"Praise Be To You. On Care For Our Common Home" is the latest papal encyclical, and a document I've been wanting to read for a while. It addresses Earth's environmental crisis through a Catholic lens - "a" Catholic lens. Despite it being a papal encyclical, it is not a definitive statement on Catholic approaches to ecological issues. There are other views.
A lot of different people with a lot of different agendas have taken bits from "Praise Be To You" and shouted, "Aha! The Pope agrees with me!", or words to that effect. In fact, the document is a relatively good introduction to the key environmental challenges facing us. Sometimes it reads like a first year university essay as it lays out the issues (the section on public transport sticks in my mind as banal). It also strains a bit under what was obviously a bureaucratic authorship. At times, issues are shoehorned in, tacked onto a discussion of an unrelated environmental matter, and it's all too easy to imagine a cardinal jumping up and down and insisting on his issue's inclusion. Lobbyists are everywhere!
But the encyclical succeeds in delivering a subtle challenge. As Christians (and to be clear, I'm a practising Catholic), we're taught to lead "a" good life. Often the leadership of our churches and people who see themselves as active in them, take it on themselves to define for us what leading a good life means, and it's generally prescriptive and constraining. Far beyond the Ten Commandments, we're even told how to vote (okay, so now I'm taking issue with a local priest who used the pulpit to propound his personal views...I'll table my rant for a more suitable time and place). However, this encyclical challenges everyone to lead "THE" good life -- and the starting point is for each of us to define the good life, free of commercial and advertising-influenced definitions of it.
How do we imagine and institute the dignity of a sustainable lifestyle?
"Praise Be To You" explicitly rejects consumerism, but then loses force by hiding its critique of capitalism (and there is a socialist critique in there) behind the term "technology". However, its point that technology controlled by economic elites is not neutral, nor is it positive and inclusive for all, is important.
Being a systems thinker, I appreciated the repeated notion that we live within relationships -- which is the heart of an ecological paradigm. The concept and power of belonging is part of this. I had never considered how much continuity nurtures our sense of belonging and sense of self. So, if we go back to a place we used to know, a place that is a key part of us, and its landmarks are gone, have we lost part of ourselves? The encyclical prompts thoughts like those.
I don't think the encyclical breaks new ground in the debate on the environmental crisis and how we should respond to it, but it does offer a good introduction to the issues involved, and as readers we're free to agree or strongly disagree with the vaguely leftist, God-centric approach it advocates for moving forward.
It's got me thinking on how I define the good life.
PS Unrelated, does anyone else remember "The Good Life" TV show?