Pope Francis: preaching the green gospel

The pope's embrace of climate alarmism is anti-Catholic and anti-human.

Rob Lyons
Columnist

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‘We are Custodians of Creation. But when we exploit Creation we destroy the sign of God’s love for us, in destroying Creation we are saying to God: “I don’t like it! This is not good!” “So what do you like?” “I like myself!” Here, this is sin! Do you see? Custody of Creation is custody of God’s gift to us and it is also a way of saying thank you to God. I am the master of Creation but to carry it forward I will never destroy your gift. And this should be our attitude towards Creation. Safeguard Creation. Because if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us! Never forget this!’

So said Pope Francis last May at an audience at the Vatican attended by representatives of the ‘indigenous peoples of the world’. And now, according to the Guardian, the pope is planning to publish a papal encyclical on climate change and the environment. It seems the pontiff is determined to try to influence the outcome of the climate talks in Paris later this year, where a new global agreement on greenhouse-gas emissions is due to be signed.

For all the Biblical language, the pope’s aims are thoroughly modern – and secular. Francis – aka Argentinian Jorge Mario Bergoglio – was elected to office in March 2013 at a time when human greed – particularly in the form of those nasty bankers – was being blamed for the world’s problems. His decision to take his papal name from one of the great Catholic ascetics – Francis of Assisi – was thus a pointed one, an attempt to present the wealthy Vatican as a friend of both the poor and the planet. Given the theological disorientation and declining Western support for the Catholic Church, mimicking the platitudes of Western liberalism is a canny move to make the church more ‘relevant’.

Excessive consumption is the root of all evil, it seems. As Pope Francis declared on World Youth Day in 2013: ‘The culture of selfishness and individualism that often prevails in our society is not, I repeat, not what builds up and leads to a more habitable world: rather, it is the culture of solidarity that does so; the culture of solidarity means seeing others not as rivals or statistics, but brothers and sisters. And we are all brothers and sisters!’ While Francis is seen as a radical and reforming pope, his pieties are as humdrum and mainstream as the thesaurus-bothering Russell Brand – just without the ludicrous nicknames for his genitals.

In fact, the church’s turn towards tree-hugging is by no means new. As Brendan O’Neill has noted before on spiked, Francis’s predecessors had been following the new religion of environmentalism since the late Seventies. But during the reign of John Paul II (1978-2005), the celebration of Nature was still a relatively minor aspect of papal teaching. Things have certainly moved up a gear when a pope is prepared to intervene directly in the discussions about a major global environmental treaty – much to the delight of the kind of environmental campaigners who would normally be first in line to dismiss religion. Now it really is out with God and in with Gaia.

The message of humility, frugality and worshipping of the planet is sickening enough at a time of economic turmoil, when many members of the church are struggling to make ends meet. But the pope’s forthcoming encyclical (essentially, a public letter to the church) is thought likely to advise that Catholics call for the phasing out of fossil fuels. Also, a statement from Catholic bishops made during the Lima climate talks last month demanded a ‘new financial and economic order’, central to which would be ‘an end to the fossil-fuel era, phasing out fossil-fuel emissions and phasing in 100 per cent renewables with sustainable energy access for all’. This is the gospel according to Naomi Klein rather than Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.

As a fully paid-up member of the Lapsed Catholic Club, putting the planet before people is a long way from what I was taught as a boy. The Bible puts human beings at the centre of religious thinking and moral teaching, even if we are all ultimately subject to the whims of an all-powerful supreme being. Now the Church is talking as if the planet matters for its own sake rather than as a tool for the betterment of mankind. As campaigner and author Alex Epstein points out in his recent book, The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, there has been a shift in the yardstick by which we measure what is moral and what is not. If the proper measure of morality is the advancement of human welfare, then fossil fuels have been an enormous boon, central to all the massive improvements in our lot over the past two centuries: declining mortality, poverty and disease; rising life expectancies, wealth and opportunity. To give Nature more importance than humanity, to make energy more expensive or harder to obtain – which is what a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy would entail – is not simply a bad idea. It is immoral.

Yet that is what the Catholic Church is now teaching its members to lobby for. It is such unbridled eco-thinking, not humanity’s ever-greater understanding and manipulation of Nature, that will destroy us. Never forget it.

Rob Lyons is a columnist for spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @RobSpiked

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