Is the Catholic Church drifting into eco-spirituality?

"Messianic environmentalism is about to assume the status of dogma in Pope Francis’ looming encyclical"
Catholic nuns plant trees in a field, symbolizing a deforested area, during a program marking World Environment Day in Manila, Philippines, June 5. (CNS photo/Romeo Ranoco, Reuters) (June 5, 2007)

Catholic nuns plant trees in a field, symbolizing a deforested area, during a program marking World Environment Day in Manila, Philippines, June 5, 2007. (CNS photo/Romeo Ranoco, Reuters) 

The following is a May 28 Federalist article by Maureen Mullarkey:

Is Catholicism on a slide into nature mysticism? It is a discomforting question for a Catholic to ask, but it bears scrutiny. Messianic environmentalism is about to assume the status of dogma in Pope Francis’ looming encyclical. Once discarding our incandescent light bulbs and biking to work become a religious obligation, it will be too late to ask the question.

The temptation to grand ideological transformations to reclaim an imagined pristine environment is not new. Francis is not the first pope to carry a green torch. John Paul II celebrated the 1990 World Day of Peace with this:

Faced with the widespread destruction of the environment, people everywhere are coming to understand that we cannot continue to use the goods of the earth as we have in the past. . . . a new ecological awareness is beginning to emerge which . . . ought to be encouraged to develop into concrete programs and initiatives.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) took the cue. Six months later, they began drafting a 16-page pastoral letter proclaiming an environmental crisis and terming it a moral crisis. “Renewing the Earth” emerged from conference in 1991, demanding urgent action “to ensure the survival of a healthy planet.” A blend of bien pensant political opinion and moral fervor, its tenor calls to mind those heady leaflets issued by the October Revolution.

The New Faith requires “a new solidarity” against ecological crisis. The masses are called upon to renounce the mailed fist of development and join the heroic struggle for “the planetary common good.” (The masses to whom the bishops address themselves are those bourgeois ones, like themselves, who read Gerard Manley Hopkins. “God’s Grandeur” is quoted in full.)

In the words of atmospheric physicist John Reid, anthropogenic global warming is “the central tenet of this new belief system in much the same way that the Resurrection is the central tenet of Christianity. . . . My skepticism about AGW arises from the fact that, as a physicist who has worked in closely related areas, I know how poor the underlying science is. In effect, the scientific method has been abandoned in this field.”

If creation and Creator are one, nature itself is sacred. Any animist could say the same.

But our shepherds know better: AGW is incontrovertible. A decadent West has imperiled the planet. The bishops repudiate “voracious consumerism of the developed world.” They reject material growth as a model of development: “Unrestrained economic growth is the not the answer to improving the lives of the poor.”

If not economic growth, then what? Answer: “an exceptional call to conversion” that will lead Christians “to find God dwelling in created things.” Straddling the orphic and the theological, the bishops hasten to add that God also surpasses all things. But a canker has dropped on the rose. The addendum does nothing to blunt the mystical assertion that God dwells in nature. And if creation and Creator are one, nature itself is sacred. Any animist could say the same.

There are risks to this seep of eco-spirituality into the Church. No one denies man’s role as steward of the world he inhabits. Assertions that Western man is oblivious or hostile to that role is a straw man. And all suggestion that the developed world is indifferent to the poor is a slur on centuries of effort to raise men above subsistence and the cruelties of the natural world. Nature is to be respected. But loved? Nature kills. We can love nature only to the degree of our control of it, our protection from it.

Nature is to be respected. But loved? Where do proclamations of nature love lead except into the eco-mysticism that installs a shrine to Gaia in Manhattan’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine? Contemporary nature piety, couched in religious phrases, is the springboard for re-sacralizing the natural world. It reverses Christianity’s historic—and life-enhancing—de-divinization of nature. It is neo-paganism by the back door.

Francis enjoins the world to protect “God’s plan as inscribed in nature.” Lovely as that sounds, what does it mean? What is the plan, including as it must mortality and all its dreaded agents? Episcopal rhapsodies about the “beauty and richness of nature [that] raises our minds and hearts to God” are reckless indulgences in the romantic myth of a once-upon-a-time harmony between pre-industrial man and his environment—one without natural disaster, disease, disfigurement, or rapacity.
In 1993, the USCCB followed its pastoral letter with an Environmental Justice Program. Its stated intention was to “motivate Catholics to a deeper reverence and respect for God’s creation” and to encourage them to address environmental problems. In other words, to become activists.

Benedict plastered the Paul VI Audience Hall with 1,000 solar panels and agreed to a carbon off-set scheme that, had it materialized, would have crowned the Vatican the world’s first carbon-neutral state.

And they have. The Catholic Climate Movement is a network of more than 100 organizations scattered across the globe laboring to “respond to climate change from a Catholic perspective.” Its stated goal is to “keep the global temperature increase below 1.5 degrees Celsius (relative to pre-industrial levels.)”

Among member groups based in the United States are: Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Climate Covenant, Pax Christi International, Franciscan Action Network, Franciscan International (NY/ Geneva), Sisters of Charity of New York, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, CatholicEcology.net, Ignatian Solidarity Network, Ignatian Volunteer Corps, Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, and the National Catholic Education Association. The list goes on.

Benedict XVI furthered John Paul’s endorsement of a push for eco-programs. Daniel Stone, writing in National Geographic in 2013, stated that one lasting legacy of Benedict XVI, dubbed the “Green Pope,” was how he steered the global debate over climate change and “made environmental awareness a key tenant of his tenure.” Benedict plastered the Paul VI Audience Hall with 1,000 solar panels and agreed to a carbon off-set scheme that, had it materialized, would have crowned the Vatican the world’s first carbon-neutral state.

Following papal lead, “environmental stewardship” has become a staple on the list of advocacy topics of national dioceses around the world. The USCCB designed a toolkit for missionizing Catholic college and university students on sustainability. The subject is too urgent to be left to local efforts. In “Caritas in Veritate” (2009), Benedict signaled his hope for a “world political authority.” This global political body—a Brussels on steroids—would dictate procedures governing multiple global issues, with particular attention to environmental ones.
Now comes Francis, advised by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences: “On climate change, there is a clear, definitive, and ineluctable ethical imperative to act.”

The science is neither clear nor definitive, and the Vatican appears to have forgotten the Lysenko affair. That was the twentieth century’s most notorious instance of the scandal—and tragedy—of politically correct science. By stacking the deck in favor of a manufactured “consensus” over the still-contested issue of man-made global warming, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences risks comparison with the ideologically driven postures of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences in the Soviet Union during the Stalin era.

Marxism thought itself to have progressed from Utopia to science. Environmentalism makes a corresponding claim for itself. Both are scaffolds for authoritarian controls and for subordinating science to the advocacy needs of politics.

Let me leave the last word with Robert B. Laughlin, Nobel Prize-winning Stanford University physicist and former research scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory: “Please remain calm: The Earth will heal itself. Climate is beyond our power to control. . . . Earth doesn’t care about governments or their legislation. You can’t find much actual global warming in present-day weather observations. Climate change is a matter of geologic time, something that the earth routinely does on its own without asking anyone’s permission or explaining itself.”

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  1. Tom Byrne says:

    Why are so many prating about an encyclical that none of us has seen? How absurd to suppose a pope would ever make solar panels or biking to work a matter of obedience under pain of sin! Or declare that Nature has certain “rights” that contravene human rights that the popes have reaffirmed again and again!

    In Catholic understanding, man is the steward of nature – neither the Owner (God) nor just a piece of furniture on the same level as a sofa or potted plant. We have the right (indeed the duty) to subdue the Earth, but not so as to destroy or imperil it. That’s all the document is likely to say.

    • Abeca Christian says:

      Exactly Tom, that is why this article is just hogwash and absurd.

    • Anonymous says:

      You are guessing as well.
      If the document by the Pope is not worded very clearly (which most of us will admit this Pope is not known for),
      it will be used by the CRS, LCWR, OBAMA, AL GORE and all kinds of left wing idiots – who want to impose anti-Catholic beliefs such as abortion, contraception, etc. etc.

      All the Pope needed to do was to quote the CCC in entirety regarding environmental matters. A whole new encyclical is not needed.

      CCC: ” 339 Each creature possesses its own particular goodness and perfection.
      For each one of the works of the “six days” it is said: “And God saw that it was good.” By the very nature of creation, material being is endowed with its own stability, truth and excellence, its own order and laws…

      • Anonymous says:

        CCC: 337 – 349. Post must have been truncated by moderator due to length.
        Read for yourselves.

    • I say we all chip in an buy Tom plane fare to Rome (round trip, naturally) and he can get this thing done right! I agree Tom, that is just what should be said but something tells me there are going to be all sorts of legalisms, whatfors and howevers dancing around the mulberry bush as a sop to the Greens, the Pinks, the Reds and Peta, not to mention the feminists and the gay lobby. Did I leave anyone out? Oh, that’s right, those of us who’ve been pretty good stewards our whole lives …don’t look for a pat on the shoulder though, friend. I would love to hear condemnation of huge private yachts, private jets, mammoth palatial estates, and all the impedimenta of the rich and famous who are always telling the rest of us to use tinier…

      • light bulbs, smaller cars and wasting water! Go get ’em Tom. heh heh
        (if only) 😉

        • Speaking of the environment, I just started using Dawn Erasing Dish foam…you put a dab of the foam on a sponge and wash your dishes, pans, etc. and rinse. It takes very little water. We have a well, so we don’t like to use a dishwasher and this is really a great water saver! Really cuts the grease on pans. Also, you can save the water and put it on your plants. If you wash your hair in the sink, it will also use alot less water…use less shampoo and it’s easier to rinse out. If you wash your hair in the shower it takes forever to get all the soap out. Everyone should be so thankful to have hot running water when most of the world does not. Wasting it is so arrogant and selfish and we all do it. God bless you and keep you…

          • Your Fellow Catholic says:

            Bless your little heart.

          • Something tells me you’re not going to use my helpful hints, YFC. I’m sure I sounded like Penny Do-Right but I’ve been that way all my life so I have to live with it…the never ending battle of virtue against temptation. It’s alot easier to save water than be a better Christian. heh

  2. You suppose it would do any good to forward this to pope@vatican.va?

    Naw, I guess not.

  3. Dave N. says:

    Since Maureen Mullarkey makes her living selling paintings of drag queens, nudes and pedophiles and thinks Gay Pride events are “marvelous spectacles”, her thoughts on religion and the environment are pretty irrelevant: http://www.maureenmullarkey.com/bodies/guise_dolls/guise_dolls.html

    • Anonymous says:

      THANK YOU!!! 🙂
      I personally think she’s full of malarkey…

      • Anyone who uses bourgeois to describe people who savor the poetry of Hopkins is someone not worthy of discussion. The minute I stumbled over that revealing phrase I stopped reading, for whoever wrote this shallow, impossibly trite persiflage deserves no more than a yawn and a pass. If this pope would concern himself more with saving souls than the environment, we wouldn’t need environmental encyclicals, for once the heart is transformed a love of our fellow creatures follows as spring comes after a hard winter. Oh, for a moment’s peace from the constant inane chatter emanating from Rome!

  4. Linda Maria says:

    I think it’s fine, that Pope Francis wants to do something good, for Nature, of which we are called by God, to be a responsible steward– but have failed a lot! However– the Pope is certainly not a true Jesuit, nor a true “Franciscan”– in the way he conducts his vocation, for Christ! St. Ignatius and St. Francis, as well as Bl. Mother Teresa, in our day– gave up the world, and all its falseness– for God! They clearly rejected the world and sin, lived simply, as ascetic monks, with true religious faith, focused solely on GOD! All the world is FALSE!! “GOD ALONE!!”

    • Anonymous says:

      Pope Francis needs to lead in putting God first, not man first.
      Salvation of Souls – remember ?

      The Church is in a mess; heretics are abound and the Pope has even invited them to be more prominent.

      • Bob One says:

        Ah, Anon, “the salvation of souls.” Whenever someone doesn’t like what a Bishop or Priest does, they urge them to concentrate on the salvation of souls. Good idea! But what does it mean? What should the Bishop or Priest do 24/7/365 to meet the high expectation. Most Priest say Mass every day, visit the sick in hospitals and homes, run faith formation classes, work out at the gym, have evening meetings and read the Liturgy of the Hours. They also find time to play ball with the kids, visit the schools, work for Habitat, march in pro-life parades,etc. And yes, some even plant trees. What else are they supposed to do?

  5. Anonymous says:

    Stick to the Bible and the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” to know
    TRUTH versus HERESY statements by some Clergy and others.

    Christ and His Church have given us the two books, and we each have the responsibility to make use of them.

    http://www.churchmilitant.com/video/episode/the-vortexflamethrower-catholicism

  6. Anonymous says:

    Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services, Leadership Conference of Women Religious, National Catholic Education Association, –
    gosh what about the CCHD and the other so called “Catholic” groups that defy the Faith ? ? ?

  7. Bob One says:

    When we read this kind of article it is helpful to know about the writer and their point of view. We do not have to agree or disagree with their opinions, but we should know their background. The Federalist Society is the most far-right legal group in the country. They dislike any change made in our society in the last two hundred years. 🙂 Maurenne Mullarkee is one of the most conservative writers in the country and has become, for all intent and purpose, the mouthpiece for the conservative approach to ecology. It would be interesting to see what their opposites suggest on the subject.

    • Bob, no true conservative would ever use the word bourgeois, trust me. Lenin, Marx and their ilk, including the scaff and raff of the French Revolution use the term ad nauseum. In a nutshell, I take it to be a demeaning term for anyone who believes in God and traditional values. You can put an economic or cultural spin on it but basically it’s us, pal.

    • Dave N. says:

      I think anyone can see Mullarkey’s no real conservative. I think the most positive thing you could say about her is that she’s a bit “eccentric.”

    • Anonymous says:

      BobOne, just ask AL GORE among the most liberal.
      So he can make more money.

  8. She managed to bash the 3 most recent popes. Is she even a catholic?

    • Canisius says:

      C&H is LCWR Catholic with their attacks on Church teaching and “getting beyond the the Jesus narrative”…

  9. Rather than planting tree seedlings, these nuns should be planting seeds of Catholicism in young children.

    • Bob One says:

      Rayal, I bet they do that later in the afternoon when the kids are out of school and attending CCD classes. You can do both. Why do we always have to bash positive things. No good deed goes unpunished? How about, Hooray for the nuns and the trees.

  10. The pope ‘s 15 minutes of fame at the UN should be dedicated defending Creation’s marriage mandate and, in these troubled times, the defensive of persecuted Christians – of which, on average, 500 are slaughtered every week. Pope Francis’ refusal to confront these two issues headlong is a dereliction of duty. What is he afraid of?

    • Anonymous says:

      Steve Golby, Pope Francis has been very outspoken in defense of traditional marriage and in defense of the persecuted and martyred Christians.
      I am sorry that you missed these things.
      You can google “Pope defends traditional marriage” and find many articles also
      “Pope Francis condemns slaying of Christians”
      Too many to post here.
      God bless you and keep you.

      • He says many, many, many good things. Actions speak louder than words. It would have been most helpful had he taken action in Ireland before their election, for example. Perhaps visiting there and bolstering the troups?

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