I’ll never quite understand why so many of us seem to think that chastising humanity as stupid, shallow, and broken is a productive use of our time. Yet, Pope Francis keeps using his platform to do just that.
This Sunday, Francis said “Man is stupid, the Bible said. It’s like that, when you don’t want to see, you don’t see,” referring to our inability or unwillingness to accept the reality of climate change.
Well, I’m with him – in some respects. I’m frustrated that so many seem to be willing to ignore all evidence or reason in order to believe what they want. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have made it so abundantly clear how much we need real action on climate change. Science has predicted these outcomes for decades and we can now confirm them with our own eyes. The time for skepticism and stubbornness is over.
But that does not mean referring to “man” as stupid is at all helpful – or even reasonable. In fact, it’s actively destructive and self-defeating.
Why the Pope is wrong
First, the statement itself obviously contradicts itself. If Francis is able to evaluate that some humans are blind to climate change, then of course “man” (or rather, “humanity”) as a concept can’t be inherently stupid. It takes intelligence to detect stupidity. If “man” is truly stupid, then how is the Pope’s statement so popular? Why do so many applaud and admire him for it?
Second, the vast majority of humanity now accepts climate change. Last year, the world’s nations united to address climate change in the Paris Agreement. Governments, intergovernmental institutions, businesses, non-profits, and more from around the world are activating around this shared purpose. In truth, there is really only one or two major political parties worldwide that deny climate change. One of them just happens to be in power in the world’s largest economy.
Pope Francis obscures this fact. Instead, he insists that humanity is indeed coming together on this issue.
We can do better
Statements like Francis’ reinforce our basest beliefs. They reinforce this idea that humanity is broken, dirty, sinful, that we don’t deserve better. They breed self-hate, foster cynicism and pessimism. They teach us that it is wise and admirable to think lowly of ourselves, to despise one another.
We need more from our leaders. We need to see that humanity is and always has been evolving and growing. We need to see that meaningful action is possible and is actually happening every day. Most importantly, we need to see that humanity is deeply beautiful, imaginative, loving, and capable of incredible transformation and action in the face of climate change.
But just as Francis says “When you don’t want to see, you don’t see.”
Why don’t we want to see this?