Pope Benedict XVI: Environmentalism, Relativism, and Catholic Post-Modernity
Biles, Courtney Leigh
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CitationBiles, Courtney Leigh. 2013. Pope Benedict XVI: Environmentalism, Relativism, and Catholic Post-Modernity. Master's thesis, Harvard University, Extension School.
AbstractThis thesis seeks to shed light on the Catholic response to the environmental crisis by analysing the corpus of works belonging to Joseph Ratzinger, now retired Pope Benedict XVI. This study examines Benedict's worldview and investigates the influence that his issue with relativism has on his environmental views. To better understand Benedict's environmental position we must examine his response to other problems in the modern world and realise their interconnection. The hypothesis of this investigation is that, for Benedict, the environmental crisis is a tangible manifestation of a much larger, more intangible problem: relativism.
The four questions that this thesis will answer are: first, how do Catholic social teachings on the environment shape Benedict's environmentalism? Second, how does his personal, intellectual, and academic worldview influence his issue with relativism? Third, how does relativism affect his environmental position? Fourth, has his unique environmentalism had an influence on the environmental views of U.S. Catholics?
This thesis interprets the numerous academic, theological, and bibliographical works published before and during his election as pope and establishes the institutional context through secondary biographical and historical writings on the subject. The material drawn from Benedict's writings, over a century of Catholic environmental teaching, and other critical writings all support the finding that Benedict's anti-relativism influences his environmental views.
The pre-papal investigation follows the progress of Benedict's issue with relativism and the development of his environmental views, yet the culmination of this analysis materialises in one particular work promulgated during his papacy titled, "If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation" (2010). It argues that, in the absence of absolute truth, not only has morality been relativised, but also human rights and human dignity, which Benedict deems to be universal truths. He always places human dignity at the centre of all social justice issues and believes that the environmental crisis poses a serious threat to human rights. He encourages a "human ecology," which binds environmental protection to the safeguarding of human dignity.
This message embodies Benedict's unique environmentalism, as it rejects the relativising of human rights and dignity and requires accountability for the consequences of the environmental crisis. This thesis concludes that Benedict's anthropocentrism has the strongest influence on his issues with relativism and the environmental crisis and that his environmentalism puts into practice his theoretical objections to relativism.
As a religious leader Benedict is one of the most important thinkers addressing and responding to the environmental crisis. The close analysis of his works illuminates how Catholic thought might be adapted to address this issue; it may also contain insight into how the issue can be re-framed in a way that could break down barriers and promote mutual understanding between religious and non-religious persons.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37367541
- DCE Theses and Dissertations