Thursday, 25 June 2015

Pope Francis, Waldensians and Environment

Pope Francis is descended from Piedmontese, some of whom may have attacked the Waldensians (Vaudois). This week he formally apologised for the "unChristian" persecution by Catholics (and misguided popes) down the centuries of the Waldensians - during a service in the Waldensian Church, in Turin.

There was nothing that the Waldensians wanted more than to live in peace with their neighbours to worship their God. They were obliging people, though robust when physically attacked.

Nevertheless, the ancient Waldensians would still reject the Pope's theology - as believers who based their faith squarely on the Bible, not on human tradition. Nevertheless, the Pope's apology was a historic step. Their Anglo Saxon benefactors, Gilly and Colonel Beckwith would have seen this apology as full vindication of the Waldensians who had championed the principle of 'freedom of religion' since pre-Reformation times.

The Waldensians lived ordered, frugal, sustainable, self-sufficient and productive lives in the Waldensian valleys as farmers, recycling everything. There were no shops in Torre Pellice when William Gilly and his wife first arrived, in 1823 (though there was an inn). Even so, the Waldensians loved the valleys, and their independence even if the poor mountain soil delivered less return for their labours than the fertile land of the Po Valley. The hardship of their lives contributed to their character, faith and resilience.

The Pope published last week an influential Encyclical (“Laudato Si”) about climate change and sustainability -  which I am sure the ancient Waldensians would have fully supported (apart from the references to St Francis).

It is good to see that the Vatican approves local and community food and energy, cooperatives, small producers, energy efficiency, renewables, reduction in heating, changed energy and consumer habits,
energy storage, wearing warmer clothes, turning off lights, taking the bus, coherent cities, taking action as an individual, positive influences in the media and workplace.

Overall, the view expressed in the Encyclical is rather dark: we are failing as individuals, and as wealthy nations to tackle dangerous climate change - and lack of frugality and virtue is the key problem.  Does the whole Church need to demonstrate themselves, the way forward?

The Encyclical - the problem
  • Concrete efforts on climate change have proved ineffective so far due to vested interests and general lack of interest from most people. 
  • Many are fully aware of the issues of the environmental but do not alter their own levels of consumption enough to make any difference - in fact their emissions are probably increasing e.g. for air conditioning.
  • Earth is suffering from our irresponsible abuse, plundering and 'violence' - Earth is 'groaning'. 
  • Earth is sick in soil, water and air - from human exploitation. 
  • We need to repent of our misuse of the Earth and acknowledge our contribution, small or large. 
  • Global warming is being created by huge over-consumption in wealthy countries, by pollution and our throw-away culture, linked to the
  • eyesore of industrial waste 
  • The "carbon cycle" means everything interacts - together - and has consequences 
  • Climate change is already creating immigrants not being recognised as 'climate change refugees' (this trend is already affecting many countries).
  • Mass wildlife extinction is mostly due to human activity (easy profit). 
  • Unruly growth in cities has negative effects on societal breakdown and contributes to social decline. 
  • Negative effects of the media is stopping people living more wisely. 
  • There are too many voices in the media - which is not promoting cultural progress – too much data and not enough wisdom.
  • Internet relationships are creating 'throwaway relationships' - we not engaged enough with people, and this is leading rapidly to mass isolation. We must not blame over-population - rather than extreme and selective consumerism.
  • Post-industrial period is the most irresponsible in history. We could be remembered for our generosity - instead of for our 'collective selfishness'. 
  • Progress on climate has been very little so far; it is too ineffectual Outsiders or visitors from another planet, looking at what we are doing would be ‘amazed’ at our behaviours which appears self-destructive - once the deterioration has taken hold we are heading for global wars.
  • There is a false and superficial, evasive ecological rhetoric which bolsters complacency and recklessness. 
  • It is our evasiveness that allows us to continue unchecked in our consumption (“self-destructive vices” delay important decisions).
  • The technocratic paradigms we have lived by are insufficient – the technocratic solutions mask much deeper problems/dysfunction. 
  • We cannot just respond to individual challenges, like urban pollution; we need deeper new sense of the relationship between things. This is difficult due to fragmentation of knowledge so we need to broaden our vision again.
  • People no longer believe in happy future and the faith in the myth of progress is shaken. 
  •  The present is drab and monotonous. A crisis of modernity – our relationship to people needs healing - like our relationship with nature. 
  • The relationship with nature cannot be isolated from our relationship with others since everything is interrelated. 
  • Putting man in the centre of life leads to a misguided lifestyle -serving ones immediate interest results in exploiting neighbour and nature.
  • Putting man at the centre of life means work becomes misunderstood – work should be place for rich personal growth, a vocation – allowing dignity to the poor – so we need an economy that favours productive diversity and small business, such as small scale food production. 
  • Business is noble and its key purpose is to create work and dignity. Globalism encourages a consumerist vision of human beings and has a levelling effect on cultures – there are too many uniform solutions when local solutions should be applied – we need more flexibility.
  • Need for international agreements on climate change.
  • A politics concerned with immediate effects supported by many consumers in the population produces only short term growth
  • Powerful people and politicians should be generating processes, not holding onto power.
The Encyclical - Ideas for the way forward
  • There are some encouraging examples of action – cleaning up of rivers, native woodlands restored, industrial landscapes renewed, new technologies and improved transport. These are not saving the world but they show what we can do as “gestures of generosity”.
  • Need for urgent action on renewables, and energy storage. 
  • Replace fossil fuels asap - politics and business are going too slowly Community (food and energy) is the breakthrough – cooperatives are showing the way where nations are failing 
  • Locally people make a difference building on responsibility, community creativity and love for the land.
  • No uniform remedies (and there are transitional solutions). 
  • More needs to be done on conserving energy increasing efficiency, improving transport. Politics should be modifying societal (over) consumption, increasing recycling, encouraging lifestyle changes (but it is not so far).
  • We need new forms of cooperation and community organisation, small producers and generators.
  • We need more continuity in policy since results take time. Active politicians will clash with short termism, so they need courage. 
  •  Healthy politics is sorely needed.
  • We need ecological impact assessments of all business ventures involving local people 
  •  We should be asking Why? Where? When? For whom? What Risks? in terms of environment. 
  • Politics must not be subject to economy, but to the service of life. 
  • Tackle absolute power of the financial systems and develop instead an ethical system. 
  • Sadly, the response to recession did not involve rethinking the system which caused it. 
  • We must escape the cycle of individualism, endless buying of mass produced products (“freedom” only to consume). 
  • The only people who are really free are those who run the financial system.
  • Collective selfishness coming from sense of emptiness and loss of a sense of common good. 
  • We are always capable of "going out of ourselves" towards others, instead. 
  • We should all assess the impact of all our decisions on the world around us….. 
  • We need new habits – we need to escape the "myths" of modernity (individualism, unlimited progress, competition, consumerism, unregulated markets). 
  • We need to become educated ecological citizens to prevent bad conduct (though often education fails too) so underpinning education we need virtue, an inner motivation 
  • A person who could afford to spend and consume more, but who regularly uses less heating, power and water, wears warmer clothes shows the kind of attitude which protects the environment. 
  • There is nobility is this attitude of little, daily actions like car pooling, turning off lights and turning down heat. 
  • These small individual actions can change the world calling forth goodness in others.
  • Ecological education takes place in schools and homes, workplace, media, church, politics. 
  • Sobriety and humility are part of the Christian tradition - but not in 20th century (but they lead to a satisfying life). 
  • Care for nature goes with community and living together - we must regain the conviction that we need one another and must share responsibility - that being “good” is worth it. 
  • We have had enough of the "mockery of ethics", of goodness, faith and honesty - superficiality has clearly done us no good.
  • We need honest debate involving experts and dissidents not just@ fire-fighting issues. 
  • We need to see that the current system is unsustainable.We need to integrate our cities environmentally and socially, elements @combining to make “the whole” coherently. 
  •  Need to integrate poorer areas of a city and supply more public transport. 
  • The principle of the common good is basically respect for human beings.
  • We need to apply this principle and the principle of subsidiarity – “Do at local level what can be done at the local level”.

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