Laudato Si: What's Missing, What's Not

06/22/2015 02:52 pm ET | Updated Jun 21, 2016
Franco Origlia via Getty Images

Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si, released a few days ago, certainly has stirred a great deal of comment, much of it negative. Consider, for example, the New York Times' columnist Ross Douthat's response. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

The "letter" is huge, with 246 paragraphs divided among six chapters. The Pope fights on two interrelated fronts, ecological degradation and economic injustice. He proceeds from a very detailed description of the situation of humanity on our planet that is unrelentingly grim, to a bright hopeful promise that real change can happen. It will be very widely read, and due to the weight of the Roman Church's one billion Christians, and their leader's popularity, Laudato si will make an impact politically as well as upon the major environmental and economic debates of our time.

Pope Francis' encyclical pulls no punches: in fact, he throws quite a few. "Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions (paragraph 14)." "The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation (48)." "There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected (54)." Over and over, he relates the suffering of the poor, excluded from the benefits of the economy and made to bear the greatest burdens of environmental degradation, to the damage we do to our planet. And he names the political, financial and corporate interests that collude together to maintain the status quo.

Humanity lives in "a constant schizophrenia, wherein a technocracy which sees no intrinsic value in lesser beings coexists with the other extreme, which sees no special value in human beings. But one cannot prescind from humanity. There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself. There can be no ecology without an adequate anthropology (118)." Francis then contrasts this diagnosis with a very clear statement of the relevance of Christian faith -- and the faithful -- that offers hope for lasting change.

There's a lot to like in Laudato si. I especially appreciate the lengthy reference to "the green Patriarch", Bartholemew I, leader of the Eastern Orthodox Churches (8,9). And of course the figure of Francis of Assisi recurs throughout the document, taking inspiration from the saint's central insight of a radical "refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled (11)."

The question for me is whether humanity can get past the bluster of the world of finance as well as climate-change deniers. It is plain as the nose on your face, Gentle Reader, that we still have no economic science that can help us avoid another crisis like 2008, or even 1929, never mind build economies that provide for all. And farmers around the world know very well that the climate is changing. I mean, they're making good wine in England, for crying out loud.

Throughout the long document, allusion is made to economics, but without a call for a real science of economics. This science would proceed from hard data but add human meanings as well (Macroeconomic Dynamics, page 105). The fact is that the Roman Catholic Church has itself the academic resources -- and can call upon a lot more from the rest of us Christians, as well as others -- to promote the development of a real science of the economy. I have written about one approach to this basic and urgent need. There must be a great deal more effort poured into the search for that science. This is what I missed in Laudato si.

But by all means, Gentle Reader, take up and read! And then think. Pray, then act.