This week's reading from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, paragraphs 189-193, is the first half of a section entitled Politics and Economy in Dialogue for Human Fulfilment. It can be accessed by clicking here and scrolling down.
"In view of the common good, there is urgent need for politics and economics to enter into a frank dialogue in the service of life, especially human life" says the beginning of paragraph 189. Augghhh! This business of differentiating human life from that of the rest of the planet has created the "us vs. them" attitude that has allowed human beings to dominate rather than cooperate with creation. Here it would seem that the folks who wrote the encyclical with Pope Francis are forgetting the chorus of the song -- "everything is connected and/or interrelated." I'd like to erase that "especially human life" at the end of the sentence. Isn't it enough to be in the service of life?
I do go off on tangents, sorry. The point of paragraph 189 is that too often, necessary production of goods to keep life going gets waylaid by political or economic machinations, leading to "overproduction of some commodities, with unnecessary impact on the environment and with negative results on regional economies." The financial bubbles created by such production create a false economy, but Pope Francis suggests that "it is the real economy which makes diversification and improvement in production possible, helps companies to function well, and enables small and medium businesses to develop and create employment."
I like paragraph 190, in which Pope Francis notes (using different words than I will, so you'll want to read the whole thing) that the environment, not the economy, is the bottom line -- "...we need to reject a magical conception of the market."
Yes! Yes we do!
The Pope also asks, "Is it realistic to hope that those who are obsessed with maximizing profits will stop to reflect on the environmental damage they will leave behind for future generations?" In paragraph 190, the Pope could be writing his own adult version of Dr. Seuss' classic children's book, The Lorax.
If you've never read The Lorax, I'd recommend it -- it's the story of a little guy who lives in an idyllic place full of truffula trees, singing swomee swans, humming fish and little brown barbaloots who eat truffula fruit, until the Once-ler comes along, founds something like a corporation to turn the trees into thneeds (some sort of all-purpose trendy item that everyone wants -- in every colour of the rainbow). Of course, the Lorax sees the decimation of the truffula forests and the ensuing decline in the health and happiness of his animal friends. He tries to call a halt to the Once-ler's plans, but the Once-ler is too busy to listen. So environmental devastation results, the Lorax has to send away his loveable wildlife friends (it's a children's book -- extinction would be too harsh), the gorgeous green landscape turns many depressing shades of grey, and the Lorax sadly lifts himself into the sky by the seat of his pants, leaving the Once-ler all alone with a single word -- "Unless."
"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better. It's not,"
the regretful hermit of a Once-ler tells a young visitor to his despoiled land as he hands over the last truffula tree seed. Written in 1971, The Lorax is the earliest environmental fable I can think of besides the Garden of Eden and Noah's ark.
In paragraph 191 the Pope notes that "some" accuse "others" (read: environmentalists) of "irrationally attempting to stand in the way of progress and human development just as the Lorax tried to make the Once-ler see the folly of his ways. But really, it isn't irrationality -- it's common sense that "we need to grow in the conviction that a decrease in the pace of production and consumption can at times give rise to another form of progress and development." Growth can no longer be our highest ideal -- but sustainability can!
The Pope and friends hold up "productive development" as an ideal in paragraph 192 because it "offers the fullest possibilities to human ingenuity to create and innovate, while at the same time protecting the environment and creating more sources of employment." Sustainable development means being aware of the many possibilities for growth, but letting some of them go in favour of protecting creation, using less, employing the ideas of "reusing, revamping and recycling," and increasing the efficiency of our energy use, to name just a few possibilities.
Paragraph 193 indicates that growth needs to be balanced or contained "by setting some reasonable limits and even retracing our steps before it is too late... the time has come to accept decreased growth in some parts of the world, in order to provide resources for other places to experience healthy growth."
If we look at the development in our world, we can see that in North America, we've had more than our fair share of growth. So how do we encourage more sober lifestyles, reduce our energy consumption and improve our efficiency as was suggested in the quote from Pope Benedict XVI toward the end of the paragraph?
We might have to employ a word that people in North America have forgotten in our rush to have it all -- we might have to sacrifice our over-abundant standard of living by forgoing some of the conveniences and experiences to which we've come to believe we are entitled. We might have to un-brain-wash ourselves from thinking that the newest, trendiest, fastest, biggest, smartest, brightest items on the market will fulfil all our desires. We might have to realize that unlimited market growth is limiting our ability to live in harmony with our sister, Mother Earth because it demands too many resources. We might have to remember how to be happy with less.
In other words, we might have to live by the fruits of the Spirit that we are celebrating on this Pentecost Sunday, and apply them to our care for our common home -- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5: 22).
A stronger desire for these fruits in our lives, especially that last one, will help creation more than any market ever has... don't you think?
Next up: Redefining 'progress'