresponsiveness to environmental issues are being amplified, and there is a greater acknowledgment of the need for environmental education throughout the humanities.

Laudato Si is giving a new outline for the ecosophy in the frame of theosophy. This ecosophy is in no way a discourse on the scholastic theological interpretations, but a proposition of theosophy as against platonic dualism and medieval Christian dualism. It is after a comprehensive introduction, the encyclical divides into six chapters, each examining different aspects of the rupture between humans and creation and the prospects for healing this relationship.

The first chapter, “What Is Happening to Our Common Home”, looks at the various symptoms of environmental degradation. The impacts of climate change are considered alongside issues of the depletion of freshwater and loss of biodiversity. There is no substantial discussion of the science of global warming; instead, it simply points to the overwhelming consensus concerning the negative impact of carbon-intensive economies on the natural world and human life: “Caring for ecosystems demands farsightedness, since no one looking for quick and easy profit is truly interested in their preservation” [36].

The encyclical firmly posits that a truly ecological approach is also inherently social – an approach that simultaneously hears the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. The social and environmental impacts of mining are cited as a prime example of this. In many places within the text, Francis lauds the achievements of the environmental movement, while at the same time, he critiques elements within it. He forthrightly dismisses the idea that population growth is to blame for environmental damage; such a suggestion is often a way of refusing to reduce overconsumption by the affluent. Later on, the encyclical states that abortion can never be viewed as a justification for the protection of nature.

The second chapter, “The Gospel of Creation”, considers the world the way that God intended it. The chapter surveys the rich scriptural traditions to show that there is no biblical justification for “a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.” [68]. Likewise, there is no room for misanthropic versions of environmentalism since reverence for nature is only authentic if we have compassion for fellow humans. A person who is truly concerned about the trafficking of endangered species is automatically concerned with the trafficking of humans.

The third chapter, “The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis”, examines the twin notions of what it calls the “technocratic paradigm” and a “modern anthropocentrism” borne out of a view that sees nature as a mere given, devoid of any spiritual or transcendental value. These notions have led to the misplaced ideas that the earth’s resources are infinite and that economic growth and technology alone can solve global hunger and poverty. In reality, however, a purely materialistic view of reality has not only resulted in disregard for the environment, but also undermined the worth of a human life, especially those forms viewed as having little or no utility – human embryos, the poor, or people with disabilities.

At the heart of consumerist and profit-driven economic ideologies is a wrong-footed idea of dominion. The result is exploitation, and a throwaway attitude towards nature and human life itself. The encyclical calls for a bold cultural revolution in our attitude to development and progress. It puts it rather bluntly: “Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.” [114].

In the fourth chapter, “Integral Ecology”, the encyclical charts a path to recapture awareness of the interconnectedness of creation. To do so, it is essential to appreciate the impact of environmental degradation on “cultural ecology”, such as those social networks and ways of life which are bound up with the environment in which communities are placed. The experience of indigenous peoples is specifically referred to in this regard.

The fifth chapter, “Lines of Approach and Action”, sets out various international collective actions needed. It highlights the imperative to switch from fossil fuels to renewables, with the use of government subsidies where appropriate. It identifies the need for international agreements and legislation not only in relation to climate change but also biodiversity and the oceans. Carbon credits are criticized as “an expedient which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors.” [171].

The sixth chapter, “Ecological Education and Spirituality”, shifts attention to the individual believer, families and communities, and invites them to make a difference in small but tangible ways. Consumer choices, the cultivation of ecological virtues such as reducing wastefulness, and environmental education for the young are explained as practical steps leading to a deeper, spiritual “ecological conversion” through which the follower of Christ recognizes the true worth of all created entities. The statement “God created the world, writing into it an order and a dynamism that human beings have no right to ignore” [221] stands in the hallowed natural law tradition of Aristotle and Aquinas that every creature has in its nature an end, a telos, which humans should respect and honor. The intrinsic value of non-humans is noted when the encyclical states that the “ultimate purpose of other creatures is not to be found in us” but rather in the Risen Christ who embraces all things [83].

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