I’ve always had a soft spot for Catholicism, as I do for all things Roman. I love its unrepentant, if cheerfully unacknowledged, paganism; I like that it manages to be both particular and ecumenical, with a vast canonical universe, unlike so much dour Protestantism, which has only the Bible and manages to treat all of the Book’s magnificent poetry like an instruction diagram for the assembly of a confusing piece of Scandinavian furniture. I like its camp and its kitsch. And like a lot of folks these days, I like this Pope. Seems like a decent fellow, although the obsequious puffery of his transcendent moral authority by non-Catholic liberal types every time he says anything to broadly accords with their political preferences strikes me as supremely odd—not that there’s anything wrong with proposing a useful political alliance, but rather because it so frequently and quickly shades into an argument from authority.
Here admitted: I don’t like the phrase “climate change,” not because I dispute the general underlying truth and reality to which it refers, but because the phrase itself is so distressingly market-tested, so anodyne, so wooly and amoral and abstract. It hardly inspires a rush to the barricades, and it reeks of the sort of ineffectual political non-postures that gave us, for example, the huge loser designation “pro-choice”—a place, ironically, where the Pope’s biological credentials seem suddenly less burnishable to a lot of the same people pleased with his stance on ecology. And, apropos this very item, the Pope’s insistence that population growth and population control are ecologically insignificant compared to the “consumerism” of wealthy nations is faintly incredible. Though he rightly criticizes the blind faith in technological fixes, the crackpot conviction that we can invent our way out of the problem via electric cars or whatever, a future as mere facsimile of the present, only, uh, “sustainable,” one hardly needs to be a vulgar Malthusian to understand that the ongoing addition of billions and billions more humans—and the attendant need to get them water and food and shelter and clothing—is a large problem in our larger complex of problems. In other words, there is a deep contradiction at the heart of Francis’s correct criticism of the notion of salvation via technological innovation: he too, in his way, is praying for an electric car. What is lacking is an act of really radical imagination, which would suggest that a harmonious and truly sustainable human society would be not simply different, but unrecognizable—unrecognizable in its conduct, yes, but also and more importantly in its scale.
None of this is really meant to single Francis out for criticism. I really do like the guy, admire much of what he says, and as regards his Franciscan ideas about a human ecology, I sympathize and at least partially agree. Compared to the national leadership of our larger and more influential countries, and certainly compared to the greenwashing corporate sector, the Pope’s statements are worthy of much of the praise that they’ve garnered. But, to use a business metaphor I’m otherwise fond of mocking, the idea that they’ve disrupted anything is incorrect. It’s just regular competition in an existing space.