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To preserve Pope Francis’ singular perspective: holistic ecology


Pope Francis has effected enormous change in the ecological discourse by moving from environmental ecology to holistic ecology. Holistic ecology includes socio-political, mental, cultural, educational, ethical, and spiritual ecology. The danger exists that this holistic vision may be assimilated into the usual environmental discourse, without noticing that all things, knowledge, and events are interrelated. That is, global warming results from industrial excesses, the poverty of large portions of humanity is related to the means of production, distribution and consumption, violence against the Earth and her ecosystems derives from the paradigm of domination that has underlain the predominant civilization for four centuries already, anthropocentrism is a consequence of the illusory belief that we own all things and that they only have meaning to the degree that they serve our pleasure.

That cosmology (groupings of ideas, values, projects, dreams and institutions) moves Pope Francis to say: “never have we offended and mistreated our Common Home as we have done in the last two centuries” (nº 53).

How can we overcome that dangerous path? Answers the Pope: “by changing direction,” and still more, with the disposition to “delineate great paths of dialogue that help us emerge from the spiral of self-destruction in which we are submerging ourselves (163). If we do nothing, we could encounter the worst. But the Pope trusts in the creative capacity of humans, who together will be able to formulate the great ideal: “a single world in a common project” (164).

The prevailing imperial vision of those who control the finances and destinies of world politics is very different: “Only one world and only one empire”.

To address the many critical aspects of our situation the Pope proposes holistic ecology. And he gives it the right foundation: “Given that all are intimately related and that the present problems require a vision that takes into account all the factors of the world crisis, I propose that we stop now to think of the different aspects of a holistic ecology that clearly incorporates the human and social dimensions” (137).

The theoretical proposal derives from the new cosmology, quantum physics, and the new biology, in a word, from the contemporary paradigm deriving from the theory of complexity and chaos (destructive and generative). Along those lines, Werner Heisenberg, one of the founders of quantum physics, would repeat: “all has to do with all, at all points and in all moments; all is relationship and nothing exists outside of the relationship”.

The Pope repeats this innumerable times, forming the tonus firmus of his statements. We find in nº 92 what is surely the most beautiful and poetic of his formulations: “All is related, and all human beings are together as brothers and sisters in a marvelous pilgrimage, intertwined by the love that God has for each and every one of His creatures and that also binds us, with tender love, to Brother Sun, to Sister Moon, to Brother River and to Mother Earth”.

That vision has existed for almost a century already, but could never insert itself into politics or the field of social and human problems. We all continue as hostages of the old paradigm that isolates problems and seeks a specific solution for each, without realizing that a solution for one can magnify another problem. For example, the problem of the soils’ infertility is addressed with chemical nutrients that, once used, penetrate the Earth into the water tables and aquifers, poisoning them.

The encyclical can serve as an educational instrument to help us make our own that inclusive and holistic vision. For example, as the encyclical affirms: “When one speaks of the «environment» particular mention is made of the relationship that exists between nature and the society that inhabits it. This makes us understand nature as something apart from us, or merely as the framework for our life. But we are included in her, we are part of nature” (139).

And it continues, giving us convincing examples: “The present analysis of the environmental problems is inseparable from the analysis of the human, family, labor, urban contexts, and the relationship of each person with him or herself, that creates a certain mode of relating with others and with the environment” [115].

If everything is relationship, then human health itself depends of the health of the Earth and her ecosystems. All events are intertwined, for better or worse. That is the texture of reality, neither opaque nor level, but complex and highly interrelated.

If we thought of our national problems as the interplay of inter-retro-relationships, we would not have so many contradictions between ministries and governmental actions. Pope Francis suggests paths that are certain and can free us from the anxious state in which we now find ourselves, facing our common future.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was right when he wrote in the 1930s: “the era of nation-states has already passed. The task before us, if we don’t perish, is to build the Earth.” Caring for the Earth with tender and fraternal affection in the spirit of Saint Francis of Assisi and Francis of Rome, we can continue “walking and singing” as the encyclical ends, filled with hope.

We still have a future, and we will shine.

Free translation from the Spanish by
Servicios Koinonia,

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