Papal letter was more than just about climate change and global warming
by Allen Best
The recent encyclical of Pope Francis received much attention, and it got more yet on Monday evening at the Alliance Center in Denver’s LoDo neighborhood. A panel of various faiths and spiritualities talked with former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter about the messages in the papal letter titled, “On Care of our Common Home.”
Ritter, a Catholic, said the encyclical deals with questions of science, one of several ways in which this one departs from Catholic tradition. The science is about climate change and global warming, and it’s a troubling subject because, as the encyclical argues, this is the first generation to be able to feel the effects of human-caused climate change—and the last generation to be able to do anything about it.
But the encyclical is more than just climate change. Rather, it’s a broad, world view, “what you can call integral ecology,” Ritter went on to say.
Ecology is not just about natural systems. It’s also about human beings as part of those natural systems and the responsibility of humans for having a stewardship role in those natural systems, he explained. Humans, the pope says, are failing in a very significant way.
“This is an important point that was brought home time and time again” in the encyclical, he said. “It’s more than just a letter telling people about climate change and global warming. It’s so much more expansive than that. It represents a world view.”
The pope, Ritter added, talks about soils, about the loss of biodiversity. In the first chapter, he refers to “our prodigal world.”
Father Eustace Sequeira, an instructor at Regis University, talked about the pope’s Jesuit roots. Other popes come from folds within the Catholic church where priests seek to climb the church hierarchy to become pope. Jesuits, he said, commonly become priests at a later age, around 30, and thus have worldly experiences. That causes them to look at the world differently. Pope Francis, who has a degree in chemistry, has that broader outlook.
David Loy, a Buddhist Zen master and teacher, said his faith emphasizes dualities, such as of ignorance and enlightenment. But we tend to define ourselves in dualities: male and female, whites and others of color, and the people of human from the rest of the earth. Buddhism, in contrast, seeks to recognize the interconnectedness of all things. While it doesn’t say where we should focus, it “does say simply that we are not apart.”
Amanda Henderson, executive director of the Interfaith of Colorado, spoke to similar themes, declaring that biodiversity makes us stronger. But she also spoke to a theme of the papal letter, the “immorality of mass consumption” as evidence of a broken system.
She also acknowledged the difficulty of change, citing the dependency of people in fossil fuels industries, such as the coal country of Kentucky and other places. “This is hard, and anybody who thinks otherwise hasn’t’ actually contemplated the changes that will need to be made,” she said.
But even for individuals far afield from the coal fields—and she described her own lifestyle and family needs—these are difficult decisions.
“We progressive-dogooders,” she added, nodding to a roomful of about 200 people, need to acknowledge and assess our own shortcomings. “We need to have some humility as well.”
Also speaking were Mohamed Jodeh, founder of the Colorado Muslim Society; and Dr. Rev. Jonathan Ellerby, executive director and lead minister, of the Althea Center for Engaged Spirituality. It might have been nice to also hear a Methodist preacher, a Baptist and an evangelical ruminate on the same dais.