Sheep Among Wolves


By Rhett Engelking

Director of Earthcorps

When Jesus commissioned his disciples to bring the Good News to the world he stated “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.” (Mt 10:16) Ever since it was announced that Pope Francis was going to address ecology in an encyclical that carries the force of doctrine, the wolves of Wall Street and their industry mouthpieces (see Mark Morano via the Heartland Institute) have been targeting the voices of the Catholic faithful as if we were simple sheep who would passively wait to be sheared while the fossil fuel industry would reestablish their rhetorical dominance. This powerful shadow network of pseudoscience and rhetorical assassins began targeting the conclusions and contents of the Pope’s doctrine on ecology months before said doctrine was even published. It appears the same straw man tactic has happened again, this time on the issue of fracking.

To be shrewd as serpents is often to not be easily swayed by the talking points of a Gilded Age ideology touting the innocence of free markets. In his column, David Brooks of The New York Times expressed disappointment that Pope Francis did not wholeheartedly embrace market based-mechanisms and moral realism. As a representative of the Holy See, Pope Francis does not speak from a metaethical standpoint of moral realism; he preaches the Gospel for our times. Catholics do not preach dualism, utilitarianism, communism, objectivism, or any other form of moral realism. While Mr. Brooks may note that greed, lust, and ambition may lead to positive gains for one or more individuals, the Common Good always depends upon ethical means and not simply favorable ends. Mr. Brooks’ praise of the virtues of self-interest sounds a bit closer to the fundamental tenets of the objectivism of Ayn Rand than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Having served the church in Argentina during its economic collapse, Pope Francis has demonstrated considerable understanding of the lasting impacts of self-interested economics. Perhaps Mr. Brooks’ understanding of Catholicism would be improved if he had more exposure to the same church.

Laudato Si offers a Gospel-rooted vision for a world that moves beyond mere “self-interest” to a state of universal kinship. It actually makes no explicit mention of hydraulic fracturing, but in reality supports natural gas as an alternative to dirtier fuels, stating that “Until greater progress is made in developing widely accessible sources of renewable energy, it is legitimate to choose the lesser of two evils or to find short-term solutions.” (Laudato Si 165)

Of course, Pope Francis’s moral message of an “integral ecology” is understandably concerned with the impacts extractive practices like fracking have already had on local living systems. That after all is the point of integral ecology, to consider how economic systems are integrally linked to complex ecosystems. As adherents to Catholic Social Doctrine, 1 billion Catholics worldwide are asked in all things to promote “the preferential option for the poor.” For Mr. Brooks to characterize the encyclical as “doom-mongering” is little more than a cavalier way to intellectually distance readers from both the call to encounter those who are impacted by our policy decisions and the deeper call to convert our hearts. Simply put, Pope Francis does not have the luxury of celebrating the growth in GDP of a single country due to the practice of hydraulic fracturing while neglecting how the rampant externalities of energy production “opportunities” affect the poor.

Few Catholics have promoted the poor as faithfully as Franciscans. We have been studying the Gospel and integral ecology for over 800 years. Franciscans aren’t “monks” attached to a monastery, as Mr. Brooks asserts. Franciscans are a mendicant order of friars, sisters and lay people called to be living and serving in the marketplace and not casually pontificating about the state of financial markets. Many Franciscans take solemn vows of poverty in order to live and work in solidarity with the world’s poorest. We know firsthand that the view from the favelas is much different than the view from Madison Avenue. We understand that when we are talking about actions that are good for the climate, we are usually talking about common good solutions that have almost no regrets. Whereas self-interested motivations might turn out to have good consequences, right action on behalf of the Common Good is always beneficial, regardless of our motivations. So when Franciscans talk about fracking, our last talking point is individual or national self-interest. We ask questions like, “Is fracking an appropriate use of water in a state suffering from drought?” or “What impact would it have on my working class neighbor to have a high decibel methane flare blowing all night long?” or “How many fracking chemicals should be allowed in a child’s drinking water?” or even “Why are fracking locations so much more susceptible to earthquakes?” Nothing we talk about exists disconnected from everything else. We have to hear the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor. Nature is not filled with economic commodities whose only purpose is to be found in us.

In America, the fossil fuel industry is simultaneously among the most subsidized and profitable industries in the history of the world, but it is also a House of Cards that depends greatly upon the continuation of high risk practices that have lasting destructive consequences. The reality here is that there is considerable financial incentive to dismiss the legitimate critiques levied by the Pope, the Magisterium and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. When Cardinal Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington was confronted on Fox News by the dismissals issued from high profile conservative presidential candidates and the rantings of talk radio bloviators, he simply smiled and reminded the viewers what Pope Francis has really been saying, “why don’t we all discuss this, why don’t we come to the table and before we start eliminating other people from the discussion or renouncing them or even ridiculing them, why don’t we listen to them and see what they’re saying and see where we really ought to be going as a human family?” [] Moral dialogue can not be encapsulated in an op-ed, and that is why this encyclical was so needed. When the Pope shares a doctrinal  teaching of this level, he is not speaking as a lone wolf pundit at a keyboard. He is speaking with over 2,000 years tradition of moral truth and the contributions of a nation of experts. The scary truth is that Pope Francis’ encyclical amplifies those voices that might just shatter the dominant economic ideology of the developed world. He is not bringing the voice of corporate persons; he is speaking clearly with the voice of the poor. Now is the time for innocent Catholics to have faith in the wisdom of their shepherd.

Published in: on June 30, 2015 at 9:41 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: