Montag, 8. August 2016

Leonard Swidler: Die Enzyklika "Laudato si" als Aufruf an alle zur Verantwortung für die Erde

Leonard Swidler[1]


Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato si on the environment has issued a Charter Document for all peoples of the world—including not only Christians and those of all religions, but also humanists, agnostics, and atheists—of wisdom, vision, challenge with a richness of scientific acumen and human sagacity, pointing the way for us to follow in engaging in deep interreligious, intercultural learning, dialogue, and action about our one home of all: Mother Earth. We are all connected, and we all must care for all, especially the poor and marginalized.

            Pope Francis’ Circular Letter (in Greek, “Encyclical”) is meant to encircle the whole Earth and every one on it. In a way, like his namesake Francis of Assisi, he also is addressing not only us humans, but also all the animals, as well as Sister Water and Brother Wind…. In the midst of its abundance of sage wisdom, deep philosophical insight, and manifold knowledge about scientific matters, I find two main themes running throughout the entirety of Laudato si: 1) The fundamental need for multiple and constant Dialogue, and 2) that everybody and everything is connected.
            From the very beginning of his time as pope Francis said to the youth of Latin America that if there is a problem: “Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue!” In the 40,000+ words of Laudato si Francis uses the term “dialogue” twenty-five times. Already at the very beginning of this document he says: “I would like to enter into Dialogue with all people about our common home.” (Laudato si, par. 3)
            This is a very important sentence, for in it he not only signals that he is not going to simply state information and give marching orders. He wants to engage in a Dialogue, that is, in this text he is going to listen to the laid out scientific facts as carefully and critically as he can, and invite his readers to do so also with him—and then speak to the facts, and with each other. Not only that. He wants to have this Dialogue not just with all the 1.3 billion fellow Catholics in the world, but with “all the people.” Yet more, he wants this Dialogue to be “about our common home.” In other words, he wishes to launch a Dialogue that is both as broad and as deep as possible! And yet Francis strives to go even further when writes: “I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone.”
            What is this Dialogue that Francis makes so much of here and elsewhere, and why should it be considered so necessary? Simply put, Dialogue means that “I want to talk with you who think differ-ently from me so I can learn.” Yes, it sounds simple. However, as we know, if we reflect but a little, until very recently, when we met someone who thought differently from us we either dismissed them as mistaken, or if we deemed the matter sufficiently important, we proceeded to persuade them—with varying degrees of insistence—that they were wrong and we were right. In those matters deemed important, most often the “other side” was equally convinced that they were right and we were wrong. The usual result of such ubiquitous encounters was that neither side learned anything new, but were simply reinforced in their prior convictions.
            However, Dialogue, especially in important matters, is increasingly being seen as a necessity because of a radical shift taking place in our “understanding of our understanding.” We are increase-ingly aware that “Nobody knows Everything about Anything—therefore, Dialogue!” This is all the more important as the matter concerned is more important—and what could be more important than the very foundation on which we all live—the Earth and the envelope of life around it? Hence, in this Dialogue Francis is acting not just as Catholic with a capital “C”, but also as catholic with a small “c” for katholos in its Greek origin means “universal.”
            Francis calls for a serious Dialogue in five major areas: 1. Dialogue on the Environment in the International Community, 2. Dialogue for New National and Local Policies, 3. Dialogue and Transpar-ency in Decision-Making, 4. Politics and Economy in Dialogue for Human Fulfilment, 5. Religions in Dialogue with Science. Each is worthy of extended analysis and discussion, and I second Francis’ appeal to all specialists in each of these areas to continue, expand, and deepen the Dialogue in their areas of special competence and responsibility. Here, however, I will focus for just a few minutes on the more interconnected, and therefore more in need of integration, aspects of Francis’ vision for Humankind and the Earth.
            To begin, in the interest of full disclosure, Francis acknowledges that his standpoint is that of a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, concerning whom he notes, “lived in full harmony with creation…. His appearance was not that of an ascetic set apart from the world, nor of an enemy to the pleasant things of life…. He was far removed from philosophies which despised the body, matter and the things of the world.” In the same breath, however, he recognizes that “Such unhealthy dualisms, nonetheless, left a mark on certain Christian thinkers in the course of history and disfigured the Gospel.” (par. 98) We here at Nazareth College are, in fact, also following Rabbi Yeshua ha Notzri, Jesus of Nazareth, in enjoying this palate-pleasing lunch today.
            Also in the way of “disclosure,” it needs to be noticed that this document is full of current scientific data presented in a manner that makes eminently good scientific as well as general sense. This gives the lie to those ill-willed—non-science trained—political commentators who dismissed the encyclical saying that the pope may know something about religion, but nothing about science. Doubt-less Francis, like any busy thinker, had researchers checking sources for him, but in fact he has a degree in the physical sciences and worked for some years as a science researcher before studying theology. He understands well whereof he here writes.
In fact, Francis devotes a whole chapter to “The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis,” laying out carefully and so refutably the scientific case thereof that even the Climate Change Naysayers have been largely stilled. Nevertheless, at one point he writes: “The Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics. But I am concerned to encourage an honest and open debate so that particular interests or ideologies will not prejudice the common good.” (par. 188) Rather, “science and religion, with their distinctive approaches to understanding reality, can enter into an intense dialogue fruitful for both.” (par. 62)
            Francis calls upon us to engage in a Dialogue not only about Earth, water, air, but also with all humanity. Let me cite a few statements of Laudato si in this vein and exegete them at least initially:
            “There needs to be a distinctive way of looking at things, a way of thinking, policies, an educational programme, a lifestyle and a spirituality.” (par. 111) Here Francis is calling for not just some policy changes in our use of energy, water, soil. He is challenging us all to a whole new way of life, inwardly as well as outwardly! He is asking us to view, think about, and then enact procedures about reality profoundly differently—and then build on that inner-outer revolution a whole new approach to education, a new lifestyle, and even a new spirituality!
In more nugatory form he repeats the essence of that challenge: “We cannot presume to heal our relationship with nature and the environment without healing all fundamental human relation-ships.” (par. 119) Again, what a revolutionary vision: We cannot heal our relationship with Mother Earth without at the same time seeking healing with our Sisters and Brothers!
Lest the point of interconnectedness not yet be sufficiently clear and urgent, he writes: “It cannot be emphasized enough how everything is interconnected. Time and space are not independent of one another, and not even atoms or subatomic particles can be considered in isolation.” (par. 138) Shades of Einstein highlighting the intertwined quality of time and space, even into the subatomic level of quantum mechanics! Here is lifted up the “Cosmic Dance of Dialogue,”[2] and we humans need to be the preeminent conscious Dancers!
Once again Francis stresses the responsibility of All for All, and obviously from the perspective of the Golden Rule—which all major religions and ethical philosophies hold[3]—the All especially includes those who cannot sufficiently care for themselves: “We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.” (par. 139)
Francis details how environmental degradation impacts negatively the poor exponentially, so that those of us who are sufficiently blessed have a super responsibility for those who for whatever reasons of birth or circumstances cannot alone adequately meet the challenges of life. Francis notes that “Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” (par. 49) He names one statistic in this regard that should stun us all into reflection, and then action: “We know that approximately a third of all food produced is dis-carded, and whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor.” (par.50)
I ask myself, for instance, what virtue of mine separates me from my cousins whose parents—my father’s sisters and brothers—were not able to escape from the pogroms in Czarist Russia in 1912, as he did (as a fifteen-year old boy all by himself!), and hence all perished in the Stalinist murder of the millions of so-called Kulaks in the nineteen thirties? Indeed, had they escaped that genocide, how would they have escaped that of the Nazis as they occupied their land only a few years later? No, none of us are here in privileged fashion in Das goldene Land, as my father named America, solely on our merit! We are all on “One World” together, and we have therefore, as Francis stresses time and again, a special responsibility for the marginalized, who are not as showered with gifts as we.
As noted already, it is not just fellow Catholics who Francis is calling to join the Dialogue and Life Transformation, nor is it just fellow Christians, but believers of all religions. Hence, Francis notes, because “the majority of people living on our planet profess to be believers. This should spur religions to dialogue among themselves for the sake of protecting nature, defending the poor, and building net-works of respect and fraternity.” (par. 201)
However, Francis not only includes adherents of all religions in his call to Dialogue and action, but goes beyond fellow religious believers. He even uses that term some hyper-conservative Christians spit out as a derogatory: “Humanism.” He writes, “We urgently need a humanism capable of bringing together the different fields of knowledge, including economics, in the service of a more integral and integrating vision.” (par. 141) He goes on to speak of the purpose of religion, and its functional equivalent, as focused not on heaven, paradise, nirvana or some alternative other-worldly goal of life, but as this side of the grave, that is, “our own dignity…. the ultimate meaning of our earthly sojourn.” He writes: “We need to see that what is at stake is our own dignity. Leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is, first and foremost, up to us. The issue is one which dramatically affects us, for it has to do with the ultimate meaning of our earthly sojourn.” (par. 160)
            Francis definitively leaves behind the “fortress mentality” which despises secularists, agnostics, atheists, and reaches out to them as allies in saving human dignity and the world: “We also sense our closeness to all those men and women who, although not identifying themselves as followers of any religious tradition, are nonetheless searching for truth, goodness and beauty, the truth, goodness and beauty of God. They are our valued allies in the commitment to defending human dignity, in building a peaceful coexistence between peoples and in safeguarding and caring for creation.”[4]
            Thus, we have laid out before us here gathered at Nazareth College and its Hickey Center for Interfaith Studies and Dialogue a Charter Document of wisdom, vision, challenge, and a richness of scientific acumen and human sagacity pointing the way for us to follow in engaging in deep interreli-gious, intercultural learning, dialogue and action.

[1] Leonard Swidler, Professor of Catholic Thought &, Interreligious Dialogue at Temple University since 1966, is with his wife Arlene Anderson Swidler the Founder/Editor of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies (1964), and the Founder/President of the Dialogue Institute (1978), and author/editor of 80 books and 200 articles, including: Dialogue for Interreligious Understanding (2014), The Age of Global Dialogue (2016), Religion for Reluctant Believers (2016):

[3] The Study of Religion in an Age of Global Dialogue by Leonard J. Swidler,Paul Mojzes. Temple University 2000

[4] Address of Holy Father Pope Francis, March 20, 2013, to Audience with Representatives of the Churches and Ecclesial Communities and of the Different Religions

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