In Chapter 1 of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, we have been looking at how he views the current condition of the earth and so far in our study, he has shared his observations on pollution, the climate, the issue of water and the loss of biodiversity.
Now he changes gears a bit and wants us to consider how we, as humans, fit into nature.
Understanding Pope Francis on Humans as Part of Ecology
To start this fourth section of chapter 1 titled, “Decline in the Quality of Human Life and the Breakdown of Society” (paragraph 43), he reminds us that we are also “creatures of this world” and we because of God has given us special dignity, we can’t overlook how the breakdown of the environment and the throwaway culture affects us, the people.
The Pope shares his concern for the quality of human life in big cities because they have become “unhealthy to live in, not only because of pollution caused by toxic emissions, but also as a result of urban chaos, poor transportation, and visual pollution and noise.” He believes many of the buildings are inefficient and waste resources including water and energy. These cities, he observes need more “green space” for people because “we were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature.” (Paragraph 44)
In fact, he feels that in some communities people cannot enjoy nature’s beauty at all because public spaces are becoming privatized and restricted from the public. He also mentions that although new “ecological neighborhoods” are being created, they are restricted to the people who create them or they are built in areas of the city considered “safe” and away from the areas where the “disposable of society live” leaving many people almost entirely out of touch with nature. (Paragraph 45)
“We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature.”
Next he points us towards the “social dimensions” of our changing world and asks that we consider how development and technology affects how we work, how we interact with one another and how technological growth causes new problems like “social exclusion,” unfair distribution of resources, and the breakdown of societies including “rise in new forms of social aggression, drug trafficking, growing drug use by young people, and the loss of identity.” The Pope believes that these problems are the “signs” that the development of the past 200 years hasn’t always improved our lives. In fact, he feels that some of these problems show that the opposite and that the development is “symptomatic of real social decline” and severe damage to the bonds that hold and keep societies together. (Paragraph 46)
These social problems, he believes, are further damaged by media and technology. He says, “When media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously.” In our digital world, he feels that we as human beings need to make effort to not let media influence us to the point that we miss valuable lessons available to us from the “sages of the past” and that media should “become sources of new cultural progress for humanity and not a threat to our deepest riches.” In this, he shares, is where we find “true wisdom,” wisdom where we learn about ourselves through personal interaction with other human beings and not become “overloaded” or confused with the “mental pollution” of the media.
“When media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously.”
The “mental pollution” caused by our digital world, he says, is replacing human relationships with social media where we “choose to eliminate relationships at whim” and where real emotions are substituted with feelings based more on our phones and electronic devices than people. Although the digital world allows us to “communicate and to share our knowledge and affections” and offers “exciting possibilities,” it also can “shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences.” These are the reasons he says that we should also be concerned about media causing people to become dissatisfied with real human interaction and the “harmful sense of isolation” it can cause. (Paragraph 47)
What Does It Mean for You and Me?
For us, this is a good time to step back and think about what the Pope wants us to understand about our condition as creatures and our part in the bigger picture of ecology. We aren’t just another animal among all of God’s animals because he has given us unique dignity and reason. And because of these gifts, he expects us to use them to follow his commandments and care for creation including care for the good of our families and all other people.
How Can We Make a Difference?
In this section, the Pope has just touched the surface on the topic of “the quality of human life and the breakdown of society.” As we get deeper into the encyclical, he challenges us more, but for now he directly points out our need to enjoy and participate in nature and the dangers of digital and social media.
We can make a difference by:
- Make Time to Get Outside
We can make extra effort to take time to get out and enjoy God’s beauty with family and friends. Invite your spouse to go on a walk, take your kids to the park, the beach, or on a hike. Go kayaking, canoeing or camping. Sit on the porch and enjoy a book in the sun. Make extra effort to go out into nature and take time away from electronic devices and their influence.
- Help Someone Else Enjoy Nature
If you can, become a Big Brother/Sister and take a young person out who may not have the opportunity without your help. Take them on a bike ride, skiing, or boating. Volunteer to help at a nature camp for children/people with disabilities. Take your elderly parents, grandparents, or other family members out for a walk, a drive or a picnic. Spending time outdoors with people who may need a little help, can be a small sacrifice for you and can mean the world to them!
- Use Digital Media Wisely
Put away the electronic devices to enjoy time and talk with your family. Ignore the day’s news and talk about the current events happening in the lives of the family around you. Even if it’s just you at home, turn off the TV and go for a walk, especially if you find yourself frustrated or upset with the news you read online or becoming too involved in what is happening on social media.
- Be Considerate and Kind Online
Remember that just like you, behind each screen name there is a real person. Think about what you are positing and be considerate when leaving comments. The internet isn’t really anonymous and as Christian people, we shouldn’t allow social media to be an excuse to be rude. If you wouldn’t say something to someone in person, don’t say it on social media.
The internet and social media can also be a great place to witness to our faith, but we need to do it with love and respect. We can be persecuted by people who don’t believe the same things or understand our faith, but even our debate should be kind and considerate. If necessary, agree to disagree, in love. Resist the urge to be nasty. If you read it back as if someone was writing it to you and you find it even a little offensive, don’t do it!
- Unplug and Detox from “Mental Pollution” with God
Remember that you are a loved, child of God and we can and should take time to completely unplug from TV, news, all social media, our computers, tablets and phones. It’s important that we take time for Eucharistic Adoration, scripture study, devotional reading and prayer. Go to a weekday mass. Pray the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet. Sit outside and experience God in the silence of the wind, the warm sun, and detox in the beauty he created for us!
Our series will be finishing up Chapter one soon looking at the remaining few sections the Pope titles, “Global Inequality,” “Weak Responses,” and “A Variety of Opinions.” In the meantime, if you’ve missed any of the posts in the study, you can see them all at the Laudato Si’ series page here.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post, but now I hope you’ll turn off your device and get out into nature! Enjoy!