Thursday, July 2, 2015

On Laudato Si' and Its "Integral Ecology" and Themes of Relatioality: Helpful Commentary

When I first responded to Pope Francis's encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si', I promised to provide you with some more reflections on the encyclical. These are not my own, but are from pieces I've read that strike me as valuable, since they zero in on the theme I wanted to point to in my own reflection — the theme of relationality. As I noted, the encyclical's stress on relationality, as it discusses the human connection to the environment and the need of human beings to acknowledge their own interconnection to address environmental crisis, is both its strength and its weakness.

How can one possibly disagree with the point that our environmental crisis is fundamentally rooted in the inability or refusal of many of us to acknowledge that we are kin to the earth and to each other — and that kinship mandates kindness? But, having seen this, how can one not then also lament the inability of this same document to recognize that much of the suffering of the world (including its environmental suffering) is rooted in the very precise inability of heterosexual men, who are clearly far and away those with their hands on the mechanisms of power responsible for the environmental crisis, to listen to, include, and respect the perspectives of women (and, of LGBT people, as well)?

The fiction maintained by the Catholic hierarchy and those who uncritically buy into its rhetoric is that women's rights and LGBT rights are not real human rights, and that the hierarchy can credibly defend human rights while combating the rights of women and LGBT people. This fiction depends on the ugly assumption that women and LGBT human beings are human in a way that is different from — and lesser than — the way in which heterosexual males are human. 

As Franciscan sister and theoligan Ilia Delio notes in her response to Laudato Si', when the church itself does not model the kind of relationality for which the encyclical calls if we expect the world to be healed, then it's difficult to imagine how people will take this document as seriously as they should do: 

Laudato Si' opens the doors to a new world by challenging a selfish world of disconnectedness and calling all people to a new world of interrelatedness. But the Church must model the very principles it promotes: mutual relatedness, inclusivity, interdependence, dignity of all peoples, shared resources and responsibilities, all creatures united together as brothers and sisters, woven together in the love of God.

In similar vein, here's theologian Jakob J. Erickson of St. Olaf College:

I've come to believe that our climate crises are crises of planetary intimacy.  I don't mean that we've lost a romantic relationship with nature that we need to recover. (That kind of imagination is just another anthropocentric misconstrual of creaturely life.) What I do mean is that everything of our contemporary crises also occurs in the intimate, and risky relations of everyday life. Learning to address that intimate enfolding of life and creatureliness is one of our best hopes. Learning how to love the earth, how to build homes together in precarious climates, how to reconsider daily lives, how to daily protest structural economic systems, how to consider our animal interactions—all that is what creating a planetary resilience is about.  This encyclical, as I read it, is simultaneously an act of love, an act of protest, and a hope for resilience. 

And here's Eric Bugyis of the University of Washington Tacoma on the theme of "integral ecology" in the encyclical, and how that theme demands recognition, too, of "integral equality": 

In the end, perhaps an integral ecology calls each of us to recognize our integral equality as belonging to a natural world teeming with "queer" creatures caught up in a mysterious multiplicity of sexual expression somehow brought into being and supported by that one Love that, as Dante said, "moves the sun and the other stars" in all their strange wonder.

As I noted a number of days ago, if, as Laudato Si' argues, "every violation of solidarity and civic friendship harms the environment" (¶ 142), and if "the present ecological crisis is one small sign of the ethical, cultural and spiritual crisis of modernity, [and] we cannot presume to heal our relationship with nature and the environment without healing all fundamental human relationships" (¶ 119), then how is this possible when the topic of gender roles and gender disparities is simply not on the table?

Since all sorts of violations of solidarity and all sorts of sickness in fundamental human relationships flow from the assumption of men that they have a divine right to rule women, and of heterosexual human beings that they are superior to homosexual ones . . . . And could we see those assumptions on any more complete display than in the dissent of the four Supreme Catholic men last week to a Supreme Court ruling extending long-denied rights to LGBT people?

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