Concerning the "Ecological" Path to Salvation | Fr. James V. Schall, SJ | CWR
The most problematic issue that Pope Francis’ earth-warming advocacy brings up is its scientific status; at best, it is opinion backed by some evidence
“For Christians, all creatures of the material universe find their true meaning in the incarnate Word, for the Son of God has incorporated in his person part of the material world, planting in it a seed of definitive transformation.” — Pope Francis, Laudato Si', June 17, 2015.
“But Christian utopia is a spiritual concept, for Christians have the insight to grasp that man, in his earthly existence, is an incorrigibly flawed creature, that his earthly constructs invariably end up in disappointment at best; that he cannot, in fact, attain satisfaction and fulfillment on earth, and that the utopian kingdom is not of this world. Christians, therefore, should be in no danger of first supposing that perfectibility can be attained in human societies, and then advocating the appalling measures which invariably mark efforts to erect earthly utopias… Environmental policies are also on the progressive agenda…. But it is significant that those who have made it their business to wage environmental politics have sought to associate pollution and other anti-social effects of modern industry exclusively with capitalism and the profit motive, and have virtually ignored the often far more serious ravages of state-owned industries in the Communist block and third world socialist states.” — Paul Johnson. “Is Totalitarianism Dead?” (Crisis, Feb. 1, 1989)
The first public reaction that I saw to the new Encyclical was in some web site, I forget where. Two initial comments were identical: “I am leaving the Church”!
“This will never do!” I thought. A New York Times editorial, contrary to its usual practice, chided Catholic politicians for not obeying the Pope now that he appears to agree with policies the Times approves.
In a June 17th column in the San Francisco Chronicle, Debra Saunders compared organized religion to earth warmers. “Climate change alarmism has always had a lot in common with organized religion. What’s the message of hard-core environmentalists? ‘The end is near’. ‘Repent’!.... To the true believer, the most important thing is not whether people stop contributing to greenhouse gases, but that they believe they should.” A lineal relationship between secular eschatology, the transferal of Christian four last things from transcendence to this-worldly projects has been noticed at least since J. B. Bury’s The Idea of Progress (1920). How this phenomenon worked was the central import of Benedict XVI’s Spe Salvi and Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life.
Whether or not we need church leaders also “believing” this ecological doctrine is probably not so clear. Still, the most problematic issue that Pope Francis’ earth-warming advocacy brings up is its scientific status. At best, it is opinion backed by some evidence. The document does not mention contrary evidence. Satellite readings of the planet’s temperature are different from UN computer generated statistics. The planet’s temperature has not changed in recent decades. Most of the controverted issues can plausibly be explained by natural causes. Climate changes have occurred on this planet since its beginning, long before man. The burning of fossil fuels does not produce any significant change in the already very low percentage (0.035%) of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Not a few observers draw a parallel between the Galileo case and this one. It is a useful caution. The damage potential to the Church’s credibility is great if all the scientific evidence is not in or considered. The best we can say for putting one’s eggs in the climate warmer basket is that many scientists, mostly those dependent on government subsidies to prove it is true, say it is so. The Pope’s own plea for “humility” in this document would seem to apply here concerning scientific questions that are at best hypotheses subject to change.
What are we to make of this document, now that we see it?