Cleansing Fire

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Laudato Si — Pantheistic Overtones? or Not? — Part III

July 12th, 2015, Promulgated by Diane Harris

It is the big and underlying question: “Is Environmentalism the Road to creating ‘One World Religion?’”  And is Syncretism the Portal through which it will pass?  The achievement of “World Peace” has often been equated, at least implicitly, as humans’ embracing a single religion, hence valuing the same things and despising the same things, so that no differences exist which divide people or lead to wars.

The impossibility of achieving such a goal of world peace was made clear by Christ:  “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet.”  (Matt 24:6). But even such divine statement does not dissuade some proponents from pursuing a fantasy of behavior modification to unite the world in a Utopian Theology, appearing over the ages under different forms, and in more recent times as Communism, Socialism, Aryanism, Racism, Liberationism, Capitalism, and dozens of other ‘isms’ and now, seemingly at least in some aspects, Environmentalism.  Of all the human-created ideologies, over thousands of years, there is perhaps none so dangerous to individual souls as environmentalism morphed into pantheism leading to selected worship of parts of the environment (The Old Testament is rife with examples).  And there is no Xtreme Environmentalism so dangerous as that which is foisted by religious leaders as de facto “religion.”  Pantheism (that God is ‘in’ everything, or God ‘is’ everything), easily is transformed to worship of any and all that is claimed to be the presence of God, i.e. idolatry, all under the name of ‘tolerance’.  But make no mistake, ‘One World Religion’ means no religion at all.

Discussion Plan

  1. Today’s post will deal just with the first part, the claim that God is (or is ‘in’) every aspect of the natural world, and whether or not a Neo-Pantheism is emerging.
  2. The next post will deal with the idolatrous aspect, by which the Chosen People so offended their God, repeatedly, in the high groves and even in the temple recesses.
  3. A further post will deal with Syncretism, i.e. appending aspects of “environmental religion” to true religion.
  4. A future post will look at the supposition of global warming (climate change) as the cover excuse under which we are urged forward onto a potentially dangerous, allegedly urgent path, i.e. driving the human community to act, and to act now, at the expense of much else that is truly needed for the good of souls.
  5. Other posts will address the sustainability content of the Encyclical, and conclusions about tone, infallibility and related matters.

It will be necessary to refer more to Sacred Scripture than Laudato Si did, not to presume to teach but to show points of discomfort with a number of the propositions offered in Laudato Si, or to provide a framework for further consideration.  I was shocked at how quickly and thoroughly the Encyclical supported such spurious and grossly unproven theories as climate change, and was reminded of Pope Urban VIII’s enthusiastic embrace of geocentrism, much to the eventual shame and embarrassment of the Catholic Church (more in a later post.)  One might even ask if Laudato Si isn’t, in its own evangelism, a new kind of geocentrism.

The physical world was created to serve humans, not humans to serve the environment

The history of mankind, as recorded in Sacred Scripture and in the fragments of the earth’s own archeological record, provides relevant exegesis.  In Genesis 1:26, God proclaims:  “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”  Note that nothing else, in whole or in part, is referred to as being in God’s image, thus setting the priority of humans over the rest of creation.  In Genesis 2:19-20, before the fall of the first parents, Adam is invited to exercise his precedence over the animals by naming them, an act of ownership.  Then, in Genesis Chapter 9: 2-3, Noah is given full stewardship of creation with a few specific conditions, (in sequence, just before he is given the right to exercise capital punishment.)  “The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the air, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered.  Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.”  And, so, all of nature is owned, named, and used, yet with alienation, which flows in consequence from the injured relationship between its Creator and His People, between His People and each other, and between the human race and the rest of creation.

Several statements from Pope Francis in Laudato Si raise some discomfort

The most startling statement, in paragraph #160, was previously mentioned, but is shown again here to give context to other issues which may have, to some readers, a pantheistic aroma.  It makes a particularly demonstrable point regarding serving the created rather than the Creator, one of questionable anthropomorphism, and also, perhaps, confusing language.  (Again,  there could be some translation issues.)

“It is no longer enough, then, simply to state that we should be concerned for future generations.  We need to see that what is at stake is our own dignity.  Leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is,  first and foremost, up to us. The issue is one which dramatically affects us, for it has to do with the ultimate meaning of our earthly sojourn.” #160

“All creatures are moving forward with us and through us towards a common point of arrival, which is God, in that transcendent fullness where the risen Christ embraces and illumines all things.  Human beings … are called to lead all creatures back to their Creator.”  (#83)

“… nature as a whole not only manifests God but is also a locus of his presence.  The Spirit of life dwells in every living creature and calls us to enter into relationship with him.   Discovering this presence leads us to cultivate the “ecological virtues.” (#88)

“Human beings and material objects no longer extend a friendly hand to one another; the relationship has become confrontational.” (#106)

“A correct relationship with the created world demands that we not weaken this social dimension of openness to others, much less the transcendent dimension of our openness to the “Thou” of God.  Otherwise it would be nothing more than romantic individualism dressed up in ecological garb, locking us into a stifling immanence.” (#119)

“… the practical relativism typical of our age is even more dangerous than doctrinal relativism.” (#122)

“An integral ecology includes … contemplating the Creator who lives among us and surrounds us, whose presence ‘must not be contrived but found, uncovered.’ (#225)

Humans have stewardship of creation, but we are neither objects to be controlled, nor the Controller

Human power is not absolute; God gives conditions and He, Himself, deigns to intervene as He chooses, with or without the cooperation of humans, as in preserving creation aboard Noah’s Ark, or through those set aside for His service to convey the Law and to serve His Own Holy Presence in the Ark of the Covenant.  Of course, His ultimate intervention is the Son of God’s entrance into human history, from Manger to Cross to Resurrection.  God has not abandoned His work; we are His work.  All creation is His work.  The environment serves the work of God.  And the Hand of God frequently uses, or at least permits, His Presence and Power to be manifested through the environment, especially through weather and climate, power He has not hitherto shared with humans (nor seems in any scriptural reference to be planning to do so.)  Weather in particular is a way in which God reminds us that He is God.  We are cautioned to deal with it.

God warns us, e.g., in Luke 6:48 that to act on His words, is to be “…like a man building a house, who dug deep, and laid the foundation upon rock; and when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it had been well built,”   The metaphorical analogy is instantly recognizable as that which is out of humankind’s hands.  The Bible, Old and New Testaments, is replete with such demonstrations of God’s power through wind and rain, earthquakes, droughts and floods.  Nowhere is that power given into the hands of the human race, except under God’s strict scrutiny and direction. 

And nature is used by God for His own purposes, whether it involves thousands of years of animal sacrifice, or a demonstration of His power in the dry-shod crossing of the Red Sea or, in the New Testament, when Christ calms storms upon the Sea of Galilee, or drives about 2000 demon-infested swine over a cliff to their drowning, to illustrate the reality of demon possession (Mark 5:1-20). Even in Ancient Egypt the prophecy of seven fat years and seven lean years called for stewardship in the management of storehouses for the protection of life.  Weather has cycles, within and beyond human lifetimes.  Christ Himself, in calming the storm and the waters (Mark, 4:36-41), made that event a matter of Faith, not a matter of human control and, by implication, the need for Faith in all the storms of life, ‘weather or not.”’

One interpretation of John 3: 7-9 is that Nicodemus is taken to task for not acknowledging that God is the One Who makes the weather happen, and if we don’t understand that about weather, how will we understand anything else being under God’s power?   “The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit. Nicode’mus said to him, ‘How can this be?’  Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this?'”  For a teacher of souls not to understand even the source of power over the weather, as simple as the wind, is shocking!  Yes, indeed.

God does not bid us to try to control the weather, but rather to trust in Him.  The oldest book of the Bible, Job, brings forth the message that more is expected from people of faith, and that full understanding regarding weather and natural disaster is beyond human control; weather and climate belong to God’s direct power and to His permissive will: “But the mountain falls and crumbles away, and the rock is removed from its place; the waters wear away the stones; the torrents wash away the soil of the earth; so Thou destroyest the hope of man.” (Job 14: 18-19).  God reminds Job of man’s lack of power.

None of this is to say that humans aren’t capable of abusing the environment, or acting irresponsibly.  None of these observations in any way eliminates the ordinary need to value life, to build natural protections like sea walls, dams and dikes, to irrigate the land or derive drinking water from the sea.  And none of these observations relieves us of the need or obligation to pray always to stay in the Hands of a Loving God.

Is Neo-Pantheism at the root of climate control efforts?  Sustainability language?

Neo-Pantheism may appear more sophisticated, through machinations of cyber-analysis, space station monitoring, multi-variate calculus; i.e. the god of technology.  Such Neo-Pantheism is still evolving, and will be more identifiable in hindsight.  Pantheism includes either 1) the aspect that God is the rock, the river, the cloud and is therefore given worship out of fear, ignoring His transcendent power and majesty beyond what is of immediate need to the worshiper, or 2) that if God is so ‘accessible’ in nature, then He can be ‘managed’ or manipulated by controlling nature and our resources; i.e. that God really isn’t God at all.  The first is reminiscent of the argument that “I don’t need to go to Church on Sunday morning; I experience God on the golf course or fishing.”  The other argument is that “I don’t need God; I’m in charge of my life and I can handle it.”

Neo-pantheism may not sound like the errors of old; but there are many similarities.  Today, the edge of neo-pantheism is more canted toward trying to manipulate God, sometimes by ignoring Him, forgetting  there are still rights and powers reserved to God, and that there are still consequences for trespass.  One cannot help but notice, in the current government effort to control weather and effect climate change, a certain similarity to the megalomaniac building of the Tower of Babel, and its associated punishments.  Did the onlookers who cheered the tower builders and touted their claims suffer the same fate of division, separation and discord?  We can wonder.  It is, at least in part, our awesome inability to control weather that reminds us of the higher Power.  And, perhaps, when God does punish in kind, we might consider the possibility, as onlookers, that weather-related disasters may worsen, as both punishment and benevolent warning.

In a later post, we will consider that pantheism is particularly and strongly aligned with the modern concepts of sustainability, elevating the environment over human life, for the sake of those more “worthy” of life, in the eyes of course of those who deem themselves “worthiest.”  The gross concepts of sustainability are rife throughout the Encyclical.  If one believes (as the UN member involved apparently does) that the world can only sustain one billion people and we have 7 billion currently on the planet, there is an implicit assertion that the planet and its environment is more important than the souls God created, except for those selected as being worthy not to be culled.  There is some very dangerous territory of sustainability involved in this Encyclical, without much questioning of the assertions, and that also leaves open a door through which pantheistic principles can enter.  More in the section on sustainability.

Laudato Si Reflection

Pope Francis’s work helps to educate us that the poor often suffer the most from decisions over which they have no power, especially regarding the environment.  Somehow it begs the question whether or not rich persons are ever victims, but we’ll leave that also for a later time.   We must also stay aware that a redirection of the efforts of humankind to major environmental enhancement, especially to the weather-related, necessarily takes energy, resources and effort away from that which is more needed (preaching the Gospel, e.g., care of souls, saving babies from abortion, protecting the elderly from euthanasia).  Such redirection inevitably will focus on presumed power of changing climate, rather than on the gifts or grace of God’s favor, and can become a tyranny that expects dedication to Mother Earth rather than Father God, with the concomitant inability to serve two masters.

When I began to read the Encyclical, I had a brief uplifting mindset in the poetic prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, as he addressed all of creation in familial terms, like “Sister, Mother Earth.” (#1)  Later, those terms used without the poetry seem more focused on earth than heaven.  Continuing to read, and especially in rereading parts marked up on the first pass, there is a sense of a certain “heaviness” and oppressive tone, which recounts myriad problems, with very little optimism.  I have finally been able to identify the disconnect experienced.  Pope Francis presents himself to the world with smiles, which creates a certain favorable image.  However, in his writing, ponderous and repetitive and, at times, seeming angry, there is a distinct lack of Joy, a bold contrast to the words of St. Francis, a very different persona.  There is a sense of being in the control of a harsh world rather than in the Hands of a loving Father Who has a real interest in us and in the world He created.  I wonder if that is not at least part of the reason people have wanted to stop reading the Encyclical?

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