Friday, August 7, 2015

Understanding Catholic Ideology and Ecology

For Catholics and others trying to understand Pope Francis, the Jesuit writer and political scientist Thomas Reese is essential reading.

I say this because of two of his articles in the National Catholic Reporter: one in July showed in detail how thinking Catholics might respond to the cultural shock of same-sex marriage--and how the bishops should respond.  He writes about the "fanatical opposition to the legalization of same-sex marriage" by the U.S. bishops as a sure way for younger people to look on the church, and organized religion, as bigoted.

Just as Pope Francis relied on the scientific consensus when writing on the environment, Reese says, so the bishops should consult the best social science before making sweeping assertions about families and children. Arguing that children will suffer if they don't have a parent of each sex is not supported by evidence. Just as the bishops were wrong in opposing divorce a generation ago, they should, says Father Reese, accept the reality that gay marriage is here to stay; it doesn't mean the end of civilization.

It doesn't mean sacramental marriage is threatened.

The second Reese article, published this month, deals with a broader issue in less detail.  It shows how radically different Francis is as pope compared with his two immediate predecessors and what this means about the way the church deals with ideology.  Whereas John Paul II and Benedict XVI were men of ideas, who said reality must change if it does not reflect the unchanging ideal, Francis says that facts (and experience) matter more than ideas.  If the facts clash with the reality, he says, question the theory/theology.  This is Jesuit discernment, something Reese understands.

Case in point: the pope's widely praised encyclical on the environment, which begins with scientific facts, not theology. Among those environmental experts outside of Catholicism who have read and evaluated "Laudato Si," Bill McKibben (writing in the New York Review of Books for Aug. 13) offers an especially valuable and detailed commentary.  He calls the papal document one of the most important and influential statements of modern times.

McKibben shows how radical in the best sense Francis is in his critique of how we inhabit the planet and how sweeping this critique is on moral, political, social, economic, and spiritual grounds. The pope sees that underlying the ecological crisis is that a basic way of understanding "human life and activity has gone awry," as we in the modern world have come to believe that "reality, goodness and truth automatically flow from technological and economic power."

The pope is "at his most vigorous when he insists that we must prefer the common good to individual advancement," McKibben says, mentioning in passing how Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher thought the opposite (Thatcher once said, "there's no such thing as society").

This article, "The Pope and the Planet," is must reading; so are the pieces by Thomas Reese. I am grateful to have found them.

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