Continuing from the last installment of my walkthrough of the Pope’s latest encyclical. Whereas the first half was about identifying the dangers to humanity of modern lifestyle patterns, the second half delves into solving these threats in a sustainable way – that is, with a Christian humanist understanding of what it is that we are solving.
The common thread among the latter 120 paragraphs that stuck out for me was driving home the point of protecting our context – the context in which we live and flourish in our relationship with God and others. In discussing issues of living in correct relationship in our environment, it is a trinitarian relationship between creatures, a love between people and God contained within a context just as Christ was formed within the context of Mary’s womb (238). Identifying all the social contexts in which we grow, the Holy Father outlines the roles of polity, the family, and the physical nature around us. Ignoring these contexts leads to an anthropocentric relativism which violates what he calls “justice between the generations”. This so-called “climate change encyclical” is really about recovering the integrity of “both social and environmental [crises]” (139).
Thus what’s demanded of the Christian in the midst of cultural relativism is maturity. In viewing the world through God’s eyes and acting with the guidance of his Holy Spirit, we have to take the long view, respecting the I-Thou relationship impacts of our everyday actions. The Holy Father talks a great deal condemning our “throwaway culture”, where casual litter and abortion are trivialized equally. He doesn’t let us get away with excusing ourselves from doing things like exchanging carbon credits as an excuse for contributing more harm to the planet (171), but instead makes practical suggestions to reduce our consumption patterns (211), putting responsibility ahead of temporal convenience and being anchored to real reality, as opposed to virtual reality which distorts our perception of what our context is (204).
In the end, this letter to the world – to the faithful and otherwise – represents an ambitious plea to recover the lost sense of dignity in humanity and its cradle, the Earth. Look for this theme to appear more often in your homilies and other Christian activist channels – the seamless garment of Christian morality once again appears with its proper emphasis on human dignity at the center. I pray we all find ways to live out the expression of this more responsibly.