For love of the earth - a reaction to the Pope's encyclical

By Hugh Warwick
June 18, 2015

To judge by the reaction of some members of the far-right in America, it would seem that the Pope has hit a nerve. By daring to speak a truth, that many so dearly wish to remain hidden, he has potentially begun the revolution so long sought. For too long the Church has been comfortable to wallow in pomp and wealth while focusing displeasure on the activities of consenting adults in bed.

By ignoring, or worse still, condoning and taking part in some of the worst excesses of human existence, the church, as portrayed in history and the media, has not been an attractive proposition to me. The most persuasive argument came from a Catholic Worker friend who pointed out to me that Jesus was a nonviolent, revolutionary anarchist.

But then, Pope Francis …. He is doing a similarly good job at attracting me to the work of the church. Could he be the force that takes us over the tipping point? Moves the mass from ignorance to understanding? From passive acceptance to action?

The use of language that is bold is truly delightful – the acceptance that there is a real threat of the “unprecedented destruction of the ecosystem” and that this is caused by us is something that I, and many many others, have been saying for years. Yet the upper reaches of most establishments, political or religious, have remained mute. Why? Because to accept this as a reality means to accept the need to set about a fundamental shift in the way we operate as a species. And that will require a shift of power away from those who currently hold it in their tight grip.

He talks about our ‘home’. This is the shared planet, the home of uncountable life. The use of that word, home, is important. In Greek the word for home is oikos from which we get ecology and economy. Ecology is the study of the home; economy is the management of the home. As was pointed out by the perceptive thinker Satish Kumar, to manage what you have not studied is absurd.

But there is a light that comes from these words that is more penetrating than the call for ecological consideration. It also presents an opportunity for all parties to reconsider how they communicate about what is really important.

For so long we in the environmental world, have relied upon logic to be the motivation for people to make the necessary changes in their lives; changes that will start the process of reducing our impact. And one of the reasons we have done that is, I believe, in a reaction against ‘faith’. It is faith that got us into the mess we are in – faith that there is going to be another world to frolic around in after we kill this one, faith that we can keep on growing economies forever on a finite planet.

But there is a common theme between essences of religion and environmentalism, and that is love. The late American writer, Stephen Jay Gould, captured this so beautifully when he said, “We will not fight to save what we do not love.” And Pope Francis is allowing us again to go back to what motivated everyone I know – not logic, but love. I was talking to a botanist about the beauty in nature and he said, "scientists do themselves a disservice if they deny the importance of the unquantifiable." And you don’t get much more unquantifiable than love.

I do not think that these wise words will be enough to beat me out of my atheism, but they do herald a moment when the Catholic Church becomes more relevant to us all. I may not share the belief in the motivation for doing good, but I do share the relief of millions that such a powerful body may start a revolution that will see good done to life on earth.


© Hugh Warwick is an ecologist and writer. See:

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