Sunday, January 24, 2016

Laudato Si Sunday Reflection #24... Practical relativism as a "dog's breakfast"

Consider yourself warned -- in this week's paragraphs of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis and his encyclical writing team bring out a dog's breakfast (British slang meaning a confused mess or mixture) of issues that our world isn't handling particularly well due to the fact that many of us give priority to personal interest rather than the common good.

I'm focusing on paragraphs 120-123 of Laudato Si, which can be found by clicking here and scrolling down. Only four paragraphs today because a fifth would take us into a different topic which we'll cover next week.

As the seventh chorus of Laudato Si reminds us in paragraph 120, everything is interrelated and all of God's creation -- from the human embryo to his mother to the oilsands worker to the wildlife that lives near the tailings pond -- all are important and really, how can we assign them particular value, especially when we are not God and we can't see the Big Picture? But when human beings try to play God and make decisions about who should thrive and who should die; when practical relativism says, "it is inconvenient, therefore it must go"; when we devalue life in any form, we end up with a dog's breakfast "whereby different attitudes can feed on one another, leading to environmental degradation and social decay" (paragraph 122).

Let's backtrack a moment to practical relativism. Basically, it has to do with seeing everything in life in terms of how it serves my personal interest. It's interesting to me that practical relativism really took hold during the age of the 'me generation' which is comprised of people my age and older. We came of age in a time when there was peace and prosperity in the Western World, and many of us developed a sense that we had worked hard for our wealth and security, forgetting that there were others like us in poorer and more dangerous parts of the world who were working just as hard or even harder, but were unable to reach our standards of living because of many factors beyond their control (some of those factors created by our high standard of living). Some of us have lost sight of the fact that everything we have is blessing and gift from God, and now think that because we can afford it, we are entitled to a life of luxury and convenience and the world revolves around us and our desires.

But it doesn't, and it shouldn't. All God's creatures should be as fortunate as we are, and we shouldn't rest on our prosperity until they are.

In paragraph 123 we read that "The culture of relativism is the same disorder which drives one person to take advantage of another, to treat others as mere objects, imposing forced labour on them or enslaving them to pay their debts." And it leads to the dog's breakfast which we see in our newspapers almost daily (some of which is named by Pope Francis and friends in the continuation of paragraph 123):

sexual exploitation of children
abandonment of the elderly
human trafficking
organized crime
the drug trade
commerce in blood diamonds and endangered species
buying of organs of the poor for resale or experimentation
elimination of unwanted children
(and this list hardly begins to account for the hardships faced by other species... like loss of habitat, pollution of soil, water, and air, climate change, etc.)

And all of it, all of it, springs from our inability to really appreciate the value of life in its many forms. If I have a bone to pick with Pope Francis and friends, it is that is that they fail to acknowledge that we humans might need to employ some form of reliable birth control to limit our numbers for the sake of all earth's species, all God's creatures, but I completely agree when they note that
[relativism's] "use and throw away" logic generates so much waste, because of the disordered desire to consume more than what is really necessary. We should not think that political efforts of the force of law will be sufficient to prevent actions which affect the environment because, when the culture itself is corrupt and objective truth and universally valid principles are no longer upheld, then laws can only be seen as arbitrary impositions or obstacles to be avoided (paragraph 123).
After reading these paragraphs earlier in the week, I found myself moodling (musing and doodling) about our tendency to think that we know all the answers and our tendency to make judgements based on what works for us instead of what's best for everyone. Unfortunately, this extends into all corners of our lives. Example: the guy who tailgated me this morning -- I judged him for being a pushy driver and thought some nasty thoughts about what should happen to him, but for all I know, he was on his way to his mother's house because she was having a medical episode and needed his help.

We humans tend to pass judgment on many occurrences in our lives, but I suspect that God calls us to be open to possibilities that are far beyond us, and to trust God's wisdom more than our own egocentric applications of practical relativism. So this week's challenge is to be more aware of the internal critic that decides what is good and bad according to our own lived experience rather than God's commandments to love, and be open to seeing with God's eyes instead.

Then, perhaps, we can find God's merciful and loving ways to deal with the dog's breakfasts that plague our own lives, the lives of our brothers and sisters facing the kinds of human struggles in the list above, and the life of our beautiful Mother Earth.

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: #25... Toward a work/life balance

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