PZ Myers is upset - and rightly so - at something that Pope Benedict XVI said in a speech he gave at Wednesday's General Audience. The Pope, while speaking on the topic of environmentalism, suggested that disrespect for the environment stems from disbelief in God:
Is it not true that inconsiderate use of creation begins where God is marginalized or also where is existence is denied? If the human creature's relationship with the Creator weakens, matter is reduced to egoistic possession, man becomes the "final authority," and the objective of existence is reduced to a feverish race to possess the most possible.
I have no doubt that the Pope is an extremely intelligent man, but he seems to have slipped into the intellectually lazy habit of allowing his opinion of others to warp his perception of reality. At the same time, part of PZ's response to the Pope's statement seems to fall right into the same trap:
I think I'd have a few questions for this pope. Like, "What about over-population, Ratzi dear? What's the devout Catholic plan for dealing with that rather serious environmental issue?" and "Hey, have you noticed all those hell-holes of destruction in Africa? How does catholicism help people achieve economic and individual autonomy, huh?"
Paul either did not read or did not understand the rest of the Pope's speech. Benedict made it clear that he does not view environmental justice as an issue that can be separated from social justice as a whole:
The earth is a precious gift of the Creator, who has designed its intrinsic order, thus giving us guidelines to which we must hold ourselves as stewards of his creation. From this awareness, the Church considers questions linked to the environment and its safeguarding as profoundly linked with the topic of integral human development. I referred to these questions several times in my last encyclical "Caritas in Veritate," reminding of the pressing moral need for renewed solidarity") not only in relations between countries, but also between individuals, as the natural environment is given by God to everyone, and its use entails a personal responsibility towards the whole of humanity, in particular, towards the poor and future generations.
That position is one that Benedict has expressed before, so it really shouldn't come as much of a surprise to see it again there. Rome might be strongly identified with the right to life movement, but "right to life" as the Vatican expresses the view is a very different philosophy than the one expressed by many of its most vocal proponents elsewhere in the world. In Rome, "right to life" isn't something that ends at birth. It's a comprehensive view of human rights that spans the entire period from conception to natural death. The importance of justice and equality toward the poor and future generations is every bit as much of that philosophy, as expressed there, as a belief that abortion is wrong.
PZ either did not look to see if the importance of broader issues of social justice was mentioned, or his dislike for the pope and the church caused him to fail to see it. But, as I said at the start, he's hardly the only one who might possibly be suffering the pitfalls of blinkered vision.
The Pope chose to single disbelief out as a cause for a disrespect of the planet and its inhabitants, but he's either failing to see or ignoring the political situation that the Church has placed itself in, particularly in the United States.
Here, the Church has placed so much emphasis on the issue of the legality of abortion that they've wedded themselves to a political party that stands starkly opposed to every other part of what Rome says right-to-life is supposed to mean. They're against foreign aid, domestic programs to assist the poor, educational programs that would give people a chance to improve their economic prospects, ensuring that everyone has access to affordable, high-quality health care, and educating people on any means other than abstinence for avoiding pregnancy - including Vatican roulette. They also consistently fail to acknowledge that serious environmental problems even exist.
At the same time, the pope fails to notice that the political left in the US, including a substantial number of the people he classified as part of the problem in his speech, has been extremely supportive of both social and environmental justice for quite some time. Of course, this shouldn't be a shock to anyone who has actually taken time to think about the philosophical implications of a lack of belief in an after life. After all, if your only legacy will be what you pass on to future generations of humans, you do have good reason to want to make sure that their future is secure.
Updated: I obviously wasn't clear enough (or, for that matter, clear at all) with this post. My attempt to clarify things was a little long for a comment, so it's up as a new post.