Tuesday, June 16, 2015

In Leaked Encyclical, Pope Francis Deconstructs Conservative Talking Points on Climate and Fossil Fuels

Pope Francis (Credit: AP) Click to Enlarge.
After months of build up, an Italian-language document believed to be an early draft of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment was leaked four days early on Monday, breaking a Vatican embargo on an official papal teaching that flatly rejects traditional conservative Christian justifications for exploiting the planet.

Vatican officials condemned the leak on Monday, saying that the early release of the nearly 200-page document constituted a “heinous act” and insisting that it is “not the final text.” Regardless, if genuine, the Italian-language draft of the encyclical — or one of the highest forms of official Church teaching a pope can produce — will undoubtedly make waves not only for its insistence that humanity protect the environment, but also for its deconstruction of conservative arguments against climate change.

ThinkProgress was not provided with an embargoed copy of the official encyclical, but ran sections of the leaked document by an Italian speaker.  The likely encyclical draft — entitled “Laudato Si” or “Praised Be”, from a prayer by St. Francis of Assisi — directly addressed the old biblical claim that because God gave humanity “dominion” over the earth in Genesis, humanity has a right to exploit it at will.  This has also been a popular position among American politicians, who have used God to advocate for the continued development of fossil fuels.

“We are not God,” the document reads.  “The earth precedes us and was given to us.  This allows us to respond to an accusation made against Judeo-Christian thinking:  it has been said that, from the story of Genesis, which invites us to subjugate the earth (Genesis 1:28), the savage exploitation of nature would be encouraged, presenting the image of human beings as ruler and destroyer.  This is not the correct interpretation of the Bible as intended by the Church.”

The document continues:

Even though it is true that sometimes Christians have interpreted the scripture incorrectly, today we must forcefully refuse the idea that from the fact of being made in the image of God and from the mandate to subjugate the earth that one can deduce an absolute dominion over other creatures.  It is important to read the biblical texts in their context, with the right hermeneutics, and remember that these invite us to “cultivate and care for” (Gen. 2:15) the garden of the world. While “cultivate” means to plow or work a plot, “to care for” means to protect, heal, preserve, conserve, to watch over.  This implies a responsible reciprocity between human being and nature.  Every community may take from the bounty of the earth that which it needs for its own survival, but it also has the duty to protect it and ensure the continuity of its fertility for future generations.  In the end, “The earth is the Lord’s” (Psalms 24:1), to Him belongs “the earth and everything in it” (Deuteronomy 10:14).  Thus, God denies any pretense of absolute ownership: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.” (Leviticus 25:23).
Various other Christian groups such as Interfaith Power and Light and the Good Steward Campaign have also contested the problematic biblical interpretation that God gave humanity the right to do whatever it wants with environment.  Instead, they — along with the majority of Christians in the United States — believe that God calls people to be stewards and protectors of the earth, not careless masters.

Read more at In Leaked Encyclical, Pope Francis Deconstructs Conservative Talking Points on Climate and Fossil Fuels

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