Most popes urge austerity as a means of saving one’s soul. Pope Francis urges it for a different reason: to save the planet.
In keeping with that temporal focus, he called this last week for humans to adopt “simpler” lifestyles not for reasons of spirituality but out of “respect” for the earth:
We also need once more to listen to the land itself, which Scripture calls adamah, the soil from which man, Adam, was made. Today we hear the voice of creation admonishing us to return to our rightful place in the natural created order — to remember that we are part of this interconnected web of life, not its masters. The disintegration of biodiversity, spiralling climate disasters, and unjust impact of the current pandemic on the poor and vulnerable: all these are a wakeup call in the face of our rampant greed and consumption.
Though normally “progressive,” Francis, on this issue, stands against progress and exhorts man to live like “our indigenous brothers and sisters.” Though normally a fan of modern living, here he inveighs against it, casting Coronavirus as nature’s retribution:
Our constant demand for growth and an endless cycle of production and consumption are exhausting the natural world. Forests are leached, topsoil erodes, fields fail, deserts advance, seas acidify and storms intensify. Creation is groaning!
During the Jubilee, God’s people were invited to rest from their usual labour and to let the land heal and the earth repair itself, as individuals consumed less than usual. Today we need to find just and sustainable ways of living that can give the Earth the rest it requires, ways that satisfy everyone with a sufficiency, without destroying the ecosystems that sustain us.
In some ways, the current pandemic has led us to rediscover simpler and sustainable lifestyles. The crisis, in a sense, has given us a chance to develop new ways of living. Already we can see how the earth can recover if we allow it to rest: the air becomes cleaner, the waters clearer, and animals have returned to many places from where they had previously disappeared. The pandemic has brought us to a crossroads. We must use this decisive moment to end our superfluous and destructive goals and activities, and to cultivate values, connections and activities that are life- giving. We must examine our habits of energy usage, consumption, transportation, and diet. We must eliminate the superfluous and destructive aspects of our economies, and nurture life-giving ways to trade, produce, and transport goods.
Somewhere Thomas Malthus is smiling. That 18th century English cleric also thought the earth was “groaning” under the weight of mankind.
Continue reading at the American Spectator