On May 24, 2015 Pope Francis issued a stunning encyclical on the environment that sparked a series of conferences and green earth initiatives around the globe. His message is clear and to the point: our consumer lifestyle in the first world is suffocating the earth with carbons and robbing the poor of sufficient resources. If we continue in this direction the earth will need critical care because it will be on life-support. Pope Francis seeks to retrieve for humanity a “cosmological vision” rooted in a profound and humble understanding of our place in God’s creation. Why does the Pope think such a retrieval necessary? Human dominion over creation has been misguided and we have lost sense of nature as gift. Our task is not simply to watch over creation but to care for creation, as if it is a global garden with the potential to generate new life. Francis proposes an integral ecology, building on the insights of liberation theology. Shifting our relationship to the earth from control to mutuality can shift our relationship to the poor and to one another as well.
To this end the Pope looks to modern science for insights on relationality and interdependence. Although this may prima facie shock the general public, it is no secret that the Catholic Church has traditionally supported scientific work. The Pope makes use of what the Vatican has learned from twentieth century science. He states explicitly that solving our global problems requires a new way of thinking, and he has in mind developing systemic thinking: thinking in terms of open and intercommunicating systems, as well as new forms of relationship and participation. He takes note of living in a Big Bang cosmos, quantum physics, the interconnectivity of space-time, evolution, and the interdependence of ecological and social issues. He speaks of honoring local, indigenous cultures and invokes insights from other religious traditions including Orthodox Christians, Muslims and Jews.
All in all, Pope Francis’ integral vision in Laudato Si’ is a breathtaking panoramic view of science, technology, religion, culture and economics, all woven into the complex patterns of human life.
The encyclical addresses each of these areas with depth and breadth, inviting new levels of thinking toward what Teilhard de Chardin called, “planetization,” the gathering of human energies around the globe for the unification of planetary life.
So where are we one year after the launch of Laudato Si’? Have we made any strides whatsoever toward a greener earth, closing the gap between rich and poor, shifting the patterns of our first world lifestyles? My short answer is no, nothing has changed nor will it do so in the future. The fact is, we like our first consumer lifestyles; we endorse them with our hard-earned money and we will continue to do unless we are radically disrupted by natural disaster or nuclear war. I foresee no real change in the immediate future because we have no real consciousness of interconnectivity. All systems, including religious institutions, support and affirm individualization. I therefore challenge all systems, especially world religions, to accept evolution as our common narrative because religion is a basic dimension of all life, not just human life; the transcendent dimension of nature itself. It is time to harness our religious energies for a new religion of the earth, the forward movement of thought and the life of the planet. Evolution connotes an unfinished universe—and this is our hope—that we can create a new future together.