Lighten Up, Francis

When I heard Pope Francis was coming to the United States for my birthday next month, I felt obligated to complete an assignment I had given myself. I got pretty bogged down in a couple of places, especially Chapter 2: The Gospel Of Creation, but I persevered and I have finally finished reading the encyclical I blogged briefly about a few weeks ago.

I said then that I was impressed by this Pope, and a more thorough reading of his work has not changed my opinion. Talk about an interesting man to have a beer and a conversation with! I read somewhere on the intertoobz that he has an advanced degree in Chemistry, but his Wikipedia page only mentions a chemical technicians diploma and work experience. Regardless, he clearly understands and appreciates science and technology. He also has a keen eye for the problems our technological advancements have brought us.

In fact, it is his ability to lay out these problems in such an understandable manner that makes reading his encyclical such a daunting task. I set out with the intent of reading the encyclical and then giving a comprehensive review. To that end, I started jotting down notes and paragraph numbers on a 3 x 5 sticky pad. That’s where I ran into a problem; when I was done, I had 12 pages of notes. I ain’t trying to write no term paper here.

I was originally going to blockquote all the best parts, but if I did that, my blog post would end up being as long as the encyclical itself. Instead I will just snag a few of my favorite bits and recommend you read the whole thing. It really is worth your time. It’s chock full of simple, unassailable truths. Like this bit:

The current global situation engenders a feeling of instability and uncertainty, which in turn becomes “a seedbed for collective selfishness”. When people become self-centred and self-enclosed, their greed increases. The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume. It becomes almost impossible to accept the limits imposed by reality. In this horizon, a genuine sense of the common good also disappears.

His pleas for the common good are what touches me about his message. (We liberals call it social justice, but, as the kids say, wevs.) The Pope don’t want to hear no Libertarian bullshit either.

The environment is one of those goods that cannot be adequately safeguarded or promoted by market forces. Once more, we need to reject a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals.

The multitude of economic, social and political problems the Pope touches upon include the following: rampant consumerism bereft of social or ecological awareness, throwaway culture, resource depletion, wealth distribution (lack of), deification of the free market, anthropocentrism, corruption, unemployment and other human costs of industrialization, economies of scale, lack of public transportation, pollution, quality of life, intergenerational justice, fossil fuels, internationalization of environmental costs, short term growth to our collective long term detriment, corruption of our political system(s) by the financial industry, and lack of honesty in scientific and political discussion (no, really).

As depressing as that list is, it is far from complete. If I could have that beer with the Pope, I would forcefully assert that a lot of those problems could be alleviated, though not solved, if there were fewer people on our planet, but until the Catholic church gets past its aversion to birth control, it will always be contributing to the problems he wants to solve. Alas, his solutions have even less chance than mine.

That is why the time has come to accept decreased growth in some parts of the world, in order to provide resources for other places to experience healthy growth.


Put simply, it is a matter of redefining our notion of progress. A technological and economic development which does not leave in its wake a better world and an integrally higher quality of life cannot be considered progress.

Basically, the Pope is calling for a world not run by plutocrats, while here in Amurka, Donald Trump leads all polls for the Republican Presidential nomination. Sigh. Good luck with that, Frannie.                                                     

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