Pope Francis Offers a Trinitarian Document

Pope Francis’s encyclical “On Care for Out Common Home” is really three very different documents:

1) A modern liberal environmental screed full of technical errors and unscientific conclusions

2) A brilliantly insightful view of how man and nature should interact

3) A flawed set of proposals on how to solve man’s current brokenness

Catholics, and people of good will, recognize that the Pope has a special authority on matters related to morality and theology but not on matters of prudential judgment.

That means that Catholics need to accept the encyclical’s call for us to be good stewards of the planet and to help the poor but it does not mean that we must embrace the specific worldly solutions the Pope presents.

As Pope Francis himself says:

On many concrete questions, the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion; she knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views.

It’s important for non-Catholics to understand that nothing in this document is presented as an infallible teaching. While Catholics are called to adhere to the regular non-infallible teaching of the Popes, they are allowed to dispute how to correctly implement those teachings in the world if they feel the Pope’s approaches are in error.

The encyclical begins with a standard liberal discourse on current environmental problems. Clearly the Pope either was not told or did not believe the growing body of scientific evidence that global warming is not due to man.

Here’s an example of a scientific error:

In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon.

But all data to date indicates that the earth has not been warming for the last 18 or so years. Further sea level rising has been going on for thousands of years since the end of the last ice age and hence says nothing about a pending ecological problem due to man’s activities. 

Fortunately, the Pope's perception of the physical “problem” is not a matter of moral or theological insight and as such those parts of this encyclical carry no special weight.

People who admire the Pope for his personal piety and because of his office can freely reject his incorrect “scientific” statements presumably provided to him by biased sources. Keep in mind that the Pope comes from South America, where reckless exploitation of the environment is far more common than in the U.S. That background makes it easier to understand how the Pope might find credible the claims of warmists.

On the other hand, the Pope does correctly identify that man is part of nature and as such morally bankrupt cultural norms, such as abortion and excessive consumerism, are harmful. Similarly the Pope correctly condemns the sort of careless environmental destruction practiced in many places -- especially collectivist regimes like the old Soviet Union.

But what conservative actually argues for uncaring exploitation of the environment? The conservative movement in America recognizes the need to balance use of the environment for the good of people with the consequences of that use on this and future generations.

The Pope's solutions to the problems he presents are sometimes sublime and sometimes absurd. His call to live a less selfish and more charitable lifestyle while working to improve the lives of the poor is classic Catholic doctrine which clearly channels the intent of Jesus, who said we should love others as we love ourselves. It’s a solution that conservatives naturally embrace.

On the other hand, his call for global organizations and an elimination of non-renewable energy are matters of prudential judgment and are, sadly, seriously flawed. The primary problem with the Pope’s worldly solutions is that fail to recognize that technology reduces poverty. Lots of small farms lead to high food prices and renewable energy is much more expensive than coal. 

While the Pope is correct in saying that we shouldn’t ignore the rights of individuals to work, he appears to have failed to address the reality that the correct answer is not to revert to less efficient means of production which invariably drive up costs and therefore increase poverty.

But we must avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater, because this encyclical contains many good solutions and insights, especially in areas where a flawed scientific “consensus” does not distort the Pope’s quest for Christian solutions.

Among the Pope's solutions you won’t hear in the media but which conservatives should applaud include:

His condemnation of abortion as being incompatible with a concern for nature and a concern for the poor:

Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?

While some parts of the encyclical can be misinterpreted as neo-pantheist new age drivel the Pope makes clear that that is not his intent

This is not to put all living beings on the same level nor to deprive human beings of their unique worth and the tremendous responsibility it entails. Nor does it imply a divinization of the earth…

When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities -- to offer just a few examples -- it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected.

The Pope makes clear that while man cannot simply abuse nature for short-term gain, at the same time man is special and his needs must be considered first:

A sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings. It is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor, or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted.

The Pope correctly points out that welfare can only be a temporary solution and that the massive welfare states of the West are intrinsically flawed

Helping the poor financially must always be a provisional solution in the face of pressing needs. The broader objective should always be to allow them a dignified life through work.

The Pope condemns the modern hedonism that while proclaiming its “greenness” applauds immoral lifestyles that are inconsistent with true care for all of nature:

Human ecology also implies another profound reality: the relationship between human life and the moral law, which is inscribed in our nature and is necessary for the creation of a more dignified environment.

Finally, the Pope makes clear that accepting the simple scientific reality of gender is crucial to properly interacting with others in pursuit of a better world.

Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different.

It will take years to completely digest this profound document from Pope Francis. In the short term, the MSM and liberals will distort the Pope's message as they have on most of what he’s said in the past.

But the reality is that once “solutions” based on bad science are eliminated this encyclical provides key insights conservatives will be comfortable with on how to address many of the central problems of the modern world.

You can read more of tom’s rants at his blog, Conversations about the obvious and feel free to follow him on Twitter

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