The World and the Laity

In a few recent addresses Pope Benedict XVI has given some interesting diagnostics of our culture Some of these points are also relevant to the current state in which we see and relate to the environment. For example, on an angelus refection on advent the Pope said:

” …certain aspects of the post-modern world: cities where life has become anonymous and horizontal, where God seems to be absent and only man is master, as if he were the universal architect. Building, work, economy, transport, science, technology, everything seems to depend only upon man. And at times, in this apparently perfect world, terrible things happen, either in nature or society, which make us think that God has withdrawn and has, so to say, left us to our own devices.”In reality, the real ‘master’ of the world is not man but God.” 

One common debate in environmental ethics and philosophy is the issue of ” centrism” . Christianity is often accused of promoting a radical anthropocentrism, as opposed to biocentrism, that leads to environmental degradation. This claim can be seen in classic authors such as Roderick Nash and Lynn White Jr. But when we reflect on the Pope’s words, the is a clear intention to steer away from this radical anthropocentrism, but rather placing God at the center of the world. When we consider who really promotes what view, I wonder whether in theory a biocentric environmentalist preaches such a view, but in practice lives a life of infatuation of what is all man – through technology, work, money etc. The question is, how does one live a life that recognizes that something other than mankind is at the centre? The Pope’s point is that in our personal lives we must strive to truly make God at the centre.

This theme was reinforced by another address given to the Pontifical Council for the Laity:

a mentality that is widespread in our time that rejects every reference to the transcendent, has shown itself to be incapable of preserving the human. The spread of this mentality has generated the crisis that we are experiencing today, which is a crisis of meaning and of values before it is an economic and social crisis. Those who try to live in a positivistic way, in the calculable and the measurable, become suffocated in the end. In this context the question of God is, in a sense, “the question of all questions.” It brings us back to man’s most basic questions, to the aspirations for truth, happiness and freedom that are native to his heart, that seek a realization. The man who reawakens the question about God in himself becomes open to hope, to a trustworthy hope, for which it is worthwhile to face the toil of the journey in the present (cf. “Spe salvi,” 1).

But how do we reawaken the question of God so that it becomes the fundamental question? Dear friends, if it is true that at the beginning “[b]eing Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person” (“Deus caritas est,” 1)”. 

Finally, an insight into how to encounter this person the Pope speaks of: his speech in Benin to children on prayer. Worth reading the entire document. A section is copied below:

What, then, is prayer? It is a cry of love directed to God our Father, with the will to imitate Jesus our brother. Jesus often went off by himself to pray. Like Jesus, I too can find a calm place to pray where I can quietly stand before a Cross or a holy picture in order to speak to Jesus and to listen to him. I can also use the Gospels.

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