Saturday, October 17, 2015

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #13... We are not God(!)

Pope Francis actually put the sentence, "We are not God" into this week's reading from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home (you can see for yourself by clicking here and scrolling down to the first sentence in paragraph 67). When I read it the first time around, I laughed and said aloud, "No kidding!"

It's definitely there, perhaps because the Pope and his encyclical writers think that we human beings need the reminder, or need to be taken down a few pegs.

In fact, I find myself quite irritated while reading this section of Laudato Si, called The Wisdom of the Biblical Accounts, probably because I question the wisdom of some of the writing in the book of Genesis. I have no problem with God creating light and darkness and everything else and calling it all good. My problem is that it seems as though the Scriptures are saying that human beings are the only ones created in God's image and likeness. If that's not human self-promotion, I don't know what is. In my books, every bit of creation is the way God shows us his and her image and likeness, and that's more than enough reason to hold all of it, not only humans, in reverence and respect!

But then the writer of that first book in the Bible makes things even worse by putting these words in God's mouth at the end of the sixth day: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." (Gen 1:28b)

The words aren't the problem as much as the fact that too much of the last 200 years of human history has taken those words literally, and subsequent human subjugation of and dominion over creation has created too many extinct species and too much decimated land. Some of us have played God without God's wisdom, not realizing that some of the things we do will have harsher impacts than we can foresee.

Image result for alberta chickadeeI get ahead of myself. This week we are looking at paragraphs 65- 69 of Laudato Si, which can be accessed by clicking here. I know that I too am a member of the human race, and I know I am beloved by God, as is pointed out in paragraph 65: "Saint John Paul II stated that the special love of the Creator for each human being "confers upon him or her an infinite dignity".... How wonderful is the certainty that each human life is not adrift in the midst of hopeless chaos, in a world ruled by pure chance or endlessly recurring cycles!" However, the encyclical's assertion that we are all conceived in the heart of God needs to be applied to all of God's creation all the time (even when it's not particularly convenient for human beings). I would argue that the chickadee outside my window is also the result of a thought of God and should be accorded dignity on that basis as much as I am. Therefore, using pesticides to control bugs that the chickadee likes to eat is a sin, right? And not just because that pesticide might travel through the food chain to us human beings...

Our broken relationships with God, our neighbours and the earth are the focus of paragraph 66. Sin is the disruption of those relationships, the disintegration of harmony, the disruption of the web of life. Our distortion of God's words in the book of Genesis has created a rift between human beings and nature that desperately needs to be reconciled. After Jesus, Saint Francis was one of the first to notice the lack of harmony and try to make up for it, and I sometimes wonder if his sermons to the animals weren't one big apology on behalf of the human race, with a reminder that God loved all creatures better than human beings seemed to.

In addition to reminding us that "We are not God," paragraph 67 also says, "Although it is true that we Christians have at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures, nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God's image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures." Ahh, this finally makes me a little happier with this section. It goes on to explain that Scripture exhorts us to care for, protect, oversee and preserve our earth and its fruitfulness for those who follow after us. It also reminds us that the earth belongs to God and our claims to ownership of anything really aren't valid, though we seem to forget that on a regular basis. Can you name any of your so-called possessions that aren't actually a gift from God, directly or indirectly?

We "must respect the laws of nature and the delicate equilibria existing between the creatures of this world" (paragraph 68), and take special care not to take advantage of the creatures with which we share creation. Here's where the Wisdom of the Biblical accounts comes into play, noting scripture passages that underline the importance of humane treatment of all God's creatures, even those that are considered work animals. This section is most concerned that we see that "the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures." I wonder how many in the animal kingdom are reaching extinction because of the climate events caused by our overuse of fossil fuels.

"By virtue of our unique dignity and our gift of intelligence, we are called to respect creation and its inherent laws," says paragraph 69. I'm not sure I understand what follows. See what you think:
In our time, the Church does not simply state that other creatures are completely subordinated to the good of human beings, as if they have no worth in themselves and can be treated as we wish. The German bishops have taught that, where other creatures are concerned, "we can speak of the priority of being over that of being useful." 
Is this saying that in the past we weren't so enlightened? That we only looked at other creatures because of their usefulness? Wise elders among our First Nations brothers and sisters have been closer to the truth in their respect for nature, and we have so much to learn from those who seldom lost sight of the fact that "Man must therefore respect the particular goodness of every creature, to avoid any disordered use of things." This phrase comes from the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is also a tenet of original First Nations culture, one that our North American cultures have somehow forgotten because of consumerist tendencies. 

I have to repeat that last line, but I'll make it inclusive because non-inclusive language drives me a little crazy: "[Humans] must therefore respect the particular goodness of every creature, to avoid any disordered use of things". 

Ah, here's the whole point: what does it look like to "avoid any disordered use of things" in my life? I think of the over 300 elephants poached with cyanide this week in Zimbabwe, and the hundreds, if not thousands of other animals (baby elephants, lions, hyenas, vultures, kudus and water buffalo), who were also poisoned and died at the same watering holes and salt licks. Those lives were worth far more than the £300 the poachers got for each pair of elephant tusks, or the £10,000 that South African dealers paid for a set of "fresh ivory"... Clearly, the human desire for baubles and bangles must go. 

Though I don't drive the ivory trade in any way, shape or form, if I didn't wear earrings or other unnecessary ornaments, animals might have healthier habitats that are less polluted by mines. I also suspect that I eat and use products made from animals that are raised in inhumane conditions. It's possible to get ethical products by dealing directly with small-scale producers if I do a little research and go further than my local grocery chain or big box store for the most convenient items. And when I waste electricity or other forms of energy, I'm contributing to unnecessary fossil fuel emissions that change environments and habitats for creatures all over the world. 

As always, it's a matter of awareness, of recognizing that every consumer choice we make matters in one way or another, and choosing the best option every time. Do we really have to put round up on our autumn dandelions?

Where do you find a "disordered use of things" in your life? How can we change our lives to improve care for all God's creatures?

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)

Next up: #14... We are all Noah

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