Since the publication of the encyclical Laudato Si by Francis, a long-unheard rumble has been growing across the world public opinion. He is an expert in making himself heard, so we might as well rest it as it is, because Francis would be pleased. Our readers, however, are used to our fixing troubles, so we will once again meet the subjective claim of the market.
The Laudato Si embraces three aspects: a theological aspect, an economic aspect, and a scientific aspect.
The primary aspect, also the specific realm of the teachings of the Church, is the theological one. Here lies a matter that has remained partly unseen or, better, unheard in the midst of the voices stirring, either in anger or in praise, about the Laudato.
As we all known, in the Genesis, God vests man with the power to rule over the land. But this dominus may be understood in two senses: rule as a symbol of the dignity of human nature, created in God’s image and likeness, over non-human things, or rule as the master rules over his slave.
Now, what Francis teaches is that man’s bond with nature must be in the former sense. He thus frames the ecological issue within a Judeo-Christian perspective, where there is no pantheism between God and nature, where the earth is not a “mother” who replaces the creating Father. No; man is not the offspring of nature, but rather, of God, and given his natural dignity, man is ontologically superior to nature. But both (man on the one side, and the land and the rest of the living creatures on the other) are brethren in creation, and as such, their relation must not be Cain’s, but Abel’s; a harmony, though, that was lost in the original sin.
That being said, Francis reminds us of something that in philosophical terms may be expressed as follows: the relation between man and nature must not come down to an instrumental rationality, where what matters is only the relation existing among ends, means, results and efficiency. Not that there is anything bad in this, on the contrary, it is often necessary to plan and evaluate, yet in the brotherly relation where the self relates to the other, the other is not a mere instrument.
Now, nature is not strictly a You, but under a Christian perspective, neither is it a mere thing enduring a slavery relation to an arbitrary master: man. Through saints such as Saint Francis and Fray Martin of Porres and their endearing relation with all created nature, God has presented us a symbol that does not restrict itself –as has been intended so many times- to a sweet tale story for children. They exhibit a sensibility towards all living creatures that must be embraced by every Christian: a brotherly relation implying neither submission of nature by man nor arbitrary ruling of nature, or one reduced to a rationalistic planning –daughter of the Enlightenment. Such brotherly relation is one of harmony, were nature may indeed serve man’s need, but not man’s arbitrariness, destruction or cruelty. Such sensibility towards nature as a sister in harmony is not new in terms of Christian sensibility, even though Francis is now reminding us of it, and its social implications do not lie in any given system; rather, they rest on changing habits as to consumption and-or protection of nature surrounding us.
This is simply what is most important about the encyclical.
Next, there are the economic and scientific issues. How much market or state are necessary to protect the environment, or the hypotheses and diverse empirical testing concerning global warning, are completely debatable issues on which any Catholic may speak their own mind, not because they are arbitrary issues, but because the social and natural sciences involved in them have a contingency margin that does not implicate the teaching of the Church, or Catholicism as such. From this perspective, Instituto Acton, exercising the legitimate liberty enjoyed by every believer around these matters, has always insisted on free market having much to offer in caring for the environment, above all through the internalization of negative externalities and the privatization of state public assets, all of it through a sharper definition of property rights. Interesting that authors advocating for a free society, such as Hayek and Feyerabend, would strongly criticize, at the core of their work, that same instrumental rationality that the School of Frankfurt has always steadily criticized. The constructivist rationalism, criticized by Hayek, and the union between state and science, criticized by Feyerabend, have led to a rationalistic planning that has strongly influenced what Mises calls interventionism and is now termed “crony capitalism”, a collusion between the state and private players, the latter being protected by the former, delaying the advent of new market alternatives involving clean energies, such as solar energy.
Therefore, ¿Laudato YES or NO? Because in the Christian perspective of ecology, obviously YES. In debatable matters, yes, no, nor, whatever (resorting to a thorough examination and prudence) may be argued. But always upholding a significant fundamental coincidence, beyond all the noises and fuss sought by our lively Pope.