Americans Don’t Know Pope’s Environmental Views (And What That Means For Us)
Religion & Liberty Online

Americans Don’t Know Pope’s Environmental Views (And What That Means For Us)

pope-rainThere has been no document by a world leader that has received more attention this year than Laudato Si.

Three months have passed since Pope Francis released his encyclical on the environment, and yet the media coverage and political commentary on it has hardly waned. Here on the Acton PowerBlog, Bruce Edward Walker has been compiling a daily list of links related to news and commentary on the encyclical. To date he has 62 posts with hundreds of links.

As the Associated Press notes, “The document had a rollout unlike any other.”

The encyclical was introduced at the Vatican by a secular climate scientist and a top Orthodox Christian leader, with simultaneous news conferences by Catholic leaders in many countries and the chiming of church bells for emphasis. Francis underscored the importance of the document by sending it to the world’s bishops with a handwritten note.

Yet despite all the hype and effort, few Catholics in the United States are even aware of the encyclical, much less know the Pope’s views on the environment:

A new survey has found fewer than half of U.S. Roman Catholics said they knew of Pope Francis’ bombshell encyclical on curbing climate change — and only a fraction of those heard about it from the pulpit — in the month after he released the document with an unprecedented call for the church to take up his message.
Forty percent of American Catholics and 31 percent of all adults said they were aware of the encyclical, according to the poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and Yale University. Among Catholics who knew about the document, just 23 percent said they heard about it at Mass.

For those of us who aren’t fans of the Pope’s anti-market approach to environmental issues, the lack of awareness about the document isn’t unwelcome news. But whatever we think about the particular encyclical, this example can provide a helpful lesson to all of us who are trying to get people to embrace our message: Don’t assume they’ve heard the message—and if they have, don’t assume they understood it.

Most of us live in informational bubbles. We watch Fox News or MSNBC and assume everyone else also watches cable news. We read the New York Times or the Washington Post and assume everyone else reads newspapers. We constantly monitor Twitter and Facebook and assume everyone else is getting news on social media.

But it’s not true. In fact, whenever you hear the phrase “everyone knows” you can replace it with “everyone doesn’t know.” Because they don’t. This is especially true for us advocates of liberty and free enterprise.

We assume people know how the minimum wage hurts African Americans. They don’t. We assume that people can intuitively understand the importance of religious liberty. They can’t. We assume that most people have heard our arguments already. They haven’t.

If the leader of an organization with 1.2 billion members who is assisted by every major media outlet in the world can’t get his message out to his own constituency in the most information saturated country in world history, then we shouldn’t be surprised if our message isn’t being heard either. Like the Pope, we have to keep repeating ourselves in the hope that we’ll eventually be heard.

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).