Saturday, January 16, 2016

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #23... A(nother) shot at anthropocentrism

I was trying to explain this next portion of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home to my husband earlier in the week, and found I had a hard time getting my tongue around the word anthropocentrism. And, to be honest, summarizing these next five paragraphs was challenging, too. As I read them on Monday, I wondered what on earth they could say about anthropocentrism that hadn't already been mentioned in reflection #17? But it always amazes me how new ideas suddenly come along...

We're entering section three of Chapter three, "The Crisis and Effects of Modern Anthropocentrism" -- that A word referring to the belief that human beings are the most important creatures on earth as far as our value and intelligence go. As I've walked with my dog this week, noticing all the human-dropped garbage peeking out of snowbanks in parks and school yards, I've been grinding my teeth in frustration at the blatant anthropocentrism in the act of littering! Why on earth can't we human beings take care of our own trash?

But rather than re-flog the anthropocentrism horse too much (flogging any horse is a rather anthropocentric thing to do, if you think about it), I just want to quickly summarize what Pope Francis and friends are saying in paragraphs 115-119 (you can read them for yourself by clicking here and scrolling down).

Paragraph 115 -- Our human-centred, technological-minded world view has turned creation into an object to be used in too many peoples' minds -- this is ground that's already been covered, except perhaps for its connection with technological thinking.

Paragraph 116 -- We need to pay attention to reality and its limits and recognize that we are not masters of the earth, but stewards of creation. Personally I dislike the word "stewards" as it still places human beings as managers above creation -- wouldn't it be better to say, co-operators WITH creation?

Paragraph 117 -- "When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities -- to offer just a few examples -- it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected." There's the chorus of Laudato Si, sung for the sixth time! But again, only mentioning human beings -- there's a problem when we're so stuck on human worth that we fail to acknowledge the importance of everything from aarvarks to zooplankton because we are only worried about human issues. There has to be a balance.

Paragraph 118 -- "There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself. There can be no ecology without an adequate anthropology.... Human beings cannot be expected to feel responsibility for the world unless, at the same time, their unique capacities of knowledge, will, freedom and responsibility are recognized and valued." Again, balanced with the concerns of all God's creatures.

Paragraph 119 -- "Our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God. Otherwise, it would be nothing more than romantic individualism dressed up in ecological garb, locking us into a stifling immanence."  But I can't see immanence, the idea that God is present in all material things/beings as stifling -- rather, we are freed from self-absorption when we can see Divine Presence in everything around us. That's where humanity's mind needs to be re-set so that we can do what's needed for the good of everything. I also suspect that our relationship with God should never be isolated from our relationship with creation. Otherwise, it would be nothing more than romantic individualism dressed up in over-pious garb, locking us into a religiosity that ignores God's presence in the rest of creation -- and unfortunately, that's where some folks seem to be stuck at the moment -- "our eyes are fixed on heaven; who cares about the earth?"

For some strange reason or trick of the mind, these paragraphs, combined with all the litter I've noticed this week (some dropped beside a gas station garbage can yesterday until my hubby accidentally shamed the litterer into picking it up!), reminds me of a story that Jesus told in the thirteenth chapter of Matthew's gospel. If Jesus was with us now, would he perhaps adapt his parable to encourage better care of our common home? Imagine him telling a story like this:
Listen. An ecologically-concerned person went for a walk. And as she walked, she saw others walking. Some dropped chewing gum on the path, and birds came and tried to eat it, and it choked them. Others dropped plastic waterbottles on rocky ground, but of course plastic bottles aren't compostable so they lay there for thousands of years without ever enriching the soil. Others dropped their food wrappers among the bushes, and they caught and hung there, cluttering the landscape until the wind blew them somewhere else. But the ecologically concerned person picked up the litter and threw it into garbage cans where it was properly disposed of, or carried it home to a compost pile to become good soil amendment, or dropped it off in recycling bins where it could be turned over to companies that would make it into useful items once again. 
Let anyone with ears hear. Whenever anyone litters, it can be seen as carelessness towards creation. It doesn't matter where they live, what they value, or whether they believe in God or not. Littering can be a sign of immaturity (they haven't learned what is right), self-absorption (they're too wrapped up in themselves to notice what they've done), apathy and a blatant disregard for the earth. But whenever anyone cares enough to clean up, they're only doing what they should be doing, they're saving the earth from abuse and leaving it in good shape for future generations, and they will reap the reward of a healthier place to live, not only for humans, but for every form of life on earth. 
Humans are just one of many creatures on the planet. And we need to stop with the self-absorption already, become more earth-aware, and encourage others too. That's the only way we can sow good seed, the kind that yields an abundant harvest. The best example is the one we live daily, even when no one but God sees.

Are we always the best examples we can be when it comes to caring for creation?

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: #24... Practical relativism as "a dog's breakfast"

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