A few events the last couple weeks have led me to today’s reflection. Primarily, the fact that the Vatican has announced that Pope Francis will be releasing his second Encyclical later this month and that the topic of this papal document is the ecology. Add to that, the incredible response the news has garnered from both people inside, as well as outside the Church. Indeed, I don’t think any encyclical ever has had so much buzz surrounding it.
Last week I had a conversation with philosopher, Michael Augros, author of Who Designed the Designer (tune in to my conversation with Michael on the SLHour next weekend). In the book, Michael argues that he can prove the existence of God. He then proceeds to make his philosophical argument. But what really stayed with me (and this is nothing new, but it’s always amazing how we can listen to something so many times and then one day it really strikes us) is the fact that he said that our quest to prove the existence of God begins not with big philosophical questions or plumbing deep into questions of matter, mathematics or physics (although we get to those in time), but rather with creation around us. All we have to do is look at the universe around us – the universe that we can know – in order to begin our journey. And because we can all know the universe around us, it is a journey anyone can undertake.
This same idea was shared to me by Dr. John Hittinger, another philosopher and professor at the University of St. Thomas in Houston as we worked on our new upcoming series Creation. I believe John said to me that it was St. Thomas Aquinas who taught that we begin our scientific or natural quest for God by looking at the world around us. I guess this is the notion that is expressed so beautifully in Psalm 19: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.”
Lastly, this week I heard a program on CBC Radio’s Ideas on scientific thought. Apparently, it was argued in the program, scientific thought was advanced by the likes of Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon and John Locke by the idea that anyone can know Truth. Truth is knowable by anyone, because anyone can experience the world around us and ask questions. We know that two plus two is four, because we can see that when we take two apples and put them next to another set of apples, there are now four. We can also know more complicated truths through more complex experiments that involve the same kind of simple intuition. Lastly we can know by our senses. This, John Locke argued is the most unreliable way since we can be easily misled by our senses.
All of this came together for me because for the last 5 years I have been working on the above-mentioned six-part documentary series, Creation that looks at what the Catholic Church has to say about ecology. Our first episode begins with looking at the world around us: the sense of wonder.
“What could a pope possibly have to say about ecology?” some have asked. “Leave science to the scientists” others have said. But the Holy Father is not writing a scientific document. This encyclical is not about climate change or about energy. This encyclical will more likely be about social justice and life issues than it will be directly about the science of global warming.
How we relate to our environment is ultimately a moral issue. Questions of waste management, agriculture, water shortages and contamination are just as important as any other social justice or human rights issue. In fact, what the Church teaches about ecological issues is the same as her teachings about social justice, economics and human rights issues, issues of human dignity and solidarity and in particular our preferential option for the poor. This is what I will call (and I’m sure the Pope will too) “integral ecology”.
That has been my personal journey with Creation. We began by asking the question, “Why should we care for the environment?” By asking the right questions (we hope) and being honest with the answers, we arrived at what I believe is the right approach (the integral approach) to all ecological issues.
This approach doesn’t say that we should or shouldn’t minimise our waste (necessarily) or that we should or shouldn’t use less energy or stop fracking or even get rid of all landfill. It is the approach that lives in the tension of the natural and human ecology. It is the approach that tries to ask the deeper questions and arrive at the fundamentals. It is the approach that strives to arrive at the universal and objective Truth.
It is also the approach that says that, “God saw that it was good” (see Genesis 1); that “God so loved the world” (John 3:16) and that all creation is groaning, waiting for redemption (see Romans 8:19-22); It is the approach that looks at the universe around us as creation and does not look at this created world from a functional point of view – but a sacramental point of view. It is the approach of St. Francis and St. Bonaventure; the approach of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Gregory of Nyssa. It is the approach of Popes Leo XIII, Pius XI, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It is probably also going to be the approach of Pope Francis. That is the approach of the Catholic Church. It is the approach that requires simply the ability to look at the world around us with a sense of wonder.
Stay tuned for more on Creation as we await the coming of Pope Francis’ encyclical and the premiere of our first episode of Creation: Sense of Wonder, at 8:30pm ET on June 16, 2015.
For more thoughts on second-guessing what the Encyclical will be about, read Cardinal Peter Turkson’s Trócaire 2015 Lenten Lecture, given at Saint Patrick’s Pontifical University, in Maynooth, Ireland this past March.
Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: