The Benedict Option for a Brave New World

Last night I took my sons to a high school soccer game. One of the best teams in the state (my school) was playing an opponent from a rural county.

It was never even close.

We scored within the first minute of play, punching the ball in off a cross. It was almost unfair the way our forwards and midfielders carved up the opposing team’s defense with their speed and footwork — coming together seamlessly to find each other, and the back of the net, time and again.

By halftime the score was 4-0, and it was starting to show in the opposing team’s posture. Their shoulders were hunched. They passed the ball with an air of futility, as if waiting for it to be intercepted by our lightning-fast attack.

Trying to escape the midday sun, I happened to hear some of what the rural team’s coach had to say. He didn’t draw up complicated schematics. He didn’t explain how they were going to come back and win the game in the second half; it was clear to all that that would not be the case. As they sat together on a grassy hill, sweat pouring down their aching muscles, he simply urged them not to give up. “Don’t think ahead to the next game. If you can’t play to win, play for each other. Play so that at the end of the season you can look each other in the eye and say you did everything you could.”

This is one way to look at the Benedict Option. The battle may be lost, but the war rages on. It is later in the game than many of us had realized. We are unlikely to “win” the war for the soul of our nation’s culture, at least not anytime soon. But this is not a cause for defeatism. What we do still matters, as it carries us forward to the next season, the next generation. We can create a vibrant, dynamic counter-culture. We can come together, offering strength and encouragement, so that on the last day we may share in the final victory.

In The Benedict Option, Rod Dreher acknowledges that Americans have a particular aversion to losing. We “cannot stand to contemplate defeat or to accept limits of any kind.”

But American Christians are going to have to come to terms with the brute fact that we live in a culture, one in which our beliefs make increasingly little sense. We speak a language that the world more and more either cannot hear or finds offensive to its ears.

Dreher compares modernity to a Great Flood, one that is swiftly advancing upon our Christian beliefs and institutions. The Obergefell decision was “the Waterloo of religious conservatism,” the moment the Sexual Revolution triumphed over traditional Christian morality and anthropology. But this defeat has been a long time coming. The philosophical underpinnings of modern secularism stretch back to the nominalists of the Late Middle Ages, progressing under the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution.

Today we see its fruits. The nuclear family has broken down. Our system of public education has become militantly secular; as a result, each generation is more secular than the last. Our churches have tried to accommodate the dominant culture rather than resist its advancing tide. In 2011, only 40% of Christian 18-to-23 year olds said their personal moral beliefs were grounded in the Bible or religion.

Rather than piling sandbags, Dreher advises, better to start building boats.

Critics claim Dreher’s assessment is too grim, but to me it rings true. I used to see America as being divided into two great hostile camps – the Left, intent on dragging our country down the road to socialism (and eventually serfdom), and the Right – boldly defending the rights of the individual. Economic concerns predominated, especially during Obama’s first term – stimulus, Obamacare, financial reform. Social issues were on the back burner.

In Obama’s second term, the culture wars returned to the front and center of American politics. As support for same-sex marriage grew to become the new “civil rights” issue, traditional Christian beliefs were condemned as hate speech. Christian business owners came under attack for refusing to toe the line. States like Indiana and North Carolina lost business over relatively modest attempts to defend religious liberty and traditional definitions of “male” and “female.” Economic growth was no longer the priority. In fact, it seemed that no defense of truth or morality could withstand the power of the almighty dollar.

Then came the 2016 Republican primary and the rise of Donald Trump. This time it didn’t seem like my side against the other side. Instead of two giant cruise ships trying to steer the country in different directions, I found myself on a life raft, in search of a more sea-worthy vessel. Who on “my side” actually cared about the moral good of the individual, the strengthening of the family, and the prospect of cultural renewal? And who just wanted the “freedom” to engage in unrestrained consumerism? Who was just eager to be back in power, to once again be on the winning side?

This is not to say that I saw politics as irrelevant or the outcome of the 2016 election as meaningless. I fault no one for supporting Trump in light of the alternative. While not an orthodox Christian himself, Trump’s victory has bought a brief respite from the attack against religious freedom, at least as it comes from the executive branch of our national government. And this, Dreher argues, is the one area of political life in which Christians must stay engaged.

As the nature of the modern attack became more apparent, I began to put matters of faith before matters of politics. Instead of talk radio, I started listening to EWTN. Instead of Austrian economics, I started reading books about religion and culture. I stopped following the news of the day and started educating myself on the classics. Why listen to Limbaugh and O’Reilly when one has Shakespeare and Aquinas, Lewis and Chesterton? It was probably just a matter of time before I encountered Dreher’s work.

A couple years ago, I read Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. Having grown up as a Catholic in Southwest Virginia, I had never experienced the kind of institutional and social support for religion that Douthat describes during the postwar mid-century revival. But Douthat’s account of the decline of institutional religion resonated, especially how it has been replaced with a range of “heresies,” from nationalism to Gnosticism. The uncomfortable truth is that we can’t blame the secular Left for what ails society. We need only look in the mirror.

A couple months ago, I got the chance to see Ross Douthat speak at a local college. While his work was only five years old, he began by acknowledging that its basic thesis may need modification in light of recent events. In Bad Religion, Douthat argued that though we were a “nation of heretics,” we were still a Christian nation. In this sense he was hopeful; maybe bad religion was better than no religion. But after Obergefell and Trump, it was worth considering whether we were living in a post-Christian society, as Dreher contends.

Again, this is not a cause for despair. Instead of accepting defeat, we must focus on our continued capacity for action. Watching the endless stream of cable news, we often experience a sense of hopelessness. What can I do about the Supreme Court? What can I do to stop North Korea? What can I do to fix the healthcare system?

The obvious answer: not much.

So turn off the TV, take a good, hard look at your own family, your own community, and you will find something you can do. Environmentalists have a saying: “Think globally, act locally.” As Christians, we should think other-worldly and act locally. The point is not to elect more Republicans to political office; the point is not even to ensure America’s global dominance. The point is to get into heaven, and to help lift as many of our fellow man as we can along with us.

We don’t need to save the world – Someone already did. And He left some pretty clear instructions on how we are to act in light of His sacrifice and its meaning.

We don’t all have to move to little faith-based communities and send our children to private classical or religious academies. We don’t all need to withdraw from society and live as Benedictine monks. But we can all find ways to put religion back in the center of our lives instead of letting it languish on the periphery. We can get involved in our religious communities and seek out like-minded individuals for discussion and support. We can unplug from our iphones and use the extra time to cultivate deeper prayer lives.

I recently reread George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, the twin classics of dystopian literature. Both describe a world in which objective reality is denied; thus, they have much to teach us about our present cultural moment. But today Huxley’s prophesy rings more true. Our lives have been taken over by technology and sex. It’s not that we don’t have access to the wisdom of the past, it’s that we simply don’t care to seek it. To quote the title of Neil Postman’s famous work, we are too busy Amusing Ourselves to Death. Postman makes the following comparison:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one… In 1984, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us… What Huxley teaches is that in the age of advanced technology, spiritual devastation is more likely to come from an enemy with a smiling face than from one whose countenance exudes suspicion and hate.

In Brave New World, John the Savage is so disgusted by society that he withdraws to live an isolated existence as a self-flagellating monk. He can’t go back to the “savage” reservation, where he was never really welcome, and yet neither can he accommodate himself to modernity, where “nothing costs enough.” But the pressures of the outside world are too much for him to withstand alone. He eventually meets an unfortunate, though predictable end.

We are truly living in a brave new world — a radical departure from the traditional understanding of what it means to be human, facilitated by technology. But our fate need not be that of John the Savage. In the foreword to the 1946 edition, Huxley expresses the regret that he did not give his protagonist a third choice – to live in a community of other social “misfits.” There they could have assisted each other in seeking out the good, the beautiful, and the true, in a world that had long-since abandoned such pursuits for creature comforts and radical autonomy.

Fortunately for us, we still have this choice.

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A Question for Atheists

In 2012, a Gallup International poll found that 12% of global respondents identify as “convinced atheists.” In China, the figure is 47%, followed by Japan at 31% and France at 29%. In the United States, self-identified atheists have risen from 1% in 2005 to 5% in 2012. While this is still a very small figure, atheism predominates in certain metropolitan areas and career fields. A friend of mine living in Seattle recently expressed her frustration over the intolerance of the secular Left: “Up there, people think you’re an idiot if you believe in God.”

Make no mistake, even the historically religious United States is becoming increasingly atheistic. Since 2005, America has seen best-sellers on atheism by Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and others. Religion is routinely mocked on social media and television, while atheism is portrayed as mature, rational, and tolerant.

America’s religious divide is also generational. Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) are the least religious demographic in America, and they are bucking past trends by becoming less religious as they age. Even writing from the Bible Belt, I have observed signs of a rising atheism amongst my high school students. A couple years ago, I was surprised when nine or ten students in a single class decided, unprovoked, to proclaim their atheism (I would never question students about their personal religious beliefs; we happened to be discussing the role of religion in early societies). Their line of reasoning went something like this: “Religion is great for people who find comfort in all that ‘God’ stuff, but as an educated person, I know better.”

Which leads to my question for atheists: where do you get your faith?

I understand people who believe in God, but have been turned off by organized religion. Periodic scandals, perceptions of moral hypocrisy, and revulsion over past misdeeds may be enough to discourage potential followers. On the other hand, a culture steeped in secularism or just general apathy might prevent someone from going to church, though they still believe in God and even pray on occasion. These are the unaffiliated believers, and their position (though not one I would endorse) makes a certain sense. It offers a starting point, at least, from which to move towards a deeper encounter with God.

I also understand people who feel that we humans simply cannot reach definitive conclusions regarding the divine, including some agnostics. Catholicism teaches that the exact nature of God is a mystery beyond humanity’s power to fully comprehend. The Trinity and the Incarnation cannot be rationalized without losing an essential part of their Truth. This makes some people uncomfortable, and they would rather not even attempt to understand something beyond the limits of human reason.

But to look out at creation and proclaim: “I know there is no Creator!” is beyond me. How do you know?

Imagine that I were to place a sealed up cardboard box in front of you and ask you what was inside it. You could shake, smell, and feel the box, but not open it.

If you were to hear clucking and the flutter of feathers, you would rationally suspect that the box contained a chicken. Even if no noises were to come from the box, you would be unable to rule out the possibility that it contained something very light or inanimate.

An atheist is someone who looks at the box and confidently proclaims: “There is nothing inside that box!”

Really? How do you know?

Merriam-Webster defines atheism as “a disbelief in the existence of divinity” or “the doctrine that there is no deity.” Both positions contradict logic and experience, but the latter is just absurd. How can one ever be 100% convinced that God does not exist?

Here’s another popular thought experiment. Imagine the world is made up of little cardboard boxes. You open the first to discover a red ball. You open the second and find another red ball. This goes on for hundreds and even thousands of boxes—all contain red balls. Just as you are about to open the millionth box, I ask you what it contains. “A red ball,” would be your likely answer. But what if the millionth box contains a white ball? You have no way of knowing until you open it.

Atheism is thus unscientific. It presupposes not only that mankind has never discovered support for the existence of a Creator, but that it will never discover evidence of a Higher Power at any point in the future. In fact, much of science already points to the existence of God. The most persuasive of these arguments is the sheer improbability of life in the universe. Scientists used to believe that the only necessary conditions for a planet to support life were size and distance from a star of sufficient warmth. But they have since discovered a multitude of other conditions, the absence of any one of which would render life on Earth impossible. It’s almost as if Earth was designed for life.

Atheists cannot explain the origin of the universe. The Big Bang theory supports the idea of a Creator by positing that all matter originated from a single point. In fact, if one little thing had gone differently at the moment of the Big Bang, none of the elements would have been able to form.

Atheists cannot explain the origin of life. They would rather believe that life originated from an improbably lucky accident or outer space (which, if so, how did it get there?) than entertain the possibility of a creator God.

Ironically, atheism is not without its crowned saint – Charles Darwin. His theory of evolution has long been atheism’s best argument or most cherished dogma, depending on your point of view. Never mind that atheists cannot explain how the universe or life originated; they claim to know that human life evolved from the most basic single-celled organism over millions of years by pure chance.

While persuasive on some level, this argument still has several holes. We can observe natural selection at work, or the process by which a species better adapts to its environment. But, to use the classic example, the fact that more black moths survived to reproduce that white moths in industrial Britain does not in any way refute the existence of God. What we have never observed is a species becoming another species. Currently the best theory as to the mechanism of evolution on a macro scale is random genetic mutation. But this explanation cannot account for the fact that most genetic mutations are harmful and/or can’t be passed on to offspring. The theory of Intelligent Design seems a persuasive alternative to me, but to many atheists this position is no better than Creationism; to be taken seriously, one must deny any role for God at the outset.

So what explains atheism’s appeal, especially among the young, urban, and educated?

My guess is that some people are just confused. They would like to believe in God, but falsely believe God has been disproved by science. Others are apathetic; they just don’t care. But for others, atheism fits nicely into their secular worldview. If there is no God, then I get to be my own god. If I was made not by a Creator, but by a series of lucky mutations, then there is nothing to keep me from remaking myself in the image of my choosing. I get to set my own rules, unconstrained by divine teaching or natural limits. Furthermore, I get the elitist’s satisfaction of believing myself superior to the ignorant masses, along with the occasional chuckle at their expense.

Atheists like to point to all the wars that have been fought over religion, but they ignore the far greater number that have been fought over just this sort of hubris, including the worst tragedies of the 20th century. The Nazis and the Soviets both rejected God, whether explicitly or implicitly, and decided to take human evolution into their own hands. They sought to remake not just society but mankind himself, with disastrous consequences. In the case of the Nazis, they even quoted Darwin in the process.

This is not to say that atheists are bad people—far from it. There can be and have been many good atheists or agnostics, just as there have been religious people who nevertheless committed heinous crimes. To worship is natural, and so is to doubt. But to categorically deny the existence of a Creator is unscientific, and atheism requires far greater faith than Christianity. My question once again for atheists is: where do you get your faith?

Is the Climate in Crisis and the Market Immoral? Reaction to Laudato Si’

I consider myself a free market fan, a climate change skeptic, and a Roman Catholic. For weeks now, the secular media has been telling me that I would hate this papal encyclical. Pope Francis was going to stick it to the anti-scientific conservative deniers and side firmly with the more liberal environmentalists. Now that it is out, reaction is even more hysterical. Fortunately for me, I have learned not to listen to the secular media on anything to do with my faith. Most journalists can’t understand that when it comes to the Catholic Church (whose very meaning is “universal”), it is not about Right or Left, conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat. It’s not about scoring short-term victories for a particular “side.” There are no “sides.” We are one community of believers and one human race; we win and we lose together.

Though I have seen his words taken out of context and twisted on many occasions, Pope Francis has never given me any reason to doubt his deep faith and good intentions. I was inspired by his palpable excitement over the Gospel in Evangelii Gaudium. Far from dreading its release, I was thrilled when a leaked copy of Laudato Si’ was made available. Having since taken the time to read it carefully in its entirety (as I expect many have not), I am now ready to share my thoughts.

Taken as a whole, I found much in the encyclical to appreciate and ponder. Pope Francis’ call to unite in defense of the environment is timely and well-stated. I will however add a few of my own observations to the pope’s analysis of the scientific, economic, and political situation. These three “quibbles” are not so much cases of outright disagreement as they are merely additional perspectives. First, I think Pope Francis overstates the case for anthropogenic climate change, though he is careful to maintain that the Church does not seek to settle scientific debates. Second, while much of Francis’ criticism of global capitalism is warranted, I think he overlooks the potential of the free market to generate solutions to both environmental degradation and poverty. Lastly, while international cooperation is certainly necessary, I view the suggestion of a global governing authority as somewhat naïve and potentially dangerous. However, none of these “quibbles” prevent me from embracing the larger point Pope Francis is making about the moral imperative of caring for the environment and the poor. It is one we would all do well to heed.

Everything is Connected

In addressing concern for our “common home,” Pope Francis is neither overstepping his bounds nor breaking with the rich history and tradition of Catholicism. He makes numerous references to other popes, bishops, and saints who have at various times expressed concern for the environment as a moral imperative. For example, he cites Saint John Paul II’s warning that human beings seem “to see no other meaning in their natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption.” He also notes Pope Benedict’s recognition that the environment and society have both been “greatly damaged by our irresponsible behavior,” resulting from “the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence human freedom is limitless.”

cows and smoke

I agree with Pope Francis that Christianity obliges us to be good stewards of the environment, that appreciation for nature can draw us closer to God, and that respect for God, nature, and human life are intimately intertwined. Everything is connected:

Our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God. Otherwise, it would be nothing more than romantic individualism dressed up in ecological garb..

When the human person is considered as simply one being among others, the product of chance or physical determinism, then “our overall sense of responsibility wanes”.[96] …Human beings cannot be expected to feel responsibility for the world unless, at the same time, their unique capacities of knowledge, will, freedom and responsibility are recognized and valued.

I now realize that most of my dissatisfaction with the secular environmentalist movement is the result of its devaluing of human life and its misplaced worship of creation in place of the Creator. How can we mourn the extinction of the Rocky Mountain grasshopper when we ignore the millions of human beings suffering from disease, starvation, and war? How can we go to such lengths to protect the nesting grounds of birds and turtles when millions of children are annually slaughtered in the womb? Either life is a gift to be cherished, or it is not. Either there is a power higher and a purpose greater than our individual desires, or there is none. You can’t have it both ways.

Quibble #1: Climate Change

After establishing respect for the environment as a moral and religious issue, Francis goes on to catalogue the damage we have done to our planet over the course of the last two hundred years. This list includes pollution, loss of biodiversity, decline in the quality of human life, societal breakdown, global inequality, and, of course, climate change. Some in the media would have us believe that Francis’ call to dialogue about the climate is in fact the end of the discussion, but consider his words for yourself:

A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it. It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity.

In at least six other places that I can count, Pope Francis tempers the case for global warming with the caveat that the Church does not seek to settle matters of scientific debate (paragraphs 14, 15, 16, 19, 61, and 188). It appears that his advisors on this issue included a number of climate activists to the exclusion of at least one climate skeptic, which may explain his “catastrophist” position. I personally don’t find the evidence as persuasive, making this Quibble #1.

First, it is important to note that the earth has experienced times of far greater concentration of carbon in the atmosphere without a corresponding increase in average temperatures. This contradiction led the founder of Greenpeace to come out as a climate change skeptic. The evidence for global warming is often presented as conclusive, but several recent scandals have shown scientists to be manipulating the data to exaggerating warming trends. Some even described the decades-long hiatus as a “disaster,” which explains the ditching of “global warming” for the more neutral “climate change.” But if we are to count rising, falling, and steady temperatures all as evidence of man-made climate change, then the theory is unfalsifiable and thus unscientific.

Dansgaard-Temperature2

It is also worth noting that climate change is largely a prediction about the future. With as much disagreement as exists over the past and present, how much greater is the margin of error over events that have not yet occurred? A number of scientific models have already been discredited, including predictions of another Ice Age and concerns that overpopulation would run the world out of food. Even if the Catholic Church and the scientific community were to reach an agreement on the issue of global warming, this alone would not constitute ironclad proof, as they were united in support for the geocentric theory for nearly fifteen centuries. Pope Francis himself bucks the majority of the world’s scientists when he offers an intelligent design theory of human evolution:

Human beings, even if we postulate a process of evolution, also possess a uniqueness which cannot be fully explained by the evolution of other open systems… Our capacity to reason, to develop arguments, to be inventive, to interpret reality and to create art, along with other not yet discovered capacities, are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology. The sheer novelty involved in the emergence of a personal being within a material universe presupposes a direct action of God…

Much like the idea that human life evolved via a series of random genetic mutations, theories of anthropogenic climate change contain several holes and contradictions. Yet to question either in the scientific community is to risk professional suicide. This is not to assert with 100% certitude that global warming is not occurring. I agree with Bjorn Lomborg that there is likely a small amount of global warming related to human activity that has been greatly exaggerated, but to stop or even slow it would require draconian restrictions on production and consumption that would have devastating effects on human life.

This leads to the question: if one disagrees with the proposition that climate change is an apocalyptic threat, what does this mean for human behavior? Are we to keep wasting, consuming, polluting, and emitting away just because the world won’t end if we do? I think not. You don’t need to believe in global warming to value clean air, pristine oceans, biodiversity, human life, and more prudent development of the earth’s resources. Imagine I told you that smoking cigarettes would cause you to spontaneously combust. This statement would be false, but this is no reason to start smoking two packs a day. I agree with Ross Douthat that the pope’s arguments still resonate even if stagnation is more likely than catastrophe. Perhaps a greater concern is “not a fear that the problems of our age can’t last, but the fear that, actually, they can.”

surfer

Quibble #2: Capitalism

It is true that Pope Francis has some harsh words for global capitalism:

The principle of the maximization of profits, frequently isolated from other considerations, reflects a misunderstanding of the very concept of the economy. As long as production is increased, little concern is given to whether it is at the cost of future resources or the health of the environment…

Since the market tends to promote extreme consumerism in an effort to sell its products, people can easily get caught up in a whirlwind of needless buying and spending. Compulsive consumerism is one example of how the techno-economic paradigm affects individuals….This paradigm leads people to believe that they are free as long as they have the supposed freedom to consume.

I don’t disagree with either of these points. The free market is not infallible, and it can encourage an unhealthy obsession with “stuff.” However, we should realize that all economic systems have their drawbacks and none can alleviate the very human vices of greed and short-sightedness. The rules of the game may change; our fallen human nature does not.

When Adam Smith first laid out a rationale for capitalism, he argued that individuals freely pursuing their own self-interest would add up to the collective benefit of society. However, there isn’t a capitalist alive today who doesn’t acknowledge the existence of “market failures,” or times when individual self-interest redounds to society’s overall detriment. Pollution is a prime example of a market failure. Thus, we need reasonable regulations on development and prohibitions on certain activities like the dumping of toxic waste into rivers. We need to set just limits on what individuals can do to alter the landscape, even if it is on private property. A great example of this is the disgusting practice of mountain-top removal that has scarred the face of my own home in Appalachia. The answer is not to replace capitalism, but rather to ensure that it is properly regulated. Much of the apparent failures of capitalism are really the result of the immoral collusion of Big Business and Big Government to stifle true competition and “rig the game” for the well-connected.

mountaintop

Pope Francis occasionally sounds as though the market were an obstacle to the poor, when it has in fact enabled billions to escape poverty by rising into the middle class. Industrialization has been proven to dramatically increase standards of living, and capitalism is the only system that has consistently allowed for upward mobility. However, just as the system creates winners, it also leaves losers. We cannot turn our backs on those who have lost out in the free market, whether as a result of low skills, lack of initiative, or just plain bad luck. Thus, in addition to sensible regulation, we also need policies to help meet the needs of the poor that recognize the inherent dignity of work. Pope Francis is correct in calling for us all to examine our own patterns of consumption and disposal, to resist the spiritual emptiness of consumerism, and to embrace the old wisdom that “less is more.” (Although his criticism of air conditioning may have set me back a few years in my attempts to convert my husband.)

Quibble #3: Global Government

My biggest point of disagreement with Laudato Si’ comes in paragraph 175:

(I)t is essential to devise stronger and more efficiently organized international institutions, with functionaries who are appointed fairly by agreement among national governments, and empowered to impose sanctions. As Benedict XVI has affirmed in continuity with the social teaching of the Church: “To manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration: for all this, there is urgent need of a true world political authority, as my predecessor Blessed John XXIII indicated some years ago”.[129]

Yes, global challenges require international cooperation. But unless one country’s actions gravely endanger another’s, national sovereignty should be respected. If we can’t trust CEOs and corporate boards to put the common good above their own, how can we put this expectation on elected officials and international agencies? Just as the preservation of individual freedom yields greater results on the micro level, so too is national sovereignty preferable to global governance at the macro level. Man’s fallen nature requires government to be limited and power decentralized so as to prevent tyranny.

Conclusion

Conservatives who feel awkward about disagreeing with the pope on climate change should pause and consider whether they have something to learn from his position on the environment. Liberals who feel triumphant about the pope’s stance on climate change should consider whether they have something to learn from his position on abortion:

Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?

When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities – to offer just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected.

Maybe we all need to be reminded that whatever our particular –ism might be (capitalism, communism, socialism, liberalism, conservatism), it can never hope to contain the whole truth. Our -ism’s don’t have all the answers; they offer but pieces of the greater puzzle. There is always the danger of isolating one piece of the truth and blowing it out of proportion. This is why I prefer to identify as Catholic instead of Republican, conservative, or libertarian. We should be willing to work together with all people of good will, even if we disagree over the best methods to achieve our common goals. Despite having my own opinions, I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to benefit from Francis’ faith and wisdom, and ready to seriously reflect on how I can heed his call to care for the environment and the poor.