Comments: General Synod - Monday's business - climate change

Of course an excellent resolution and one deserving of the overwhelming support it received. However, how much Synod time was expended and at what cost? Why aren't "motherhood and apple pie" resolutions like this one dealt with by a process whereby any debate happens out-of-Synod (perhaps through a blog accessible to Synod members or similar)? Dignitaries can make appropriate press statements. Unless a reasonable number of Synod members (say 10% or 20%) seriously object to a proposal would it not be better use of valuable resources not to discuss it on the floor of Synod at all?

Posted by Turbulent Priest at Monday, 13 July 2015 at 4:08pm BST

I find it astonishing, reading the minute passed by General Synod, that the Church does not take into consideration the problem of overpopulation, which is taking increasing toll on our environment. The pope failed to address this in Laudatio Si, but that is no excuse for the Church of England to do so, since there is no general prohibition of birth control in the Anglican Communion, nor, indeed, of abortion, both of which will be necessary if we are to limit population growth. With every person added to the world population, the carbon footprint, let alone other aspects that attend increased population, such as the encroachment of human settlement on wild spaces, grows ever larger, and the Church must start talking about this with more urgency. That agreement will not be reached on this point with the Roman or Othodox churches is an issue of some concern, but this should not prevent the Church of England and other Anglican provinces from dealing with the problem.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Monday, 13 July 2015 at 5:32pm BST

Thanks so much for the news from General Synod on climate change. Archbishop Welby referenced the 5th of the marks of mission. The address by Bishop Holtam of Salisbury does the same. Holtam's address covers all the bases including a reminder of the work done on climate change theology by Patriarch Bartholomew.

The Paris climate summit is faced with an uphill challenge. We've seen from the events in the EU over the past few weeks the complete strangle hold that entrenched vested interests, the so called " one percent", have on public discourse and democratic process.

As a Canadian, I'm very aware of the power and influence this group has on government policy and public discourse. The Conservative government here has been an avatar for the petroleum industry. Our dollar is a kind of petroleum/commodity currency. The decline in oil prices has us now in a technical recession. There can be no underestimating the stonewalling that climate change advocates face from business interests in such a context. Yet, there are hopeful signs, like the just concluded Climate Summit of The Americas, which included Canadian Provincial and American State politicians.

Holtam is right when he says that at the its root this is a spiritual problem. Giles Fraser wrote recently about the "worship of money". Its a planet wide new religion, and one that increasingly demands human sacrifice.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 13 July 2015 at 5:33pm BST

I'll reply to Eric MacDonald's comment on climate change here, even though his post and my initial comment ended up elsewhere. The differences between the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches on the use of artificial birth control are significant, and I agree with the Anglican view view on that. Notwithstanding, that is no reason to make it a wedge issue with regard to ecumenical convergence on climate change, including convergence otherwise with the Roman Catholic Church. Laudato Si provides a detailed analytical coherent theological framework. It is an important contribution. The other thing I would add is a word of caution about those of us in affluent western democracies playing the over- population card. We consume, waste, and exploit far and away more with our low birth rates. We want to be careful we don't play the game that countries like Canada have been playing, essentially, having run up a huge carbon foot print in developing our economies over the past century and a half, now lecturing emerging countries who are trying to play catch up about their carbon footprint and green house gas emissions. Archbishop Welby's point about trying to close the gap with regards to prosperity is worth pondering in that regard.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 13 July 2015 at 5:43pm BST

Re turbulent priest, sure, why waste valuable time discussing the future of the planet? After all, we probably need it to bemoan and wail the catastrophic demographic collapse of churches like yours and mine, because, to continue with shop worn metaphors like " motherhood and apple pie", we are fiddling while Rome burns.

Posted by Rod gillis at Monday, 13 July 2015 at 6:52pm BST


You misunderstand me. I did not say that Synod should not express a strong opinion on this crucial matter. But what exactly will be achieved by the time and money (and indeed greenhouse gas emissions) spent convening several hundred people to debate something they all agree about in the first place?

The issue is not the seriousness of climate change and the need to address it, which I totally agree with. It is the wasteful use of resources talking about it for several hours in a large expensive forum, when exactly the same resolution could have been passed and public statements made without doing so.

Posted by Turbulent Priest at Monday, 13 July 2015 at 10:29pm BST

@ Turbulent priest " You misunderstand me." Have I?

"The issue is not the seriousness of climate change ... It is the wasteful use of resources talking about it for several hours in a large expensive forum..." That the church convenes large expensive forums, and that such forums often waste resources on a show about nothing is not in contention. However, climate change is not a show about nothing. Climate change ought to be a priority for theological conversation.

Conversation and debate raises awareness of the lifestyle challenges we set for ourselves when we vote for our ideals. Conversation invites an increase in awareness of complicity, and encourages an increase in ownership of the proposed solutions. For Anglicans, a synod can be the vehicle by which a policy becomes something of consensus of the whole people of God,rather than a decree from on high. Such forums also invite the inevitable counter positions and dissent which give life to dynamic tension in the body of Christ.

If I were to choose a handle like "turbulent priest" to use on these comment boards I think it would be "mercurial priest". On those good days when I see the church attempting to be in solidarity with others on crucial issues like this one,I'm encouraged. Most other days, these days, I question the wisdom of continuing to participate in church land conversations which are so often inward looking and jejune.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Tuesday, 14 July 2015 at 3:07am BST

It's a welcome experience for me to find myself in complete agreement on this issue with my countryman Rod Gillis. I'm delighted to see the church put time and money into discussing climate change, and hopefully into taking constructive action.

Can I just point out, though, as a resident of a Canadian province that would be directly effected by divestment in oil sands, that all of this stuff will be useless unless people like you and me actually change our habits of living? The reason oil companies are investing billions of dollars in oil sands projects in my province of Alberta is because the world is hungry for oil. The world is hungry for oil because we all enjoy a lifestyle made possible by oil. We drive our own cars, like our homes to be heated in winter (and don't like cutting wood or digging for coal) and air conditioned in summer, and enjoy all our electronic gadgets, like the computers we're all using to comment on 'Thinking Anglicans'.

I'm in complete agreement with the synod motions, but effective change on the issue of climate change won't come until ordinary people around the world smarten up about their consumption of fossil fuels and make real and costly changes in their lifestyles. Am I willing to do that, if it means less flights from Canada to England to see my mum and other relatives? I believe the Anglican Communion recently convened a forum of bishops in Cape Town to discuss climate change. Most of them got there by air.

The world will be entitled to call us hypocrites if we lecture others on their behaviour but show ourselves unwilling - as individuals, and as churches - to change our own. Guilty? Yes, I'm afraid I am.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Tuesday, 14 July 2015 at 5:11pm BST

Rod, just came across your reply. You say that "Laudato Si provides a detailed analytical coherent theological framework. It is an important contribution." I'm surprised to hear you say this. Anything so impractical (as well as criminally silent on women’s affairs) as this encyclical cannot be an important contribution. I agree heartily with Nick Cohen in his Guardian column (20 June) where he writes, among other things, that

"The pope does not say that the poor must stay poor to show their gratitude to the almighty or for the sake of the environment. Rather, he ducks the question of what will happen as the ever-expanding populations of poor countries grow richer. Demand the promotion of birth control – not abortion or eugenics, just contraception – and you are “refusing to face” the world’s unequal distribution of wealth, he writes. End “the extreme and selective consumerism” of the rich world and – eureka! –“demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development”."

This is, not to put too fine a point on it, nonsense. To suppose that population growth is possible without environmental degradation is poppycock! And it's hard to see how the pope's desiderated narrowing of the gap between rich and poor can be achieved without reducing such growth.

I am troubled by your remark that we take care not to play "the game that countries like Canada have been playing, [running up] a huge carbon foot print in developing our economies over the past century and a half, [and then] lecturing emerging countries who are trying to play catch up about their carbon footprint and green house gas emissions." It's important to remember that most of that growth too place before anyone knew anything about global warming or carbon footprints, and that, given that history, dramatic changes may be impossible without economic catastrophe, which will weigh most heavily on poor, increasing populations. Economists don't know how to maintain stable no-growth economies without serious recession. That fact alone should be significant enough to change the Vatican's out-dated and destructive (as well as criminally anti-woman) beliefs regarding birth control and abortion (where teenagers can be imprisoned for miscarriages, and doctors can be excommunicated for aborting an abused 9 year old girl of twins). And if Francis' encyclical is not sound on this question, then you and I have very different ideas about what can be called theologically sound.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Wednesday, 15 July 2015 at 9:42pm BST

@ Eric MacDonald "Anything so impractical (as well as criminally silent on women’s affairs) as this encyclical cannot be an important contribution." This statement is a form of rhetorical misdirection. Patriarchy abounds in many places, Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, and among international economic policy makers. We have a choice here. Anglicans,Roman Catholics, Orthodox churches, and Protestant Churches, despite significant differences in some areas, can join with other voices of good will, many with more street cred than the church, in working to contend with climate change. Or, we can do what organized Christianity has, sadly, been so good at in the past, and that is be morbidly factious and unable to dialogue and work work with allies who may not share all our political and theological agenda.

As for Nick Cohen, I'll counter by commending Naomi Klein's New Yorker piece.

"Many have puzzled over how 'Laudato Si’ can simultaneously be so sweepingly critical of the present and yet so hopeful about the future. ...People of faith, particularly missionary faiths, believe deeply in something that a lot of secular people aren’t so sure about: that all human beings are capable of profound change....The most powerful example of this capacity for change may well be Pope Francis’s Vatican. And it is a model not for the Church alone. Because if one of the oldest and most tradition-bound institutions in the world can change its teachings and practices as radically, and as rapidly, as Francis is attempting, then surely all kinds of newer and more elastic institutions can change as well." Not bad for a secular Jewish feminist.

See the whole Klein article here:

Posted by Rod Gillis at Wednesday, 15 July 2015 at 11:53pm BST

Rod, there is no rhetorical misdirection involved, and certainly none intended. Population growth is one of the single most critical issues concerning our planet. Patriarchy may be endemic practically everywhere, but we need not defend it anywhere, least of all the kind of patriarchy which says absurdly that "demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development." If that's not a lie in defence of a dogma, at least it's nonsense, bait which Klein seems to have taken, hook, line & sinker. The pope has no idea how "integral and shared development" is going to happen without a financial crisis, which will place more people at risk and increase pressure for even more rapacious economic growth. It needs to be recognised that Roman doctrine regarding women and reproduction is pre-modern and unjust, and is harmful to women and girls, and that despite his dogmatic assurance, demographic growth will contribute to continued degradation of the environment. Some Catholic wag suggested (cf. Klein) that Francis simply changed the subject. But, we need to ask, at what cost?

The Magisterium (with a validity superior to reason) forces the pope to claim that demographic growth and his environmental aims are compatible, when they are not, for as pope he cannot change a dogma whether or not it harms women, while contributing further to the environmental chaos he would like to amend. If this issue is left unaddressed, then the rest of the encyclical is irrelevant. It is a fundamental injustice. And pointing this out is not a piece of rhetorical misdirection; but a genuine concern for both women and the environment. Francis poses as a liberal, but is as narrowly dogmatic as his predecessor, though much more jolly. Do you think that will be enough?

Klein speaks of the radical Franciscan teachings the pope is reviving. Does Francis’ nature mysticism provide the economic model that we need? As Klein says, we do need one, but no one knows how to do it. Piketty suggests ways, but few economists think it will work. In any event it's going to take time. With world population expected to reach 11 billion by 2050 (that's a mere 35 years away), we don't have much time. It is reasonable to doubt whether the earth can survive population growth of that order, in which case integral and shared development will not be even a distant dream.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Thursday, 16 July 2015 at 11:54pm BST

Actually---now I have seen in the Church Times that the Bishop of Chester is involved with the so called "Global Warming Foundation" I can see that I chose the wrong issue to complain about the time and money wasted at Synod discussing things which are self-evident. But Tim Chesterton put it all much better than I could---"Most of them got there by air". [Instead of using techno solutions like video conferencing...].

Again, possibly self-evident, possibly not. The conundrum about population growth and climate change is that the key to solving population pressure is economic development---population growth is strongest in those places where carbon emissions per person are very low. Clean energy routes to economic development are what we should try to work towards---then the real changes in lifestyle which Tim so rightly calls for need not be so costly. Just a small example: having a bishops' conference by all going to a local video conference facility would actually save time as well as carbon emissions. And really good video conferencing makes you feel as if you are in the same room. Coming back to GS: doing some of the business by Skype or wiki/blogs would save a lot of travel expenses, room hire, carbon emissions, etc.

Posted by Turbulent Priest at Friday, 17 July 2015 at 10:33am BST

@ Eric MacDonald "There is no rhetorical misdirection involved ...." Actually it is misdirection. You're simply doubling down. Paragraph #50 of Laudato Si, from which you draw the Pope's quote from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, has rightly drawn a critique from both within and without the Roman Catholic Church. However the more balanced rejoinders have not arrived at your dramatic dismissal, "Anything so impractical (as well as criminally silent on women’s affairs) as this encyclical cannot be an important contribution."

Consider the quotation in conjunction with Francis' own words in #50:

"To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be uni¬universalized, since the planet could not even con¬tain the waste products of such consumption." (Laudato Si #50)

Here, Francis is re-framing the question by broadening it. Given Francis' experience with poverty and the South American context, I'm sure he is not naive with regard to how all the issues inter-lock.

What is interesting is that he could have given far more attention to Catholic moral teaching and Humanae Vitae than he does. Little wonder conservative Catholics are miffed and anxious. They rightly fear a shift --in a direction you may like. The pope, like every other leader, has political problems to resolve. He may be doing so strategically. Consider looking forward.

The Encyclical provides a well grounded theological framework for Catholics. It gives an important voice to the nascent efforts within Christianity wanting to develop theological resources on the climate crisis. It is consistent with Catholic Social teaching. Some economists have dismissed the encyclical you say? Tell me something I can't read in Forbes. The reaction on the right has been predictable giving rise at times to mal-metamorphoses worthy of Uncle Screwtape on a roll.

Paris is on the horizon this fall. While it may not be worth a mass, it is certainly worth a word from a very influential pope.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Friday, 17 July 2015 at 3:58pm BST

With reference to Pope Francis on climate change and economics, I came across this article on Aljazeera America. The perspective is different from that which one finds in Forbes, or that Canadian family compact/chateau clique newsletter, The Globe and Mail.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Saturday, 18 July 2015 at 1:59am BST

Consider this and the next comment as continuous with each other (should the moderator allow it).
What do you expect me to say Rod? Since you have comprehensively ignored what I said in my last comment, it's hard to know how to respond. You say that I doubled down, as though nothing that I added had any substantive content worth mentioning. So let me try another tack.
Since Laudatio Si is so anti-modern, it is hard to see how it gives Catholics or anyone else the resources (theological or otherwise) for solving our environmental problems. Francis is comprehensively critical of global culture, aside from the beauty of airplanes and improved health care. He saves his diatribes for contemporary scientfic-technological culture and capitalism. For he would like to reverse modernity and replace it with something much more like Catholic orthodoxy, and parodies Leavisite nostalgia for the wheelwright’s shop. One Catholic author actually speaks of the return of Catholic anti-modernism (with shades of the Syllabus of Errors), and you can see his point. As he says:

“Francis has penned a cri de coeur, a dark reflection on the systemic evils of modernity. Like the prophet Ezekiel, Pope Francis sees perversion and decadence in a global system dominated by those who consume and destroy. The only answer is repentance, “deep change,” and a “bold cultural revolution”.”

This, according to the author, is incompatible with Francis’ immediate predecessors. Remember, if you will, that the modern West was, until recently, the model of what third world economies were expected to aim at. This was long before the world was swamped with plastics and silicon chips, excess carbon and methane, and it became evident that such “progress,” on a world scale, would be globally disastrous. Despite this, the technological-scientific model of the future is still what "emerging" nations are expected to want, and they do. It is not at all clear how we can change this scientific-technological model without upsetting the economic apple cart, and Francis certainly has no solution. Indeed, he seems much more solicitous for the church’s subjection of women, and claims that this continuing injustice is entirely compatible with his environmental goals, which shows how laughably inane his jeremiad really is. And remember that Al Jazeera has no dog in this race to worry about, so O'Neill can be as dreamy-eyed as the pope.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Saturday, 18 July 2015 at 3:07pm BST

You say, rather pointedly: "Some economists have dismissed the encyclical you say? Tell me something I can't read in Forbes." That is not particularly becoming of you. In fact, I don't know any economists who have dismissed Lauditio Si. I merely pointed out that economists currently have no idea how to manage no-growth economies, and that the attempt to change things in the direction that the pope desiderates is a sure recipe for economic catastrophe, which will in fact call for more exploitation of the environment. The only economist I mentioned is Piketty, but nobody seems to know how Piketty's proposals can be put into effect, beneficial as they may be so far as the gap between rich and poor goes, or whether they would slow down captitalism’s rapacious exploitation of the environment. For a look at what economics can do, you could do worse than to consider the discussion between Gutting and Daniel Hausman in yesterday's NYT.

What Francis says about economics will doubtless be studied by others more knowledgeable about the subject than I, but it does not seem to me that Francis is at all realistic. For instance, what does he mean when he says: “Production is not always rational, and is usually tied to economic variables which assign to products a value that does not ... correspond to their real worth.” (138) Surprise, surprise! Market forces assign value to products, not the cost of production, nor of the materials used in the course of production. How does he propose that we step outside of the Heraclitean river of market forces and expect it to continue flowing? Change of lifestyle may do it, he thinks, but what effect would such a change have on market forces? Environmental protection cannot be left to financial calculations of costs and benefits, he says. But does he know what that means? Or this: “... we need to grow in the conviction that a decrease in the pace of production and consumption can at times give rise to another form of progress and development.” (140) Brilliant! And what happens to market forces while this is going on? He doesn’t even consider the implications of his own proposals, since he is no economist, and Laudatio Si is, after all, a dream, and not a realistic calculation.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Saturday, 18 July 2015 at 3:09pm BST

@Eric MacDonald. Have you been reading my posts before launching your missives? If so, you would know that my quarrel is not with criticism or controversy over Laudato Si ( that's a good thing). My rejoinders have been targeting what I find to be a kind of intemperate tunnel vision with which you dismiss the whole enterprise with a vocabulary that includes, in your latest posts, "diatribe", "dreamy", "laughably inane" and the like. You've out foxed Fox news!

You quote the encyclical selectively, “Production is not always rational, and is usually tied to economic variables which assign to products a value that does not ... correspond to their real worth.” (138) ( PS. Never heard of derivatives?) That is from # 189 by the way. The reference is to analysis done by Mexican Bishops, who I'm sure, know a thing or two about both the economy and the environment. Your citation actually comes from # 189 where Francis writes:

"Today, in view of the common good, there is urgent need for politics and economics to enter into a frank dialogue in the service of life, especially human life. Saving banks at any cost, making the public pay the price, foregoing a firm commitment to reviewing and reforming the entire system, only reaffirms the absolute power of a financial system, a power which has no future and will only give rise to new crises after a slow, costly and only apparent recovery."

The current economic system which places value on non-products, which exploits the population of southern nations of the planet to enrich oligarchs in the north, is a form of colonialism by subterfuge. The market is not grounded on immutable laws of nature but on values and assumptions. These can be changed and transformed. This entire section is about integration of economy, society, and the environment. Laudato Si continues with Catholic social teaching including the preferential option for the poor articulated at Medellin. The encyclical also is a bridge with working people and is consistent with Laborem Excercens and #189 flows from that.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Saturday, 18 July 2015 at 11:54pm BST

Rod, beware rhetorical misdirection! I don't watch Fox News, so I'm not sure what out-foxing Fox means. My references are to page numbers, not paragraphs. As for derivatives (which are seldom traded on the major stock markets), these do not involve, except indirectly, processes of production, and the pope specifically mentions production, not futures, options or swaps (and these have real value if you make the right guess). Certainly, there are shortcomings in the financial system, but without it, companies would have no way of financing further growth.

But you're still not paying attention to the very uneasy grasp that either politics or economics has on economic realities, and there is no evidence that entering "into a frank dialogue" with politics and economics "in the service of life" would produce more than further mystification of something already so complex that no one really understands it. (And who would you dialogue with?) Recall Hausman's remark that "the questions that economists are called upon to address are very difficult to answer. So we cannot look to economists to solve our policy problems.”

Say what you like about our financial system, it is not something that’s easy to monkey with without producing unwanted outcomes, which can’t be predicted at the best of times. I have used diminishing language about Laudatio Si, becuase the pope seems unaware of these complexities, and the problems faced by those who would like to see policy change. So do you. You say that "[t]he market is not grounded on immutable laws of nature but on values and assumptions.” Is it? Players doubtless make assumptions, and have values, but how these play into the system as a whole is anyone’s guess.

Regarding colonialism by subterfuge (which sounds very 1960ish or Edward Saidish), perhaps you should bear in mind that, with the contemporary portability of money, many rising economies, like India and China, South Korea, Taiwan, etc. have been the beneficiaries of "exploitative oligarchs," (and have some of their own) both in their increasing technical knowledge, as well as their exploding economies. Western economic power depended on the exploitation of workers in its primary growth phase - ergo Marx. Now we watch non-Western markets boom, and Western workers (and the Western middle class) take a hit. I don't suppose that I understand any of this better than you do. My problem is that the pope doesn’t seem to understand it at all.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Sunday, 19 July 2015 at 2:05pm BST

@ Eric MacDonald "I'm not sure what out-foxing Fox means." It's a pun on a pun. Your stance out-Herods Herod. Pray you, avoid it. (Hamlet).

"colonialism by subterfuge ...sounds very 1960ish" Actually, check out Susan George's much more recent analysis, available on line.

"our financial system, it is not something that’s easy to monkey with without producing unwanted outcomes.." I laughed out loud when I read this. Where have you been since 2008? G.W. Bush, ironically, signed into law one of the biggest pieces of socio-economic legislation since The New Deal. It all depends on who is playing monkey and who benefits, no?

You clearly don't understand how an encyclical is produced. The Pontiff is the front man, but these things are the result of research and consultation, not unlike government policy papers. The document is a virtual catena aurea of previous Catholic social teaching. The encyclical also relies heavily on the most recent scientific consensus. Note the section titled, Loss Of Biodiversity (III, #32-#42--editions vary so para. #s are preferred and easier to locate). The folks I know in the scientific community tell me much the same thing as Francis is saying here; but perhaps they are dreamy and laughable as well?

To review, Laudatio Si is a ground breaking document for our times. It is the subject of analysis, controversy, and editorial comment just about everywhere. Only the extreme right has been as dismissive as you have been in your posts. We are faced with the crisis of climate change; but all means let's cry out, that, they have taken away our birth control pills and we do not know where they have laid them. ( my apologies to St. John).

One of us is stuck in the battles of the 1960s, but it ain't me.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Sunday, 19 July 2015 at 3:52pm BST

Having absorbed the fascinating comments on Climate Change, I cannot help but ask the question: Has climate change - on the scale of which we are thinking - ever happened before on planet Earth, with no population of human beings to blame for this 'natural' occurrence?

Come on you Christian scientists among us, give us an answer. Either that, or at least contemplate the possibility that humanity, per se, is not totally responsible for the phenomenon.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Sunday, 19 July 2015 at 4:30pm BST

@ Father Ron, you might like this article by Noah Toly (Christian Scholar Review).

I've also included a link to a variety of articles available via NOAA on the anthropological question in climate change.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Sunday, 19 July 2015 at 7:14pm BST

Thanks, Rod, for the links addressing my question. Although the available science does predict further climate change is directly affected by anthropological intervention, there is still an unknown and probably unpredictable element to be catered for in this very complex equation.

Scripture tells us that, one day, there will be "a new heaven and a new earth". Does this give The Lord of Creation a special responsibility for the disposition of the present set-up? And, in the light of all the controversy about our human footprint, is there any responsibility on our part, as socially-affective humanity, to control human procreation?

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Monday, 20 July 2015 at 6:57am BST

It's a pun... Well, obviously, Rod. But I still don’t know what you mean, but given your general tone, I take it that it’s not kind. By the way, the title of the encyclical is “Laudato Si.” I have a tendency to Latinise it as well.

And,.... well, I do know how encyclicals are written. I have a copy of one written by a Jesuit that was never given the pope's imprimatur (Pius XI, that was), because the next Pope, Pius XII, wasn't, to put it mildly, Jew-friendly.

Nor am complaining about some of the "scientific" detail about overcongested cities, the suffering of rural peoples as the result of agri-business, etc. None of this is a part of my complaint. It's the never-never Christian gloss that gets me, major life-style changes, the 19th century ethic, and so on. The pope is not aiming at things that can be changed, as was done after the 2008 recession. He has something much more comprehensive in mind. Some things we can do to change the lot of the poor. It’s been done with small loans for decades. And you can make minor adjustments to the economy without it self-imploding, so long as you pay attention to its existing structure. Getting it wrong is evident in Greece and Venezuela, and there is no sign that the pope has anything else to suggest.

Factual accounts in Laudato are fine. Contemporary problems are fairly adequately summed up. Indeed, it would have been easier to take in had the pope allowed the experts to write their thing, and then make his own "theological" reflections on that, instead of pretending that the theology is somehow coextensive with the facts as stated.

The problems arise when the pope goes all misty-eyed and supposes that with growing populations we can actually achieve some kind of integral development, as when he says:

"If the present ecological crisis is one small sign of the ethical, cultural, and spiritual crisis of modernity, we cannot presume to heal our relationship with nature and the environment without healing all fundamental relationships." (par 119)

But which came first, the chicken or the egg? Did our spiritual crisis lead to the environmental one, or vice versa. We know what Francis thinks, but is he right? Indeed, if he is, then there is no solution, because we’re not going to heal “all” fundamental relationships.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Monday, 20 July 2015 at 2:14pm BST

Going on where I left off. Despite the pope's timely and repeated warnings that there are limits, he scarcely even mentions population growth and its problems. India has doubled its population in about 55 years. Of course, there are lots of poor people there. How could there not be? (Just try to bring that 5-700 million people to equity with their more favoured citizens without economic collapse.) Yet the pope never relates population growth with environmental degradation. He calls for a new universal solidarity instead!!! We have to change humanity! (par. 9)

At the same time, he uses the old Christian trope that “the book of nature is one and indivisible.” (according to Benedict XVI, par 6) Then for a few pages he writes about environmental degradation, throw-away culture, etc., and then he says without evidence:

“... we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation.” (par 48)

With no evidence that human and social degradation are caused by environmental degradation, and not the other way round. And this, ignoring that humans have always had throw-away cultures (cf. the middens where archaeologists find so much of their evidence), he goes on to quote a Catholic body to the effect that

“ must nonetheless be recognized that demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development.” (par. 50)

And much later:

“Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion.” (par 120)

This is all preposterous. Without answering the question about cause or correlation, there is no basis for these claims, which not only imply continuing injustice to women (I think that was enough to condemn the encyclical, as you may recall - I still do), but a failure to deal with perhaps the most fundamental environmental problem. Natural populations maintain a balance with nature because of predators, unsuccessful variations, mating “seasons,” etc. Humans survived, partly because our sexuality is not seasonal. Having domesticated the earth, this becomes detrimental. There is a conflict with the facts and the theological gloss, and Francis knows it. Yet he can say of his encyclical, that it

“is now added to the body of the Church’s social teaching.” (par 15)

Rod, I have even used references to paragraphs to please you!

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Monday, 20 July 2015 at 2:20pm BST

Fr. Ron. I am not a scientist, but I think we can safely say that major climate shifts have been characteristic, and by no means always anthropogenic. Indeed, the Ice Ages are all that you need to demonstrate this. And there is a scientist who is now predicting a mini-ice age that may have already begun. There was another mini-ice age during the 17th and 18th centuries, so it is not unheard of. Cyclical changes in Sun activity seems to be the culprit, and while the stats seem to support anthropogenic warming this time round, a mini ice age might modify some of the claims that are now being made. But, not being a scientist, I have only hearsay evidence for that.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Monday, 20 July 2015 at 3:29pm BST

Father Ron, those are two interesting questions. The first one strikes me as being the question about, or a very close relative to questions about, theodicy and cosmodicy. I don't think there is a satisfactory answer to that, is there? However your reference to the "new heaven and new earth" provides a good practical pastoral answer in that (if I remember my Rahner correctly) it is a vision about our future.

I agree with the answer implied in your second question. I agree with the Anglican position on birth control, and disagree with Roman Catholicism in that area. However, artificial birth control is a technology. I'd tend to view it within that context along the lines of the analysis provided by Ellul and Toly.

I am cynical about developed countries lecturing developing countries about solutions while at the same time we drive down their commodity prices, do not include a just return for their labor in product sales, sell their product at prices inflated well above production costs, and then return after life products to rubbish dumps in the developing world. Otherwise, I agree that control of procreation is a legitimate question about moral responsibility; but it has to be considered within the larger matrix of production, consumption, pollution.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 20 July 2015 at 7:08pm BST

@ Eric MacDonald. The things you find troubling about Laudato Si, I find appealing. In # 9, for example, referencing Patriarch Bartholomew, Frances notes," As Christians, we are also called 'to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbors on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet'. This is the strategic long view of Christian social teaching. One does not look to find in an encyclical the specific remedies of, for instance, an Italian government technocrat.

Laudato Si has some affinities with an article by Canada's National Aboriginal bishop Mark MacDonald, " In the colonial mentality, the Land and her People are nothing more [than] objects to exploit and use.... In Baptism and Eucharist, we uncover an alternative view: humanity is not the ruler of the Earth, but instead her priest. ...For the elders, Christian and Tribal, this vocation was clear. Humanity's priesthood expresses itself in the center of a pan-environmental liturgy of humility, service, and worship. This eternal liturgy gives life to the world. " (God's Creation;It's In The Font in First Peoples Theology Journal, Vol.2, No.1 Sept. 2001. p.18).

Paragraph 16 lays out a coherent project. You state, "humans have always had throw-away cultures." You seriously underestimate the evolution of the anthropological impact on the planet. The article by Noah J. Toly, linked in my reply to Father Ron, has some real echoes with Laudato Si. You might take a look at it and the the work of Jacques Ellul.

You appear to have as your starting point, can anything good come out of Rome? The melodramatic over stated condemnation you provide of Laudato Si is strategically misplaced. It undermines a document that makes valuable ecumenical links, consistent with the Lund Principle, in joining the perspectives of Patriarch Bartholomew and some of the C of E bishops. There is nothing left to say about a stance I can't take seriously.

PS; Laudato/'s a typo.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 20 July 2015 at 7:17pm BST

Rod, let me return to something you said earlier. You quote Laudato:

"To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption." (Laudato Si #50)

Your remark on this is that "Francis is re-framing the question by broadening it. Given Francis' experience with poverty and the South American context, I'm sure he is not naive with regard to how all the issues inter-lock."

Oh, I think he is naive. But let’s really broaden it. Everyone in Canada will spend each year only as much as could be universalised. Our economy would collapse (which would have roll-on effects), but that’s not my present point.

Based on Purchasing Power Parity (one unit of income = the purchasing power of $1 US) the average wage worldwide was $1,480 per month (in 2012) (which included the one third of all earners earning less than $2 daily).

Let's do some arithmetic. This will mix up figures from different years, but it should give us some idea. World income was close to $70 trillion (in 2012). Shared equally amongst wage earners, this would provide $17,760 (PPP) yearly for each earner in the world. Here are the Canadian poverty line (Low Income Cutoff) figures as of 2009: 1 person: $18,421; 2 persons: $22,420; 3 persons: $27,918; 4 persons: $34,829. Now, bear in mind, these are the poor. A one person family would be below the poverty line, a 2-4 person family far below it. But still, it’s clear from the figures that not only a minority thinks it has a right “to consume in a way which can never be universalized.” Poverty for one in Canada is around $18,000 (which is almost equal to the worldwide average income per earner, though less with the shorted Canadian dollar). Actually universalised, each Canadian earner would receive almost that much (18,000) US dollar buying power. The result would be catastrophic! Nor would it reflect anything about productivity, usefulness, waste, pollution, etc. We couldn't afford to clean up after ourselves! So much for the way things interlock.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Monday, 20 July 2015 at 7:27pm BST

Rod, you don't have to go as far as Rahner, since the words come from the Apocalypse. Whether they are reliable vision of our future is another question. I suggest not, not even as a pastoral response. Notwithstanding, we do have a responsibility, unacknowledged by the pope, to limit procreation -- and fast. I agree that commodities markets are often not fair to producers, and that we need to provide value for product, especially if companies are going to sell so far above even market value. That's why I patronise Just Us. But this doesn't mean that we shouldn't provide warnings (warnings the Chinese took ages ago, thank goodness) about the effects of population growth, and the reduced share larger populations will inevitably have in the GDP of the countries concerned. Perhaps, like the secular ethicist, Peter Singer, we should be giving away a large proportion of our income to struggling populations. I haven't noticed that Christians are remarkably generous in this respect, though they will readily support campaigns for new churches, roofs, windows, and ecclesiastical knick-knacks. At least Francis is providing some example in this respect.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Monday, 20 July 2015 at 8:57pm BST

@Eric MacDonald, you have my final word in our debate on Laudato Si in my post of July 20 at 7:17 pm.

Father Ron asked two very interesting questions with reference to climate change in general. My bracketed reference to Rahner is a small thing. The apocalypse is mythology, and one needs some form of post-mythological frame work in referencing it. I find Karl Rahner's theology as helpful as anything in that regard, in terms of a quick reference that is likely to be widely understood.

In attempting to marshal theological resources for debate, I do so as one who believes in the Christian faith, including, for example, the Tri-une God, Jesus the Christ, with an Anglican framework of scripture, tradition, reason. However, it struck me from some of your responses that you may have left the Christian faith behind. Have you?

If so, in future debates I'd have to adjust my sights. There is little point in making an appeal to theological resources when the fundamental ground of those resources is not accepted by one's interlocutor. A debate with a Jesuit, for example, is on very different terrain than a debate with someone who has gotten mixed up with the Dawkins crowd.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Tuesday, 21 July 2015 at 1:44pm BST

Well, Rod, if you think I am simply spouting hot air (which you have made painfully clear), then there is nothing more to be said, so I shall write no more on the topic. And I did, by the by, already read Toly, who drinks from the same spring as Guardini, Ellul, and Ivan Illich, whom (except for Guardini) I read decades ago, but all collude in the “idolatrous-modernist” theme, which did not captivate me in the 60’s and is less likely to do so now. No doubt I am wallowing in a sink of idolatry and “culture of death” degradation.

I don't think ecumenism is worth the price that support for Laudato Si exacts. It's belief that human degradation is evidenced in birth control, abortion, homosexuality and euthanasia (our throw away society or "culture of death") is enough to mark Francis as a trivial, marginal intellectual figure who, while condemning capitalism and technology, seems unaware that both will be necessary to solve some of our ecological problems, which he describes ad libitum.

And does he not seem to recognise that one of his biggest problems is the persecution of Christians by Islam (about which he has said next to nothing)? Where is his world authority to come from if the main rival to Christianity thinks the biggest social advance could be achieved by beheading the pope? Nevertheless, my strongest condemnations are reserved for his continued support for injustice towards women, gay people, and the suffering who seek ways to bring intolerable suffering to an end, while repeating boiler plate religious sentimentalities that seem so attractive to you. This is simply an anti-modernist blast from the past that Francis wishes had retained an innocence that it never had.

Then there is the myth of Catholic moral purity, where in Catholic dominated parts of the world, women have no say over their own fertility, are allowed to die in childbrith, and some even incarcerated for miscarriages, and the pope says not a word. This obscenity is a reality wherever the church has political hegemony, and it underlies this encyclical. Capitalism is not without faults, and it needs corrections, corrections that should not enrich the already rich, but carefully nonetheless, for, while there may be a better system for distributing wealth, we don't know of one. Like Churchill on democracy, captitalism is the worst economic system, except all the rest.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Tuesday, 21 July 2015 at 4:56pm BST

@ Father Ron, you may find this article of interest re your question on socially affective humanity and procreation. The title is, Ecological Disaster and Jacques Ellul's Theological Vision by Paul Tyson and Matthew John Paul Tan. The paper is made available on line via University of Notre Dame, Australia. ( note, you don't have to down load the paper, just close the pop box offering download and its available for reading). From the intro:

" ...this paper seeks to provide an awareness of how seemingly self-evident concepts such as ‘nature’, ‘the environment’ and ‘climate change’ are only meaningful insofar as they become refracted through that dominant life form. Moreover, because of the contestability of such life forms, this paper argues that the concept of ‘climate change’ does not necessarily have one single meaning, and thus does not make the proposed avenues of redress,particularly the more ethically questionable measures such as population control, the only necessary ones available."

Posted by Rod Gillis at Tuesday, 21 July 2015 at 6:18pm BST

First, I am not mixed up in the Dawkins crowd. I take his rationality to be roughly equal to yours, and his manner of arguing not much worse.

Whether I am a Christian or not is a question that I cannot answer for the moment, though absurdities like Laudato Si are enough to drive me away, as are techniques of argument which are as patronising and dismissive as you have been. I have been trying over the last few years to read myself back into the faith, but I must say that my experience has not been a particularly welcoming one.

When I retired I had no thought of putting any distance between myself and the church, but my studies over the years of the relationship of the church to Judaism have certainly tarnished not only the church's image, but the church's belief system. And when I read, as I read in Laudato Si, that assisted dying is a form of spiritual degeneracy, or, as the ACC's draft statement on assisted dying has it, that I effectively abandoned Elizabeth when I accompanied her to Switzerland, I have less love for the church than I had, and look at it with a more jaundiced eye.

I do not think that trinitarian theology can stand up to theological (or philosophical) examination, and I think Lampe's "God as Spirit" is a perfectly adequate response to the idea of the trinity. I cannot assume either that Jesus was God of God, Light of Light, True God of True God, though I find him immensely attractive as a Jewish wisdom teacher, a view which, without any doubt, would have saved a lot of lives over the centuries, and might have generated more understanding of Jesus as well as his Jewish brothers and sisters. Whether Christianity can be held responsible for the Shoah or not -- I think, in general, though not perhaps in specifics, that it can -- a reassessment of Christian faith in the light of centuries of persecution should, I think, be made, and be made with urgency.

However, your assumptions, which showed through practically everywhere in your responses to me, cause me to reassess the possibility of a raprochement between me and the church. I spent a good four years before retirement studying the Shoah in detail. My conclusions were not favourable to the church. Add to that what I have experienced from the church because of my choice to accompany Elizabeth to carry out her choice, including a lack of communication with someone who ought to have been a Father in God, and latterly a Mother in God, to me, and I find myself, after the experience of the last few days, further distant from the church than I have been these last three years.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Tuesday, 21 July 2015 at 8:36pm BST

@Eric Macdonald, "Whether I am a Christian or not is a question that I cannot answer for the moment ..." Fair enough, and with a context that elucidates your previous rejoinders.

" ...enough to drive me away, as are techniques of argument which are as patronizing and dismissive as you have been.'" Not buying it. A decision about rapprochement is yours to make. Just be sure you take responsibility for it. Don't assign responsibility to me or my debating style. Taking time to read multiple posts, and then research and write rejoinders hardly counts as patronizingly dismissive. I'd say it reflects a respect for a formidable opponent. Your over the top rhetoric aimed at both Laudato Si and the outstanding thinkers I alluded to sends a signal as to your assessment of your interlocutor's judgment. So, it's a beam in your own eye kind of thing.

I've always thought there is a fault line in Catholic teaching between socioeconomic teaching and teaching on practical aspects of human sexuality. I am very comfortable endorsing large swaths of the first while disagreeing with the second.

I'm neither comfortable nor willing in this forum to reply to your personal investment in what you see as an entwined issue i.e. the ethics of assisted dying. However, on the issue itself, for the record, I've gone on record supporting the recent judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada and critiquing the approach of The Canadian Church. I have written, as well, to the Theological Task Force in support of amending our marriage canon in favor of same sex marriages in the church. In my paper I made reference to the Shoah as one example of the church's disastrous anti-social theologies. The paper is on National's website. In every case my argumentative style, which does tend a tad toward political sardonicism I admit, attempts to be spirited and vigorous. It is what it is.

Perhaps when the cloud of frustration blows over, you might contact me and we can chat about this face to face. Electronic communication, as an extension of one's nervous system, is prone to over-extension. My contact info is available via the member log-in area on our diocesan site.

see one of my comments on assisted dying under this article in Anglican Journal,

Posted by Rod Gillis at Wednesday, 22 July 2015 at 12:56am BST

First of all, Rod, thank you for your response. It's helpful. I'm afraid that I felt a judgementalism in your responses to me that were disproportionate to their cause. Maybe it's just your style. Let it be so.

I am glad you expressed your support for the Supreme Court ruling, and recommended that the church get itself up to date on the matter. I am afraid our primate is not likely to do the same. He has been saying the same thing about the Care in Dying report since I have spoken to him about it. I also have written an appreciation for the committee regarding my take on the church's past position. I also wrote to two primates, who did not have the courtesy to respond, though the Archbishop of Canterbury, it is perhaps significant, did.

The issue of assisted dying, though certainly intensified by my experience with Elizabeth, has been a continuing theme for me since my pastoral training back in 1978. In any case, you’re right, for me, nothing good can come from Rome, for its social teaching is so deeply tainted by the prohibition of contraception, abortion, assisted dying, and homosexuality that I find reading Roman Catholic official documents painful. It started for me with the Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian, where the Magisterium is given a primacy over reason.

Besides, there is too much grit in my shoes, like the medical staff in Brazil who aborted a 9 year old girl of twins (a result of abuse by a step-father) who were excommunicated, along with the girl’s mother. Or the teenager who was sentenced to 30 years in prison (in 2007) in El Salvador after a miscarriage was deemed an abortion. And the popes have remained silent. That, for me, says it all. The church's social and moral teaching (and so the Magisterium) is a sham. I cannot regard it otherwise. Ecumenism at that price is too high.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Thursday, 23 July 2015 at 12:41am BST

Love you, Rod. And you, too, Eric. You are both spirited advocates of your own understanding of matters philosophical and theological. It is good to debate on line, but face to face would be so much better. I hope, Eric, that the Spirit of Christ you received in Baptism will not desert you in old age. I find the Gospel of Inclusion more comforting as I grow older. Rod, I love your catholic understanding, based of Scripture, Tradition, and good old-fashioned but ever-open ability to Reason. Agape!

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Wednesday, 29 July 2015 at 6:18am BST
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