THE BLOG

The Pope and I (Are Having a Complicated Weekend)

06/21/2015 03:13 pm ET | Updated Jun 21, 2016
ALBERTO PIZZOLI via Getty Images

I spent a day reading Pope Francis's encyclical on climate, the environment, and human responsibility, Laudato Si, while watching my liberal Internet explode with enthusiasm and conservative recoil. After sleeping on it, I did the Very Protestant Thing of listing my agreements and disagreements. I suspect I'm not the only progressive with this mix of responses.

The Pope and I agree on many things.

  • We agree that economic growth does not solve all problems, and that it creates some.

  • That the real question about an economy is what lives, relationships, and work are possible within it.
  • That we use ourselves up in getting and spending, even in getting and spending experiences. That this is waste.
  • That the real work is to be open to others, especially the strange and inconvenient. That this is very, very hard.
  • That the natural world is part of all of this.
  • That the world's beauty is a sign of its goodness. That its value is deeper and broader than our convenience.
  • That we should make the places we live beautiful, open to the world, and serving to relationships.
  • That there is a difference between working hand in hand with the natural world and dominating it, and that we should work hand in hand with it, as we should with one another.
  • That the best way to these goals is not for each to get as rich as possible, and maybe give it away in old age. That the world is too small for that, time is too short, and we have better things in us.
  • The Pope and I disagree on many things.

    • I don't think that, without the backstop of God, we can only become selfish, insatiable, and trapped in ourselves. That is, I don't think climate change is a crisis of secularism.

  • I don't think that women's choice is a symptom of our selfishness.
  • I believe that much of the equality, cooperation, and love of the world that the Pope voices comes from the experiments of free people, often radical, scorned, and resisted, and that he is adapting to these values, not creating them. Maybe one day women's equality and choice will also change his church.
  • I don't think the world -- what the Pope calls creation -- contains a blueprint for its own right use. I think we have to find that ourselves, in ethics, aesthetics, and politics
  • At base, I am uneasy when anyone's high priest tells the world what should concern it most.

    But I take what the Pope says as ethics, aesthetics, and politics, clothed in theology.

    And he takes what people like me say as spilled theology, ethics that doesn't know it needs God.

    In 500 years, I hope the world will be green and full of equals, that new forms of cooperation will have come, and that love will be pretty much the only law. There will be no priests, just elders, teachers, friends, and wise advisers.

    The Pope's future is different, but we want to move in the same direction out of this particular dark patch of time.

    And, although the disagreements concern "philosophical" questions, they will not have theoretical answers, only historical ones. Time will tell.

    The Pope and I agree, as he says more than once in his encyclical, that "Realities are greater than ideas."

    Here's to the uncertain future of this one.