For the record, I am not Catholic, although I did go to a Catholic (Jesuit) university. When this text was first published it was all over the news about how the Pope was trying to influence the politics of environmentalism and how a religious leader should not talk politics or science. Naturally this was quickly countered by people pointing out that the Pope is technically a head of state (the Vatican being a sovereign nation) and also a scientist (an MA in chemistry). I saw an English translation of the text in a bookstore and I was curious given all the media attention.
First and foremost, when I actually read Laudato Si’, I noticed that this book was neither aimed at a religious audience nor about science. While Pope Francis certainly acknowledges issues of faith and science, he concentrates on human effects and affects on the Earth. He also covers a range of issues from economics, technology, ecology, politics, and ethics. When he uses the term ‘environment’ it is in the broadest sense of ‘natural’, ‘cultural’, and ‘historical’.
One of the key points that keeps coming up is how humanity in general has become too anthropocentric and relativistic in terms of culture and nature, and has lost focus on dialogue and our common interests as inhabitants of planet Earth. Many of these points are made on the basis of Christian Scripture as you might expect; however, many of the examples are from everyday life and come from a range of places and contexts. St Francis of Assisi is prevalent, as is Thomas Aquinas, and they are accompanied by many modern religious figures speaking on issues of poverty, economics, politics, environmentalism, and society.
This text is surprisingly easy to read, and the advice to readers often straightforward. For example, towards the end of the text, when presenting “the attitude of the heart” as a sense of appreciation for our surroundings (‘consider the lilies of the valley, how they grow’ etc.), Pope Francis recommends returning to the practice of giving thanks before and after a meal not only for the prayer aspect, but also because “it acknowledges those who by their labor provide us with these goods; and it reaffirms our solidarity with those in greatest need” (147). This spot in the book also illustrates how Pope Francis takes ideas and practices that could be presented as purely theological and expands them to other interests.
Overall, I liked this book. It is fairly academic in terms of structure and citing back-up authorities for everything, but I like that. To whit, I was a little disappointed when there was no source citation for an original Latin text (Yes, I can read Latin, and yes, I know I’m a geek). This is not strictly the fault of the book version I have, as there may not be a Latin version published to begin with. But that’s another rant/lament.
If nothing else, this book serves as a good reminder of why, when a text gets a lot of media attention and discussion, you should always look up the book and read it for yourself.