4 thoughts

  1. Thanks for this post, Beth!
    The more I think about it, the less convinced I am that the pope is doing anything really revolutionary here. As far as questions of gender and sexuality go, how does this advance the conversation beyond the same old “Don’t do what’s ‘unnatural'” morality?
    I guess what’s significant is the pairing of bio-ethics/sexual ethics with environmental ethics. But how does the pope understand human freedom in this context? (perhaps this is something like Maura Ryan’s point 2?) He’s a really smart guy, so I’m sure he’s aware that a human being is different from a tree. But it seems like the natures of these things differ in significant ways that would ultimately problematize a sort of “whole cloth environmentalism.” Or it seems that anything that could be said about both sorts of things might be extremely vague and platitudinous. I dunno. Just some thoughts.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Kevin and sorry for my delayed response. I would agree that this doesn’t much change the content or the form of moral teaching on gender and sexuality. I think, as you say, that what is significant is precisely that pairing with environmental ethics and perhaps actually with something of an ecological spirituality as well. Whether that linkage is revolutionary or not is another question; another WIT contributor pointed out that in some ways Benedict ‘s vision resonates with the so-called “seamless garment” or “consistent ethic of life” forwarded by some American Catholics. And I am by no means expert enough to really put the interaction of life issues and social issues in a full historical context. What I’m interested in here is, I suppose, what the evocative power of this appeal to ecology might be with respect to “nature” as applied to human beings, particularly as naturally sexually differentiated. Your question about freedom gets at one angle of the potential snags in making this kind of widespread application. But while I can’t say I understand the pope’s view of freedom fully, I get the pretty strong idea that responsibility to truth and the role of reason have a lot to do with it (the latter is really the central theme of his address to the German parliament). And somehow those constraints are both unique to the exalted position of human beings in the hierarchy of created being and in keeping with some sort of common ratio of any given nature and its flourishing– all under the aegis of a particular notion of order, harmony, and wholeness. Those may be the kind of platitudes you’re suggesting. I think i agree that as far as ascertaining normative values for human well-being from observations of environmental ecology there are some serious problems; and I say this even as I’m interested in the potential insights to be gained from situating human persons in an ecological context and convinced of the necessity of doing so.

      Well, if anything is clear it’s that I have a lot more thinking to do about this! Meanwhile we’ll stay tuned to see how this kind of argument from the pope continues to plays out.

      1. Postscript: Pope JP II also used the phrase “human ecology”, for instance in an address in St. Peter’s square on 19th Jan. 2001 where he also raised up the idea of an “ecological conversion.” (Cited by Celia Deane-Drummond in _Eco-Theology_, p. 181.)

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