by Marcia Mueller
In his encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si,” Pope Francis acknowledged that human activities, especially those involving business and consumerism, hurt the planet and agreed that human activity is also playing a role in climate change. One of the most notable admissions in the encyclical is that the old interpretation of humanity’s place on the earth must be reexamined: “Although it is true that we Christians have at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures, nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.”
In keeping with the encyclical, the Vatican hosted a light show, “Fiat Lux: Illuminating Our Common Home,” presented on the first day of what the Pope called a “Year of Mercy.” The show was produced and financed by a group of humanitarian and philanthropic groups and corporations, including the World Bank, in what admirers called a celebration of nature and the earth and in what critics called the Church’s “partnering with her enemies” for a deeply offensive political statement.
The light show itself was a spectacular display. The majority of the hour was devoted to the natural world: Sun, moon, meteor showers, and the oceans, but mostly animals, as butterflies, toucans, monkeys, primates, reptiles, wolves, big cats, and elephants chattered, hissed, howled, roared, and trumpeted across the face of St. Peter’s Basilica. No creature was too small or too big to be included, from bees to whales.
Unfortunately, the light show outraged many conservatives. After-show appraisals included such terms as “creepy,” “pagan,” “blasphemous,” “sacrilegious,” “profane,” and “offensive.” They complained that Paul Allen’s company, Vulcan (which is devoted to finding solutions to seemingly insoluble problems), was named after the Roman god of fire. They pointed out that the Okeanos organization, which seems to promote health of the oceans, was named after a Greek god. They found New Age symbolism throughout the show, and one YouTube video investigates the “creepy symbols” that were “plastered” all over the Vatican during the show: “Fiat Lux Satanic Light Show Decoded”
The majority of complaints were about the animals, particularly the primates, reptiles, and big cats, whose eyes disturbed the critics.
For example, one light scene faded and then flared back as an amber-eyed lion covering the entire face of the Basilica, his maned head turned to look at the viewers. Hopefully, some of those viewers contemplated the tragedy of losing that magnificent creature to extinction. But critics were reminded of the demonic. The lion prompted Father John Zuhlsdorf to quote Scripture: “Be sober and watch: Because your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour.”
Father Zuhlsdorf was not on the only one who looked into the animals’ eyes animals and saw something satanic looking back: “When an animal has this gaze, it is rabid or a symbol of evil that God created to help men be vigilant..”
Some watched the “crazy-looking lemur” and “sinister” reptiles and asked: “Are these really endangered species or did the show’s director take a special pleasure in picturing these symbols of the devil on the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica façade, the most holy of all Catholic Churches?
The outrage went beyond the animal displays. There were scenes of humanity’s affects on the planet, with stacks of wrecked cars, piles of used cell phones, a plane graveyard, shanty towns, skyscrapers, and call-filled highways, along with chickens crammed into cages on factory farms and spectators crowded into a vast stadium.
Those hints at overpopulation resulted in critics calling the light show misanthropic and anti-human for undermining the old anthropocentrism of the Church. They complained that the environmental groups promote population growth as a threat and that organizations such as the World Bank were flooding developing nations with contraception and pressuring them to legalize abortion. They claimed that the most endangered species of all was the unborn child.
Critics were also unhappy about the lack of evangelizing and Catholic symbolism in the light show: No signs of the clergy or other exclusively Catholic themes or worship were included. The people depicted in the light show were Asian, Middle Eastern (the “umbrella people”), Buddhist monks, and villagers picking crops. Indigenous people were represented by, according to one source, “almost nude Indians.”
For years, liberal Catholics hoped that when the next pontiff was elected, he would concern himself more with problems of the modern world. Pope Francis did just that in his “Laudato Si” and in the sponsorship of the light show. While many people did approve, the backlash was also severe.
It prompted Archbishop Rino Fisichella to create a petition to the Vatican asserting that the light show’s “radical environmental” message was an affront to millions of Catholics who are skeptical about man-made climate chan. It isge and the “ideology” surrounding it.
There are many conservative Christians in the world, including Evangelicals. And the conservatives tend to be the most involved in their church and in practicing their faith. It is unlikely that the Pope (of the conservative bishops and cardinals) will ignore them or their objections. Politicians at election time will remember their conservative positions on the climate and the natural world and campaign accordingly. They realize that the most committed and fervent people also have the deepest pockets and the willingness to reach into them.
(NOTE: A Pew survey revealed that most Christians voted for Trump: Protestants 58%, white Catholics 60%, white Evangelicals 81%, and Mormons 61%.)
As animal rights activists, we spend much of our time in an Internet echo chamber clicking and likely (or condemning) news with others of similar opinions. The outrage over the light show, as outlandish and retrograde as it seems, is how many people think, and they are no friends to our cause. Obviously, much work remains to be done to change their hearts and minds about animals and their well-being.
I’m including some comments to reveal the opinions of the show’s critics.
LIFESITE NEWS COMMENTS
1. “Birds, apes, whales, lions . . . and where is the image of an unborn baby in the womb?”
2. “But there is something demonic about the environmental movement. It’s a worldwide cult now.”
3. “What a bizarro world. Slaughter your children so the animals of the world can eat, multiply, and have dominion over the earth.”
4. “Babies, aborted or born, are the enemy to them. Just more tissue and cells to suck up resources that should be left to Gaia and her animals.”
5. “It was a circus atmosphere, not a reverent place of God. The devil is in charge.”
6. “Diabolical and a circus of animals over people. Human beings have souls, animals do not.”
7. “Worry about the unborn and their murders, not if a polar bear doesn’t have a block of ice to stand on.”
8. “Souls are the Pope’s job. Not endangered species.”
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