Pope Francis' encyclical continues to make waves. Five Republican candidates for president -- who are also Catholic -- have attacked Laudato Si, claiming Francis knows nothing about science. They forget that the Pope's first degree was in chemistry. They and their followers profess what Gary Wills calls "Holy Ignorance:"
When a Republican politician, asked about climate change, says, “I’m not a scientist,” most of us hear just a cowardly way of dodging the question; but the politician’s supporters hear a brave defiance of an alien force. When we hear only “science,” they hear “godless science,” the kind that wants to rob them of their belief in creation and force evolution into their minds. That science is marching in a battalion of forces—the media, the academy, the government—that has them besieged. “I’m not a scientist” does not mean, “I have not heard enough about the science, and need to hear more,” but “I know the evil intent or effect of science, and I will not let it affect me.” They summon a courage not to know.
True to his Jesuit training, however, Francis is all about the courage to know -- and the courage to argue an entirely different case:
"The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth."
"The emptier a person's heart is, the more he or she needs to buy, own and consume."
"Leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is, first and foremost, up to us."
"For indigenous communities, land is not a commodity, but a gift from God, a sacred space."
"Earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone."
"We should be particularly indignant at the enormous inequalities in our midst."
"We have to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor."
What Francis has done is marry science to traditional Catholic social teaching. Concern for the planet and concern for the poor amount to the same thing. That's a case modern neo-liberalism has been trying to deny for almost fifty years.
For the pope, neo-liberalism amounts to self- centred nihilism -- and it will end in catastrophe.