THE POPE’S CALL TO ACTION–MUCH THAT IS GOOD, AND SOME THAT IS LEFT OUT

By Paul M. Lewis

Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Laudato Si” (meaning “Praise be”), is a stirring reminder of the harm that human beings are doing to the environment in which we live and a call to action for us to change. In doing so, he has incurred the ire of climate change disbelievers, who claim that there is no credible evidence at all that the globe is warming, or that, if it is warming, it’s because of normal climate cycles as seen in the past, and that humans have nothing whatsoever to do with these changes. Pope Francis addresses these criticisms upfront when he says: “Numerous scientific studies indicate that the major part of global warming in recent decades is due to the high concentration of greenhouse gas…emitted above all because of human activity.”

It should be noted that the pope is speaking as a religious leader with a specific point of view, using the language of scripture and of Catholic theology, and not necessarily as a liberal politician or climate change activist. That said, it is true enough that there are times when the ideas, and even the terminology, of these various groupings may overlap and agree with one another. And this can only be for the good. An example of such a convergence is when Pope Francis talks about the grave implications of climate change. “Each year,” he points out, “sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever,” or again when he says that access to safe drinkable water is “ a basic human right.” These are areas of concurrence wherein politicians (most, at any rate), scientists, and climate activists can readily agree with the leader of the Catholic Church. Even so, it’s worth noting the essential anthropocentric nature of the pope’s statements. Animals are presented as creatures that humans will or will not see, not as creatures with their own right to live and prosper apart from human concerns, and water is a thing for human consumption. This may sound like mere quibbling within the larger context of the aims of such an important encyclical and the ultimate good it may bring about, but it does shed some light on a particular point of view. Humans may be the source of the problem, and of the solution, but they are nonetheless still very much at the center of things.

The major environmental argument used by the pontiff, the encasement in which it is packaged, is essentially a moral one. This fits in quite well with the general themes of his papacy, namely, care for the poor and dispossessed and respect for life. He points out time and again in the encyclical that those most affected by the disastrous warming of the globe, initially so at least, are those who live on the margins of society, those who do not have the time, the money, or the resources to work on mitigating the ill effects that will come, in ways that the more affluent of the globe might be able to deflect (again, at least until things get to the point where even the rich are overwhelmed). He castigates—rightly so—the selfishness and greediness of human beings in wanting more and more, far beyond what is needed even for what might be called a normally comfortable life, and for living in bubbles of technology that ever increasingly cut us off from most of the natural world. And as such, although it may not be easy, he urges us to make changes in how we live and in the amount we consume: “Every effort to protect and improve our world entails profound changes in lifestyles, models of production and consumption, and the established structures of power which today govern societies.”

The ethos of the modern world, in general, comes in for blistering criticism. There is, the pope tells us, an ever-increasing desire on the part of human beings for instant gratification, and a growing self-obsession that always puts the individual first, not just before other people, but well in front of any other living creature. He blames this on the excesses of individualism, and on the insistence that the “I” must always come before the “we.” Happiness is too often seen as depending almost entirely on the fulfillment of one’s own needs and desires, rather than on any kind of open and sharing inclusion in the collective. I have no quarrel with any of this. I also believe that we humans have far too often overshot the boundaries of our own impulses and cravings. The world, as a result, can no longer sustain the growing demands of individuals who are inordinately and unhealthily interested in acquiring more and more, in order to feel as though they are full and complete.

But what I do hold issue with in regard to the pope’s environmental declamation is what he leaves out. Nothing is said in the encyclical, for example, suggesting a cutting back on the consumption of meat, which would immediately decrease the number of animals raised for human consumption. Not only are current practices unsustainable at present rates in terms of how to feed these animals (in general, it takes 20 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of edible beef), but it also does not address the enormous problem of the emission of methane from animal waste. Estimates at the lower end of the range suggest that livestock account for a minimum of 18% of global greenhouse gas. Some experts put that estimate far higher—at close to 50%. And don’t forget that methane has 23 times the global warming potential of CO2.

Even more importantly, the pontiff omits any mention of the overwhelmingly devastating effects that the sheer numbers of people have on global ecosystems. Nowhere in “Laudato Si” do we read that it is time for humans to have fewer children. Nor does the pope say a word about the Church’s continued emphasis on banning all forms of artificial birth control, or indeed, on its unyielding insistence that such methods are outrightly sinful. How can he in good conscience leave out such an obviously crucial component in a rational, and even a moral, effort to argue against the human-induced warming of the globe? The world currently has 7.3 billion people in it. Realistic projections regarding growth put the global population at 9.6 billion by 2050, and at somewhere between 11 and 12 billion by the end of the century. How, in anyone’s calculations, can it be said that this squares with the “basic human right” for drinkable water, or for the “thousands of plant and animal species” which our children will never see? Are uncontrolled rates of birth not their own kind of excessive human self-centeredness?

Clearly, this is an important omission, as it obviously does not align well with Catholic doctrine or belief. And yet, in spite of such an extremely unfortunate exclusion, we must pleased with what the pope has said. Very few global leaders have taken on this vital issue as head on as he has, and he is to be congratulated and thanked for doing so. We can only hope that the moral authority of his person and his position will bring about an open and honest dialog regarding what we need to do and the changes that must be made. The poor surely are at greatest immediate risk, to say nothing of the creatures of the earth who have every bit as much a right to live and prosper as do humans. But beyond that, all life—human and non-human alike, that of the rich as much as that of the poor—is potentially threatened. As the pope aptly concludes: “Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age. But we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.”

This has been said before, but perhaps never more forcefully, or with such moral authority. The pope is right. Now, not later, is the time to act.

JUNIPERO SERRA, A MAN OF HIS TIMES

By Paul M. Lewis

The controversy over whether Junípero Serra ought to be made a saint is not particularly new. But it has gained traction of late because of Pope Francis’s declared intention to perform the canonization ceremony while visiting the United States this coming September. In a recent speech delivered in Rome, the pontiff is quoted as noting that Serra “ushered in a new springtime of evangelization in those immense territories, extending from Florida to California,” and that Father Serra defended “indigenous people against abuses by the colonizers.”

Questions of papal assertion aside, the basic issue really seems to be: Was Serra a saint, or was he a perpetrator of genocide, as he has more than once been accused of? To an extent, the answer depends on whether you believe he ought to be judged by 21st century standards, or solely by those of the 18th century. Most Christians of the time—Catholics in particular—believed it was their duty to spread the gospel and to convert heathens to the “true faith.” Any other belief system was seen not only as inferior to Christianity, but as false, evil, and outright diabolical. Pagans in particular—indigenous peoples—were especially in need of salvation. Those who died while still believing in the tenets of their religions were assured of going to hell for all eternity. Only baptized Catholics had any hope of getting into heaven. In addition, indigenous peoples were seen as children in need of a firm hand to guide them to Christian adulthood, a state in which they would then leave behind their old ways and recognize the superiority of European mores and culture.

In those years, it was a given that missionary work led to the greater good—spiritual, intellectual, cultural, even physical, emotional, and psychological—of those who were evangelized. It was seen as a way of raising people up from ignorance and allowing them to perceive the light.

That this light came at a huge price to indigenous peoples bothered the evangelizers not at all. So little value was placed on their religions, their languages, their whole cultures that Europeans never even considered that something irreplaceable was being lost. And if Indian lives had to be sacrificed in the process, well, those who died merely “went to heaven more quickly,” as the French Jesuit, Honoré Laval, who created a “settlement of God” among the Gambier islanders in the South Pacific a century and a half after Serra came to California, so arrogantly put it.

The question really ought to be, why should Serra not be judged in 21st century terms? After all, he is being held up today for special praise, as someone who should be emulated by those of us living in 2015, and in particular (or so the pope asserted) by Latinos. Why otherwise canonize him at all? And here’s an analogy to consider: Just as lawyers can cross-examine witnesses in a trial on a particular topic, if that topic has previously been brought up by the opposing side, so it seems fair to say that the style and content of missionary work done in the past can now legitimately be examined, since it has been raised by our contemporaries wishing to canonize Father Serra. If he is to be considered a role model for people today, it is also perfectly relevant to know how exactly he conducted himself in his life, so as to understand what about that life people should emulate. Seen from this point of view, however, Junípero Serra’s life appears to be less worthy of imitation.

Many modern Indians hold him up as a prime example of oppression (if not of genocide), and as someone who disrespected and denigrated their ancestral cultures. He’s seen as a perpetrator of acts of overwhelming arrogance, puffed-up pride, and conceit. Many even believe that most Amerindians would not have readily converted to Christianity, if it were not forced upon them by a hostile aggressor who came at them with far greater military and technological prowess. The image of peaceful Indians living in the shadow of the majestic California mission buildings, happily tilling the fields, or sitting and listening to benevolent brown-robed friars preaching to them about the Christ child is not just a fantasy, it amounts to a deliberate reimagining of history. There is little doubt that Indian labor was not offered freely, but extorted from them by force. It may be true, as some historians (and popes) claim, that Serra did protect Indian peoples from even worse treatment at the hands of colonial overlords. But the fact remains that the Catholic Church condoned and encouraged the expansion of European power in the New World (new to whom?), and that missionaries like Serra benefited from the military protection of these occupiers, who imposed their own will upon subjected native peoples.

The invasion of the Americas by Europeans was devastating and utterly catastrophic to the cultures, the religions, indeed, to the very lives of those people already living on this continent. Never mind that they had been here for a minimum of ten thousand years, that they had built very successful societies of their own, and that they were quite happy without the “guiding hand” of European paternalism. All this meant nothing to the invaders. Neither is anyone saying that the Indians of the time were perfect. They warred against each other, and sometimes they killed one another, just as every other human population did in any other part of the world. Some anthropologists even believe that ancestral Amerindians may have been responsible for the killing off of whole species of animals, such as mastodons, saber toothed tigers, and short-faced bears. In other words, they were full-fledged human beings, with all of the wonders and all of the flaws each of us has.

What they were not, however, were children in need of guidance, heathens who had to be saved, or sub-humans who had to be shown how to become civilized people. The pope has the right to do as he wishes. He can make as many saints as he likes, and people can celebrate them if they want to. But Junípero Serra was a man of his times, and those times have changed—I am glad to say, for the better. He is now dead and buried, along with the values of the era he so well represented. We are no longer in need of sainted role models from bygone days when one race, one religion, forced its way, lording it over another. If Francis wants to give us a saint to model our lives on, why not instead find one who resonates better with the needs and the understanding of the time we live in? Someone, at very least, who can be seen as respecting, honoring, and celebrating the good, the positive, and the human in all of us?

“HEALING EARTH PAIN THROUGH THE ARTS” – an interactive creativity workshop

Earth Day Weekend, Saturday, April 20, 2013 – 10 am to 12:30 in the sanctuary (Coffee downstairs at 9:30 am)

 Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster, 328 W. Orange St. Lancaster, PA 17603 (This event is sponsored by HIVE of Planet-Loving Activity — See our Facebook page)

FREE – Bring an object of nature (leaf, feather, bone, flower, etc.) to use during the event.

Miller The Flood finished full canvas March 10 2013 photos 006[1]

“The Flood,” Kevin L. Miller, 52” x 52” oil on canvas will be shown for the first time in public

  •  Jerry Lee Miller will emcee and speak.
  • Kevin Miller will show “The Flood” and 8 to 12 other large works of art. There will be a discussion about healing and transformation through creative action and the arts.
  • Streetbeets will perform, including Paul Montigny, Tom Tucker, Kati “Kanga” Gruber, and Jerry Lee Miller.
  • Christi Hoover Seidel will read her poetry.
  • Kesse Humphreys will offer a performance art piece.
  • There will be opportunities for silent reflection, singing, moving, writing, and group participation and discussion.

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Detail from the lower left corner of “The Flood,” Kevin L. Miller, oil on canvas, 2013

Some of the topics covered in the workshop may include:

Bill McKibben’s Terrifying New Math

  • 2 degrees Celsius is the maximum warming the Earth can sustain. We’re nearly halfway there including inertial rise.
  • 565 Gigatons of CO2 release is the maximum the Earth can handle from 2012 to 2050.  We will reach that level in 15 years by 2028 at our current rates of carbon extraction and use.
  • 2,795 Gigatons of CO2 are in the process of being released from proven oil, gas, and coal reserves that fossil fuel companies and fuel-rich countries have already promised to develop.

Allen Miller Deep Woods 3x4ft March 12 2011 IMGP3146

“Deep Woods” Kevin Miller & Robert Allen, 3 x 4 ft acrylic on canvas (signed “Allen Miller”) 

How Will Climate Change Affect Planet Earth? (from the World Bank’s Potsdam Report on Climate Change — “Turn Down the Heat”) 

  • CO2 Increase:  Current CO2 levels are higher than at any time in the past 15 million years and rising rapidly. 
  • Global Warming: At a time when the Earth should naturally be cooling, it is warming faster than at any time since the last ice age. 
  • Ocean Acidification: As CO2 dissolves in the oceans, acidification adversely affects marine life and coral reefs.
  • Sea Levels Rise: Even if warming is below 2 degrees C, sea levels will rise 1.5 – 4 meters by 2300 causing coastal inundation and loss around the world. 
  • Wetter Atmosphere: Earth’s atmosphere is holding much more moisture now, causing more severe storms. 
  • Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Super-storms: Extreme weather events like Hurricane Katrina and Super-storm Sandy are becoming more common. 
  • Fire Transforms the Ecosystem: We have already seen massive fires in the U.S. Southwest. In Amazonia, forest fires could double by 2050 with current warming trends. 
  • Sudden Changes: Antarctic ice sheet disintegration would lead to rapid sea level rise. Rapid Amazon forest dieback would lead to drastic wider ecosystem damage. 
  • Cascade Effects: Key failures would lead to disastrous regional events.

Miller Woodland Spirits 4x4ft Sept 9 2010 IMGP2225

“Woodland Spirits,” Kevin L. Miller, acrylic on canvas, 2010 

How Will Climate Change Affect People and Animals? (from the World Bank’s Potsdam Report on Climate Change — “Turn Down the Heat”) 

  • Extreme Heat: There is a ten-fold increase in areas with extreme heat since the 1950s. The 2010 Russian heat wave left 55,000 dead, 25% crop failure, and a hundred million acres burned. 
  • Risks to Human Support Systems: The Potsdam Report “identifies a number of extremely severe risks for vital human support systems,” including water scarcity, flooding, drought, wildfires, transformed ecosystems, forest dieback, and “large-scale loss of biodiversity.” 
  • Adverse Health Effects: Extreme weather events will cause injuries and deaths. Epidemic diseases and allergies are expected, as well as respiratory, heart and blood disorders caused by heat-amplified smog levels.

2OL The Corn is Dead... Whats Next ART

“The Corn Is Dead… What’s Next?” Kevin’s digital illustration for TwoOldLiberals.com

How Will Climate Change Affect Our Food Production and Supply? 

  • Agricultural Food Security Disruption: As temperatures approach and surpass 2 degrees C, food security will be undermined by extreme heat, drought, floods, invading insects, diseases and sea-level rise in low-lying delta areas (Bangladesh, Egypt, Vietnam, Africa, etc.) Agricultural disruption will lead to nutritional deficits. 
  • US Agricultural Disruption: The 2012 US drought has already caused widespread crop failure throughout the Midwest.

HIVE photo Eco Anxiety poster

“Eco-Anxiety” rapid image poster by Kevin L. Miller for HIVE of Planet-Loving Activity 

How Will Climate Change Affect Our Psychological and Spiritual Health? 

Most of us experience some or all of these Seven Stages of “Eco-Anxiety” in our efforts to cope with Earth Pain. They occur in no particular order and are often repeated: 

  • Denial: Many people experience at least some period of denial, even if it is only a failure to hear current realities. 
  • Fear: You are not paranoid. Climate change is happening, and it is truly frightening. You are not imagining it. How can we face our fears and move on constructively? 
  • Depression: It would be unnatural NOT to experience some despondency after realizing that the Earth and all life are in serious peril. How can we continually process our depression and remain productive? 
  • Guilt: We are all complicit in the human activities that  have caused climate change, and many of us feel guilt. How can we forgive ourselves and save the world? 
  • Anger: What could be more natural than feeling rage when we truly realize that all life on Earth could end? How can we harness our anger for constructive action? 
  • Grief: Periods of weeping and wailing on the floor or on our knees may be appropriate and necessary. How can we transform our grief into creative action? 
  • Action: We can transform the six states above into joy, hope and fulfillment when we take creative action on behalf of the Earth based on our ability, interest, and willingness.

Miller Global Warming Apocalypse March 2012 color art final

“Global Warming Apocalypse,” digital art by Kevin L. Miller, 2013 

Four Questions That Help Us Move Toward Creative Action 

  1. What CAN I do? – We can all list a lot of things that might be possible for us to do to arrest and reverse climate change and to raise awareness about it. 
  2. How the HELL should I know? – If we are to approach this monumental task with some degree of good humor and humility, it would be advisable to start by admitting that we don’t know what to do. We are making it up as we go along. 
  3. What am I WILLING to do? – There may be many things that we could do, but we will be most effective pursuing those things that we are so willing to do that we actually feel real motivation and passion to act. 
  4. What am I QUALIFIED to do? – On the short list of things that we can do and are willing to do, which ones are we most qualified to do? Do we have some training or background in certain kinds of skills that could be useful in helping to save the world? Can you build an electric car? Are you a good letter-writer? Are you an experienced public speaker? Do you know how to plant trees?

2OL Utopia with Stinky and Squeak March 2013

“Stinky and Squeak in Utopia,” digital art by Kevin L. Miller, 2013

Uniting People of Diverse Perspectives for Creative Solutions and Action 

Earth’s climate is warming rapidly and approaching the point of no return. Now is the time for people of diverse perspectives from every point on the political, socio-economic, and religious-cultural spectrums to unite for the purpose of innovation and action on creative solutions to preserve Earth as a habitable planet for future generations. In order to do this, we will all need to be willing to venture outside of our comfort zones to work with people we do not usually associate with, and to tolerate and even respect their points of view. 

Pope Francis expressed it eloquently during his inauguration homily on March 19, 2013, when he talked about the true meaning of the Christian vocation: 

“… It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the world… It means protecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live…” 

“Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: Let us be ‘protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world!” 

Jerry Lee Miller and the other artists and I hope you can join us for “Healing Earth Pain Through the Arts” on April 20, 2013, 10 am to 12:30 (9:30 for coffee) at Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster, 328 W. Orange St., Lancaster, PA 17603. Yours, – Kevin