In the land of the midnight sun (last night was the shortest in my life) here above the Arctic Circle in northern Norway, the Pope’s new encyclical on the stewardship of the environment takes on special relevance.
A barbeque was awaiting me at the YWAM centre in Borgen after a 90-minute drive arounds fjords and mountains from the airport in Tromso. Over sausages and roast meat, I met another a visitor who introduced himself as an Arctic region tour guide. The conversation drifted towards the effect of global warming on the region. Very matter-of-factly, he told me that over the past two years 20 per cent of the ice had melted. I nearly choked on my sausage. One fifth! Of course, he continued, most people are totally unaware as they don’t come to the Arctic.
So long as we don’t feel the direct impact of global warming–other than some strange weather patterns–it’s hard to imagine what will actually wake us up to the unfolding realities around us.
Pope Francis is doing his best, however. On the flight north from Oslo, I read through a summary of his 80-page, 45,000 word encyclical, Laudato Si’ released last week after much speculation in the media.
Encyclicals (literally ‘circular letters’) are not documents that evangelicals have taken much notice of in the past–often to our impoverishment. Well, they’ve not been addressed to us, have they? The primary recipients are Roman Catholic bishops, to give instruction on moral, social and theological issues.
Yet they have become perhaps the most influential documents of moral instruction to a global audience from any source, far more authoritative than those of presidents, kings and prime ministers, and studied far more widely. Insofar as they create a public debate, stressing biblical values and truths, we can be grateful for the influence of these missives.
For example, the 1891 encyclical on Catholc social teaching, Rerum Novarum, hugely influenced the Christian Democratic movement and the emergence of the European project.
There’ll always be points that Protestants will not easily accept, but that should not prevent us from giving them thoughtful consideration.
Especially this one, which Francis specifically addresses to every person living on this planet, ‘faced as we are with global environmental deterioration’. ‘In this Encyclical’ he writes, ‘I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home.’
Francis begins with a sobering summary of ‘the best scientific research available today’ before bringing a specifically Christian interpretation to the implications of what he calls one of the ‘principal challenges facing humanity in our day.’
The planet is warming and humans are the primary cause, due to the use of fossil fuels and deforestation for agricultural purposes. Public policy should reduce carbon emissions and promote renewable sources of energy. Water is increasingly being polluted, privatized, and wasted, creating problems for the poor, the pope’s letter argues. Our interventions in nature—even our attempts to fix what we caused— further ‘aggravates the situation.’
OK, so that’s nothing new.
The Bible however gives us a very different perspective on understanding our relationship with the environment and the reasons we should steward our planet. These he begins to explain in his second section in which he talks about the Gospel of creation and why faith also motivates Christians to care for creation.
He then identifies the human roots of the crisis as ‘the dominant technocratic paradigm’ which has gone awry, to the serious detriment of the world around us.
He calls for an international dialogue on the environment seeking global consensus. The interdependence of humanity obliges us to think of ‘one world with a common plan.’ The international community needs to find a way to phase out fossil fuels as soon as possible.
He urges scientists and religious leaders to be in dialogue as ‘empirical science can’t explain the whole of reality’. The majority of people living on our planet profess to be believers, and they need to dialogue with each other and with science on these issues.
Christian spirituality proposes an alternative to our obsession with consumption, a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little.
In conclusion the pope writes that the Trinity has left its mark on all creation. Everything is interconnected, and this invites us to ‘develop a spirituality of that global solidarity which flows from the mystery of the Trinity.’
This is a call to be taken seriously, given that something new seems to be happening under the midnight sun.
Till next week,
Till next week,