The New American Dream and Secular Spiritualists

In an interesting artcice in the BBC expert pollster John Zogby describes the new trends in American culture. Read the full article here. He highlights how the new generation is redefining the American Dream which includes the following key elements: the most important feature is the growth of Secular Spiritualists and the rejection of materialism. This is due to 4 factors: weaker economy disheartens the poor from economic goals, the rich are unahppy with their excess, longer life spans lead to more philantropic attitudes and finally the spirit of sacrifice to give to others. Among the characteristics of spiritual secularists are thier global expectations and international longings and sense of responsability.

These may explain the interest and power of environmental concerns in modern culture. (These are my remarks). For a secular spiritualist, nature can serve as a pseudo-spiritual outlet, explaining the neo-pagan revival and relationship with nature. The Pope spoke about this. Also, environmental concerns are a tangible expression of global awareness and solidarity, as well as a channel for the spirit of sacrifice to express itself. Finally, the simplicity and discomfort of nature can be an outlet for the rejection of materialism. Sounds like there is plenty of work for Creatio ahead.

The Pope’s Favorite Animal

What is the Pope’s favorite animal? While I am not aware of a direct quote, we can deduce it from a homily last week, which repeats an insight at the end of his autobiography. It’s also own his Coat of Arms, as you can see: a bear. As you can read in detail in the Homily, the Pope explains the significance of the bear in the story of St. Corbinian, a French monk sent by the Pope to evangelize Bavaria, and who founded the Diocese where Benedict XVI was first Bishop. The story goes that on his way, a bear killed St. Corbinian’s horse, but St. Corbinian tamed the animal, latched his packs on the bear and freed him after delivering his belongings in Munich. Following St. Augustine, Pope Benedict XVI saw in this a metaphor for his own life, and St. Corbinian’s, men who wanted to dedicate themselves to prayer and the intellectual life (St. Corbinian was a monk, Ratzinger an intellectual) but the Lord had other plans for them: to carry the Church on their shoulders. An article in L’Osservatore Romano explains:

Ratzinger, in the tracks of his beloved Augustine, explained that this burden – the episcopal responsibility of anyone who “pulls God’s cart in this world” – was imposed upon Corbinian and upon the African Bishop, attracted by both contemplation and study.
“But in this very way I am close to you, I serve you, you hold me in your hand”, the Cardinal, now in Rome, concluded. In entrusting himself to the one Lord, as Benedict XVI does every day, who is as fond of his
bear as ever.

However, as we can see below, there may be otehr canidadates for the Pope’s favorite animal:


Natural and Unnatural disasters


Tristan penguins

Recently there have been two different ‘disasters’ which have had environmental impacts on remote islands. This provides an interesting case for us to identify our own understanding of what is natural.

The first is in the Galapagos Islands, which have suffered the effects of the tsunami that has caused so much harm in Japan. In the Galapagos, especially in Santa Cruz and also San Cristobal, where I was a few months ago accompanying a turtle expert, several marine turtle nests have been destroyed by the tsunami. In San Cristobal the ocean reached a land locked lagoon and also harmed flamingos. There is also considerable damage done to the Charles Darwin research station and to populations, fishing boats and property. The Ecuadorian government at one point considered an evacuation and sent significant emergency aid supplies. Read the article here (if you know Portuguese).

In another more recent episode there has been another environmental disaster in a remote Island, this time in Tristan da Cunha (the most remote inhabited place on earth) in the South Atlantic. But here the cause is human. More than 800 tons of fuel oil have leaked and covered the ocean around the island. Over 20 000 penguins of a unique species are under risk. There are also fears that rodents from the sinking ship will affect the fauna on the islands and birds nests. The 22 members of the crew were rescued safely, and the 273 inhabitants of the British Island appear to be safe. Read more here.

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Holy See Observer on Redefining Gender

I have mentioned before the 55th session of UNESCO’s Commission on the Status of Women which is ongoing, and the Vatican’s participation. Recently there has been a stronger statement by Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, on the ideological attempt to redefine gender.

Before denouncing the ideological move, the Archbishop cites international law extensively to show the basis of gender in world agreements. Then he engages the change in definition, that certainly does not go undetetected by him. This gender re-defintion is commonly pushed in development and environmental agendas. Below some highlights:

  1. It is noteworthy that the Charter of the United Nations, in preambular paragraph 2, calls for the “equality between women and men,” a call that is repeated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in preambular paragraph 5. The UDHR also prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex (Art. 2). This recognition is essential to the future of the human race and all its members.  In addition, the UDHR acknowledges the equal rights of a man and a woman to marry and found a family, the natural and fundamental unit of society (Art. 16)….
  2. Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which states that “the term ‘gender’ refers to the two sexes, male and female, within the context of society. The term ‘gender’ does not indicate any meaning different” from the aforementioned definition (Art. 7.3).
  3. to re-define “gender,” in turn, calls into question the very foundation of the human rights system
  4. Unfortunately during the negotiations of the present text, some delegations attempted to advance once again, through the vehicle of “gender studies,” a radical definition of “gender,” which asserts that sexual identity can somehow be adapted indefinitely to suit new and different purposes, not recognized in international law. In response, in the present text, a new preambular paragraph was adopted with a view to eliminating doubts about the promotion of a new definition of “gender” Continue reading

Historic Speech Ahead

In about a week the first session of the the “Courtyard of the Gentiles” will hold its first meeting at the Paris headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on March 24. Representatives of the Pontifical Council for Culture have confirmed that they will begin the Church’s official dialogue with atheists and agnostics in Paris on March 24 and 25. The session will conclude with a broadcast address by Pope Benedict XVI”. The article is from CNA.

Some of Pope Benedict’s most significant addresses, and that have had world wide repercussions, were in the context of him engaging the secular world. We should remember the historic Regensburg address which I have mentioned before, and the speech at La Sapienza in Rome, which was so polemic the Pope had to withdraw from the event itself. Intellectually too, they have been among the most stimulating of his pontificate. Stay tuned… I am guessing he will speak of Truth as the centre of his theme. We will find out soon.

Vatican on Food and Sustainable Development

Recent the Holy See has sent messages through their delegations to the UN on both issues. On the issue of Food Security Archbishop Tomasi emphasized the importance of agriculture. Also he spoke of the right to food being derived directly from the right to life… not mentioned explicitly, but a reminder that a culture that dismisses life may be dismissing other consequent right. Below some of his words:

“The right to food is a basic right because it is intrinsically linked to the right to life. Almost a billion people, however, do not enjoy this right.

“Special attention should be directed to the 2.5 billion people dependent on agriculture for their daily sustenance. Among this population are found most of the people who suffer from malnutrition and hunger.”

The other address, delivered by Charles Clark, professor of economics at St. John’s University, on behalf of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations to the Second Preparatory Committee for the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development. Dr. Clark mostly focused on economic issues and warned about the concept of “green economies”. The first 2 quotes below mention warnings and the third is a suggestion for moving forward:

“my delegation hopes that we would not forget that the purpose of development is integral human development and that all our strategies and practices must be judged by this standard

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Tsunami Wave Images

Here are some incredible images of the wave displacement from the tsunami. This image is a simulation of the globe-spanning waves generated by the earthquake off east coast of Japan’s Honshu Island. Below is a video animation of the wave pattern made by NOAA.

The power of nature is impressive. Here is an analysis taken from by a scientist on the nuclear situation and our relationship to nature’s effects.

Michael Schlesinger, a climate scientist and engineer at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, sent this comment after reading my Dot Earth post rounding up reader views on next steps for nuclear power in the wake of Japan’s extraordinary nuclear emergency…

Michael Schlesinger:

The out-of-control status of the 6 Fukushima nuclear reactors and their stored spent fuel rods is a textbook example of “Don’t Know Squared – It’s What You Don’t Know You Don’t Know” that can bring down any system designed by humanity. In the present case, the reactor behaved as designed to scram (= emergency shutdown) during an earthquake. But the cooling system for both the reactor cores and the onsite-stored spent fuel rods was not designed to withstand a “once-in-a-millennium” tsunami.

While we can and will learn from this disaster, there will still – and always – be “Don’t-Know-Squared Events” that can and will occur that will render any human-constructed system less than foolproof. This is the primary lesson that must be learned from Fukushima: We humans cannot foresee, and thus cannot protect against, all the awful events that can and will impact our best world-class-designed systems. Accordingly, we should not construct any additional nuclear reactors until and unless we devise a way to render the spent fuel therefrom harmless = not be more radioactive than the world Mother Nature has created in which we live. This is such a tall order that it may not be possible for humanity to accomplish it.”


The Holy See on Women

“Education Is a Key to the Authentic Advancement of Women in the World”

This was the key message of the Holy See delegation of the Economic and Social Council’s 55th session of the Commission on the Status of Women. Other highlights mentioned the need to:

  • respect education based on human dignity and respect of religious and cultural values
  • base human dignity on natural law
  • allow parents to influence children with regards to sexuality
  • virtues and risks of media communication
  • labor equality for women according to their nature
  • respect for family

Below some direct quotes. For the full address, find it here.

“The principles by which educational agencies, institutions and schools operate must be firmly rooted in a profound respect for human dignity and with full respect for religious and cultural values. If this is absent, then education is no longer a means of authentic enlightenment but becomes a tool of control by those who administer it.

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Deus é Brasileiro

This is a saying in Brazil: “God is Brazilian”. You often here it after a world Cup title victory, or when Aryton Senna won the Formula 1 Championship, perhaps during the celebrations of carnival, or even upon the discovery of a new paradise-like beach. It is meant with a bit of tongue and cheek, and pride, and joy. Well, the Pope has recently confirmed the statement… actually, not quite, but almost.

In a recent address to the Brazilian Bishops and the Lenten campaign in that country, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the importance of human ecology in relation to environmental efforts.

“Just as sin destroyed creation, it is restored when “the sons of God” become present, looking after the world so that God will be all in all (cf. 1 Corinthians15:28).The first step for a correct relationship with the world that surrounds us is, precisely, the recognition on man’s part of his condition as a creature: man is not God, but his image; that is why he must try to be more sensitive to the presence of God in what surrounds him: in all creatures and, especially, in the human person in whom there is a certain epiphany of God.”

The Pope has made the connection between Lent and environment a few times. The same recognition of creatures was the starting point for the development of the itinerary of Lent for the 2011 speech on Ash Wednesday. I have also mentioned the Lent Address fo 2011 here.

Towards the end of his speach however, he hints of Brazil’s special gift, or the trust tha God has placed especially on Brazilians to care for creation:

“While reminding that the duty to look after the environment is an imperative that stems from the awareness that God entrusts his creation to man, not so that he can exercise over it an arbitrary dominion, but to preserve and care for it, as a son takes care of his father’s inheritance — and God entrusted an inheritance to Brazilians — I happily send you a propitious Apostolic Blessing.”