So the imminent Vatican encyclical on climate change has leaked out, and it sounds from news accounts as though Pope Francis is going all-in with the climatistas. (If you read Italian, here it is in a PDF.)
We’ll wait for the final draft (what leaked may or may not be the final version) to appear in translation for a full verdict, but for now the news sent me running to my bookshelf to find an old book whose core message is especially relevant: Edward Norman’s Christianity and the World Order, which was originally published by Oxford University Press in 1979. I recall reading it then.
At the time Norman was a dean and lecturer in history at Cambridge University, and while he’s not especially conservative (he proclaims himself “appalled by the results of naked capitalism”), he rightly noted that the politicization of religion was not a good thing—for religion. At that time he was responding to the enthusiasm for “liberation theology,” which I noted recently in a Forbes column is seeing a comeback under Pope Francis. (Do go back and read this one if you missed it.)
Christianity and the World Order opens with a vignette that sounds very familiar, from the Nairobi World Council of Churches meeting in 1976 where Norman was present:
The main exposition came in a speech from Dr. Robert McAfee Brown, Professor of World Christianity at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Confessing that as a white, male, bourgeois American, he embodied what he called “racism, sexism,” classism and imperialism,” and more than adequately apologizing for the sins in which this involved him, he lapsed into Spanish, apparently in an attempt to avoid, as he put it, the “linguistic imperialism” of the English mother tongue. Most of those present reached for their translation headsets.
Well that’s the comedy part. Norman went on to explain why the politicization of Christianity entails the trivialization of Christianity:
Christianity today is, in this sense, bing reinterpreted as a scheme of social and political action, dependent, it is true, upon supernatural authority for its ultimate claims to attention, but rendered in categories that are derived from the political theories and practices of contemporary society. . .
Christians are responding sympathetically to the creation of collectivist state structures, and to the secular moral assumptions which sustain their authority. The attitudes of Christians are, therefore, like those of society in general. . .
Then there’s this, which would seem to apply perfectly to the forthcoming climate change encyclical:
Even the fears of impending global chaos or annihilation do not elicit religious responses, as once the intimations of cataclysm would have done. The contemporary debate about world resources, over-population, pollution, or nuclear catastrophe, is according to the analyses of secular thinkers—although the Churches tag along, offering a religious gloss to precisely the same ideas.
I miss Pope Benedict. And John Paul II.