Dear Pontifex: Poverty and Statism Kill the Earth, Not Commerce and Progress

Franco Origlia/Getty Images
Franco Origlia/Getty

I find it necessary to strongly disagree with some of the conclusions reached in the new encyclical from Pope Francis, which can be read in English here.

But there is much to admire about this Pope, among them his ability to play left-wingers like fiddles. He knows what they want to hear, and he gives it to them, knowing it will bring an ocean of fawning Strange New Respect coverage from people who not only have little use for the Catholic Church under most other circumstances, but actively wish to destroy it.

Perhaps the papal embrace of “climate change” nonsense is a diplomatic move to remain relevant in left-wing statist culture, which is willing to tolerate religion that is properly submissive to the almighty State and useful to collectivist social crusades, but acts ruthlessly to destroy religion when it threatens State power. Those global winds might be stubbornly refusing to warm up as the alarmists have predicted for decades, but the Pope knows which way they are blowing.

It will be loads of fun watching the Left strip-mine the papal encyclical for politically useful passages while ignoring the rest of what Pope Francis says.

They’ll treat it like a bullet-point list of political and cultural stances from which they can pluck the points they like, while ignoring all the yucky stuff he says against abortion and the re-definition of marriage and sex. It’s actually presented as a coherent argument in which all of those points are joined together to illuminate the Pope’s understanding of Man’s place in Nature – a strong argument for the concept of natural law, which the Left finds extremely distasteful, because it stands in opposition to their fervent believe that all things can be reshaped by politics and State power. It is disappointing to see Pope Francis fall into the trap of treating science as a matter of politicized consensus, when the rest of his writing argues powerfully for Truth above consensus.

Doubtless the Pope knows what liberals across the world will do with his encyclical. Perhaps he hopes some will have the intellectual curiosity to read the document in its entirety, and embrace the full scope of the ideas he presents within. Perhaps he believes he has presented his case so well that a few tentative steps by global-warming fanatics will lead them the rest of the way down the path he wants them to explore. I suspect he will be disappointed in that. They already have a religion, and it is known for punishing apostasy. Ask any of the properly skeptical scientists who have been hounded and destroyed for daring to question “climate change” orthodoxy.

It’s one thing to debate some points in the Pope’s encyclical while agreeing with others, quite another to pretend the points you don’t agree with – or the overarching moral case he presents – don’t exist. I believe the Holy Father is greatly underestimating the ability of the Left to take, and twist, only what they want, and cast aside the rest. He finds it morally irrational to declare overriding concern for animals, plants, and even unliving facets of Nature, while caring nothing for the fate of human life in the womb.

Those he wishes most desperately to reach with this encyclical have absolutely no problem resolving that contradiction. They can do it without batting an eye, or firing a single neuron. It took only a matter of hours for such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to cast aside everything the Pope wrote about the sanctity of human life like a used chewing gum wrapper and ramble on about how good Catholics are now obliged to set aside moral and political resistance to her almighty State in the name of global warming.

What I find most disappointing is the Pope’s evident faith in the authority of the benevolent State, exercised through such mechanisms as the international climate change deal he expresses hope for. That’s a bigger problem than whatever difference of opinion I might have about the wisdom of throwing away reams of climate data to pretend global warming didn’t “pause” fifteen years ago. I argue strongly to the contrary: the State is a horrible custodian of the Earth, and not coincidentally, it’s awful at battling the poverty and human misery the Pope is so concerned with.

“The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth,” says the Pope.

The places where this observation is most valid are those with the least economic freedom and prosperity. Those immense piles of filth are not evenly distributed around the world. By any sane measure, stewardship of the Earth has improved most dramatically where freedom and prosperity have flourished hand-in-hand. The great threat we face is that some of those well-tended garden nations are in the process of discarding the liberty that made them so beautiful. The Pope does mankind no favors by lending the weight of his moral authority to grubby, destructive statism.

There is nothing complicated about the relationship between freedom, prosperity, a cleaner environment, and an improved human condition. Freedom produces a level of prosperity statism can never hope to equal. Prosperity generates the wealth needed to improve human life, most definitely including the lives of the poor. An improved human condition enables people to take better care of the natural world, and develop the technology to minimize the harmful effects of industry.

The Pope decries “consumerism,” which is nothing new for the papacy. But that’s a very broad term, and not quite the same thing as materialism. Consumers pursuing luxury goods and services generate a great deal of economic activity and create jobs, which in turn produces the surplus wealth needed to care for the poor, and the natural world. Certainly “consumerism” can be taken too far, but that is true of all human concerns.

The idea that massive, centralized state power is morally superior to free-market liberty is one of the most toxic ideas ever inflicted upon the human race. It’s disheartening to see the Pope either inadvertently or deliberately promoting that idea. Global warming theology is unquestionably useful to statism – that’s why every statist in the world fervently embraces it.

“Whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market,” Pope Francis pronounces. Deified markets have nothing on the destructive power of deified government. Statists will not hesitate to break any alliance of convenience they might make with clergy or environmentalists today, if it suits their needs tomorrow. None of the people who descend upon global-warming conferences in carbon-spewing luxury jets has any intention of allowing their own lifestyles to be compromised.

“The alliance between economy and technology ends up sidelining anything unrelated to its immediate interests,” writes the Pontiff. If you think that’s bad, take a look at what the alliance between economy, technology, and politics can do. The sidelines are huge. If the Pope would like a swift and forceful demonstration of how supremely selfish the economy-technology-State alliance can be, I invite him to call for the immediate termination of U.S. government subsidies to Planned Parenthood.

Moral conduct and charity do not flourish under statism. Quite the reverse. Titan governments are filthy with corruption – the American one certainly is – and that atmosphere of predatory exploitation seeps down into every level of society, crushing the human spirit with a combination of dependency and despair, replacing healthy and productive ambition with angry demands.

The burden of the State leaves people with less money for charitable work, fewer opportunities for the poor to help themselves, and a reduced sense that benevolence and morality are individual concerns. Tired and enervated people turn inward instead of embracing each other, wielding votes as scourges against their enemies, using the State to loot one another, winning battles and imposing views instead of competing, cooperating and producing.

The definition of “poverty” in the United States bears little resemblance to what it means in the rest of the world. We have programs to hand out free cell phones to the poor. When it was pointed out on the anniversary of the War on Poverty that it was a dismal failure by the standard of its architects — they’d vowed the program would reduce the incidence of poverty in America — liberals responded that no, it was a great success, because there’s still as much poverty as there was before we taxed and spent those trillions of dollars, but poverty is so much less grueling now — in many cases, it’s difficult to distinguish from working lower-middle-class life.

Our private sector deserves appreciation for the strides it has made toward a cleaner environment, not castigation for its greed. The technology that will make life even better for poor and rich alike, while further improving the environment, will be developed by free people acting voluntarily for profit in a legally secure marketplace, not bureaucrats toiling in the bowels of a corrupt super-State.

The Pope argues passionately against population control schemes as a method of addressing environmental issues. Only in the free market are people viewed as resources and opportunities; they’re nothing but problems and liabilities to the statist, making it no coincidence that people on the hard Left are so prone to fantasizing about humanity as a virus that ought to be killed off, or at least prevented from reproducing.

I trust Pope Francis is ready to spend a great deal of time defending the totality of his encyclical from people who are predictably eager to loot it for whatever they can use to bludgeon their political opponents, in service of an ideology that leads inexorably to a very different moral understanding than the one he expresses.


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