June 11, 2015

The Pope and the Planet

Habemus problem! In an encyclical letter due next week, Pope Francis himself will intervene in the global story of climate change, bringing scientific and moral authority into alignment. The Pope will argue that human beings and high-tech capitalism have “slapped” nature and all creation “in the face."

A week before the big release, this show had us excited about Pope Francis’s full-throated challenge to the status quo — the text in full of Laudato Si is now available on the Vatican’s website. But what he’s challenging (behavior that turns Creation, more and more, into “an immense pile of filth”) ended up sounding a lot like our guest Sally Weintrobe‘s psychoanalytic scolding of the wasteful parts of humanity:

It doesn’t go deep enough to say that this is a problem with capitalism. It’s a much, much older problem, the problem of the fantasy of the inexhaustible breast: that the earth is really a kind of a breast/toilet that provides endlessly in an ideal way and then receives all our waste. So I think the human race is being encouraged to grow up.

Meanwhile, our guest Naomi Oreskes got the celebrity-lightning-rod treatment in The New York Times — read more here.

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Habemus problem!

In an encyclical letter, Pope Francis himself will intervene next week on the global story of climate change, bringing scientific and moral authority into alignment. The Pope will argue that human beings and high-tech capitalism have “slapped” nature and all creation “in the face.”

Trade deals and drilling permits are booming while the Kyoto spirit limps along. No wonder world leaders, eco-crusaders, and atheist scientists are all so hungry for some Good News. It’s time to kick the climate problem upstairs, but can a letter from Rome change things?

We’ll be speaking to Naomi Oreskes, who’s advising the Vatican on climate and turning scientific knowledge into a political message. Her 2010 book Merchants of Doubt indicted the tactics that oil companies cribbed from the tobacco titans and became a film phenomenon last year. As with tobacco smoke and acid rain, science isn’t enough to win an argument against opponents with a modest but dangerous specialty: getting people to question certain unpleasant realities.

Sally Weintrobe, our psychoanalyst of climate change, will put late capitalism on the couch and explain why we’re so eager to ignore the real world of droughts, floods, and our own climate change complicity. Dr. Weintrobe says a little more climate guilt is what we need in the global North, and maybe that’s where the church comes in.

But Francis is expected to take us back to bigger ideas than guilt. Awe of creation and care for “the least of these,” are the old values that welcome (even prefigure) the most complicated climate science. Dorothy Boorse, a biologist who combines love of nature with love of God — and who’s been pitching American evangelicals on climate as a moral issue for years — will let us in on a faith-science alliance that’s well underway and ready to save all of us gas-guzzling sinners.

We hear the most bracing telling, not in the skeptical speeches of Rick Santorum, even, but in the doomsaying of Paul Kingsnorth, a former eco-activist who has lost his faith in the ability of people to change. Here he is on the broken myths of our society too late to change:

Tell us: are you waiting to hear what the pope has to say about the environment and justice next week? And what will it take to move the needle toward real collective action on climate matters?

January 9, 2014

The Pope Francis Phenomenon

Pope Francis wants a church that’s “bruised, hurting and dirty” – his words -- in the streets with real people, not confined or clinging to its own security. He had the audacity as no Pope before him to choose the beloved name Francis for the saint of birds and nature, the saint marked hand and foot with the wounds of Jesus.
Mary Gordon on Pope Francis: Hope for Grown-Ups
Peter Manseau on Growing Up Catholic in Boston as the Son of a Priest and a Nun

We’re searching the Pope Francis Phenomenon in this radio hour: the man from Argentina and his many messages from Rome, his body language, feet-washings, mob scenes in Vatican Square. He “even uses words” now and then, as the 13th Century Saint Francis urged back in the day.

Pope Francis wants a church that’s “bruised, hurting and dirty” – his words — in the streets with real people, not confined or clinging to its own security. He had the audacity as no Pope before him to choose the beloved name Francis for the saint of birds and nature, the saint marked hand and foot with the wounds of Jesus. As the votes were being cast to elect him last Spring, the name “entered my heart,” he said. “Francis of Assissi; for me he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects others.”

We have to search his past, his plans for a faith and an institution that seemed to be limping. We want to search ourselves too: what is the human hunger Pope Francis has confirmed – not just Catholic or churchy — all across the world. What is the wave-length on which so many non-religious people “get” him? Why TIME magazine’s hands-down runaway pick for Man of the Year, 2013? And what does the blogger Andrew Sullivan mean when he says “you don’t have to be a believer to recognize a moment of grace…”? Delivering not hope, but “proof that hope is not groundless.”

Podcast • January 9, 2014

Peter Manseau on Growing Up Catholic in Boston as the Son of a Priest and a Nun

Peter Manseau wrote a brilliant op-ed in the Times a few months ago about married priests, a no-no in the Catholic Church, of course. But, nevertheless, his father was one, is one. He met Peter’s ...

Peter Manseau wrote a brilliant op-ed in the Times a few months ago about married priests, a no-no in the Catholic Church, of course. But, nevertheless, his father was one, is one. He met Peter’s mother in Dorchester years ago, married her and had to leave the priesthood as a result. They are still married today and his father still a priest, by his own lights. Peter is a devoted son but not an active Catholic. This goes in the file of the infinite varieties of religious experience – the individuality and courage and discrimination all kinds of people bring to their religious lives. We asked him to tell us his story of how this new Pope Francis has registered on his heart, his history.

Podcast • April 12, 2013

Speaking of Pope Francis: What’s in a Name?

At the Harvard Divinity School, we’re listening in on the euphoria around the new Pope, Francis. What’s in a name? A lot, it turns out. What’s the real brand of the Jesuit order that shaped ...

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At the Harvard Divinity School, we’re listening in on the euphoria around the new Pope, Francis.

What’s in a name? A lot, it turns out.

What’s the real brand of the Jesuit order that shaped and marks this priest? Well, it goes deeper than I knew.

And how differently, really, does a pope from the Global South see a church outgrowing its Old European roots? Listen here.

First up here: the novelist and relentless scold of his church, my friend James Carroll on the pope’s “astonishing choice of this name.”

There’s a ringing clarity to it that took the world’s breath away. It was ingenious. It was worthy of a great poet. Look at who Francis is. He isn’t just the man of the poor. He’s also the green saint. There are festivals of St. Francis that are celebrations of Gaia, of holy earth, where people bring all the animals into the church, all the plants. It’s a magnificent tradition. It’s St. Francis. St Francis is the saint of the environmental movement. St. Francis is a secular saint. People who’ve long since given up any impulse to religious expression have St. Francis in their gardens. St. Francis belongs to the world. This man choosing this name conveyed something non-verbally, non-rationally, pre-rationally. It just rang!

James Carroll, at right in photo, at the Harvard Divinity School, with Francis Clooney and Chris Lydon, April 2013

It was Jim Carroll’s line that Pope Francis named himself for the heart of the church, and that he comes from the brain of the church. It was for the Jesuit on our panel, Francis Clooney,S.J., to unpack that “Jesuit ethos.”

So what is the Jesuit thing about? It’s the greater glory of God, the ‘magis,’ the more. Finding God in all things, the ability to imagine the borderlands, to step outside — to be the church where there is no church. To go to the farthest parts of the world, to learn the languages, to be in the different cultural settings, the be in all the difficulty places. All these things can be said… and still the essence of it — the life source for the Jesuits — is that the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola, based in his own mystical experience — is not a book of doctrine. It’s not a catechism. It’s not a book that you can sit down and read and say: I have learned. It’s a book of exercises, in which one has to put oneself into the situation of existentially confronting your own limitations, you own sickness, your own age, your own death — and then launch into walking with Christ, contemplating Christ, and then see where it comes out the other end.

Francis Clooney, at left in photo, at the Harvard Divinity School, April 2013

About a church that we all know is expanding in Africa, Latin America, and Asia: what does the new face of the Church say to Islam? And could there be another signal in that name the Pope chose? Could it be a reference to the meeting that St. Francis of Assisi arranged for himself with the Sultan of Egypt during the Fifth Crusade in the 13th Century?

I was struck that the church Frank Clooney and Jim Carroll were describing sounds so much more humble, more forgiving, maybe more human, than the church we grew up in. A lot of us, I think, will be paying closer attention. Jim Carroll underlined the virtue of humility in the church when a question came about the Pope’s history as Bishop of Buenos Aires during the “dirty war” under brutal military junta in the 1970s and 80. Did he look away from the torture of his priests, even Jesuits? How much would it matter? Jim Carroll’s answer challenged and enlightened a packed house.

Fritz Eichenberg, wood engraving, "The Prayer of Saint Francis" (1979)

Fritz Eichenberg, wood engraving, “The Prayer of Saint Francis” (1979)