Thursday, June 25, 2015

Laudato Si : What IS man???

In response to this article by Thomas S. Hibbs:


White detects an alternative, healthy model of religious ecology in Francis of Assisi, whom he dubs a heretical exception to “orthodox Christian arrogance toward nature.”

Interesting for a non-Christian (anti-Christian?) to label one of the great saints of the Catholic church a “heretic.”  Orthodox Christian teaching has NEVER advocated “arrogance”—toward ANYTHING.  We are given the charge to “have dominion” over nature, yes—BUT God’s concept of “dominion” does NOT match the worldly conception of that word.  Our model of dominion is Jesus Christ, who “has dominion over us.”  How does he exercise that dominion?  Does he use, abuse, exploit, destroy, and basically do whatever he FEELS like doing from a perspective of superior power over us—in other words, because He can?  (And he COULD.)  Or does he teach, nurture, heal, provide for, and assist us to become all we were made to be?  Things that make you go, “Hmmmmmmm. . .” 

Francis discerns beneath the contemporary ecological crisis a crisis of the human person, who is now lost in the cosmos, increasingly alienated from self, others, nature, and God.

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!!!  This is what I’ve been trying to shout from the rooftops for years; consistently being shouted down by fellow Christians who want to call me a “liberal” and a “loony” and a “green goblin” for speaking the truth that our relationship with God’s creation reflects and deeply affects our relationship with our Creator!

We lack “a sound ethics, a culture and spirituality genuinely capable of setting limits and teaching clear-minded self-restraint.” Thus, “we stand naked and exposed in the face of our ever-increasing power, lacking the wherewithal to control it.” 

YES.  The notion that “you can’t stop progress” is absolutely TERRIFYING when we have not one slightest clue, let alone a carefully set course, regarding what we are “progressing” TOWARDS.  We’re like children playing with matches—or worse, children playing with guns, with dirty bombs, with biological weapons—having such “fun” playing with what we CAN do, that, like the “Jurassic Park” character warned us, “We never stop to think about whether or not we SHOULD.”

“Modernity,” he writes, “has been marked by an exces­sive anthropocentrism” (116). Separating the human from the natural, one strain in modernity invites manipulation of nature without limits (118). Reacting against the destructive consequences of such unbridled human autonomy, another strain sees humans as the chief threat to the cosmos. Thus, Francis observes, we find ourselves in a “constant schizophrenia, wherein a technocracy which sees no intrinsic value in lesser beings coexists with the other extreme, which sees no special value in human beings.”

And here again we see the NARROW ROAD that we must walk, if we are to live rightly in the world.  These days it seems so narrow sometimes it is more like a tightrope, but we MUST balance upon it, if we are to live sanely in the world.  We must get this right, or we fall into error on one side or the other—“We are the Masters and can use and abuse as we see fit” is just as much a fatal error as “We are just another animal and have no right or power to do anything to any other animal.”  The first, typically made by Christians, is an error because it denies the truth that God’s conception of Mastery is SERVING the best interests of the other, NOT “lording it over them.”  The second is an error because it simply defies the purely material truth that, like it or not, whether or not you want to recognize the Source of our power over the rest of creation, we obviously do HAVE such power.  No other animal can wipe out entire other SPECIES of animals with the kind of sweeping, horrifically EASY (we do it without even TRYING to!) finality that we can—and DO. 

The “animal rights” crowd must see simple reason and at least agree that we do have such power (whether or not we “deserve” it); granting this, they must see that such mortal power must have a guiding force direct it in sane ways and toward sane purposes.  It simply isn’t seeing reality to think we could just “not use” that power; power will be used, period—the only question is whether power will be harnessed toward something CONSTRUCTIVE, or allowed to flail around destructively.  Mastery requires power under control, and being directed toward the good.

Christians, quite frankly, need to see the same thing!  There’s honestly no excuse for calling oneself a Christian and still believing that “dominion” means “I’m the boss of you,” or even “I’m the slave master of you,” or worse, “you are just an object to be used any way I like and thrown away.”  If you’ve seen Christ in action at all, you ought to know better.  Remember the feet washing?  Who’s “the boss” of who?  And what does being “the boss” look like???  “He who would be first. . .”

Francis thinks we need to hold on to a proper understanding of human dignity. He suspects that, in its absence, “our overall sense of responsibility wanes.” In contrast to certain influential modern views of the human person as “simply one being among others, the product of chance or physical deter­minism,” the Christian faith recognizes the unique human “capacities of knowledge, will, freedom, and responsibility” (118).  
Yes, yes, yes.  “I’m just a collection of randomly bouncing atoms” is a perfect excuse to just chuck it all and say, “what’s the point?”

The Christian understanding of human dignity does not isolate or separate persons from the whole of nature. The human person is the most peculiar, the strangest, animal in the cosmos, an animal that is open to the whole and capable of assuming a position of mastery over the whole or of adopting a position of receptivity to the gift of nature and being. Francis calls for an aesthetic education that would foster a receptive appreciation of beauty and thus curb the human proclivity to self-interested pragmatism.

YES.  Truth, goodness, and beauty—they are a set; you will not have one without the others, and if you ever once truly grasp one, the others will come with it.  The beauty of nature “everywhere declares Him;” and once you are in right relationship with Him, you can come into right relationship with all He has created—the natural creation, other people, and even YOURSELF (which is a huge problem in modern culture, to the point where people habitually abuse THEMSELVES in so, so many ways). 

In a connection that echoes Chesterton’s surprising association of St. Francis and St. Thomas, the Pope links St. Francis’ praise of God as creator of the elements and the animals to St. Thomas’ metaphysics of creation, understood as divine art: “Nature is nothing other than a certain kind of art, name­ly God’s art, impressed upon things, whereby those things are moved to a determinate end” (80).

Why should this be in any way surprising, since the saints are always going to be pointing us to the same Star, though they may be standing in different places while they are pointing?

Bonaventure, the great pupil of St. Francis, teaches that “contemplation deepens the more we feel the working of God’s grace within our hearts, and the better we learn to encounter God in creatures outside ourselves” (233).

This is beautiful!  God, give all your people ears to hear!!!

“Once we lose our humility, and become enthralled with the possibility of limitless mastery over everything, we inevitably end up harming society and the environment. It is not easy to promote this kind of healthy humility or happy sobriety when we consider ourselves autonomous, when we exclude God from our lives or replace him with our own ego, and think that our subjective feelings can define what is right and what is wrong.”

Precisely.  If we believe there is nothing greater than us to hold us account for our behavior, if we believe that “we create our own world,” how can we possibly live rightly within a world that, sanely considered, clearly we did NOT create?  Oh, everybody just needs to read this entire encyclical, over and over! 

Francis insists upon an integral connection between ecology and morality, between care for the environment and receptivity to human life at its most vulnerable and most neglected. The “throwaway culture” that infects our attitude toward the environment finds its correlate in the advocacy of abortion and euthanasia. 

YES.  THIS is what I’ve been trying to say, so unsuccessfully, to Christians for years—it’s all one and the same!  We can never properly value LIFE if we do not properly value LIFE. 

John Paul II argues that, as participants in a created order, human reason and freedom participate in God’s law and wisdom. Instead of alienation, true freedom results from obedience to the limits and order of the whole and from the cultivation wonder and gratitude for the author of the whole. What John Paul II calls, in the moral order, “participated theonomy,” is precisely what Francis counsels in the ecological order.

We modern Westerners have great trouble seeing that FREEDOM results from obedience to LIMITS, but a wonderful analogy is that of the development of flight—human beings could not fly until they understood clearly the physics—the physical LIMITS involved in the relationship between gravity, air pressure and resulting lift, etc.—it is those LIMITS that allow the freedom of flight.   Without gravity, flight is not possible (because everything would just be drifting randomly).  Flight can only happen within strictly understood and followed LIMITS.  Otherwise, you are only drifting—or crashing.

Participating in an order not of our own devising, human persons as makers are, as Tolkien puts it, sub-creators. With few exceptions, contemporary Christian thought and art has focused on the human drama without attending to the shape of the created cosmos or to the way in which we are to perceive and praise God through the created world. The Pope’s encyclical calls for, and offers a guide to, the renewal of the Christian imagination.

HURRAH!  Christian artists, start your engines!!!

Fuel for the engines:
How are we to think about cosmology, about the place of human existence in the capacious orders of time and space? What matter to us, to the universe, or to God is our occupying of a speck of seemingly insignificant space in an incomprehensibly vast universe? How are we to understand and appreciate the order of nature as a reflection of divine art? What we know of modern cosmology and paleontology makes the Psalmist’s question even weightier: “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4).  

Francis poses the question of the Psalmist, a question much of the contemporary world fails even to articulate, let alone answer. Hence we are lost in the cosmos. In response, the Pope offers a rich and complex account of created nature.

Nature, which “everywhere declares Him;” in which we can see His very thoughts, His values, His truth, His goodness, His beauty—every day, any time, at a glance—God at work, right here, right now, miracle unfolding in a blade of grass, in the song of a bird, in the cells on the back of your hand.  Thank you, Papa, for telling everybody this GOOD NEWS.  Can you see me, I'm dancing for JOY!!!

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