The real problem with the pope’s encyclical is how he closes himself off to these arguments, poisoning the well by attributing them to “obstructionist attitudes,” which “range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation, or blind confidence in technical solutions.” Notice that “reasoned disagreement” or “scientific skepticism” aren’t offered as possibilities. Even worse, he indulges in a kind of anti-business conspiracy theory: “The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance.” So Wall Street and Big Oil are the only forces holding us back.
Pope Francis has sealed himself off in an ideological bubble that is harder and more impenetrable than the Popemobile. He refuses to recognize that there are alternative ideas outside the leftist orthodoxy on capitalism and the environment. The result is a sense that I’ve never quite gotten before from a papal encyclical: the sense of the pope as a narrow ideologue, captive to a relatively recent political fad.
This is a real shame because the Vatican and the papacy are supposed to operate on a longer time scale, less affected by the political fads of the moment, or even of the century. After all, the Catholic Church is a 2,000-year-old institution with a timeless spiritual remit. It’s what usually makes the popes so interesting to contend with, even for an atheist who frequently disagrees with them.