In a speech given during his visit to the United States, Pope Francis named climate change as an urgent and critical issue for world leaders to acknowledge and take action to stop. One politician who took issue with the Pope’s statement was Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who claims to be a devout Catholic and to love Pope Francis. “The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science,” Santorum said on a Philadelphia radio program. “We probably are better off leaving science to the scientists, and focusing on what we’re really good at, which is theology and morality.” He said further, “I’ve said this to the Catholic bishops many times — when they get involved in agriculture policy, or things like that, that are really outside of the scope of what the Church’s main message is, that we’re better off sticking to the things that are really the core teachings of the Church as opposed to getting involved in every other kind of issue that happens to be popular at the time.” Santorum has plenty company among politicians, including Democrats, who want to confine religion to the realm of the spiritual that has nothing to say about the physical or material world.
Someone needed to tell the writers of the Bible that the spiritual and physical world are separate and that one has nothing significant to contribute to the other. Using the science of their day, the Biblical writers related spiritual and eternal truths to all facets of physical and temporal life as they knew it. The science of their day was limited to their available tools and methods of discovery. No one at the time had disproved that the earth was a flat landmass floating on the underworld, that the sky was a dome separating heaven from earth, and that the earth and underworld were supported by pillars. Many biblical passages assume this view of the world limited to what is seen with the unaided physical eyes of observers who had no access to the world beyond their locale.
As science has advanced to further clarify and make discoveries about many facets of physical and temporal life, spiritual and eternal truths relate no less than before to the expanded and more detailed understanding of our world that science presents. Santorum is right when he says the church has gotten it wrong a few times when it comes to science. When the church has held to cosmologies and theories of creation that ignored or denied the findings of science, we have driven a larger wedge between science and religion and made the church’s message less believable. As a Jesuit priest, Pope Francis studied science extensively and takes the findings of science seriously.
The debate among politicians is really over whose science to believe regarding climate change, the science underwritten by multinational corporations and billionaires whose industries contribute significantly to air and water pollution, or science that is dependent on no funding from those corporations. We could start by identifying which politicians are receiving campaign contributions from the same corporate giants that are funding the research on climate change. My observation is that those politicians embrace the scientific research espoused by their corporate benefactors, which is the same thing the church has done when we “have gotten it wrong a few times on science”: we rejected the science that challenged our world view and threatened our source of income.
I went out on a limb a year and a half ago when I published a book titled The Land That Calls Me Home: Connecting God’s People to God’s Land through God’s Church. I base claims in that book on biblical principles and on science that is not beholden to multinational corporations that support and profit from large scale farming and the billions in U.S. taxes funneled through farm subsidies that keep them viable. In one 29 page chapter of the book titled “Why Farms Are the Church’s Business,” I take on the challenge like the one Rick Santorum made to the Pope’s agenda. We need leaders in the church and in Washington who are unafraid to address the health of this planet God created not merely from a political and economic perspective but from a theological, moral, social, and an objective scientific perspective as well. If they lose funding for it, so what? They are doing what is right. One much shorter chapter in the book titled “Is the Empire Striking Back or Listening” addresses efforts by corporate industrial agricultural to hijack the small but rapidly growing locally grown and agrarian movements while still advancing the science that says farmers must farm on a large scale to supply the global market if they want to survive
It is time for moral discourse in all our communities about issues related to farming, the soil, and yes, all the environment as well as the economy. We have previously left these topics to politicians. My book is an invitation to start or advance that conversation between you and members of your community, with me, and nationwide through social networking. You can purchase The Land That Calls Me Home on Amazon. The paperback is $11 and the Kindle version $7. Visit my facebook page devoted to the promotion of small-scale farming and conversation about issues related to farming for local consumption and let me hear your views and concerns on this topic.