When Religion & Science Become Pals, Politicians Become a Third Wheel
Science and religion walked into a bar yesterday holding hands and the 2016 presidential candidates policies exploded like a black hole. In a move that has Copernicus and Galileo rolling over in their graves, Pope Francis has decided to use his papacy to do more than just save souls, and is now focusing on the future of corporeal bodies on Earth. He’s throwing down the encyclical gauntlet on global warming.
In a 192-page paper released on Thursday, Pope Francis is taking no prisoners in his quest to make our world greener, and he has no rosary beads to give to deniers. In the eyes of the Catholic Church, God made and gifted the Earth to man, and it is therefore humanity’s duty to preserve and protect it. He says within the encyclical:
“Authentic human development has a moral character. It presumes full respect for the human person, but it must also be concerned for the world around us and ‘take into account the nature of each being and of its mutual connection in an ordered system.’ Accordingly, our human ability to transform reality must proceed in line with God’s original gift of all that is.”
At each turn throughout the encyclical, Pope Francis relies on science to make the case that the climate change is a direct result of human activity. He cites polluted air, soil, and water, unchecked waste piling up across the world, and the fault is not just a decay of our planet, but of an inner moral decay of a consumer-driven “throwaway culture.”
“The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor;”
In layman’s terms, the Pope is done pussyfooting around politicians and self-interest failing to tackle an issue he sees as having a direct correlation to the suffering of millions. “There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good,” he argues. And the hardest hit are often those least able to recover—the poor. The underdeveloped struggling third world nations do not have billions in recovery to rebuild after super storms created by global warming hit them, nor the infrastructure to cope with droughts and over-farmed soils unable to sustain critical food growth. While this encyclical is aimed as a warning to those in power that time is now to make a difference, at its core it’s to help protect those with the least.
And that, makes U.S. politicians very nervous. Here is the most influential religious leader in the world, the spiritual boss of 80 million U.S. Catholics, and he’s telling them that global warming is now not only scientific fact, but religious doctrine. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is already organizing two briefings with Congress and a trip to the White House to try and unite religion, science and politics into a perfect triumvirate of action. Parishes across the U.S. are teaming up with engineers and scientists to reduce their carbon footprints, as well as creating pamphlets to educate the public. This is the action of a large contingency of religious Americans acting on climate change in a way that could have a very real affect on the 2016 elections.
The GOP, largely the bastion of the Christian right, has made a platform out of denying climate change as liberal propaganda. It’s a policy that has worked for them, kept their key oil and gas industry donors happy, and the conservative base readily goes along with it, as the party also backs the Christian backbone of pro-life policies. It’s a comfortable fit for the Christian right to sit firmly within the party of family values, but Catholicism doesn’t quite fit that same mold.
If you thought Romney’s Mormonism was an issue in 2008, it was nothing compared to the sketch factor people felt toward JFK in the 1960s. His presidency was a landmark win, not just for his youth, but because he was Catholic, and Christian-non-Catholics were extremely concerned that the Vatican would suddenly be granted far too much influence into U.S. politics. Even as recently as 2004, John Kerry’s Catholicism was a hotly debated topic in the presidential elections, when cardinals called for him to be denied communion over his pro-choice policies.
As one of the largest voting blocs in the American electorates, Catholics can act as a very unpredictable swing vote. It’s not a coincidence the Catholic presidential candidates have been members of the Democratic party, but neither is it that Catholics helped the GOP win the midterm elections in 2012. The tenets of Catholicism are a preservation of life nearly above all else, which while that includes anti-abortion policies and conservative family values, the Church is equally an advocate against the death penalty, war, and guns—all things that reside more closely within the DNC than the RNC handbooks. Catholics also have a far tighter grasp on Latino minority votes than any other party, and when you combine those two factors, it’s no wonder candidates start sweating like a sinner in church when the Pope makes big policy-changing statements.
In a field of Republican nominees in which five are Catholic, they’re now faced with having to choose to prioritize their party policy over their religious doctrine, and doing so could very easily make them lose credibility with both. For candidates seeking to capture the Catholic vote, taking a hardline against the Pope is not going to do them any favors.
Jeb Bush, who converted to Catholicism 20 years ago when he married his wife remarked in advance of the encyclical,
“I hope I’m not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home, but I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinal or my pope…I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.”
It’s a dangerous line to take for Jeb in particular, he’s one of the few pro-immigration reform Republican candidates which makes him more friendly toward the huge Latino voting bloc, but simultaneously rebuking the Pope puts that in jeopardy. Rick Santorum, who is devoutly Catholic, also took a mocking turn toward the Pope’s previous comments on climate change to European leaders, saying:
“The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we’re good at, which is theology and morality.”
Which is funny, since one, the Pope studied chemistry before joining the seminary, and secondly I think we’d all agree our politicians have gotten it wrong on theology and morality before (not to mention science) and it would be nice if they focused on you know, actual policy.
How Pope Francis’ continual pursuit of changing the face of the Catholicism will resonate in the U.S. is anyone’s guess. He’s made monumental strides toward changing the focus and tone of Catholic doctrine away from its rigidity of the past and opening doors to LGBT equality, and women’s rights and roles in the Church. In an increasingly agnostic, if not atheistic society, as a religious leader, he finds himself immensely popular, and well liked especially among the world’s youth. For the a GOP, a party that struggles particularly with the groups he’s focusing on lately, they might want to consider saying their Hail Marys, because this likely doesn’t bode well.
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