The Weekly Green recently reviewed David Abram’s book ‘The Spell of the Sensuous‘, which gives a lot of attention to the world view of the Navajo, in which all physical entities are pervaded and interconnected by the Wind.
As a sequel to that program, and on the occasion of Pope Francis’ visit to the US, we take a look at his Encyclical Letter ‘Laudato Si’, which puts forward a world view with some remarkabe similarities to that of the Navajo. Here too, all things under heaven are viewed as connected by a single force, be it not the Wind, as the Navajo believe, but God’s love.
To the Navajo, all creatures and even entities commonly considered ‘inanimate’ are endowed with ‘mind’, as the Wind is its carrier, and by that token they are all capable of expression.
The Pope refers repeatedly to his name sake, Saint Francis of Assisi, as an examplary human being who “communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them “to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason”. Like the Navajo, he “would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’”.
For obvious reasons, the Pope refers to the Earth as ‘Sister’ instead of Mother, which poses some interesting philosophical conundrums. Even so, he recognizes with that term that the Earth is animate and that we, humans, are her kin.
It is not too long ago that, such a holistic approach would have been considered heresy by the Holy Church of Rome; even now it is quite audacious. It puts the Pope in the forefront of the fundamental change in our perception of the relationship between humans and the rest of creation that he prescribes as a first requirement for a way out of the environmental mess.
The Pope does not mince words about that, either. “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth”, he writes. He attributes this largely to unconscionable practises of multinational corporations and the rampant consumerism which is its counterpart.
Not surprisingly, he stops short of embracing the idea that population growth could be a significant contributing factor. In that respect, he maintains the traditional Christian view that having babies is an expression of Divine Love. He gingerly steps over it – but not before deftly inserting a short paragraph giving the birdie to birth control.
The first victims of pollution, according to the Letter, are the poor. For instance: “Water pollution particularly affects the poor who cannot buy bottled water.” This is exemplary for the general tenor of the Letter, that the many – including all non-humans – are suffering the consequences of the greed and insatiability of the privileged few. It is in fact a call for repentance; the Pope calls for a return to a love of beings, and of being, instead of a love for things.
The Encyclical Letter is available in PDF-format on the website of the Vatican.