Pope Francis came out swinging a few weeks back with his encyclical on the environment, “On Care for Our Common Home.” It’s a beautifully written document though, with 246 numbered paragraphs, hardly a quick read. The encyclical challenges us all to be better stewards of the Earth, but it also serves another benefit: it’s bound to make conservative politicians squirm because of the conflict it presents for them, which provides entertainment for the rest of us.
We’ve already seen some politicians—men of faith, mind you—distancing themselves from the pope on this subject, and we’ll likely see more doing the same.
Pope Francis touched on every environmental issue you can think of: our disposable economy, climate change, pollution, our extravagance and waste, the extinction of species, the deforestation of the Amazon and Congo jungles, the destruction of coral reefs, diminishing sources of fresh water. You name it, his encyclical covered it. And the pope is very clear about who is causing these problems: man and our unbridled use of technology.
Francis doesn’t hold back on what he sees as a lack of political leadership and his belief that priority is “given to speculation and the pursuit of financial gain, which fail to take the context into account, let alone the effects on human dignity and the natural environment.” The pope’s ultimate concern is that as resources diminish and pollution increases, the poor will suffer the most.
Francis is blunt in his criticism. The “excluded,” the poor, that is, are given little attention, because those who have the power to create change “are far removed from the poor, with little direct contact with their problems. They live and reason from the comfortable position of a high level of development and a quality of life well beyond the reach of the majority of the world’s population.”
The reaction from politicians? “I hope I’m not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home, but I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope,” former governor Jeb Bush said on Fox. “And I’d like to see what he says as it relates to climate change and how that connects to these broader, deeper issue before I pass judgment. But I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.”
“I don’t want to be disrespectful, but I don’t consider him an expert on environmental issues,” said Texas Rep. Joe Barton, a senior Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee. According to U.S. News & World Report, Barton’s “comment was echoed by a number of other Republicans.” U.S. News reported that Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rand Paul, R-Ky., did not respond to requests for comment or avoided answering questions on the subject.
Here’s the rub for Bush and Barton. They characterize the encyclical as an intrusion by Pope Francis into the worlds of politics and science, but Francis is approaching the subject from a spiritual point of view. He is telling us what we need to do as children of God.
Note to Jeb Bush: I agree with your statement, “Religion ought to be about making us better as people.” Hello! That’s the idea behind the encyclical.
The encyclical begins with a simple statement: the Earth is “our common home” and “like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. … This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.”
Pope Francis tells us our “human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself.” It is this third relationship we have abused. Francis isn’t pretending to be a scientist. He is talking as a man of God and exhorting us to regard Earth as something that belongs to God, not man.
I’m not here to proselytize. My point is the fundamental conflict the pope is creating for conservative politicians who claim to be men of God.
Bush, who is Catholic, and Barton, who appears to have some religious background, have missed entirely what Francis is saying. And, apparently, Cruz and Paul, who talk about God in their lives—Cruz has said, “God isn’t done with America yet,” and Paul claims to have found Jesus—don’t know what to say.
None of these politicians can come out in the open and agree with the pope. Why? Their supporters likely don’t want to hear that we must address the environmental problems we have created and be more attentive to the poor. No one’s ever won an election on that platform.
The pope will be in Washington, D.C., in September, which should make for great political theater. We’ll see President Barack Obama embrace the pope for his encyclical while conservatives try to figure out how they can be men of faith yet distance themselves from what the pope says about man’s obligation to Mother Earth. This will be interesting.
Jack D’Aurora writes for considerthisbyjd.com
To subscribe to this blog, use the subscribe box at http://www.considerthisbyjd.com.