In a reply to theologian David Bentley Hart, Acton’s Director of Research Samuel Gregg says that instead of engaging in sweeping condemnations of contemporary capitalism, those concerned about the present state of Western culture should focus upon the theological and philosophical errors shaping our time.
In an article praising Pope Francis in the December 2015 edition of First Things, the Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart confesses his bafflement at “the anxiety, disappointment, or hostility he clearly inspires in certain American Catholics of a conservative bent.” Referring to Francis’s environmental encyclical, Hart states that “I can quite literally find not a single sentence or sentiment in Laudato Si’ to which it seems to me possible for any Christian coherently to object.” Hart adds that he “simply cannot find an assertion anywhere in its pages that strikes me as anything other than either a plain statement of fact or a reasonable statement of Christian principle.”
Such comments are audacious but untenable. Close examination of some ofLaudato Si’s arguments does raise questions about their coherence. Many of the encyclical’s “plain statements of facts” are equally debatable, including by Catholics who (1) hold to the Church’s settled teachings on faith and morals and (2) understand that the magisterium does not claim any authority to rule on scientific and empirical matters qua scientific and empirical matters. As Cardinal George Pell stated in a Financial Times interview not long after the encyclical’s promulgation, “the Church has got no mandate from the Lord to pronounce on scientific matters.”