Today’s Matins was “a service of the word for Creationtide”, a service designed by the Church of England “for rural communities in times of environmental crisis and climate change.” Now, knowing some of my fellow authors here, I can already feel remotely hackles rising. “There is no climate change … yada, yada, yada.” Those who refuse to believe scientists who have spent a life-time working on this, and those who choose to follow that minority of scientists who dissent, are not going to heed a young(ish) woman with a literature degree, but my own Church, and the Roman Catholic Church share a common Christian concern, best expressed in my view by the much-maligned (by some Catholics usually, the rest of us rather like him) Pope Francis in his rather splendid Laudato Si!
If those who wish to argue climate change science will do so to and there’s nothing to be done, but as Christians we are stewards, not owners, of God’s earth. I’m not so sure God will consider us good stewards.
Nicholas recently commented that I seemed like a “One Nation Tory”, which, once I had looked it up, I thought both sweet of him and not far from the truth, though I think I might also have something of the Luddite in me, not to mention Blake and his detestation of those “dark satanic mills.” I have always, as if by instinct, disliked our modern definition of “progress” which seems to be defined by consumption. Yes, I know that modern capitalism has taken more people out of poverty, etc., etc., but it’s pretty clear that something has gone wrong. Social mobility is static, income distribution is increasingly unequal, and many of those who in my father’s generation, or my sister’s (she’s 30 years older than me) would have bought homes and gone into solid middle-class careers, are finding the housing market closed to them (unless there is family money to help) and job security hard to come by.
That’s where I found the Pope’s encyclical a refreshing read. He wants us to redefine “progress” in ways which respond to the needs of the poor and of our common home, the earth. Read properly, the Encyclical is not just about climate change and its threats, it’s about those other threats to us, the loss of biodiversity, the extinction of species and the culture of waste. “Development” so-called, which does not respect the planet on which we live, is a false idol, as is consumption. At the heart of the crisis we face is what has been called the technocratic paradigm – the idea that we have confused the increase in control and manipulation of the world with progress. The Pope thinks we experience these ways of thinking as a consumerist culture characterised by wastefulness, indifference and the “rapidification” of daily life. All this, he suggests, is to the detriment of relationships with ourselves, our neighbours, the earth and God.
It may be that for you, you don’t find that life comes at you quicker and quicker, and that you have all the time you need to think, reflect, relax and get a healthy work-life balance. As somone who, as some of you know, patently failed at that one, the Pope’s message, and that of the Church of England, speaks to me.
The climate crisis is part of a more general crisis which poses questions to us as Christians:
- How do we love our neighbours in need by sharing wealth and at the same time exercise responsible stewardship over our Earth by promoting sustainability?
- How do we promote economic growth and respect the common good?
Catholic social teaching has been dwelling on some of these themes for more than a century. Pope Leo XIII realised the dangers which confront us now back in 1891:
It is no easy matter to define the relative rights and mutual duties of the rich and of the poor, of capital and of labor. And the danger lies in this, that crafty agitators are intent on making use of these differences of opinion to pervert men’s judgments and to stir up the people to revolt.
No doubt some then accused him, as they now accuse Pope Francis, of being a communist. In his day he advocated Trades Unions as ways of protecting the workers from predatory capitalism, conscious that removing legitimate grievances would actually deprive agitators of their opportunity to create revolutions. He had taken on board one of the lessons of the French Revolution, and the Russian Revolution a mere fifteen years later would show what happened when a tiny, privileged elite thought it could rule forever without consideration for the masses. Of course, we know that those masses were due to suffer more under another unjust system, but the Pope’s point remains, that if men and women follow Christ’s command to care and love each other, they provide the best barrier to revolution.
The fundamental principle can be found in “A Catholic call to political responsibility” issued by the American Catholic bishops (well-known commies no doubt) in 2003:
“The economy must serve people, not the other way around… If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers, owners, and others must be respected—the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages….”
As Christ told the Pharisees, the Sabbath existed for man, not the other way around. We are not created to be cogs in an economic machine to generate ever more wealth to be harvested by a few. As Rowan Williams put it, as Christians we believe in personal transformation through the Spirit and so:
when we believe in transformation at the local and personal level, we are laying the sure foundations for change at the national and international level.
Lord Williams (who is as close to a hero as anyone I have ever met) spotted what often comes next:
Lord Williams spoke out about the “sinister feeling that this must be some kind of conspiracy”.
The belief that “climate change has been invented by communists, illuminati or some sort of other mysterious group who are determined to undermine who were are. That’s something I worry about,” he said.
Taking a balanced view, he also said that:
“Equally, a bog standard left wing myth would be – ‘it is possible to resolve all these questions once and for all, we can impose a just society, we can legislate justice into being, we can almost make tragedy and misunderstanding impossible, we’ll finish the job’ – and that is just as much of a myth.”
Both Right and Left fail here as neither is founded on Christ’s redeeming sacrifice for us, or on his command to love one another. There are, in Catholic social teaching, answers and questions that can help us – and Creationtide prompts us to reflect and pray on what we can all do,