TAG | Religious Left
With Francis’s pontifical blessing , the greens have now found a spiritual hook that goes beyond the familiar bastions of the academy, bureaucracy, and the media and reaches right into the homes and hearts of more than a billion practicing Catholics. No potential coalition of interests threatened by a seeming tsunami of regulation—from suburban homeowners and energy firms to Main Street businesses—can hope to easily resist this alliance of the unlikely.
That may (yet) overstate the impact that the Pope, raging against the Devil one day, against air conditioning the next, may actually have, but it is a reminder of just how foolish it was of Speaker Boehner to invite Francis to speak to a joint session of Congress. It’s true that the encyclical had yet to appear when the invitation went out, but the fact that Francis is a profoundly political pope was no secret, and nor was the nature of his essentially Peronist politics.
But back to Kotkin:
There are of course historical parallels to this kind of game-changing alliance. In the late Roman Empire and then throughout the first Middle Ages, church ideology melded with aristocratic and kingly power to assure the rise of a feudal system. Issuing indulgences for the well-heeled, the Church fought against the culture of hedonism and unrestrained individualism that Francis has so roundly denounced. The Church also concerned itself with the poor, but seemed not willing to challenge the very economic and social order that often served to keep them that way.
Historically Medievalism represented a “steady state” approach to human development, seeking stability over change. Coming after the achievements of the classical age—with its magnificent engineering feats as well as an often cruel, highly competitive culture—the Middle Ages ushered in centuries of slow growth, with cities in decline and poverty universal for all but a few.
There’s something else though. The medieval church’s preference for ‘stability’ may or may not have been influenced by its perception that this was somehow better for the poor than any alternative (I doubt it), but it did have quite a bit to do with its realization that innovation and affluence represented a dangerous threat to its position in the intellectual, political and social order.
That, I suspect, is something that bothers Francis, who is no free spirit.
Kotkin’s article contains so much that it seems invidious just to post a few extracts (read the whole thing, really), but here goes:
What makes the Pope’s position so important—after all, the world is rejecting his views on such things as gay marriage and abortion—is how it jibes with the world view of some of the secular world’s best-funded, influential, and powerful forces. In contrast to both Socialist and capitalist thought, both the Pope and the greens are suspicious about economic growth itself, and seem to regard material progress as aggression against the health of the planet….
… Given their lack of faith in markets or people, the green movement has become ever less adept at adjusting to the demographic, economic, and technological changes that have occurred since the ’70s. Huge increases in agricultural productivity and the recent explosion in fossil fuel energy resources have been largely ignored or downplayed; the writ remains that humanity has entered an irreversible “era of ecological scarcity” that requires strong steps to promote “sustainability.”
…Ultimately the green platform seeks not to increase living standards as we currently understand them (particularly in high income countries) but to purposely lower them. This can be seen in the calls for “de-development,” a phrase employed by President Obama’s science advisor John Holdren for all “overdeveloped” advanced countries, in part to discourage developing countries from following a similar path.
So Prince Charles, another individual whose, so to speak, business flourishes best in ‘steady state’ societies, turns out, Kotkin explains, to be something of a fan of the slums of Bombay, which apparently offer more “durable ways of living” for the developing world than those available in the suburbanized west, a comment steeped in the revolting blend of ignorance, condescension and smugness all too typical of the heir to the British throne. May the Queen live to be 120!
Kotkin does, however, note the encouraging (and entertaining) prospect that the ideas of the self-proclaimed ‘Pope of the poor’ will be rejected by, well, the poor:
Trying to sell anti-growth green ideology may prove a tougher in the developing world. Not surprising then that, no matter what the rhetoric that is adopted by the climate conference to be held in Paris this month, critical figures like India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi will not restrict building new coal plants—the country has tripled coal imports three fold since 2008. In the sweltering cities of the subcontinent, moves to ban air conditioning are simply not good politics. And Chinese President Xi Jinping, the leader of the world’s largest carbon emitter and user of coal, clearly has no real intention of reversing rapid development, based in large part fossil fuels, till 2030, when reasonably priced alternatives may well be generally available.
And then there’s this:
Architect Austin Williams suggests that sustainability, the new prayer word of spiritual greenism, “is an insidiously dangerous concept, masquerading as progress.” It poses an agenda that restricts industry, housing and incomes in a manner that severely undermines social aspiration. Indeed, Williams argues, greens and their allies—now including the world’s most important church—have created “a poverty of ambition.” Williams suggests the common green view is that humanity is “destructive and in need of reduction” rather than “a source of innovation, creativity, imagination and socialization.”
That is a profoundly anti-humane and, yes, dispiriting view. That Pope Francis has chosen to come so close to it says a great deal, little of it good.
Full Kotkin piece here (For some mysterious reason, I still cannot link): http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/07/05/green-pope-goes-medieval-on-planet.html
Here’s an extract:
[W]hat will be the end result of our wicked urge to own things? Mayhem, of course. All the pollution produced in the making of our things will increase “the threat of extreme weather events,” [Pope Francis] says, echoing in green-friendly language the Old Testament God’s promise of floods as punishment for mankind’s sinful antics. We should also gird ourselves for the “catastrophic consequences of social unrest,” since “our obsession with a consumerist lifestyle, above all when few people are capable of maintaining it, can only lead to violence and mutual destruction.”
…The Vatican is now a fully-fledged green institution. Which isn’t surprising. The demonisation of human hubris and promotion of eco-meekness that is at the heart of the green ideology chimes perfectly with the asceticism of Catholicism.
The similarities between the pieties of environmentalism and the diktats of Catholicism are striking. Environmentalism rehabilitates in secular drag the stinging rebukes of humanity once delivered by pointy-hatted men of God.
Christianity’s end-of-worldism is getting a new airing in the apocalypse obsession of greens, who warn of an eco-unfriendly End of Days. Its promise of Godly judgement for our wicked ways has been replaced by greens’ promise that we’ll one day be judged for our planetary destructiveness. A leading British green has fantasised about “international criminal tribunals” for climate-change deniers, who will be “partially but directly responsible for millions of deaths.”
The Word of God has become the authority of The Science (greens always say “The” before “Science,” to signal its definitiveness.) “Science has spoken,” said Ban Ki-Moon last year, in a speech on why we should all obsess over climate change, just as Catholics insist the “Lord has spoken” so STFU. Greens breathe life back into Catholic guilt, too, urging us to feel bad about everything from flying abroad to eating strawberries out of season. Carbon-calculating, where people measure their every single production of carbon, is like Catholic guilt on steroids.
Of course, you can offset your carbon by planting a tree or something—what Catholics call penance. In the past, rich believers paid priests loads of money for an Indulgence, which absolved them of their non-mortal sins—today the eco-concerned wealthy spend their cash on offsetting their carbon farts, the modern equivalent of an Indulgence.
This is why Francis is so drawn to environmentalism: he sees it as a more acceptable, 21st-century way of pushing the guilt and meekness and anti-Promethean outlook that the Vatican has long been hawking.
O’Neill is right, and that’s every reason to be worried. Apocalyptic fantasy, the pursuit of ascetism and “anti-Prometheanism” (From Eve’s “sin” to the persecution of Galileo to Frankenstein to today’s GMO scares) have sold well for thousands of years. There’s no reason to think that they will not continue to do so.
Pope Francis’s document is poorly argued, destructive in intent and adrift from commonsense; it will doubtless be adopted with enthusiam.
From First Things, an interesting take on the pope’s eco-encyclical by R.R. Reno.
Here’s an extract: “Everything is connected” is [the Pope’s] mantra in Laudato Si. True to this principle, Francis links his suspicion of science with suspicions about other dimensions of the modern world. Progress has often been characterized as ever-greater prosperity. But economic globalization, a signature feature of the late modern world, and precondition for today’s rapid growth in China and elsewhere, is excoriated again and again. Francis never tires of denouncing “finance,” by which he seems to mean modern banking in all its forms. And of course we’re destroying mother earth. “The post-industrial period may well be remembered as the most irresponsible in history.”
Another feature of modernity and its faith in progress has been a political commitment to liberty, equality, and fraternity. To be modern is to believe that, for all our flaws, Western societies are more democratic, more egalitarian, and more inclusive than any in history. This is not the Pope’s view. The West is rapacious. He quotes one source approvingly: “Twenty per cent of the world’s population consumes resources at a rate that robs the poor nations and future generations of what they need to survive.”
In effect, the present world system created by European and North American modernity—the world made possible by Newton, Locke, Rousseau, Ricardo, Kant, Pasteur, Einstein, Keynes, and countless other architects of modern science, economics, and political culture—is an abomination. Francis never quite says that. But this strong judgment is implied in his many fierce denunciations of the current global order. It destroys the environment, oppresses the multitudes, and makes us blind to the beauty of creation.
Indeed. And it’s worth noting that these are not the first “fierce denunciations” (I’ll stick with that relatively gentle phrase) that we have seen from a pope with something of a weakness for a demagogic, occasionally even paranoid style that would have played well in the Peronist Argentina of his youth, a time when he clearly learnt much and understood little.
But back to First Things:
Today’s progressives are often critical of the West, and in that sense critical of “progress.” Europeans can be hysterical about genetically modified food. They have renounced nuclear energy, the only feasible large-scale alternative to a hydrocarbon-based energy system. Democracy was the signal political aspiration of modernity, but the EU is a post-national political project, a technocratic, post-democratic project. Here in the United States, many are now educated to believe that the history of the West is one long story of oppression and injustice. Optimism has waned, which means that the pope’s pessimism may be received warmly.
Perhaps, therefore, the most accurate thing to say is that Francis offers a postmodern reading of Gaudium et Spes and Vatican II’s desire to be open to the modern world. He seems to propose to link the Catholic Church with a pessimistic post-humanist Western sentiment rather than the older, confident humanism.
There may be a strange genius in this. For more than two hundred years Catholicism has resisted a self-sufficient humanism confident in the triumph of reason and science. Now there are powerful forces in the West that regard the modern project of the West as a failure, and the worst-case accounts of global warming encourage us to draw this conclusion. Thus the encyclical’s apparent focus, which is quickly superseded by a wholesale critique of every aspect of the current global system. Francis encourages the humiliation of modernity and the West, seeing in its failure the seeds of repentance and return to God.
Count me a skeptic. I prefer that approach of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. If global warming poses a dire threat to humanity—and it may—we will need all the moral strength, scientific integrity, economic vitality, and political legitimacy that Western modernity can muster. The same goes for the pressing problems of poverty and development. Instead of the voice of denunciation, we need the Church’s counsel and guidance. We all need to repent. But when it comes to pressing ethical problems, revolution is a dangerous game to play.
Obviously, I’m not with Reno on the need for the guidance of the Roman Catholic Church (readers may disagree!), but his broader point is subtle and very well made. The fact is that Francis is a pope who is profoundly at odds with not just (what we understand as) the West, but with the best of the West.
And, I would add, this encyclical is far from being the only evidence of that.
There’s been some smart commentary in The Spectator from Damian Thompson, a former editor-in-chief of the Catholic Herald, on Laudato si the Pope’s eco-encyclical, due to be released tomorrow, but already extensively leaked. It’s (obviously) fair to wait to see what the final document actually says before making too detailed a critique, but the Vatican’s complaint that the leak was a “heinous act” would suggest that what has been leaked is not too far off the mark, and so some discussion seems more than reasonable.
Thompson’s comments are even-handed and I’d recommend reading them in full.
He also cites an article by Bjorn Lomborg in USA Today.
Here’s an extract:
A cruel truth is that almost every significant challenge on Earth hits the poor more than the wealthy: hunger, a lack of clean drinking water, malaria, indoor air pollution. The question then is how we make the most difference for the most vulnerable. A reasonable starting point is to listen to the world’s citizens. A United Nations survey of 7.5 million people found that many other issues are deemed more urgent. The top priorities were education, health, jobs, corruption and nutrition. Of 16 problems, the climate was rated the lowest priority.
One reason may be that today’s climate policies themselves have a cost, which predominantly hits the poor. Cuts in electricity consumption require price hikes that hurt the worst-off and elderly. Relying on expensive green energy sources like wind and solar power makes electricity pricier and less available for those who desperately need it. The biggest problem with today’s climate change policies is that they will cost a fortune for very little good. The toughest global warming policy today is the European Union’s commitment to cutting 20% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. This will cost $235 billion. And cut temperatures at the end of the century by a measly 0.1ºF.
If Pope Francis is, like he likes to claim, interested in truly helping the world’s poorest Lomborg suggests that he look elsewhere, to improved access to contraception, say, and lowering restrictions on trade. Well, we already know what Francis thinks about the former (Fair enough, but that does not remove the topic as a legitimate area of focus when assessing his contribution to the debate) and, as for the latter, well, let’s just say Francis, sticking to his Peronist roots, is no fan of the mechanisms that have improved the lives of so many in the past few decades.
Lomborg is too diplomatic to say so, but the new encyclical creates the impression that – yet again – a Pope is genuflecting before the United Nations. Every recent pontiff has developed this bad habit. Their intentions are honourable, but I can’t help wondering whether the long Catholic-UN romance owes something to a natural fit between the corrupt Roman Curia and its sleazy counterparts in the UN.
In this document, however, Francis goes further than his predecessors: he endorses the UN’s diagnosis of and solutions to the complex problem of climate change. That’s his prerogative, but don’t let anyone tell you that he’s speaking ex cathedra. Jeb Bush, a Catholic, has every right to say – as he did this week – that, with all due respect, he doesn’t take his economic policies from the Supreme Pontiff.
Laudato si isn’t just about the environment: it’s a political statement by the Pope. He knows very well that climate change has been dragged into the Left vs Right culture wars, not only in the secular arena but also in the Catholic Church.
Indeed he does, and he’s making very clear where he stands.
Meanwhile, remind me again why Speaker Boehner has invited Pope Francis to address Congress.
Note: I still cannot link to URLs so:
The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger on Pope Francis’s meeting with Raúl Castro (and France’s President Hollande’s with Fidel):
A beaming, star-struck Mr. Hollande on Monday received a one-hour audience (there is no other word) with the 88-year-old Fidel. The French president said, “I had before me a man who made history.”
“Bienvenido!” said Pope Francis to Raúl Sunday when they met at the Vatican. “Welcome!” The Vatican press office didn’t release details of the meeting, other than to describe it as “very friendly.”
Photographs of the meeting between the president of Cuba’s inhabitants and the leader of the world’s Catholics suggest they hit it off, with both men aglow in smiles. In fact, Raúl seems to have thought he’d died and gone to heaven. Baptized into Marxism while in college, he announced he might rejoin the Catholic Church. But let Raúl explain his sudden reconversion:
“I read all the speeches of the pope, his commentaries, and if the pope continues this way, I will go back to praying and go back to the church. I’m not joking.”
Who could doubt it?
When he says, “if the pope continues this way,” we assume the Cuban president is referring to Francis’ criticisms of capitalism, as when he wrote in 2013: “Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.” Francis described this theory as an “opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts.”
Meanwhile we await the Pope’s encyclical on the environment with interest. That will, of course, only concern itself with facts.
Let us assume that instead of being the pope, Francis was just a guy in Cuba named Jorge Mario Bergoglio, living in Havana. If this guy no one had heard of summoned the courage to say something in public as harsh about Castro’s communist system as the pope did about capitalism, Raúl would do any number of things to Jorge Mario Bergoglio.
Raúl would have the Cuban police grab him off the street and drive him far outside Havana, where they would beat him up and abandon him. Or they would dump Jorge in prison, where he’d get beaten some more and better not get sick because medical treatment for political dissidents is hard to come by. Or a mob might show up to scream obscenities at him anytime he showed up in public.
Shaming, harassment and humiliation is what Raúl and Fidel have done to, among many others, the Ladies in White, who are wives of jailed dissidents, and who march in Havana to—of all things—Sunday Mass. What they find on the way to Mass is not fellow communicant Raúl but his mobs or police, which routinely attack them.
We know this because Raúl’s brutal modus operandi for critics of Cuba’s system is described at length in reports by the U.S. State Department and Human Rights Watch. But the Castros’ celebrity status with international elites transcends anything they do, and so Cuba is a member of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.
Sophisticated opinion holds that Barack Obama’s December “opening” to Cuba means the market and tourists will change the place—for example, Raúl’s release of 53 political prisoners. According to Hablemos Press, which operates inside Cuba, some of those 53 have been rearrested. Other post-“opening” dissidents have been beaten. How come? They tried to meet with an opposition group, Movement for a New Republic.
Good to know that the Pope had such a “friendly” meeting with the dictator.
Cuban President Raul Castro has said he was so impressed by a Vatican audience with Pope Francis that he might return to the faith he was born into.
Mr Castro praised the pontiff’s wisdom, adding: “I will resume praying and turn to the Church again if the Pope continues in this vein.”
He thanked the Pope for brokering a rapprochement between Cuba and the US.
The communist leader had stopped at the Vatican after attending Russia’s World War Two Victory Day in Moscow.
The Catholic Church has maintained ties with Havana since the 1959 revolution. The Pope will visit Cuba on his way to the US in September.
For Pope Francis, the restoration of relations between the US and Cuba – agreed during secret talks at the Vatican – has been a major diplomatic achievement, says the BBC’s David Willey in Rome.
The US had imposed a trade embargo after Cuba’s revolution, which it began to lift late last year.
After the 50-minute private audience on Sunday, Mr Castro told reporters: “The pontiff is a Jesuit, and I, in some way, am too. I studied at Jesuit schools.”
After suggesting he might turn again to the Church, he added: “I mean what I say.”
Both Mr Castro and his brother, revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, were baptised as Roman Catholics, but most Church activities were suppressed after the revolution.
Francis will be the third Pope to travel to Cuba, following visits there by John Paul II in 1998 and Benedict XVI in 2012.
Contrary to what his fiercer critics like to claim, Pope Francis is not a Marxist. He is more of Peronist (without the anti-clericalism!) a movement that saw itself as representing a ‘third way’ between conmmunism and capitalism. Under the circumstances it is no surprise that there may be quite a bit of the pope’s “wisdom” that the Cuban dictator can find to like.
Posted on the Corner last week:
The Economist clearly cannot wait to see the forthcoming encyclical on the environment:
Could Pope Francis become the world’s foremost campaigner on global warming? That is certainly the fondest hope (or in a few cases the darkest fear) of a lot of people who are closely involved in deliberations over the planet’s future. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, met the pontiff today and shared his mounting concern over the outcome of the Paris summit on climate change in December which is widely seen as the last opportunity for a global deal to manage carbon emissions and set some limit to rising temperatures.
Immediately afterwards, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, an important part of the Vatican’s intellectual armoury, convened a brainstorming session with the UN secretariat and a gaggle of NGOs, including the New-York based Earth Institute, a study centre which advises the UN on sustainable development: at the Vatican’s behest, the agenda included not just climate change but forced migration and human trafficking, a scourge which has been exacerbated by desertification.
Elsewhere in the Italian capital, some strident climate-change sceptics from the Heartland Institute, a right-wing American organisation devoted to spreading climate-change scepticism, were urging the Pope not to believe in man-made global warming; the institute insists that claims of a human contribution to heating the planet are unfounded, and that proposals to mitigate climate change amount to “shutting down” the world economy.
This offers a hint of the flak that Pope Francis can expect from the religious right, including many Catholics, when he visits America later this year…
In keeping with the tone of what is a cleverly one-sided article, it is, I notice, only skeptics who earn that adjective “strident”.
Over at Breitbart, James Delingpole, who seems to have traveled to Rome in, well, “strident” company, describes a somewhat stage-managed press conference held at the Vatican with Ban-Ki Moon, but perhaps the most interesting item in his report are these comments from the UN Secretary-General:
I don’t think faith leaders should be scientists…What I want is their moral authority. Business leaders and all civil society is on board [with the mission to combat climate change]. Now we want faith leaders. Then we can make it happen.
All civil society? That may not be strident, but it’s certainly an exaggeration and, when you stop to think about it, just a little bit sinister.
Meanwhile this document has come out of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Here’s just one sentence that caught my eye:
The problem is not one of how well our children and grandchildren will fare in the world of the future, but whether civilization as we know it can be extended beyond the next 100 years.
And the beginning of another sentence:
Our problems have been exacerbated by the current economic obsession that measures human progress solely in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth…
Strident much? But take the time to read the whole thing.
As you do so, remember that, for all the scientific discussion (which concerns not only what may or may not be going on, but what should be done about it) and the religious ‘frame’ within which the argument is set out, this is also a profoundly political document and, as such, it must, at least partly, be judged.
Crux has a piece on the planned canonization of Junipero Serra, an 18th-century Spanish Franciscan celebrated as the founder of the Church on the West Coast of the United States.
This caught my eye:
Uruguayan layman Guzman Carriquiry, secretary of the Vatican’s Commission for Latin America, said that as a saint, Serra will help the Latino community in the US not to feel like “barely tolerated foreigners,” but to recognize themselves in continuity with Hispanics who have lived in the country for centuries.
“Barely tolerated foreigners”?
“Christian socialism is but the holy water with which the priest consecrates the heart-burnings of the aristocrat.”
It’s only fair to wait and see what Pope Francis has to say about the environment and climate change in his forthcoming encyclical, although, on the basis of a number of his comments on the topic so far, I don’t see any particular grounds for optimism.
The Obama administration, however, clearly sees an opportunity.
The Guardian reports:
America’s top environmental official has assured the Vatican that the pope and Barack Obama are singing from the same hymnal when it comes to fighting climate change.
In a visit to the Vatican, Gina McCarthy, the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), conveyed a message to the pope that Obama shared his view that fighting climate change was a moral obligation.
“I want him to know that the president is aligned with him on these issues and that we are taking action in the United States,” McCarthy told the National Catholic Reporter ahead of the meeting.
She went so far as to suggest that Obama was “working with the pope” when it came to climate change.
That alliance, between Obama and the pope, followed from the view that leaders have a moral duty to preserve the earth and protect those most at risk from the consequences of climate change, McCarthy said.
“I think the most important thing that we can do, working with the pope, is to try to remind ourselves that this is really about protecting natural resources that human beings rely on, and that those folks that are most vulnerable – that the church has always been focused on, those in poverty and low income – are the first that are going to be hit and impacted by a changing climate,” she said.
EPA officials said McCarthy used the meeting to applaud the pope’s efforts to fight climate change, and to brief the Vatican on Obama’s plan for cutting greenhouse gas emissions that are driving global warming.
It’s worth noting that it is the administration that is saying that it is working with the pope, rather than the other way around (it doesn’t appear to be a Cuba re-run). Nevertheless the administration is clearly making an effort to capitalize on Francis’s popularity. That’s good politics.
Whether the result will be good policy is an entirely different question.