ON THE NATURE OF THINGS . . . CONTINUED
In par.115 of Laudato si’, Pope Francis says, “When human beings fail to find their true place in this world, they misunderstand themselves and end up acting against themselves.” We need to understand ourselves. We do this by finding our proper place in the world.
So what is our place in the world? What is interesting is that to get this wrong ends up with both (and at the same time) an overestimation of man’s place in the created world and a devaluation of the poorest members, who as Catholics we believe equal in dignity to the one who supposedly has a unique claim to the title “person”. We would, in their view, get to make our own rules about what is the case and so decide which of us get to live and which of us can be terminated.
This misunderstanding has its roots in modern philosophical investigations. Certainly many of our current problems take their root from something that we could agree on: the acknowledgment that reason, the ability to think, is something very special about us. This, in itself, is not misguided. Reason and will do help us figure out the kind of thing we are. However, reason is not creative in the “something from nothing sort of way”. Reason doesn’t make us masters of the universe. Reason does not get to impose natures onto things. On the other hand, human ingenuity is not automatically bad for the world. However, questions of how we use reason, and to what do we subject that reason, are not understood to many in our culture because they have misplaced “man” at the top.
The following comments of Pope Francis should be intelligible based on a proper understanding of man’s place in creation as something created and in light of the “integral ecology” we have been talking about: “Men and women have constantly intervened in nature, but for a long time this meant being in tune with and respecting the possibilities offered by the things themselves. It was a matter of receiving what nature itself allowed, as if from its own hand. Now, by contrast, we are the ones to lay our hands on things, attempting to extract everything possible from them while frequently ignoring or forgetting the reality in front of us” (Laudato Si’ 106).