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Ecology and Sustainable Development

The following text was published in Vidyajyoti Journal of Theological Reflection, under the title:Theological significance of Laudato Si.  An Asian Reading” vol.79 (September 2015) 645-66Translated in French and published in Spiritus, “Portée théologique de Laudato si’. Un point de vue asiatique, No223 (Juin 2016) 219-236 An abbreviated version published in Spanish Seleciones De Teología,La functión de la teologia en las luchas por un mundo más equitativo e inclusivo”, vol.5, No219 (Julio-Septiembre 2016) 211-217

Ecology and Sustainable Development

An Asian Reading of Laudato Si

(Keynote address at the Asian Theological Forum, Surathani, 24 August, 2016)

Felix Wilfred

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There is an impression that Pope Francis is pastorally-oriented, but his theology is of light-weight. This kind of view making the rounds requires a more detailed examination of his interventions, discourses and statements. In any case, his recent encyclical letter Laudato Si should be seen as a fitting response to those who find him lacking in robust theology.[1] This contrast of the pastoral and the theological betrays a dualism that characterized already certain assessments of Vatican II. The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, for example, has been viewed pastorally strong and theologically weak. It is the same kind of people who would speak of Vatican II as doctrinally weak, whereas Vatican I as strong in doctrine.

     Lurking behind these judgments is a particular understanding of theology as elucidation of doctrinal truths. It would be unfair to judge the theology of Pope Francis from the perspective of a doctrinal theological tradition that is divorced from the experiences of Christian communities or pastoral realities. We could observe this in the contemporary high-flown and pretentious Western theology. This theology has become increasingly narcissistic and is not able to come to terms with the situation of the faithful who in the last few decades are leaving the Church in droves. There is little correspondence between the theology pursued and the pastoral condition of a worn-out Western Christianity. It is also insulated as it does not seem to enter into dialogue and exchange with global theologies emerging in different parts of the world. Laudato Si is a challenge to doctrinal   theology (which claims to be the theology), its orientation and method.

A Jewel on the Crown

    This encyclical marks an important theological turning point in the tradition of Christian social teaching. The social teaching of the Church, as suggested by the word “social”, has been, by and large, regulating the inter-human and inter-community relationships in justice and in the spirit of solidarity. The relationship of the Church with the human realm in its sundry dimensions was characterized as pastoral. Here is an encyclical which extends the pastoral relationship of the Church to the world of nature, and calls out the world of humans to enter into a harmonious relationship with it and attend to its rhythm. As inequality and injustice fragment and destroy the fabric of the human community, so do the disruption of the rhythm of nature and the creation of imbalance in its functioning. If Rerum Novarum of Pope Leo XIII came at a time of deep crisis in the society through industrial revolution, Laudato Si, has come out at a time of a double crisis – crisis of human solidarity and a crisis of nature. If Rerum Novarum set a “red” agenda to set right the wretched conditions of workers, Laudato Si proposes a “green” agenda against the destruction of nature and environment. The new encyclical of Pope Francis shares also something in common with Pacem in Terris of John XXIII. They are not simply exhortations to Christian community; they are addressed to the entire humanity on an issue which touches everyone across religious boundaries.

A Theological Methodology from Below

    The encyclical makes an incisive analysis of the contemporary ecological crisis, its roots and factors and forces involved. It contains also some important proposals for the future at international, national and local levels. Both in analysis and proposals, there is an attempt to view the ecological issue as intertwined with the social, political, economic and cultural questions. This is in marked contrast to ecclesial triumphalism that arrogates to teach without learning. Here the pope is humble to receive concrete empirical data from science and technology.

Times were when science was subjected to a priori formulated doctrines, and this brought Christianity in confrontation with it, as the case of Galileo bears out. In this encyclical we find a clear admission of the autonomy of science, and above all, the contribution it could make to overcome the ecological crisis. “We must be grateful for the praiseworthy efforts being made by scientists and engineers dedicated to finding solutions to man-made problems” (LS. 34).[2] Pope Francis has benefitted also from the ecological movements which have been grappling with the environmental issue at the grassroots for the past several decades.

    From a methodological point of view, remarkable is also the fact that the encyclical is studded with quotations from bishops’ conferences in other parts of the world – Brazil, Canada, New Zealand, US, Philippines, Japan, Dominican Republic, and so on. He is referring to no less than 15 different bishops’ conferences. A pope who defines himself as Bishop of Rome willingly listens to other local Churches across the world and discovers how they have come to terms with the environmental issues. This is highly significant theologically. For, in the last few decades, there was a lot of attempts to water down the role of bishops’ conferences whose teaching role was questioned by the doctrinal theology.[3] Without entering into this debate, the pope in effect shows how important for the universal Church and for humanity what the various conferences have to say. The encyclical thus, far from being a Roman monochrome, has turned out like the coat of Joseph, polychrome – rich in colours (Gen. 37:3), thanks to the diverse resources of the local Churches the pope is drawing on. The theological methodology in Laudato Si is what the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) has been trying to follow.[4]

Re-conceptualization of Christian Anthropology

    A programme of ecological reform may not prove to be effective unless more basic things are set right. In the case of ecology, it is a question of right anthropology. In his widely discussed article, The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis, Lynn White laid squarely at the door of Judeo-Christian tradition the culpability for the present day ecological mess. For him, it is the anthropocentrism of this tradition that is to blame. In his words,

    Especially in its Western form, Christianity is the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen. As early as 2nd century both Tertullian and Saint Irenaeus of Lyons were insisting that when God shaped Adam he was foreshadowing the image of the incarnate Christ, the Second Adam. Man shares, in great measure God’s transcendence of nature. Christianity, in absolute contrast to ancient paganism and Asia’s religions (except, perhaps, Zoroastrianism) not only established a dualism of man and nature but also insisted that it is God’s will that man exploit nature for his proper ends.[5]

Let me not enter into the details of Lynn White’s thesis here. Even without his thesis, common sense tells us that with traditionally interpreted Christian anthropocentrism we may not be able to come to terms with the present ecological crisis. There is the need, so to say, for a “sanatio in radice “ – a healing in the root – of this anthropology. It is this pope Francis has tried to do in his Laudato Si. He has introduced a welcome corrective to a misguided Christian anthropology which saw the human beings as the crown of creation. It chimed with the anthropocentrism of Western philosophy, Renaissance culture and the Enlightenment. From a philosophical point of view, as René Descartes expressed, human beings are “masters and possessors of nature”.[6] European Renaissance and Enlightenment were the secular versions of Christian anthropocentrism. They fed on mutually. I have been struck by the fact that in Renaissance art, nature figures little. Great Renaissance masters like Michael Angelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Titian and Caravaggio tried to study the human anatomy, emotions and behavior very closely and created great works, but not the rhythm of nature and how it works. If at all, landscapes were used only as backgrounds to highlight the human figures. The male dominated art of the time paid scant attention to nature in itself. Like women, nature was viewed as a subjugated object (natura naturata) and not a creative force (natura naturans).

    This Western Christian, Renaissance and Enlightenment tradition stands in contrast to the larger Asian vision and its understanding of the world of the humans as intertwined with nature. The life of the humans in Asian tradition is one with the elements of nature. Therefore, when Pope Francis attempts to correct a deeply embedded Western theological and anthropological tradition and speaks of integral anthropology, Asians can understand him immediately without difficulty. For, what he says, reverberates with the Asian experience; reflects the vision of Hindu, Buddhist and Taoist traditions; and the way Asian tribals and indigenous people see the reality as interconnected and bonded together. One of the thoughts running through Laudato si is the interconnection of the entire reality.

              In the encyclical, there is an effort to move from a hierarchical ordering of creatures, to a more teleological understanding in which both human beings and other creatures journey together. We appreciate the novelty of this approach, if we set it against the Western understanding of “chain of beings” (scala naturae), of Aristotelian vintage. We could further differentiate it from the Neoplatonist frame of hierarchy of beings that moulded the Christian   thought of the Middle Ages, including that of Thomas Aquinas. According to this philosophy, the less perfect is contained eminently in the more perfect; the less perfect is in service of the more perfect. To put it more concretely in terms of our present day experience, the local superior of a religious house is eminently contained in the provincial; and the provincial is eminently included in the general! So, also the vegetable life is contained in the animal life, and the animal life in the human. Hence, all of nature in a less perfect state is in service of human beings, the crown of creation. This understanding of nature through the hierarchical lens fails to capture the value of each reality in its uniqueness; nor is it able to appreciate the richness of plurality and diversity.

              Pope Francis seems to challenge this kind of philosophy and theology and draws our attention to the truth that the value of anything in nature is not to be judged in hierarchical fashion of high and low (secundum sub et supra) , but rather from a mystical perspective of unity of all in God. In his words, “The ultimate purpose of other creatures is not to be found in us. Rather, all creatures are moving forward with us and through us towards a common point of arrival, which is God.” (LS 83). These words of Pope Francis evoke the symbol of pilgrimage, so dear to Asians. The thought of Francis cannot but strike the Asian readers who are accustomed to see and deal with nature not from a hierarchical perspective but from a mystical perspective of unity of all reality. The sense of bondedness and cosmic solidarity with nature brings forth the spirit of non-violence (ahiṃsā) and compassion (karuṇā).

Religion in the Public Sphere – A Fundamental Theological Question

    The encyclical is manifestly addressed to all people of good will. And yet, we find in chapter two, the pope speaking from the point of view of Christian faith on the “Gospel of Creation”. Does that mean inconsistency in his method? I think, though the pope does not explicitly enter into the theoretical question of the role of religion vis-à-vis common good, he is in fact operating from a particular standpoint on the relationship of religion today to shared public issues and concerns. It is the conviction that religion and faith have the responsibility towards common good. For the good of the community, religions can and should intervene in the public sphere.[7] There is another argument, which is not stated by the pope again explicitly but which we can read between the lines: The borders of a religion do not end with its adherents; it is not their monopoly. Since religions talk about things that concern all, they will be of interest also to others, to whose perceptions of and engagement with common good they can contribute.

    The objection to the assumptions that underlies the papal document comes from three different quarters. First of all, states, especially the centralized ones, would find any such intervention on the issue of environment as a political act. The state and politicians claim it to be their competence to speak on public issues such as justice, environment, economic order, etc. They want the religions to keep off from these issues. The claim of the state is problematic. For such a posture rests on the presupposition that the good of the society overlaps with the goals of the state. This is simply an unacceptable position. As an integral part of the society, religion can legitimately be concerned about what touches upon its (society’s) wellbeing. Recent history illustrates how faith-motivated timely interventions have contributed to the transformation of the political order and helped societies in their transition to a democratic order. In Asia we can cite the example of Korea, Philippines, Indonesia, etc. We can further cite the example of the role played by religion in dismantling centralized and oppressive social states in Eastern Europe, the abolition of apartheid regime in South Africa, the transition to democracy of many Latin American countries from 1980’s.

    A second objection to public role of religion comes from the market economy. In fact, the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium which was very critical of today’s murderous system of economy came under severe attack by votaries of market economy. Market objects to any state intervention that seeks to restrain it in the interest of social equity and inclusion. Its objection to religious intervention is even more severe. Claiming that market has its own inner logic and dynamics, neo-liberal economists found the pope’s intervention as unwarranted. They seem to say that pope should not try to enter into a realm that is not his domain and of his competence. Samuel Gregg from the Acton Research Institute, for example, finds the encyclical of the pope as “well-intentioned” but “economically-flawed”.[8] The same kind of objection is raised when the pope comes down heavily on the neo-liberal economy and market for their disastrous consequence on the environment. The contention that religion should have no voice in economy as it has no competence in this field, is simply a camouflage for capitalism and market. Don’t an impoverished migrant, an exploited woman, a marginalized Dalit have the right to question an order of economy that denies them the basic means for livelihood? Should not the tribal people challenge a system that destroys their natural habitat and imperils their survival? One cannot brush them aside saying that they have no competence to speak of economy, and should leave it to the experts to decide which economy is best for the society.

    The third objection comes from those who argue on the basis of a narrowly understood secularism or what the French call the “laicité”. The argument on the basis of secularism is a typical Western argument deriving from the long European history of religious wars. We realize how fallacious the attempt to extend the secularism brewed in the West to Asia. Our experience in Asia tells us that the secular is not the enemy of religion, as made out in Europe, but a friend and companion in the common struggle for the wellbeing of the society. Few in Asia would find that by speaking about ecology and environment the pope is violating secularism. His words as a concerned Christian believer addressing humanity on the ecological crisis would find welcome among Asian secular groups, actors in civil society, and ecological movements.

    The challenge facing nature and humanity requires that we draw from religious and cultural resources of humanity. Like in the case of human rights, drawing conviction from one’s faith can only reinforce the cause. Therefore, Pope Francis, though he addresses all people of good will, as a Christian believer and leader draws from the Gospel and the Scriptures insights and vision which support the ecological cause. So, we see the pope referring to the story of creation, to the teachings, attitude and practice of Jesus – all meant to support the care for the earth and its cultivation. His approach is infused with the theology of creation. The traditional theology which rested on anthropocentrism was at home with a theology of redemption of the human race. Pope Francis brings in a breath of fresh air by underlining the need to redeem the earth and nature, which requires that he make an integral reading of the Biblical data and highlight the theology of creation. The salvation of human beings cannot be dissociated from the redemption of nature and from the forces of evil and death that seek to disfigure and destroy them. So, in Laudato Si we have not only a re-conceptualization of traditional Christian anthropology, but also a revision of the traditional soteriology by expanding its scope to include nature and the earth. Such a reinterpretation of Christian faith adds new impetus for involvement with the issue of ecology, and it helps to act in solidarity with many other forces contributing to the same cause.

From the Strategic to the Ethical

    It is remarkable that Pope Francis has shifted the ecological issue from the strategic to the ethical. Strategic thinking goes in the line of finding the technocratic ways and means so as to prevent the degradation of the environment. There is, for example, talk about carbon reduction, carbon trading, carbon credit etc., which are meant to put some restraint on the senseless destruction of nature and to reduce the warming of the earth. These measures have certain value. But Pope Francis does not rely too much on these measures, but rather goes to the heart of the problem. For him, ecological issue is to be viewed as an ethical issue. This means that human beings have moral responsibility towards the creation of God, and they, indeed, behave unethically if they destroy nature. For Pope Francis, there is a co-relation between the state of ethics and environment. For, as he observes, “environmental deterioration and human ethical degradation are closely linked” (LS 56). The strategic thinking would blame the population growth for the environmental crisis and seek to downsize it. The pope is critical of this view, and points out instead to the culture of consumerism and waste and the absence of sharing and restraint on growth. Here lie the real threat to the environment which needs to be approached from an ethical perspective.

    The traditional social teachings had two major foci of ethical reasoning, namely human dignity and common good. What pope Francis does is to add to these a third element, namely the dignity and sacredness of nature as God’s creation. By adding this new dimension, the understanding of common good itself gets amplified: Common good is no more, as in tradition, the good of human beings, but the wellbeing and flourishing of nature as well. Therefore, the behaviour of people vis-á-vis nature should touch their moral fibre and conscience.

    This ethical approach of Pope Francis rests, as we saw above, on his conviction that nature has an intrinsic value. In traditional theology and in philosophical ethics, it is the human beings who have an intrinsic value, and nature has only an instrumental value and the value attributed to it by them. Pope raises ecological issue to a real ethical question by acknowledging an intrinsic value to nature. [9] “It is not enough…to think of different species merely as potential “resources” to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves” (LS 33). This is a major theological contribution of Pope Francis, which, seen from the traditional perspective, could be contentious. On the other hand, seen from Asia, it is a position that brings the pope closer to the Asian way of thinking and acting vis-á-vis nature; what he say is something deeply embedded in Asian culture and religious traditions.

Moral Support to Environmental Movements

    Pope Francis has proposed an ecological theology that is effective in as much as it gives great moral support to the environmental movements all over the world. For the past five decades or so, these movements have grown by leaps and bounds, and have made immense contribution to the protection of nature. The activists in these movements had to struggle against the state and its development agenda harmful to nature, and against politicians, business interests keen on exploiting nature to increase their wealth. The encyclical is a fillip to the ecological movements.

    In a certain sense, most of what the pope has said regarding the ecological crisis and on the anti-nature model of development have been already said by these movements. But what makes the difference is not so much what the encyclical has said, as the fact that the pope has said it. As a moral authority in our contemporary world, the views of a pope in what concerns the global common good, carries a lot of weight and draws world-wide attention. As for Christians, the encyclical is an invitation to see with new eyes the entire creation and to involve themselves to nurture nature with a sense of responsibility. The encyclical is also a great moral support to the unitary vision emerging in the last few decades from vanguard science that seeks to integrate the biological, cognitive, social and the ecological. Pope Francis seems to integrate this new unitary scientific vision into his theology which is challenging. He reveals himself not only a person concerned with praxis and pastoral reality, but also a deep and creative thinker.

 

 Knitting Together

                            Yet another significant aspect of Laudato Si is its effort to bring together ecology and the issue of justice and social equity. Ecological balance should go hand in hand with just and harmonious relationships in human societies. “We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental” (LS 139). The pope speaks also of cultural ecology – the preservation of the cultural heritage. Technological interventions need to be respectful of the culture of the people. What stands out in Laudato Si is the unique manner in which the pope links and develops the environmental ecology with human ecology[10] and cultural ecology. This is what the pope calls integral ecology. What is even more significant is that no world leader has ever brought out so persuasively and cogently the environmental, economic, moral and political arguments together in this way. This synthetic view provides a good platform for action and involvement at different levels. Pope Francis speaks of an “inseparable bond … between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace” (LS 10). The whole encyclical is an attempt to bind together what were seen and addressed separately in the past.

Moving Beyond the Technological Paradigm

    The dominant model of development, outcome of the European Enlightenment, uses technology to exploit nature to produce wealth, prosperity and progress. The boundless growth this model advocates is unsustainable, since the carrying capacity of nature is limited. There should be restraint on growth if humanity and nature were to survive. This caution was sounded already in 1972 by the Club of Rome, but unfortunately has gone unheeded. Things have reached today such serious proportions, the pope warns, that check on growth has become a must for protecting nature and for practicing justice.

    …We need to think of containing [economic] growth by setting some reasonable limits and even retracting our steps before it is too late…[T]he 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 (LS 193)

Going further, the pope questions the view that economy and technology can solve the environmental problem.[11] Technological paradigm stumbles before the truth that the resources of nature are limited. It stumbles also before the truth that whatever growth is achieved cannot serve only a selected few but should serve all, and therefore needs to be shared equitably. If one does not respect the regenerative capacity of nature and continues to exploit it, the consequences are serious like global warming, floods, soil-erosion, etc. If one fails to share equitably, human community is seriously impaired through this imbalance, and we end up with serious social conflicts and contradictions. Throughout the encyclical, Pope Francis tries to relate closely the ecology of the environment and human ecology.

    The technological paradigm of development tells most severely upon the life of the poor and the marginalized. A remarkable contribution of Laudato Si is the way it relates the protection of nature and the defence of the poor. Both are intertwined. The more we involve to protect nature, the more we protect the poor, and the reverse is equally true. Destruction of the environment is undermining the survival of the poor – the tribals, fisher people, and impoverished farmers. Symbolically expressed, “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (LS 49) go together.

Hitting the Nail on the Head

    Catholic social teaching has consistently challenged the claims of absolute ownership of the resources of nature. The universal destiny of earthly goods has been supported by Christian Scriptures. Patristic tradition questions the right to private property without restriction. A clear formulation of this key principle is found in Gaudium et Spes.  “God destined the earth and all it contains for all men and all peoples so that all created things would be shared fairly by all mankind under the guidance of justice tempered by charity.” [12] Now, this principle has been invoked in the tradition of Catholic social teaching for the promotion of a society in justice, equity and solidarity. The originality of Pope Francis is that he deploys this principle not only for the cause of social   justice and equity, but also for the promotion of ecological balance. Unrestrained ownership of private property is a central issue in ecology and the pope hits the nail on the head. Today riches are owned by a few who through the market economy want only to strip nature and destroy it, imperiling the life of other human beings in the progress. If there is restriction on the ownership of private property, it would ensure that nature is not over-exploited. Pope Francis sees in the unrestricted private ownership of property one of the roots of ecological crisis. “Natural environment is a collective good” (LS 95) says the pope. As a public good, earth, water and air belong to all. But, unfortunately, land and water are increasingly controlled by a few individuals and corporations, and the air is polluted and poisoned by the same. In order to save nature and common human habitat, the pope has recourse to the non-absolute right of private property. “The Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable and stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property”(LS 93). The pope’s application of this principle to the realm of ecology is very timely.

The Praxial Nature of the Encyclical

    “The Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change”, so said Marx in his time,[13] and it remains a permanent challenge. It is said of the social teachings of the Church, that they are “the best kept secret”. To assume that spreading knowledge about these documents will solve the problem, is unrealistic and too tall a claim. More is required than knowledge about the social teachings of the Church with theoretical elaboration of principles governing society. Pope Francis is conscious of the importance of praxis and transformation. He, therefore, seeks to translate and apply these principles in practice. In fact, a whole chapter (chapter 5) is devoted to practical lines of approach and policies, and proposals of action at various levels – international, national, familial and personal. He has also pertinent suggestions for new practices. New practices call for conversion, new lifestyle, education and a new spirituality all of which form the next chapter (chapter 6). In all these we can see how the theology of pope Francis touches ground realities, and turns out to be vibrant.

 

Conclusion: The Achilles’ Heel

    There are at least two issues on which Asian readers would expect more from the encyclical of Pope Francis. The pope is very pointed in all his interventions on the question of poverty, injustice, exploitation, migrants, refugees etc. And this comes out clearly also in Laudato Si. This is a great support to the struggle Asia and the developing world is going through. But Asia is also a world of ancient religions. Here flourish also indigenous religions of tribal peoples. All of them have a great affinity with nature which their religious experience, symbols, rituals and narratives reflect. Their world-view is not anthropocentric like in the Western tradition, and of which the pope is critical. Moreover, these Asian religious traditions have a mystical approach to nature and environment. They contain also rich resources for protection of nature. Sacred grove is a typical example. And yet, we find very little in the encyclical that would connect with the Asian religious traditions. One has the feeling a great opportunity for deeper dialogue with other Asian religions on ecology and environment is lost. The reference to St Francis of Assisi and his Canticle of Creatures, which lend also the title to the encyclical, could have served as a bridge to relate with Asian religious experience of nature and concern for the environment. These religions practice and celebrate every day the interconnectedness of all reality and acknowledge what the pope calls “an intrinsic value independent of their usefulness” (LS 140).

    A second short fall is the miss to bring out the implications of the encyclical for the Church and its pastoral ministry. Though the document is addressed to all, since the pope draws from Christian resources (chapter 2), logically, some indications for the application of them in the life of the Church would be expected. This would have given the encyclical greater witness value. If everything is interconnected and interdependent as the pope does not cease to tell us, how does it square with the practice of Church governance following a hierarchical model of relationships? The ecological paradigm of relationships suggested in the encyclical does not seem to square with the ecclesiological hierarchical paradigm that is practiced. How does one reconcile both these? There are also other implications for the life of the Church, especially in what concerns worship. It is time to critically re-examine the Christian liturgy from the perspective of the ecological paradigm.[14] And this is very important for Asia, since its tradition of worship is very close to the elements of nature (pañchamahābhūta) – earth, water, fire, air and aether, the five basic elements of cosmic creation. Hindu worship begins by purifying the five elements within the body and outside.[15] The elements of nature are so very important in indigenous traditions and religious practices. [16] All this contrasts with the strong logo-centric (word-centered) worship in the Church which does not bespeak to the Asian genius. Drawing out implications for Christian worship would have been a concrete way to put into practice the lofty vision presented to us on ecology in Laudato Si.

    These shortfalls, reading from Asia, do not undermine the high quality and substance of this document. All in all, it remains a great document, and indeed a jewel on the crown of the social teachings of the Church, and a great contribution to humanity grappling with the environmental crisis.

    When Laudato Si was published, I was travelling. I bought a copy of International New York Times to find what comments it had on the encyclical. There was indeed a long write-up on the document. More than this write-up what impressed me and captured my attention was a letter to the editor at a corner of this newspaper. It is a comment from an atheist from Mexico, and I would like to cite that as the concluding words:

    As an atheist, I am moved by the brilliant statement from Pope Francis. This is the bravest, most insightful and honest statement I have heard from any international figure, and I only hope that his voice and conscience will be heard loud and clearly by the self-serving corporate capitalists and greedy others who are willing to sacrifice any and all future good on behalf of short-term gain.[17]

[1] Laudato Si proves that Pope Francis has his own theological orientation, which is refreshing. To view his theological position as simply a continuation of John Paul II and Benedict XVI (as do George Weigel, biographer of John Paul II, and Vittorio Messori, author of a well-know book of interviews with the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger), is a failure to acknowledge his original contributions.   These authors are representatives of neo-conservative (neocon) Catholicism.   George Weigel argues, “A change of papal ‘administration’ does not—indeed cannot—mean a change of Catholic ‘views.’ Doctrine, as the Church understands it, is not a matter of anyone’s ‘views,’ but of settled understandings of the truth of things.”As quoted by Mollie Wilson O’Reilly in https://www.commonwealmagazine.org. accessed on 4 August, 2015. All this is to downplay   the new course pope Francis is setting in relating the Church to those critical questions of contemporary times as the environmental crisis. There are others who, unwilling to accept his theology and his trenchant critique of neoliberal economy and   free market, want to reduce Laudato Si   into an encyclical of “climate change” or of “global warming”! As for the critique of Pope Francis’ orientation by Vittorio Messori see his write-up in Corriera della Sera, (24 December, 2014) titled: “I dubbi sulla sovlta del papa Francesco. Bergoglio é imprevidibile per il cattolico medio. Suscita un interesse vasto, ma quanto sincero?” On the theologically imbued pastoral approach of Pope Francis, see Walter Kasper, Pope Francis’ Revolution of Tenderness and Love, (New York: Paulist Press, 2015).

[2] LS stands for Laudto Si.

[3] See Felix Wilfred, “The Theological and Juridical Status of Episcopal Conferences” in Peter Fernando Episcopal Conferences and Collegiality (Madras: CBCI Commission for Clergy and Religious, 1989):1-26.

The debate on the question continues even after the “Motu Proprio” Apostolic Letter “Apostolos Suos” (1998) by John Paul II.

[4] See Vimal Tirimanna (ed.), Sprouts of Theology from the Asian Soil (Collection of TAC and OTC documents 1987-2007), Claretian Publications, Bangalore, 2007.

[5] Lynn White, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis”, in Science, (March 10, 1967):189.

[6] René Descartes, Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy, translated by Elizabeth S. Haldane (Stilwell: Digireads.com Publishing, 2005):28.

[7] Cf. Felix Wilfred, Theology to Go Public (Delhi: ISPCK, 2013).

[8] See www//spectator.org/articles/63160/laudato Si Accessed on 3 August 2015. It is quite strange that Cardinal Dolan of New York should think that the pope’s critique of dominant economy in his speeches and in Evangelii Gaiudium (and subsequently in Laudato Si) does not apply to “virtuous capitalism” of America! See National Catholic Reporter, June 6, 2014.

[9] Hence his critique of an utilitarianism that chime in with technological logic, but devoid of wider moral concerns.

[10] The definition of the concept of human ecology is still very fluid and vague. Broadly speaking, it refers to the interaction of the humans with the environment as part of a larger organic whole. The humans do not stay in splendid isolation from the rest of nature, but impact on the environment, and the environment is an important factor affecting human life and behavior. Cultural ecology is the set of attitudes, values and behavior patterns this interaction produces in human beings in a particular geographical and environmental context. As a result, different cultures construct their own values and goals vis-á-vis nature. The pope uses both these concepts (human ecology and cultural ecology) in Laudato Si. Ecology “calls for attention to local cultures when studying environmental problems, favouring a dialogue between scientific-technical language and the langue of the people” (LS 143).

[11] “Some circles maintain that current economics and technology will solve all environmental problems, and argue, in popular and non-technical terms, that the problems of global hunger and poverty will be resolved simply by market growth” ( LS 109).

[12] Gaudium et Spes 69.

[13] Karl Marx, “Eleven Theses on Feuerbach”, in Marx and Engels (eds.), On Religion (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1845): 64.

[14] Indeed, the pope says that the Eucharist “embraces and penetrates all creation” (LS 236). If so, it is proper that the concrete way it is structured and celebrated should reflect this truth. In restructuring worship with the elements of nature, Christian liturgy could learn a lot about worship from world religions and from Asian indigenous religious traditions. It needs to go beyond the very limited programme of “inculturation”.

[15] Cf. K.L. Seshagiri Rao “The Five Great Elements (pañchamahābhūta). An Ecological Perspective”, in Christopher Key Chapple – Mary Evelyn Tucker (eds.), Hinduism and Ecology (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2000): 23-38.

[16] John A. Grim, Indigenous Traditions and Ecology (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2001).

[17] International New York Times, 21-11 June (2015), Weekend edition.