Naomi Klein Doesn’t Speak Catholic

As a traditionalist who believes there is no salvation outside the Church, I may be presumed by many to think we Catholics should avoid non-Catholics, should not cooperate with them in any area of common human interest, and should avoid like the plague anything that might be misunderstood by modern conservatives to appear “lefty” (even if it’s not).

Such a presumption would be entirely mistaken. As one who appreciates the economic writings of the Popes of the nineteenth and early twentieth Centuries, and who is sympathetic to the world-view of the distributists, I have been (wrongly) accused of being a crypto-Commie — an appellation I reject as utterly as Chesterton and Belloc did. I’m also all for cooperating with non-Catholics in many areas of natural justice, whether the recipients of said justice be unborn babies, or even (shock!) Muslim Palestinians (as well as their Christian countrymen). This last, too, upsets some “conservatives.”

Nor am I a fan of global mega-capitalism, the one-percenters, the military-industrial complex, the Monsantos and Gateses and Walmarts of the world, etc., etc.

That said, I must join the voices of dissent against Naomi Klein’s red-carpet treatment at the Vatican. Maike Hickson gives us several reasons to, based on Klein’s July 10 article in The New Yorker:

Klein also describes her impression that the new tone in the Vatican with reference to nature and the earth is revolutionary [here follow Naomi Klein’s own words…]:

As for the idea that we are part of a family with all other living beings, with the earth as our life-giving mother, that too is familiar to eco-ears. But from the Church? Replacing a maternal Earth with a Father God, and draining the natural world of its sacred power, were what stamping out paganism and animism were all about.

By asserting that nature has a value in and of itself, Francis is overturning centuries of theological interpretation that regarded the natural world with outright hostility—as a misery to be transcended and an “allurement” to be resisted. Of course, there have been parts of Christianity that stressed that nature was something valuable to steward and protect—some even celebrated it—but mostly as a set of resources to sustain humans.

Naomi Klein’s ignorance of Catholic tradition is understandable in light of the fact that she is A.) not a Catholic, and B.) is keeping company with radical “Catholics” who despise tradition, overtly boasting of their entirely new theology — one in which even Scripture itself “evolves.” Those folks are not likely to educate Ms. Klein on the doctrinaire character of those nature-loving Franciscan Saints, or on the love of nature and the poor that rigid dogmatists like Saint Augustine or Saint Thomas Aquinas had. For these radicals, orthodoxy and love of nature are polar opposites. (As Brother Francis used to repeat, error divides, truth unites.)

If you read Maike’s article, or Ms. Klein’s original in The New Yorker, you will see that one thing Naomi learned from the liberal Irish priest and “theologian,” Father Seán McDonagh, is how Catholics traditionally were taught to despise the earth. Let’s look at that for a bit, for there is a tremendous trifle here that I wish to set right.

Here is how Naomi Klein puts it (once more quoting Maike’s article):

This point is made forcefully by the Irish Catholic priest and theologian Seán McDonagh, who was part of the drafting process for the encyclical. His voice booming from the audience, he urges us not to hide from the fact that the love of nature embedded in the encyclical represents a profound and radical shift from traditional Catholicism. “We are moving to a new theology,” he declares.

To prove it, he translates a Latin prayer that was once commonly recited after communion during the season of advent. “Teach us to despise the things of the earth and to love the things of heaven.” Overcoming centuries of loathing the corporeal world is no small task, and, McDonagh argues, it serves little purpose to downplay the work ahead.

Here is the prayer. I knew I recognized it, but it took me some digging to come up with it. It’s the Postcommunion prayer in the traditional Latin Mass for the Second Sunday of Advent (thanks, Usus Antiquior!):

Repléti cibo spirituális alimóniæ, súpplices te, Dómine, deprecámur: ut hujus participatióne mystérii, dóceas nos terréna despicere et amáre cœléstia. Per Dóminum nostrum Jesum Christum …

Filled with the food of spiritual nourishment, we humbly entreat Thee, O Lord, that by our partaking of this Mystery, Thou wouldst teach us to despise the things of earth, and to love those of Heaven. Through our Lord Jesus Christ …

The prayer is not calling us to pollute rivers, to hate birds, or to hew down trees purposelessly. It is not calling us to hate God’s creation. It is calling us to despise whatever is “earthly” in the sense of “bound to this earth,” or “in opposition to” heavenly things.

This is a misunderstood point, and is therefore deserving of attention. Perhaps if someone were charitable enough to correct Naomi Klein, she might see that the Church loves and always loved the Creation of God, but that She loves the God of Creation in a much higher way — higher not only in degree but in kind.

The words of that Postcommunion reflect what Saint Paul says in Colossians 2:3, which the Church uses as Her Epistle for the Easter Vigil Mass: “Mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth.” Here is a Protestant Bible translation, which I link because it has valuable cross references to other relevant Biblical passages, such as our Lord’s words to Saint Peter about the Apostle’s relishing “earthly things.”

Thankfully, we have a very reliable Master who can help us to understand the seeming contradiction between loving God’s Creation and despising the things of this earth. It is our beloved Dom Prosper Guéranger. Note that what the learned Abbot says here concerns the word “the world,” not “the earth,” but the same commentary applies to both:

“But what is the meaning of our promise to renounce the world? Is it that we cannot be Christians, unless we flee into the desert and separate ourselves from our fellow-creatures? Such cannot be God’s will for all, since, in that same Scripture, wherein He commands us to flee from the world, He also tells us what are our duties to each other, and sanctions and blesses those ties which He Himself has willed should exist among us. His apostle, also, tells us to use this world as though we did not use it (I Cor. vii, 31). Can there be contradiction in God’s commandments? Is it possible that we are condemned to wander blindly on the brink of a precipice, into which we must at last inevitably fall?

“There is neither contradiction nor snare. If by the world, we mean these visible things around us which God created in His power and goodness; if we mean this outward world, which He made for His own glory and our benefit; it is worthy of its divine Author, and to us, if we but use it aright, is a ladder whereby our souls may ascend to their God. Let us gratefully use this world; go through it, without making it the object of our hope; not waste upon it that love, which God alone deserves; and ever be mindful, that we are not made for this, but for another and a happier, world.

“But the majority of men are not thus prudent in their use of the world. Their hearts are fixed upon it, and not upon heaven. Hence it was, that when the Creator deigned to come in into this world, in order that He might save it, the world knew Him not (John i, 10). Men were called after the object of their love. They shut their eyes to the light; they became darkness; God calls them ‘the world.’

“In this sense, then, the world is everything that is opposed to our Lord Jesus Christ, that refuses to recognize Him, and that resists His divine guidance. Those false maxims which tend to weaken the love of God in our souls; which recommend the vanities that fasten our hearts to this present life; which cry down everything that can raise us above our weaknesses or vices; which decoy and gratify our corrupt nature by dangerous pleasures, which, far from helping us to the attainment of our last end, only mislead us — all these are ‘the world.’

Read my Exploring Nature to Find God for something of a traditionalist appreciation of nature — in the light of divine revelation.

And let’s pray for Naomi Klein. Not all of her ideas are wrongheaded. We should pray especially that she avails herself of that highest use of the “true and natural water” she likes to keep unpolluted.