Nearly two weeks ago, as the United States approached the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Pope Francis presented the concerns of the Church to the Vatican diplomatic corps. His statements about abortion were some of his most impassioned. And like his predecessors, Francis made an observation about abortion that upends common thinking about two other subjects related to human life: our natural environment and the ideologies that often claim to champion it.
In referring to a “throwaway culture,” Pope Francis said in his address that “what is thrown away is not only food and dispensable objects, but often human beings themselves, who are discarded as ‘unnecessary.’ For example, it is frightful even to think there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day.”
These words echo those of Benedict XVI in his 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate (and elsewhere): “Our duties towards the environment are linked to our duties towards the human person, considered in himself and in relation to others. It would be wrong to uphold one set of duties while trampling on the other. Herein lies a grave contradiction in our mentality and practice today: one which demeans the person, disrupts the environment, and damages society.”
To underscore the point about this “grave contradiction” Pope Francis frequently places issues like abortion and euthanasia within the ecological realm of overconsumption and disposability. Those sorts of ecological issues are readily championed by modern ideologies on the left. But the left also champions other issues that ultimately prevent meaningful contributions to ecological issues.
Whether in the areas of the life or death of the unborn, or of who can marry whom, so-called progressive ideologies too often assume that whatever one believes to be true, right, just, or simply self-gratifying at the moment must be adopted (or at least supported) by everyone else.
In championing particular choices, progressive thought must eventually ignore the laws of nature (which come with inconvenient truths, such as how human life begins at conception) just as someone else might ignore similar natural laws (and thus the biological impacts to human life) by dumping or spewing toxins or using too much of this or that natural resource.
It is odd that so many secular environmentalists preach personal and communal sacrifices for the protection of ecosystems while simultaneously seeking to dismiss sacrifice to encourage self-created, self-centered human “rights.” This brings us to that grave contradiction: a culture that supports “the right to choose,” for instance, is a culture that has decided that some life is worthwhile and some is not. This is hardly a pro-environmental stance. Moreover, an accepted demarcation between who lives and who dies can, once drawn, be moved with ease to further cheapen human life.
In his June 5 General Audience, Pope Francis made these very points, building on those of Benedict XVI and Blessed John Paul II:
We are losing our attitude of wonder, of contemplation, of listening to creation, and thus we no longer manage to interpret in it what Benedict XVI calls “the rhythm of the love-story between God and man”. Why does this happen? Why do we think and live horizontally, [because] we have drifted away from God, we no longer read his signs.
However “cultivating and caring” do not only entail the relationship between us and the environment, between man and creation. They also concern human relations. The popes have spoken of a human ecology, closely connected with environmental ecology. We are living in a time of crisis; we see it in the environment, but above all we see it in men and women. The human person is in danger: this much is certain—the human person is in danger today, hence the urgent need for human ecology! […]
This “culture of waste” tends to become a common mentality that infects everyone. Human life, the person, are no longer seen as a primary value to be respected and safeguarded, especially if they are poor or disabled, if they are not yet useful—like the unborn child—or are no longer of any use—like the elderly person.
These are strong words for a pontiff who the left has so firmly embraced. But Pope Francis is on to something—as were his predecessors. It is no coincidence that in the 41 years since the United States Supreme Court paved the way for the death of tens of millions of unborn children—in an age that shuns the notions of prudence and temperance—the US and the world have seen rampant, widespread, and often irreversible ecological damage. And it is no wonder that there has also been an increasing devaluing of any person that is deemed not fit for duty or that suffers in any way.
In part, all this means that it is impossible to be pro-ecology and pro-abortion. And it is incompatible to wish to save rain forests while also supporting euthanasia. One cannot object to the damage done to the unborn by mercury while also supporting the intentional death of the unborn. Nor can one strive to temper human consumption and wanton disposability while also supporting the termination of the infirm or elderly simply because they do not meet arbitrary definitions of functionality and purpose.
But here is the good news: it does the pro-life community well to follow the leads of our pontiffs by encountering ideologies that include environmental issues in their political and personal platforms. In doing so we can benefit from opportunities to demonstrate the grave contradictions and consequences of seeking to protect the health of ecosystems without also seeking the protection of all forms of life—especially the lives of human beings.