Everyday Theology: Human arrogance harms the environment

"In our hubris, we have fallen prey to “unrestrained delusions of grandeur” and a utilitarian mindset."

Not since Humane Vitae has a papal encyclical attracted as much attention as Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’, On Care For Our Common Home. In this comprehensive teaching letter, the pope urges us with language that is sometimes blunt and other times poetic to rethink and transform the “outdated criteria which continue to rule the world”.

Another aspect of the encyclical that caught my attention was the numerous references to statements on the environment from Catholic bishops’ conferences around the world, as well as several paragraphs devoted to the teaching of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. While Laudato Si’ is given from the hand of the pontiff, it reflects the thought of the universal church. With the weight of his brother bishops behind him on environmental and social issues, Francis speaks with an even greater credibility and authority.

Although it has been dubbed “the climate change encyclical”, the discussion on climate change is only a small portion of Laudato Si’, which is really about three key relationships: humanity’s relationship with God, with the created world, and with one another.

At the root of the environmental crisis is a “misguided anthropocentrism” that places human beings at the center. In our hubris, we have fallen prey to “unrestrained delusions of grandeur” and a utilitarian mindset. We seek mastery over nature instead of respecting it as a sacred gift. We are turning ““a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness” into something that resembles an “immense pile of filth”.

We treat human beings with a similar sense of disregard, valuing them only in so far as they are useful to us. We are more interested in convenience and consumption, economics and power than in the intrinsic dignity of the human person and nature. The encyclical teaches that our lifestyle and mindset blinds us to the destruction of the environment and deafens us to the cries of the poor.

Francis cautions that if we continue to see ourselves as independent from others and as separate from nature, our attempts to heal the environment will be piecemeal at best. Healing the environment requires healing the other two key relationships; “our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God. Otherwise, it would be nothing more than romantic individualism dressed up in ecological garb”.

Less we feel overwhelmed and discouraged by the reality of the challenges facing humanity, the encyclical offers hope.  From developing enforceable international environmental polices to small daily actions, everyone has a part to play in caring for our common home. We renew the social fabric, break down indifference, and forge a shared identity when we promote the common good and defend the environment.

Laudato Si’ challenges us, individually and collectively, to confront the environmental crisis and resolve the inequalities of human society. The future hangs in the balance of our response.

Trail, BC resident Louise McEwan is a freelance religion writer with degrees in English and Theology. She has a background in education and faith formation. Her blog is www.faithcolouredglasses.blogspot.com. Contact her at mcewan.lou@gmail.com.