What Pope's encyclical means for ag (commentary)What Pope's encyclical means for ag (commentary)
July 11, 2015
FOR many whose intensified pace of life has caused their attention span to dwindle to a tweet, the Pope's latest encyclical will mean one thing: The leader of the largest church in the world can now be counted among the believers in manmade global warming.
However, reducing "Laudato Si" ("Praised Be") — a 100-page, 38,000-word encyclical addressed to "all people of good will" — to this lone conclusion impoverishes it, making agriculture susceptible to select quotations found within it and allowing it to be used as a theological prod by politicians and activists but, more importantly, causing agriculture to miss the unmistakable changing climate of the debate surrounding care for the planet, nature and, subsequently, the world's food supply.
That climate, which used to unblinkingly embrace scientific and technological innovation as marks of progress, is increasingly saddled by an ethical inquiry.
Instead of asking, "Can we do it?" today's food system interlocutor asks, "Is it right?"
Even technologies and management methods long in use — antibiotics, growth hormones, gestation crates, recombinant bovine somatotropin, genetically modified seeds, castration, animal experimentation, pesticides, fertilizers, etc. — cannot escape this scrutiny.
So, while the Pope can say it is right for us to rejoice in advances like biotechnology and chemical industries as "wonderful products of a God-given human creativity," he simultaneously asserts that man is lacking an accompanying sound ethic to guide and inform him in his care of creation.
This is why I suggest that "Laudato Si" is not about the environment as much as it is about defining man's true dominion. And, if agriculture wishes to chart its own future, eliminating obstacles to those management techniques and technological innovations, it must not merely engage in this conversation but lead it by showing the world that its actions are not merely good business or even good science but good, sound ethics.
Now, you may be saying, "Why should I care what the Pope says? I don't even like his hat."
Well, Pope Francis is just the latest in a long line of religious leaders questioning current models of production and consumption.
Other groups sure to deploy the Pope's words are politicians and activists who use fodder from religious leaders whenever the words conveniently support their beliefs and behavior while selectively ignoring their meaning otherwise.
A case in point: A June 18 blog by The Humane Society of the United States' Wayne Pacelle (http://blog.humanesociety.org/wayne/2015/06/pope-encyclical-embraces-animal-protection.html) in which Pacelle turns the Pope's words into condemnation for large-scale farming while conveniently overlooking statements sure to cause most environmental and animal rights activists deep discomfort:
* At times, we see an obsession with denying any pre-eminence to the human person; more zeal is shown in protecting other species than in defending the dignity which all human beings share in equal measure.
* A sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings. It is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted.
* Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?
* On the other hand, it is troubling that, when some ecological movements defend the integrity of the environment, rightly demanding that certain limits be imposed on scientific research, they sometimes fail to apply those same principles to human life. There is a tendency to justify transgressing all boundaries when experimentation is carried out on living human embryos. We forget that the inalienable worth of a human being transcends his or her degree of development. In the same way, when technology disregards the great ethical principles, it ends up considering any practice whatsoever as licit.
A final reason the Pope's comments are worth acknowledging is that they are not going away. He is calling for a "program of ecological education" involving schools, families, media and even Catechists (i.e., teachers of faith).
At Truth in Food, we have shared how this movement is well underway (www.truthinfood.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=119), especially on college campuses, where the rising tide of ethics courses coalescing with environmental and animal studies amounts to a surround-sound condemnation of modern-day agriculture. Yet, agriculture continues to approach the university realm in the same, staid manner.
From the foundation of the world, farming has been more a vocation than an occupation. By its very nature, it looks beyond itself, cultivating, caring for and administering the goods it produces for the benefit of all.
By this obvious fact, farmers are true cooperators with God in the work of creation. Who better, then, to lead a discussion on man's proper dominion?
*Kevin Murphy is the owner and founder of Food-Chain Communications, a marketing organization devoted to helping food chain stakeholders communicate more effectively within the modern food system.
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