This week, we're looking at the first section of Chapter Six, Ecological Education and Spirituality, paragraphs 202-208. You can access them by clicking here and scrolling down.
The first thing in Chapter Six to be highlighted, starred and brought to a red 18 pt font are the words in the first sentence of paragraph 202: "it is we human beings above all who need to change." Yes, dear brother Pope, humanity has traded its awareness of all that God has given us to share for the market-induced forgetfulness found in owning through consumerism, but if we work together to reawaken our common responsibility for our planet and one another, renewal is possible. Change is a comin'. But you are right, it will be a "great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge"!
Right at the beginning of paragraph 203 the Pope and his encyclical writing team remind us that we need to pull ourselves out of the "whirlwind of needless buying and spending." So often we buy more than what's required, forgetting that if we want the earth to supply the needs of all, we shouldn't take more than our fair share. Consumer culture's brainwashing demands that we always buy more.
If there's one thing I've appreciated about reading this encyclical's footnotes, it's all the other thinkers to whom I've been introduced. Romano Guardini is mentioned in this paragraph -- a Catholic theologian who realized that with mass production would come a mindset disposed toward mass consumption. Of course, at this point in time, our identity can no longer rest in our ability to consume. Our sister, Mother Earth, calls us to choose a different way. "We have too many means and only a few insubstantial ends..." the Pope tells us, because we have allowed our possessions to become a substitute for a deeper way of living.
But when I look around, I see that we're getting a bit tired of the clutter in our lives, and the lack of depth. Change is a comin'.
Paragraph 204 names a lot of the things that scare me when it comes to the North American dream of The Good Life: self-centredness, greed, empty hearts leading to overconsumption, an ignorance of reality's limits, forgetfulness of the common good, and the exaltation of personal need over social norms. As the Pope notes, global climate instability (which is now causing flooding in Europe as well as forest fires in drought plagued areas like Fort Mac) isn't the only problem -- our obsession with possessions when there are so many poor people on the planet "can only lead to violence and mutual destruction." And it is... you can bet there wouldn't be so many ISIS fighters if they all had the comfortable standard of living we do.
But before Laudato Si gets too alarmist, we are reminded that human beings can find a better way "despite our mental and social conditioning." In paragraph 205, the Pope tells us that
We are able to take an honest look at ourselves, to acknowledge our deep dissatisfaction, and to embark on paths of authentic freedom. No system can completely suppress our openness to what is good, true and beautiful, or our God-given ability to respond to his grace at work deep in our hearts. I appeal to everyone throughout the world not to forget this dignity which is ours. No one has the right to take it from us.(I think Pope Francis could have left an exclamation mark at the end of that paragraph!)
Just think what would happen if every human being on the planet claimed our dignity as a child of God rather than believing ads that tell us we are what we wear, how we look, what we drive, and so on -- if we all really believed that our value comes more from the love we bear for each other than the money we have or don't have in the bank. I have come to love Pope Francis because so much of what he says and does is meant to remind people of their true dignity and the depths of God's love for them. He's on the right track, but not everyone is travelling with him -- yet. But change is a comin'.
Image from People and Planet
I have been boycotting Walmart for years. The corporation moved into my local shopping mall around 1994... and before long, all the little stores in the mall went out of business because they couldn't compete with the mega-chain's bargain basement prices (that come from unjust business practices toward workers in the developing world). I could go on and on about the injustices of Walmart, but it's all well-documented, even on YouTube.
Disinterested concern for others, and the rejection of every form of self-centredness and self-absorption, are essential if we truly wish to care for our brothers and sisters and for the natural environment. These attitudes also attune us to the moral imperative of assessing the impact of our every action and personal decision on the world around us. If we can overcome individualism, we will truly be able to develop a different lifestyle and bring about significant changes in society.
Next up: New habits that stick