The October issue of Working Notes sounds the alarm about the accelerating ecological breakdown which threatens to dismantle all our notions of normality and meaningfulness. The crisis facing us now, it is argued in the core essay of the volume, is greater even than the 20th century crisis caused by the rise of fascism: “It is simply the case that climate and biodiversity breakdown is the biggest problem humanity has ever faced.”
Penned collaboratively by the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice team (Kevin Hargaden, Keith Adams, Ciara Murphy, and Martina Madden), the article, ‘Do we really feel fine?: Towards an Irish Green New Deal’, is as resolute in outlining a solution as it is in identifying the crisis. Its source of insight for this is Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’, especially his promotion of ‘integral ecology’, the understanding that everything – ecology, economy, public policy – is interconnected:
Although rightfully interpreted as an environmental text, Laudato Sí is also a piece of trenchant political critique. Francis’ fundamental conviction is that there is no way to consider the climate and biodiversity crisis apart from the profound social problems created by our heedless commitment to GDP growth without qualification. The roots of the ecological crisis are established by human practices. The “dominant technocratic paradigm” reduces the complexity of life down to simple one-dimensional pursuit of more without reference to purpose, “a technique of possession, mastery and transformation”.
It is this “parody of progress” which, the article argues, must be opposed. It continues then to outline the role which the JCFJ sees itself to have, summarised as seeking “to explore what integral ecology means on a practical policy level as we respond to the housing and homelessness crisis, to the injustices apparent in our criminal justice system, and in our economic arrangements”.
Such a reiteration of the Centre’s programme appears appropriate and timely, as its director, John K Guiney SJ, stood down recently and handed the baton over to Dr Kevin Hargaden, the Centre’s social theologian. This issue of Working Notes is then the first one with Kevin as JCFJ Director. In his opening letter he thanks John for the clear sense of identity he gave to the JCFJ as director over the last decade, and he expresses his team’s commitment to continue the effort “to integrate social questions and spiritual practices”.
The title of the current issue, edited by Keith Adams, is ‘Policies after a pandemic’. Apart from the lengthy policy article by the JCFJ team, there are substantial contributions on justice-related themes raised by the coronavirus outbreak. Pieter de Witte and Geertjan Zuijdwegt, prison chaplains and theologians in Belgium, explore meaningful correlations between prison experience and the broader social experience this year of confinement, isolation and lockdown. Rebecca Keatinge, who is Managing Solicitor for the Mercy Law Resource Centre, examines the many failures in providing appropriate accommodation for the homeless, which she says has been brought into sharp focus by Covid-19. In particular she warns that turning to hostels, family hubs and hotels is not an adequate response to the problem; they are not homes.
Working Notes finishes with a theological reflection by Gerry O’Hanlon SJ. He finds hope for some light in the current darkness – if, that is, we can reject the temptation to rely on our autonomy in a time of crisis and open ourselves to the experience of others, however different their worldview might be from our own. “But these kind of mutual learnings,” he says, “are only possible if there is sustained and respectful dialogue.”