Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Pope, climate change and First Things

I was reading an article in today's Guardian
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/apr/28/vatican-climate-change-summit-to-highlight-moral-duty-for-action
on the forthcoming encyclical on the environment and the preceding conference at the Vatican on climate change that referenced a blog post on the First Things' website by Maureen Mullarkey http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/mullarkey/2015/01/francis-political-illusion taking exception to this.

First Things describes itself as the leading journal in the US concerning Religion and the Public Square, founded by the Roman Catholic theologian and political thinker, "Richard John Neuhaus and his colleagues to confront the ideology of secularism". It would be a journal that would be placed within the 'conservative' spectrum (though Neuhaus himself, as did Pope Benedict, started out of a more liberal turn of mind). It is a journal that, though I happily disagree with virtually everything it stands for, I have always admired for the rigour of its argumentation and (usually) its perceived courtesy.

So I was rather taken aback first by the tone of Mullarkey's contribution. I might be tempted to say that it showed deep disrespect to the person of the Holy Father except, in truth, it simply showed a fundamental disrespect to any person whatsoever.

It managed to describe Pope Francis as both as an ideologue and as a meddlesome egotist. This charge was in relationship to his (unspecified) interventions on the Middle East and the Vatican's actions to support President Obama's steps to soften the embargo on Cuba and improve relations. Both spheres you might assume the Pope (of whatever moral calibre) might have a legitimate interest - Christians are suffering unparalleled persecution in the Middle East and one of the tasks of the Church is to promote reconciliation, one that arguably might improve the lot of ordinary Cubans. You may disagree with any or all of the Church's statements (and actions) in both spheres, but to assume they are simply generated by a the moral failings (unsubstantiated) of the present Pope is nonsense. Pope Benedict spoke regularly of the situation in the Middle East, Pope John Paul II went to Cuba. Were they too simply meddlesome egotists?

But then its 'arguments' (and I use the term loosely) were so incoherent that I could not imagine they would pass muster on the website of such a usually serious journal.

Here is an example of her style:

"Later this year, Francis will take his sandwich board to the United Nations General Assembly, that beacon of progress toward the Kingdom. Next will come a summit of world religions—a sort of Green Assisi—organized to lend moral luster to an upcoming confederacy of world improvers in Paris. In the words of Bishop Marcelo Sorondo, chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Francis means “to make all people aware of the state of our climate and the tragedy of social exclusion.”

There is a muddle for you. The bishop asserts a causal relation between two undefined, imprecise phenomena. His phrasing is a sober-sounding rhetorical dodge that eludes argument because the meaning is indeterminable. Ambiguity, like nonsense, is irrefutable. What caliber of scientist speaks this way?"

I doubt whether Pope Francis has a sandwich board and I expect the United Nations, despite its many faults, has indeed made a net contribution to the Kingdom as envisaged in Matthew 25. Meanwhile the 'confederacy of world improvers' in Paris are, in fact, the representatives of sovereign states discussing a global treaty that may make a contribution to our ability to meet one of the first imperatives laid on human beings in the Bible namely to act as stewards of creation; and, finally, it is perfectly obvious to anyone cognisant of current debates on climate adaptation and mitigation what the Bishop means namely that the burden of climate change will fall on the societies least equipped to cope and that there ought to be a solidarity betwixt countries with resources and those without. Solidarity being one of the key dimensions of Catholic Social teaching.

And so on and so forth...

But it is the tone that distresses ultimately...why cannot one simply express why it is one disagrees with the Pope, or with the Vatican's policy or indeed with the evidence on climate change? What I would expect from First Things is argument, indeed I would expect it to follow Aquinas' precept that you even strengthen your adversary's argument the better to refute it. And their argument, not their person.


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