Where would the human race be without art, music, architecture, drama, and the languages that give voice to who we are as God's children? I recently saw a clever bit of graffiti that said, "Earth without art is just "Eh."
Unfortunately, human history has seen many eras when cultures clashed and history was re-written by the winners. As a result, we lost whole civilizations and communities which had important things to say about our place in God's creation -- so much so that Pope Francis and his encyclical writing team saw fit to include a section on Cultural Ecology in Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home. This week we are looking at that section, which can be found by clicking here and scrolling down to paragraphs 143-146.
When our ecological heritage is under threat, so is our cultural heritage. As is noted in paragraph 143, "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 of human beings and the environment."
And what is that endangers our cultural heritage? You probably know my bias -- I would point to the way our media/marketers plant artificial desires in the hearts of so many people -- to keep up with the Joneses, to be like everyone else rather than acknowledging that we are all unique and beautiful children of God who don't have to look and dress like the flavour-of-the-month celebrities in any given country. That's only one example... Pope Francis and friends say in paragraph 144 that "There is a need to respect the rights of peoples and cultures, and to appreciate that the development of a social group presupposes an historical process which takes place within a cultural context and demands the constant and active involvement of local people from within their proper culture."
Too often in human history, cultures that saw themselves as "more advanced" or that were wealthier or more scientifically educated (read: superior) imposed themselves upon unsuspecting original populations with disastrous results! I'm thinking of French explorers who brought smallpox and alcohol to the First Nations Peoples of Canada without appreciating the gifts they offered -- a deep understanding of the land and creation. Or of well-meaning scientists who tried to control "pest populations" by introducing a predator species that was more invasive and devastating than the original pest. Paragraph 145 states, "The imposition of a dominant lifestyle linked to a single form of production can be just as harmful as the altering of ecosystems."
But paragraph 146 contains the critically important lines of this entire section -- "...it is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed..."
Of course, this is not how our world operates. Mining operations, pipelines, agricultural projects, hydroelectric dams, water bottling plants -- to name just a few -- have been established without appropriate consultation or studies with/of the people and other species who live on and take their livelihood from the lands where such projects have been planted. In our past, some cultures have completely disappeared due to the ignorance of other "invasive cultures," and there are, unfortunately, too many examples of similar things going on at present.
Pope Francis and Laudato Si call us to change that. How? Well, we need to stop acting like superior invaders who impose upon creation, upon cultures, and become co-operators with who and what is already present instead.
If you follow my moodlings at all, you'll know that I particularly like the example given by Development and Peace, a Canadian organization, part of Caritas International, which has learned to listen to people "on the ground" when it comes to offering development assistance. I've heard of too many organizations that parachute people into communities in the developing world to build orphanages or start programs without a real understanding of what is needed. Wouldn't it be better to enter into dialogue and to empower those communities to find their own solutions? To respect their wisdom and protect their way of life with a grassroots cultural ecological model?
Here's Development and Peace's Lent 2016 campaign video, which talks about their approach: