More Than Many Sparrows and Our Common Home
“So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:31)
Perhaps we as a society have forgotten, not necessarily due to any willingness, willfulness, or distractions, that it is beyond merely possible or convenient – indeed, it is necessary – for us within a pluralistic society to be preoccupied by more than one social justice concern at a time. We observe this when fleeting, faddy activism comes and goes, as populism-fueled Tweets and headlines – frequently devoid of the ideally prerequisite reflection – rule the day and subsequently determine the outrage du-jour while neglecting to account for the real need to take seriously actual and legitimate concerns that affect us all. In other words, trendy activism does not stand up to the muster of true social justice initiatives, at least from a Christian mindset.
One such example is in the realm of environmentalism, the merits of which we must both emphasize and examine if it should be possible to recall that the earth – our temporary home – can be protected and preserved while we simultaneously acclaim the prescience of acknowledging the inherent uniqueness of humanity’s dignity, worth, and inviolability. Of course, it is crucial to protect the Lord’s creation*, not only for our temporally- and eternally-oriented wellbeing, but for our forthcoming progeny as well. The earth is a fragile conglomeration of delicate ecosystems that are steadily threatened by human activity, leading to the ravages caused by the pollution of air, water, soil, and other resources, not to mention the likelihood of climate change. The need to protect our common home is thus both evident and crucially vital at this juncture in human history.
On May 25, 2015, going on eighteen months ago, Pope Francis issued his groundbreaking encyclical letter Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home. No matter your perceptions of how to best protect the earth, if you have not already done so, you should read the encyclical, with a particularly prayerful and open-minded approach. On that note, you would do well to meditate upon a passage that has not received its due notice (at least beyond pro-life affiliations). The following reminder from the Holy Father is nestled approximately halfway through the document: “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? ‘If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away’” (Laudato Si’, 120; quoting Pope Benedict XVI’s Caritatis in Veritate, 28 [in reference to Benedict’s “Message for the 2007 World Day of Peace,” 5]).
In this particular reference, Pope Francis was referring to the unborn, reminding us of the most precious of God’s creations: nascent [human] life. In fact, Pope Francis made some recourse to the terms “child” or “children” (not to mention additional allusions to future populations) a total of ten times within Laudato Si’, indicating the vast importance of preserving the earth and its natural resources not for its own sake, but for the sake of our children, their own children, and so on. Months before Laudato Si’ was published, Pope Francis embarked on his apostolic journey of January 12-19, 2015, to Sri Lanka and the Philippines. In his January 16 Address during His Meeting with Families in Manila, he referred to a certain “ideological colonization” that can manifest itself in the form of an aggressive contraceptive mentality (rather than a chaste mentality, which is presently another quite profound consideration that we will have to table for now). Thus, the Holy Father made the following statement within the context of his broader address: “These are forms of ideological colonization. The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life.” A lack of openness to life. We therefore see the importance of marriage and the family, proclaiming the value of all human life, in the midst of various other moral considerations.
When we justifiably underscore the vast significance of protecting the earth, we must remember why we do so, lest we inadvertently descend [any further] into pantheism, geo-paganism, or some other wanton semblance of practical polytheism, whereby we hold the physicality of the earth to have some transcendent ethos to the exclusion of humanistic – let alone adeptly theological – implications. Otherwise, if the rhetoric of those positions had its way, we as a species should have gotten out of the way long ago.
Recalling the assessment that it is critical to allow for more than one morality-imbued rumination at a time, we must likewise assert that the earth must never be exploited, demeaned, or otherwise manipulated, let alone outright devastated. Indeed, every organism, from the paramecium to the blue whale, from algae to the giant sequoia, is reflective of God’s glory and the wonder inherent to the universe. The next time you are bitten by an Asian tiger mosquito on a humid summer dusk, remember that such an organism has a role within the grand sphere of life. So too does the dung beetle. And the mountain gorilla. And, yes, even poison ivy and stinkbugs. Thus, look for opportunities to support conservationists in their efforts to protect species, especially critically endangered ones. But so much more, the human child.
At the end of the day, our children remain our utmost priority, and primacy goes to humanity, because we alone are made in the “image” and “likeness” of God (see Genesis 1:26-27). Hence, the labors of organizations such as Culture of Life Africa, the Population Research Institute, and other international endeavors dedicated to underscoring the need to combat poverty, hunger, and other injustices brought about by socioeconomic strife, while simultaneously opposing abortion, population control, and other threats to the inalienable status of every single human life as a gift from God, are that much more of a moral imperative in the increasingly globalized twenty-first century world. Ultimately, we humans – especially the most vulnerable among us, our children – remain “worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31).
(*As a pertinent, yet extensive, conclusive remark, it is worth recalling that when we talk about “creation,” we are not referring to the polemical term “creationism,” particularly since Catholic doctrine reliably recognizes the underpinnings of biological evolution, perhaps most famously seen during the pontificate of St. Pope John Paul II (1978-2005), as in his famous “Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences” of October 22, 1996 [which you can read in the original Italian if you are feeling linguistically adventurous]. Although previous popes since the era of Darwin in the mid- to late 1800s, such as Pope Paul XXII within the context of his 1950 encyclical Humani Generis, expressed some palpable [palpably papal?] reservations [not to be confused with rejections], it is logical to deduce that the international community itself was still attempting to fathom this relatively new scientific position. Indeed, Pope Francis notably discussed the circumstance of evolution during his “Address to the Plenary Session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences” on October 27, 2014, during which he reminded us that “[t]he beginning of the world was not a work of chaos that owes its origin to another, but derives directly from a supreme Principle who creates out of love. The Big Bang theory, which is proposed today as the origin of the world, does not contradict the intervention of a divine creator, but depends on it. Evolution in nature does not conflict with the notion of Creation, because evolution presupposes the creation of beings who evolve.” Although media outlets remarked on this incident with surprise, this was actually non-news as far as the Catholic Church is concerned, chiefly considering that it was a Belgian priest, Fr. Georges Lemaître, who first elucidated the Big Bang theory, after which Albert Einstein himself applauded and proclaimed “This is the most beautiful and satisfactory explanation of creation to which I have ever listened.” It is important to take the time to appreciate coverage such as that provided by Joe Heschmeyer of Word on Fire in order to receive accurate reporting of the Church’s stance.)