Rhett Engelking – Director of Franciscan Earth Corps
Prior to my work with the Franciscan Action Network, I worked as a therapist at a residential psychiatric treatment hospital. When I would listen beyond each patient’s particular story, they all carried a similar simple subtext: they had become addicted to an unsustainable lifestyle. Whether it was a story of a life of unmoderated substance abuse, an unshakeable pattern of binge-eating, or the anxious prison of obsessively compulsive behaviors, long term hospitalization was reserved for those who bought the lie that the false sense of security of an unsustainable lifestyle and were stuck as a result. In Sunday’s readings, the Israelites, despite being free from an Egyptian society built upon slavery, express a desire to return to captivity. “Would that we had died at the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread.” This is the spiritual cry of addiction. After engaging in a conscience override, an addict forgoes spiritual autonomy for the external control of someone or something that, however constraining, nonetheless gives us a fixed, predictable response. The addiction takes hold when the override becomes such a fixture (or fix) as to make the lifestyle of the addict dependent upon the fix.
If we take the broader view, it is easy to forget that economics are driven by the collective desires of individual people. Our unmoderated use of fossil fuels and our binge consumption of livestock has already created life-threatening levels of carbon emissions in the atmosphere to the degree that it becomes clear that our fix is not only individual but cultural as well. How else could individuals living in coastal areas continue to drive cars and use fossil fuel energy when coastal oil spills, rising sea levels, fatal humidity and erratic tropical storms have all been linked to that usage? It is well documented that the Carbon Pharaohs who head the fossil fuel industries hold consumers captive by employing merchants of doubt to tell rational lies intended to undermine scientific consensus and make corporate ethical discussions so confusing as to be impossible. Even the Pharaohs are themselves beholden to a capitalistic system that is legally mandated to put the financial self-interest of the fossil fuel industry shareholders above all competing concerns, including the lives of individuals in coastal areas. If the American system has truly held us all captive, is it really so hard to understand why American Christians would rather remain captive Israelites than confront these problems? Americans have indeed become “corrupted by deceitful desires” and trapped in the “futility of their minds.” Is there really a way out?
In my experience, if we are truly to recover from addiction, it will only come after we have reached a spiritual tipping point. Two things in my experience provide a lasting antidote to addiction: truth and connection and both are rooted in a loving spirituality. This is perfectly personified when, after eating their fill, the crowds dropped their life concerns, jumped in boats, and doggedly pursued Jesus’ for more of his teaching. Rather than craving the perishable food of an unsustainable lifestyle, they craved the enduring food of eternal life. The tipping point for them was not a matter of interpreting signs on the mental journey of certainty, it was a spontaneous expression of faith and spiritual longing. That is why, if America is ever to recover from the addiction associated with our fossil fuel based lifestyle, it will require faith. According to the Pontifical academy of Sciences, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and nearly every national Academy of Sciences in every industrial country, the science on Climate Change is as near to consensus as can be expected, but no one ever got to God through futility of our minds. What we need for full recovery is the light of Faith. We need a spiritually inspired manifesto to connect all of the people of our world to each other in a celebration of our common home. Thankfully, with Laudato Si [link], Pope Francis has provided us just that.