Last Saturday from Rome, Pope Francis addressed lawmakers from around the globe, with a message of unity. Francis urged that political figures may overcome what he called “the narrow confines” of partisan politics, and present a united front in discourse and action to fight climate change. His Holiness gave this address for a preparatory meeting before the U.N’s annual climate conference this year occurring on October 31 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Francis, along with other religious leaders, signed a joint appeal just this week, calling for national governments to work in unison to combat the challenges and consequences of climate change. The appeal asks that governments form ambitious goals at the U.N conference, committing to them with assurances of international cooperation to seize what experts consider to be “a critical opportunity” to tackle global warming.
Francis stressed the need for international cooperation stating that “to meet this challenge, everyone has a role to play” to international lawmakers. Moreover, he reminded those present of the outside influence they held, as members of political office, saying that “political and government leaders [are] especially important, and indeed crucial.”
Francis appealed to traditional Christian virtues—referencing and participating in the application of Christian ideology to traditionally (and ostensibly) left-wing discourse, in favour of traditionally left-wing causes—stating that “this demanding change of direction will require great wisdom, foresight, and concerns for the common good: in a word, the fundamental virtues of good politics.”
Despite having previously committed to participate in a personal capacity in the U.N.’s upcoming COP26 conference, the Vatican announced last Friday that neither would the pope attend, nor would the delegation be led by the secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin. Although no official explanation was given by the Vatican authorities, the 84-year-old pope underwent intestinal surgery in July.
The Pope again utilised decidedly religious language in his urging that the lawmakers dedicate themselves during the conference, and that their efforts would “be illuminated by the two important principles of responsibility and solidarity.” The repeated referencing of the traditional virtues extolled in the Bible, as well as the use of language not unfamiliar with a religious context, the pope accomplishes something which fell out of favour in worldwide mainstream political discourse since the days of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr: Christian discourse applied in the name of left-wing causes.
This is not the first time an effort to link biblical morality to left-wing political objective was undertaken, as the case of Reverend King exemplifies. When the Reverend King spoke out “call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all God’s children,” Christian discourse contrary to what the majority opinion may be assumes a left-wing character with decided ease. This demonstration of the pliability of religious doctrine, of its application and its discourse, highlights its ability to define the importance of political objectives—refining avenues for political transformation—through appeal to a divine mandate.
The case for the application of Christianity to climate change is not hard to find, as already in the first book of the Old Testament Adam is entrusted by God with stewardship over the earth. In Genesis 2:15 it is written: “And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it,” highlighting the divinely assigned role of humankind in protecting the Lord’s creation. Meanwhile, in Jeremiah 2:7, a prophetic warning to those who take advantage of earth’s natural resources, extracting its minerals and metal to exhaustion is given: “I brought you into a plentiful country, to eat the fruit thereof, and the goodness thereof; but when ye entered, ye defined my land, and made mine heritage an abomination.
Even in the book of Revelation, in 16:8-9 there is imagery that would not feel out of place in a particularly fiery speech by Greta Thunberg: “and the fourth angel pure out his vial upon the sun, and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire.” Although this demonstrates that in the Bible itself dwells discourse that aligns itself neatly with left-wing objectives, it does not prove as many say that: Jesus was a socialist. The man existed before Capitalism, for his sake!
The question is not whether the teachings of Jesus were left-wing or right-wing as politics and discourse as we imagine them today did not exist in this era, and the political and economic structures which inform our discourse and ideologies were not even merely experiencing the most rudimentary phase of their beginnings but were virtually non-existent. Moreover, given that current scholarship of the bible dating the first forms of the books which comprise the modern Bible to the period between the 1st-3rd century, the views of its authors, and the historical Jesus, most likely map onto what we today would call left and right-wing ideologies with a discerning lack of prejudice, and a doubtful accuracy.
The world of Antiquity, the Axial age in particular, in which was born the Abrahamic faiths which came to dominate the world in terms of adherents and global reach informed in many ways the world of today. The carefully maintained and executed chain of countless instances of cause and effect society developed, step by step, people met, ideas transformed lives, each invention brought us close to here. All of this, in large part, is carried out by adherents of some manifestation of the Abrahamic wisdom: believers of Yahweh, God, or Allah. The name matters insofar as its maps, as a near-meaningless determinant of which corner of the world came that specific piece of the mosaic of the modern world, for the truth (which people from all walks of life and faith ignore, deny, or decry) is that we built all of it together.
Such a revelation, funny enough, reveals something some will find illuminating: the development of discourse and ideology is from religion as the superstructures under which exist, the world in which we live, was built, and is preserved in its minute machine-like operations with billions of unique inputs on a large part by religious people, inspired by religious values, and some who found a direct link between their political ideals, and divinely-inspired decree. Therefore, the role not only of Christianity but of religion as a whole, in defence of left-wing, as well as the right-wing political objective cannot be long ignored lest its effectiveness in one sphere is overcome by its application in another sphere political action.
What the pope accomplishes in his integration of Christian language and left-wing politics, which was what the late Revered King accomplished as well, is a revitalisation of religiously-inspired activism in a left-wing context. Whether he will be successful in inspiring the political representatives in front of whom he spoke is left to speculation, and perhaps, to God. But what is innately fascinating, is that, if anything, what he did also renews discourse around the application of religion in the realm of politics, opening avenues of academic investigation, and possibilities for political transformation.
Christianity is not strange to politics, and it is simplistic to think that neither the church nor its ideology, developed in a vacuum wholly disconnected from politics and outside of this realm of co-option in discourse. The entire history of Christianity is linked on a basic level to politics, since politics, throughout time, have always been carried out and informed by people who believed. And those who believe, especially those with outsized political influence (which itself is derived from the divine through his affiliation to one of the foremost religious institutions on Earth) Pope Francis can effect a political change of—no pun intended—biblical proportions.