A ‘New Deal’ of sorts for religion (The Daily Climate)

November 19, 2015

Science alone can’t force behavior change. Religion needs to step up.

By Douglas Fischer
The Daily Climate

RIETI, Italy – Religion needs a revolutionary shift, taking responsibility for our “common home” and rejecting fundamentalism, to point humanity to better, wiser solutions for problems like climate change.

Reason alone can’t handle the job.

The message came from a panel convened here in Italy, where the papal encyclical issued this summer and the Paris attacks over the weekend were both very much present.

“Any fundamentalism breaks our common home,” said Monsignor Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council of Family. “This is the most important message stemming from Pope Francis and his encyclical.”

Italy Panel

Paglia spoke via a translator at the 12th International Media Forum on the Protection of Nature, an annual gathering of scientists and journalists in Italy. Environmental Health Sciences, publisher of The Daily Climate and Environmental Health News, is being honored at the conference with the International Greenaccord Media Award.

At a discussion on religion and science, several theological experts called for more than a simple rethinking in the longstanding, antagonistic relationship between the two.

“What are our values that shape our individual behavior? From where do we receive our onus on responsibility?” asked former Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato, a member of the Constitutional Court, one of two supreme courts in Italy. “Religions are an irrenouncable moral guide for a free society.”

But for too long, Amato added via a translator, religion has stood as the antithesis to free society – a force that “darkens the mind,” the enemy of science.

What’s needed, said Paglia and others, is an ecological revolution “in the broadest possible sense.”

“We have to rethink our relationship with this common home,” Paglia said. “Humans are not the masters.”

That message was explicit in Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, the Laudato Si, issued earlier this year. Almost 200 pages long, the landmark document mapped a more holistic ecology—one wrapping environmentalism, economics, science and faith together in an integral effort.

It calls, said Giancarlo Bosetti, director of Reset Dialogues on Civilization, an Italian nonprofit focused on intercultural understanding, not simply for a shift in “tone or style,” but in “theological substance.”

“This is a post-secular philosophy, open to dialogue, that allows us to produce many syntheses between faith and reason.”-Giancarlo Bosetti, Reset Dialogues on Civilization

“It explicitly abandons dogmatic expression of faith,” Bosetti said. “This is a post-secular philosophy, open to dialogue, that allows us to produce many syntheses between faith and reason.”

And that pairing, Amato added, is crucial to breaking the “gigantic oxymoron” between unfettered economic growth and expression on one hand, and ecological preservation on the other.

“There is nothing more beautiful, more momentous, than the fact that we are able to choose, to design and build, our life project,” Amato said. “But we are so often focused on desires centered around ourselves…. We have endangered our relationship with our collective interest.”

Science has pointed out the folly of such choices. But it has little power to shift the underlying ethics and morals, panelists agreed.

“Science is telling us we are living as if we were ill,” Amato said. “And science is helpless … in telling us what we should do. “We need a form of ethics that can reset our relationship with ourselves and with our world.”