Sunday, October 27, 2019

Laudato Si Sunday reflection: Realities vs. ideas

Today's reflection is brought to you by
Sirach 35: 15-17, 20-22, 26.

O God,
are the just one.

We are all your favourites.

But your ears are especially attuned
to those who have been wronged,
and you hear the humble
ahead of the proud.

Perhaps you are hearing your voiceless creatures,
those who are losing their place in your creation
because of human beings and our greed.

Help us,
help us,
help us,
in your kindness,
to do what is just.

Show us how to live more lightly,
to let your creation evolve as you would have it,
and to use technology only as necessary.

Your mercy is as welcome in time of distress
as clouds of rain in time of drought.

Let us trust in your goodness,
rely on your mercy,
and become your justice
through wise choices in our lives.

Make our actions speak louder than our misplaced technologies,
our realities more important than ideas.


* * * * * * *

Over the past two months, these Laudato Si Sunday Reflections fell by the wayside so that I could participate in some climate action of my own. I took a refresher course on waste reduction, helped to plan a Climate Vigil, attended two School Strikes for Climate, and worked for my local Green party candidate. It was an amazing and uplifting two months, for the most part, but there's still so much to do!

When I took this picture,
I didn't realize that Greta
and her Youth for Climate Justice entourage
were just behind me and to the right...
And all the while, I've been walking, figuratively and literally, with Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish activist who is doing her utmost to wake the world to the climate emergency that we find ourselves in. People don't like the truth she is telling, it seems, but the part of our common home that is California is burning yet again, there have been frightening reports of other ecospheric issues, and our lifestyles simply must change to keep our climate from warming more than 1.5 degrees. The polarization in our discourse around how to actually do that is a sign that people everywhere are afraid, for one reason or another. These days, I'm puzzling over how we can move through the fear toward actual solutions.

This week's section of Pope Francis' letter to the world, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, includes "The Globalization of the Technocratic Paradigm," paragraphs 106-110 . It looks at technology's role in our present ecological crises (the paragraphs can be accessed by clicking here and scrolling down).

For a long while, it seems, we have been dreaming that technology will be the solution to all our problems. We heard that dream again in our Alberta Budget this week when the Finance Minister talked a lot about using "clean technology" to green our petroleum industry -- rather than reduce our use of the fossil fuels that are warming our planet. Clearly, the government has bought into the idea of technology as saviour.

But Paragraph 106 notes that technology depends upon human beings who, "using logical and rational procedures, progressively and rationally gain control" over our surroundings through "a technique of possession, mastery and domination." More and more of us -- especially our young people -- are finally realizing that that there is no "infinite and unlimited growth" when it comes to the earth's energy and resources and their renewal. Mastery and domination are a dead end if we end up overheating the only planet we have.

While it is true that we have come a long way in knowing how to build and create and impose order with our machines and computers and factories, we have not been able to foresee the ways these technological advances have endangered our existence. Technology is just one kind of knowledge, and "technological products are not neutral, for they create a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyles and shaping social possibilities along the lines dictated by the interests of certain powerful groups" (paragraph 107).

And who are those powerful groups? Can we trust them to improve life for all species on our earth? Not so far. When scientists began to notice that our climate was heating up, big corporations produced 'experts' to undermine the truth their own researchers had uncovered. Money and power are more important to them than facing up to reality, so they manipulate knowledge to confuse the public with arguments that climate change is a hoax, wasting precious time we could have been using to find and develop alternate energy sources.

For many of us, knowledge and technology have become so integrated into our daily existence and so indispensable in our daily tasks that "It has become counter-cultural to choose a lifestyle whose goals are even partly independent of technology, of its costs and its power to globalize and make us all the same" (paragraph 108). But where technology and its particular kind of knowledge are destroying habitats and species, we need to stand against it, to be counter-cultural.

But it's never easy to buck a trend, is it? This week, I succumbed and joined the cell phone universe -- but only for texting my kids and making the calls I would have made on our now non-existent landline. I refuse to live through cellphone technology because I tend to agree with the last line of paragraph 108 -- so many of the motives behind our technologies are about power, and "Our capacity to make decisions, a more genuine freedom and the space for each one's alternative creativity are diminished" by such power.

And what is this power? Jesus knew. He talks about it in Matthew 6: 24 when he says, "You cannot serve both God and wealth." Our society is hung up on wealth and materialism, and the economy has become the bottom line to the point that we've lost the big picture -- that we were put on this earth to look after one another. As the Pope and friends say at the end of paragraph 109, "We fail to see the deepest roots of our present failures, which have to do with the direction, goals, meaning, and social implications of technological and economic growth."

Paragraph 110 says it straight out: "technology makes it difficult to see the larger picture." And that larger picture is life as we know it, "appreciation for the whole, for the relationship between things, and for the broader horizon" that shows us our place in the vast goodness of all that God has made. Technology is not "the principal key to the meaning of existence" but by thinking that it is, we have come to a place of "environmental degradation, anxiety, a loss of the purpose of life and community living."

Electronic waste at the Edmonton Waste Management Centre
So how do we put technology in its place? Perhaps we can begin by turning it off more often, and by living with less of it. Here I'm talking about the devices that surround us -- phones, computers, TVs, things that distract us or divide us from our families and communities. We can also give more thought to the use of all the machines/technical components in our lives.

Are our time- or labour-saving devices really saving us time or labour? Or have we been brainwashed into believing that they make a difference in our lives as they guzzle gas or energy and create unnecessary pollution? (We often forget the pollution it takes to manufacture these items... never mind the waste when they stop working.) Do we really need the latest techie gadget or gizmo, or is it one of those market items that will end up in our landfills sooner than later? How many single purpose appliances are filling our cupboards and using unnecessary resources? Is that whisk-o-matic doohickey for frothing my hot chocolate really necessary? No matter what our sense of entitlement or our marketers tell us, we need to consider the realities of our lives and whether our knowledge or technology will really work for us -- or against our earth.

"Realities are more important than ideas," say Pope Francis and friends in the last line of paragraph 110 -- and they are 110% right.

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