Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Katha Pollitt on Laudato Si': "If Pope Francis Really Wanted to Fight Climate Change, He'd Be a Feminist"

And more outstanding commentary today — this by Katha Pollitt at The Nation noting that Pope Francis's considerable blind spot regarding women's rights significantly diminishes the power of his encyclical Laudato Si' to address the world's ecological crisis effectively:

If the world consisted only of straight men, Pope Francis would be the world’s greatest voice for everything progressives believe in. He’s against inequality, racism, poverty, bigotry and, as his recent encyclical Laudato Si' made eloquently clear, the rampant capitalism and "self-centred culture of instant gratification"—including excessive meat eating—that fuel climate change and may well destroy the planet. . . . 
I know I risk being the feminist killjoy at the vegan love feast, but the world, unlike Vatican City, is half women. It will never be healed of its economic, social, and ecological ills as long as women cannot control their fertility or the timing of their children; are married off in childhood or early adolescence; are barred from education and decent jobs; have very little socioeconomic or political power or human rights; and are basically under the control—often the violent control­­—of men.

Compare Pollitt's take on Francis and feminism with Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig's in The New Republic. Bruenig argues that "Angolphone center-left" feminists are unrealistic in expecting Francis, who leads a global church many of whose members do not, to say the least, share the aspirations of feminists in the developing sector of the world, to dance to their tune.

I find Pollitt right on the mark. I find Bruenig unconvincing. The centrist argument she seeks to mount, which is all about disciplining those to the left of center while pretending that the arguments of the hard right are compelling, is shopworn in the extreme. It fails in any meaningful way to engage the significant theological work done by biblical scholars and theologians for a number of decades now, which shows that Jesus practiced radical egalitarianism (and enjoined his followers to do so in his memory) — an egalitarianism that included the radical practice of inviting women to be part of his movement, and sitting at table with women in contravention of the practice of other rabbis of his time and place.

As I said from the moment Laudato Si' appeared, the encyclical's failure to listen to the voices of Catholic women even as it calls on Catholics to venerate mother-sister earth mars its core arguments in a more than incidental way. Its obliviousness to the fact that poverty has a woman's face in the world today, and that ecological crisis affects poor women and the children they raise in a disproportionate way — and its refusal to admit frankly how the magisterial ban on use of artificial contraceptives compounds women's poverty at a global level — seriously diminishes the ability of this encyclical to make a persuasive, cogent argument about addressing the planet's ecological crisis effectively.

For a development of these arguments, see the videotaped conversation between Brazilian theologian Ivone Gebara and me produced by Rachel Fitzgerald and Mark Shumway last month.

The graphic is a photo of a mosaic on the altar of Dominus Flevit church in Jerusalem, depicting Jesus as a mother hen gathering her chicks under her wings, an image Jesus employs in the synoptic gospels (Mt. 23:37, Lk. 13:34), which echoes the very first image of God we meet in the Judaeo-Christian scriptures — the creator God as a mother bird brooding over unformed chaos in order to birth it into being (Gen. 1:2-3). The photographer, Anton 17, has kindly uploaded this photo to Wikimedia Commons for sharing.

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