There are growing fears and doubts about the forthcoming Synod on the Amazon scheduled for October 2019. Such concerns involve specific topics related to the topics of the Synod, such as a new ecological ideology or the relationship between Christianity and indigenous cultures. However, some also fear that the Synod might possibly be used to approve theological theories that are only accidentally connected with synod themes. For example, the Panamanian bishops might ask the Pope for the abolition or reformulation of priestly celibacy, under the influence of the German bishops who are the real driving force behind this effort.
Many have already reported on these dangers based on the Synod’s organization around these topics. However, few people have commented on how the Amazon Synod, based on its structure and preparatory document, may further weaken the Church’s social doctrine understood as a doctrinal corpus.
Unfortunately, this weakening has already occurred during this pontificate. Indeed, one can say that the Church’s social doctrine is the great absentee of the pontificate of Pope Francis. His teachings on immigration, ecology, globalism, the economy, Europe and so many other issues never seem to refer to the Church’s social doctrine. This is true not only by the failure to recall the Church’s textual teachings explicitly, but also to refer to their conceptual categories.
These new teachings tend to refer to a generic concept of charity, devoid of consideration about truth. They never appeal to natural law, or involve an order of creation, which having specific ends, must, therefore, prescribe moral behavior. The categories of thought elaborated by the Church’s social doctrine should be the meeting place of evangelical charity with revealed and natural truth. If these concepts are not used to build a human community according to God’s plan, the action of Christians around the world can easily follow trendy and stronger ideologies improperly informed by the social sciences, and based on sentimental charity.
Therefore, the Synod on the Amazon might well put aside the Church’s social doctrine and adopt today’s prevailing slogans and themes: solidarity with the poor, the purity of primitive religions polluted by Western progress, the faults of evangelization in the Americas, the fundamental importance of the Amazon forest for the production of oxygen against the greenhouse effect and so on.
The preparatory phase of the Synod has already revealed that fundamental principles of the Church’s social doctrine are not being considered.
Take, for example, the principle of the universal destination of goods and the natural right to private property. The first principle involves how God created goods for all mankind. This principle does not deny the second, which is indeed the natural way to achieve it. The allocation and defense of private property is the most correct way to bring about the universal destination of goods.
Thus, while it must be acknowledged that the Amazon is of great value to all humanity, the solution is not—as is often insinuated—to submit that area to a kind of global government headed by the United Nations. This would subject the Amazon region to a centralist, globalist and super-statist government to the detriment of the competent and legitimate states found there. Among other adverse effects, such a move would actually favor the interests of multinational companies since they would find the area already cleared of national governments.
Such moves would also violate the Church’s social doctrine on subsidiarity. Subsidiarity requires the political community to be established from below. This does not mean that the political community emerges only at the end of the aggregation process. Rather the internal organization of the political community must be subsidiary, as each social level (such as the family, parish or community) must act autonomously to achieve its natural goals. As Aristotle notes, this forms the entire political community or state, which alone suffices unto itself. Thus the authority of individual states of the Amazon region must be safeguarded, together with their internal subsidiary organizations. Otherwise, the national communities would disintegrate and the natural rights of peoples and countries would be violated.
When considering the Amazon, the Church’s social doctrine on justice holds that the common good must not be built upon injustice. The indigenous peoples are extremely few in numbers compared to the concerned area and its resources. Their rights must be reconciled with the common good of the nations to which they belong and cannot be an absolute priority.
Much of the Amazon is being kept in a ‘frozen’ state in which all forms of productive activities are banned. Activists cite two reasons to leave this immense territory to a few indigenous people: ecological and cultural.
The ecological argument claims that the planet needs that forest to remain intact, both materially and symbolically. Development would jeopardize this great need. The cultural argument states that the primitive culture of the natives is a source of great wealth that must be preserved because it represents and teaches the right relationship between man and the natural environment.
The Church’s social doctrine disprove both these arguments. First, it says that the governance of the planet should be in the responsible hands of man who, if acting in the fear of God, can find the resources for his proper development and avoid catastrophic excesses. The social doctrine has always answered those who fear the Earth will be overpopulated by affirming that history has shown that human intelligence will know how to come up with future solutions that are unthinkable today. God trusts man to act in this way. Unfortunately, it is man who does not trust enough in God. The social doctrine of the Church is not against development but rather against “super-development” and “anti-growth.” Both are incorrect visions of how man should deal with the Earth. Those seeking to freeze the Amazon forest are “anti-growth,” which shows a distrust of man already condemned by Benedict XVI in the Encyclical Caritas in Veritate.
As for the cultural argument, Church social doctrine posits that primitive, animist, and pagan cultures enslave peoples, whereas the Gospel frees them. The correct relationship between man and nature is not that of primitive peoples, who deny man’s superiority over the whole Creation by his likeness to God.
As Benedict XVI taught, those primitive cultures express a “religion of myth,” while a Christian is a child of the Logos. The neo-pagan culture of advanced Western societies is easily attracted by affinity to the primitive paganism of the Amazonian natives. However, the Christian vision correctly denies this false vision of society.
A fashion show recently held in Rome by a famous designer featured primitive pagan elements and praised the Tarpeian Rock where people were executed by being flung off. While modern culture has many neo-pagan elements, its development did not come from paganism and will not come from the primitive tribes of the Amazon region. Indeed, these primitive peoples have the right to know the Logos, the truth, both human and Christian.