Actually, the UN’s Vision for Lifting Up the World’s Poor Differs Sharply from the Pope’s
Pope Francis, in his speech to the UN, expressed his continuing and deep concern for “reclaiming the environment.” To the Holy Father, ecology is no small matter, but is instead a terrible, if not the primary, problem besetting humanity. To stress this, in his encyclical Laudato Si’ he said, “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”
The Pope asked the UN to clean up the mess. How? He said, “The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the World Summit, which opens today, is an important sign of hope. I am similarly confident that the Paris Conference on Climatic Change [this December] will secure fundamental and effective agreements.”
Now let’s accept for the sake of argument that the Holy Father is right and that the environment is in need of emergency surgery to “save” it. It’s true that the evidence for this need, particularly concerning global warming, is overblown. And it’s also true that the pope came to his views based on the flawed, disingenuous, anti-scientific, and even anti-Christian advice of people whose vision of the world is entirely secular. But let that pass. The pope is, after all, the master of his own words, and he has chosen to believe his advisors.
And so too shall we believe them, but only here and only in support of the goal of understanding what can and should be done and the consequences of the actions we would take.
The Western press and political class has a bad habit of “mining” Pope Francis’s speeches for only those elements which are consonant with their views. The teachings and advice the pope gives on questions in which the press and political class has no interest are ignored and forgotten. This is a terrible mistake. If we’re going to follow the Holy Father in his advice on the environment, we should make a serious effort to comprehend his entire view on this subject.
Many leaders are cheerful that the Pope has given apparent (I pick this word carefully) support to the UN’s “Agenda for Sustainable Development,” without pausing to reflect on what that support entails. Here’s what Francis said:
[T]he simplest and best measure and indicator of the implementation of the new Agenda for development will be effective, practical and immediate access, on the part of all, to essential material and spiritual goods: housing, dignified and properly remunerated employment, adequate food and drinking water; religious freedom and, more generally, spiritual freedom and education. These pillars of integral human development have a common foundation, which is the right to life and, more generally, what we could call the right to existence of human nature itself.
If we’re going to understand what a proper “sustainability” agenda must look like, we have to first grasp what Francis meant by “right to life” and, even more important, what is entailed by the “right to existence of human nature itself.”
Everybody knows what “right to life” means, even though many at the UN pretend to misunderstand. Francis was clear: a right to life is “absolute respect for life in all its stages and dimensions.” Absolute respect. No contraception, and above all, no abortion. No governmental control of the right to wed and produce families. Why? The Pope said the family is “the primary cell of any social development.”
On the other hand, the UN’s document on its Sustainability Agenda “Transforming Our World” (paragraph 26) speaks with forked tongue. It reads, “We are committed to ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education.” These words can be read as agreeing with the Pope’s sentiments. But everybody knows there is no agreement. Everybody knows these are euphemisms for contraception, abortion and government control of family creation and size. When a UN or other official thus says the pope supports the Sustainability Agenda, he tells the worst kind of lie.
What about the “right to existence of human nature itself”? Francis quoted Pope Emeritus Benedict who said human nature is comprised of not only the material, but also of “spirit and will.” This necessitates a religious and spiritual understanding of mankind and the environment. Yet the UN Agenda says nothing about religious freedom beyond boilerplate, saying only the UN will promote its Agenda “without distinction of any … religion.” That “without distinction” has generally been taken to mean in practice “without regarding” the concerns of a religion when that religion’s concerns conflict with UN goals.
Pope Francis insisted we must “recognize a moral law written into human nature itself, one which includes the natural difference between man and woman.” This is secular heresy. Yet the Holy Father spoke of this “natural difference” in the context of the “ecological crisis.” Ignoring the distinction, he implied, is one of the causes of the crisis.
In this same paragraph, Francis again quotes Benedict: “The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any instance above ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves.” So not only must we acknowledge what the world claims is false, that man and woman separately make one human nature, but we must attest to God’s primacy. Any attempt at “sustainability” that ignores these fundamental realities is doomed to fail. The UN does not affirm even the barest hint of these notions in its plan.
Finally, even accepting (as we are) that mankind is causing harmful climate change, and thus some kind of action at the upcoming Paris Sustainable Innovation Form (also known as COP21) is desirable, it’s not clear what this action should be. No matter what plan is agreed upon by all nations, all history suggests the actions in the plan will be deemed, and in a very short time, “insufficient.” More will be demanded.
Want proof? The goal of “stopping climate change” or of “achieving sustainability” will never be met. Why? First, because stopping the climate from changing is a physical impossibility. I use this word in its strictest sense. And since the climate will never cease changing, the UN and other governing bodies will always have an excuse to ask for more power.
Second, there is no definition of “achieving sustainability” (except for one I attempted, but which is at odds with UN desires); it is a vaporous term. You can’t get to a destination that doesn’t exist. Yet the UN would have us blindly follow it towards this oblivion.
So is the answer that we should do nothing? Surely not. And nobody says this. For something concrete, tangible, and in line with human and Divine nature, why not adopt Pope Francis’s final suggestion? He said “future generations” can be “secure and happy” if “the representatives of the States can set aside partisan and ideological interests, and sincerely strive to serve the common good.” Who could fail to say “Amen” to this? And so let us join the Holy Father to “pray to Almighty God that this will be the case.”