In God’s Name


By Anna-Zoë Herr and Eva-Maria McCormack

The late US-American radio show host, Rush Limbaugh, who raked up millions of listeners with his conservative commentary every week, liked to present himself as a devout Christian – and as a denier of climate change. His strategy for this denialism spanned from discrediting high-level climate activists like Al Gore to portraying climate change as a leftist strategy to raise taxes. In particular, he liked to ensure his listeners that, since God was all powerful, “We couldn’t destroy the earth if we wanted to.” His claim echoed that of other, mostly conservative Christian evangelicals who equate the notion of man-made climate change with threatening the omnipotence of God. And who go on to say that questioning God’s omnipotence is tantamount to heresy.

When it comes to climate change, faith appears complicated. Pope Francis is seen by Catholics across the world as the apostolic successor of Saint Peter, singled out by Jesus himself to lead his church. His encyclical letter “Laudate Deum”, published this week, certainly clashes with – or even runs afoul of – the belief proclaimed by evangelicals like Limbaugh. Yet for Christians concerned about the climate crisis, Frances has certainly marked his legacy by translating the urgent need for climate action into a message about faith, humanity and hope.


The papal letter, whose title translates to “Praising God”, follows the pope’s earlier 2015 encyclical “Laudato si’”, which carried the subtitle “On Care for Our Common Home”. In his new encyclical, addressed “To All People of Good Will on the Climate Crisis”, Frances lays out that tackling the climate crisis is essentially about relationships.  

The letter presents a staggering collection of evidence embedded within philosophical, political, theological, and spiritual reflection. Yet, at the heart of it is the argument that interconnectedness – among humans and between humans and our environment – is being squashed by a paradigm obsessed with vested interests, profit-orientation and technocratic thinking. Francis lays out a world in which “the climate crisis is not exactly a matter that interests the great economic powers, whose concern is with the greatest profit possible at minimal cost”. Again and again in his letter, Frances does not mince his words: „The great present-day problem is that the technocratic paradigm has destroyed that healthy and harmonious relationship [of human beings with their environment].“ In essence, it is the unbridled use of power that he blames.


Remarkably today, when the public chorus on the climate crisis resembles a collection of ever more frightening doomsday scenarios, Francis does not stop at critique. The radicalism of his message combines with hope. Possibly, this is to be expected for a pope who stems from the home of liberation theology known for its radical social teachings. Doesn’t social critique ultimately always draw its strength from a well of hope, the deep conviction that social change is possible?

In his impressive range of arguments on a wide variety of climate-related aspects, Francis points to a “sublime communion”, the underbelly of human existence, which is “not a product of our own will” but pulsates in the “depths of our being.” The interconnected “common home” that Francis asserts we feel and live within is also the reason for hope. The pope’s message to “Praise God” radiates a very non-institutional, a very personal faith – a faith, which, among the vastness of the climate crisis, also offers something to cling on. A faith also, we may add, which does not see the need to defend God’s omnipotence.

But the hope and faith, that Frances speaks of, are not a shed merely to seek shelter in. Nor are they an invitation to crouch away from the world. Instead, they are a call to action: “To say that there is nothing to hope for would be suicidal, for it would mean exposing all humanity, especially the poorest, to the worst impacts of climate change.” According to Frances, even small individual changes lead to the integrity of the whole. Keeping hope and acting on climate are a matter of solidarity and responsibility for this whole.


Denouncing the idea of humans’ exceptionality, Frances calls for us to see ourselves as part of something bigger, God’s Creation. “Human life, intelligence and freedom are elements of the nature that enriches our planet, part of its internal workings and its equilibrium“. Ecological health is dependent on these relationships, he says. Weaved throughout his letter is the fundamental tenet that the “entire world is a ‘contact zone’”, a carpet knit through the relationships which all species and elements hold with all other.

And how should we be in these relationships? Humble, says Frances. In humility lies our strength as humans, is the implied message of “Praising God”. Humility is the counteracting force to the causes and manifestations of our crisis: the cycle of poverty and monopolizing privilege, technocratic hybris and economic megalomania. It is with the strength of humility and through the relationships that we shape with other living beings and our common home that we unfold our influence and can effect change. Here is where hope is not a platitude but our individual path to assume responsibility.

Amen to that.