Saturday, September 26, 2015

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #10... No indifference allowed

The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death.   
-- Elie Wiesel
There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalization of indifference. (paragraph 52, Laudato Si)
-- Pope Francis in Laudato Si

Wow, there are so many things I could say about these two quotations, but there's too much to cover in this week's reading of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home. When it comes to the theme of indifference, I think Elie Wiesel and Pope Francis have pretty much nailed it, so I'll plunge into our reading.

Today I'm looking at the encyclical's section on Global Inequality in paragraphs 48-52, which can be accessed by clicking here. As usual, they are packed with ideas worth noting and discussing.

When I began studying (and practicing) voluntary simplicity, the fact that a lifestyle like mine is lived by only the top 8-12% of the world's population hit me like a ton of bricks. You could say that I finally began to wake up to the way that my life was depleting the lives of those in the developing world. "Both everyday experience and scientific research show that the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest," as the pastoral letter of the Bolivian Bishops quoted in paragraph 48 notes -- and the attacks on the environment are arising out of our throwaway consumerism which depletes and pollutes places far from our sight, often in the Global South. What's worse is that these effects "are insufficiently represented on global agendas" to the point that most of us go through our days without giving much thought to our brothers and sisters in developing countries (the other 88-92% of  world population) whose lives are negatively impacted by our consumer demands.

Paragraph 49 begins by stating that "there is little in the way of clear awareness of problems which especially affect the excluded... one often has the impression that their problems are brought up as an afterthought... or... treated merely as collateral damage." Ouch! But if it wasn't true, it wouldn't be so painful to consider! My brothers and sisters in the developing world are paying for the "lifestyles of the rich and famous" -- and those like me -- with the resources of their already impoverished countries. In the meantime, climate change is causing droughts and hurricanes, multinational companies are decimating and polluting the earth through mining and misuse of natural resources, and the powers that be (our governments) are looking the other way. Here's one example from the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (I have two more for the next two Sundays):

Pope Francis nails it when he says: "...we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor" (paragraph 49). Connecting with Development and Peace (or Caritas Internationalis in other coutries)is one way to hear -- at there are many Canadian resources to help us listen to these cries and participate in helping them diminish.

I have a bit of an issue with paragraph 50 of Laudato Si because it seems the Vatican will never acknowledge the fact that the Church's stance on birth control has an impact on our planet's rising population. The Pope and his writing team would rather shake their finger at "forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of "reproductive health"" than acknowledge Humanae Vitae's obvious blind spots. It seems that they prefer to blame the spectre of overpopulation solely on inequities created by the over-consumption of the minority, while insisting that everyone practice natural family planning, even in developing countries where education about such things isn't as important as finding the next meal. I'd like to suggest that the Church focus on continuing to call people to live simply and choose life, and remove the word 'sin' from simpler methods of contraception. But maybe that's just me.

Of course, Francis and his writing team are right about the fact that "attention needs to be paid to imbalances in population density on both national and global levels, since a rise in consumption would lead to complex regional situations, as a result of the interplay between problems linked to environmental pollution, transport, waste treatment, loss of resources and quality of life" (paragraph 50).

Paragraph 51 clearly lays out the biggest problem -- the fact that the Global North's appetite for the planet's resources is huge in comparison to the Global South's, but it's the South that is feeling the worst effects -- environmental devastation through pollution, climate change causing drought and calamitous farming outcomes, the North's habit of exporting waste to the South ("take it out back, throw it down the hillside, keep the front yard lookin' good..." sings Chuck Brodsky again).

At the end of the paragraph, a quotation from a letter by a group of bishops in Argentina sums up what we in the North leave for the South to handle: "...great human and environmental liabilities such as unemployment, abandoned towns, the depletion of natural reserves, deforestation, the impoverishment of agriculture and local stock breeding, open pits, riven hills, polluted rivers and a handful of social works which are no longer sustainable." All because we want the products marketed by our multinationals, many of them 'wants' rather than 'needs'!

It's kinda like the dodge ball game my daughter uses to explain the concept of social justice to junior high school students. She divides the kids into two highly imbalanced teams, say, five against twenty-five. The twenty-five kids (representing the Global South) have the odds stacked against them -- they can only use the five red balls (out of twenty multi-coloured balls), if they get hit they have to sit down and can't get up again, and they can't cross the line dividing the two teams. When the Global North team gets hit, they can keep playing, they can use all the balls, and they have no boundaries. It's the most ridiculous, lopsided dodge ball you'll ever see! What's interesting is that, quite often, the North feel guilty for their success and try to level the playing field in their own ways to make it a bit more enjoyable for the South. Kids have a stronger sense of what's fair than multinationals!

Paragraph 52 points out that "The land of the southern poor is rich and mostly unpolluted, yet access to the ownership of goods and resources for meeting vital needs is inhibited by a system of commercial relationships and ownership which is structurally perverse." The rules are stacked against them. But Pope Francis wants us to change the rules, calling the northern rich to help pay ecological and social debt "by significantly limiting [our] consumption of non-renewable energy and by assisting poorer countries to support policies and programmes of sustainable development." To level the playing field!

Probably the most important sentences in this entire section are the last two: "We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalization of indifference." Yes, you read that final line already at the top of this moodling. We're back to the indifference theme.

Before radio, television and internet, we didn't know as much about our world or people in other countries. Now it seems we know more than we want to, and have become numb to the plight of people we should consider to be our brothers and sisters... that, or we've simply adopted indifference as our modus operandi so that we don't have to change. Do we like our lopsided dodgeball game too much to give it up?

What would Jesus do? We see it over and over again in the Gospels. He invites the rich young man to sell everything and follow him, inspires a true conversion in Zacchaeus, reminds us to consider the lilies and the birds of the air, and shows us how to bring good news to the poor, freedom to prisoners, sight to the blind, and help to the broken.

All we have to do is follow his lead, drop our indifference and start making a difference.

How have you heard the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor this past week? How have you responded to those cries? What is one thing you did? What is one thing you could have done?

A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.


(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Up next: #11... Toward stronger action

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