I have seen some seriously shrill screeds about the Pope’s new encyclical coming from folks on the right who I believe do the conservative movement real harm. If they best represent conservatism, then I’ll consider myself a former member despite the fact that I think liberalism and libertarian-ism to be seriously, irreparably flawed.
Their thoughtless critiques of the new Papal document focus more on the person of the Pope and his alleged ties to Communism or Marxism and less on what it is the encyclical is actually saying.
It’s rather embarrassing really.
Not embarrassing however is this piece by Robert Royal, the editor-in-chief over at The Catholic Thing. He nobly shows how to praise but also critique the Pope’s work:
Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, was, even before its publication this week, being drawn into the usual partisan divisions. Unfortunate, for multiple reasons, not least because what may be getting lost in sheer controversy is the most important, beautiful, even inspiring dimension of his text, his heartfelt vision of nature as divine Creation: “The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God.” 
That’s the kind of thing popes – particularly this pope – do best. Their views on science, politics, economics, ecology have some practical value, but their greatest gifts lie in the realm of ultimate values.
In that vein, Francis early confronts a distorted philosophical attitude in our culture since the time of Francis Bacon, who remarked that we should “put nature on the rack. . .for the relief of man’s estate.” Not a very Christian – or even humane – way of thinking about our fellow creatures. Descartes gave us essentially the same: we should become “masters and possessors” of nature. But we are neither. We are stewards, and the only person who can properly be said to “possess” nature is the Creator Himself.
That is the deep vision that animates the pope’s thinking about current environmental issues: if we wish to be wise in pursuit of what is good for our “human ecology,” we need to be concerned about our proper relationship to all creatures and the totality of creation. Genesis, unlike otherworldly religions, affirmed the goodness of the physical world from the outset (and that world’s importance in helping us to know the Creator), even as it denied nature is itself divine.
Secular environmentalists and journalists will ignore it, but the Holy Father emphasizes at several points that an integral part of this vision is that abortion, coercive means of population control, experimentation on embryos, and other offenses against the sanctity of life are part of the very same callous stance towards the natural world that the environmentalists deplore.
That’s a fresh and original point, to be sure, but we can be certain that the main media attention will be focused elsewhere because, it has to be said, when he comes to discussing specific questions – climate change in particular – the Holy Father follows what may fairly be called some of the more extreme environmental views.
One consequence of taking an idealized view of nature is that it makes it more difficult to address the plight of the global poor, who have been a central concern of all recent popes. Laudato Sirightly points out our obligations to those poor around the globe who would be most severely harmed if significant climate change occurs: peoples living in low-lying areas vulnerable to sea-level rises, those whose water supplies may be disrupted by drier climates or desertification, etc. The whole world would, of course, have moral responsibilities towards protecting and rescuing them.
But the encyclical relatively ignores the much large group of poor, at least 2 ½ billion people on several continents, who simply need development, meaning primarily clean water, electricity, and stable governments that will allow them to improve their lot and deal with whatever nature – or climate change – may throw at them.
There’s much moral denunciation of “finance” and “technology” in the encyclical, much less appreciation of how the efficiencies of markets (properly regulated) and globalization, combined with technical innovation and the entrepreneurial spread of its use, have already lifted hundreds of millions around the world out of age-old misery. And will continue to do so.
Catholic social thought has a tendency to denounce “capitalism” as if all business activity were merely about some pure “logic of markets,” short-term financial gains, and above all greed. Conscientious business people will rightly feel that the one or two paragraphs in the encyclical that concede some value to economic activity may be lost among pages and pages of broad-brush criticism. The world needs many more such conscientious men and women in the economic sphere, both for the sake of the poor and for the environment.
Read the whole thing. Mr. Royal masterfully gives credit where credit is due but isn’t shy about what he perceives to be the encyclical’s shortcomings.
A far, far cry from the idiocy being doled out by too many of the unthinking on the right.
Crossposted at Brutally Honest.