Friday, May 14, 2010

Stepping back to see better

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

We are all distressed by the crisis through which Mother Earth and human life are passing. And we have good reason to be, because we are facing a future that could be life or death. To better see the situation, we must take a step back. We will compress more than 13 billion years of existence of the universe into a single cosmic year. Let's see how over the months all beings emerged until the last seconds of the last minute of the last day of the year. Let's look at the scenario that a cosmologist friend helped me calculate.

On January 1 the Great Explosion (Big Bang) occured.

On March 1 the great red stars emerged that later exploded and from their elements, thrown in every direction, the current universe was formed.

On May 8 the Milky Way emerged -- one among one hundred billion.

On September 9 the Sun, the center of our solar system, was born.

On October 1 Earth, the third planet from the Sun, was born.

On October 29, life burst forth within the primitive ocean.

On December 21, fish emerged.

On December 28 at 8:00, mammals.

On December 28 at 18:00, the birds flew.

On December 31 at 17:00 our pre-human ancestors, the anthropoids, were born.

On December 31 at 22:00 the primitive human being enters the scene -- Australopithecus.

On December 31 at 23:58:10 the human being of today emerges, named homo sapiens, bearer of a thinking consciousness.

On December 31 at 23:59:06, Jesus Christ was born, the central figure of Christianity and, for Christians, the Savior of the world.

On December 31 at 23:59:59.02, Pedro Alvares Cabral came to Brazil.

On December 31 at 23:59:59.03, Europe began to be an industrialized society and to expand its power, exploiting the world and creating the current gap between rich and poor.

On December 31 at 23:59:59.54, Brazil gained its independence.

On December 31 at 23:59:59.56 (starting in 1950), the rate of ecological exploitation and devastation accelerated dramatically.

On December 31 at 23:59:59.58 Lula was elected president, a worker in power. Shortly thereafter the dangerous global warming that could threaten the future of civilization was noticed.

On December 31 at 23:59:59.59 we came into the world.

The point of this reading is to unseat anthropocentrism, ie, that vision which gives intrinsic value only to humans and puts everything else at their service. The history of the universe shows that it is not exactly true. The human being is one of the last things to have appeared and been inserted into the general movement of the cosmos. But he has a unique feature: he alone is aware of this history and his place in time. And he feels responsible for the good or disastrous course of the Earth.

Human time is shorter than the soft sigh of a child. Even so, there arises in us a feeling of gratitude to the universe that organized all things so that now we can be here to think and admire these wonders, full of respect and reverence.

And we are not alone. The universe gave us many companions: the stars, the animals, the plants, the birds and human beings, all formed from the same cosmic elements. We are a great Whole.

This earthly Whole cannot end miserably because of our irresponsibility. We will overcome the crisis and continue to live and shine, for our birthplace is in the stars.


  1. On December 31 at 23:59:59.59 we came into the world.

    I don't understand this. Anyone knows?

  2. It didn't make any sense to me either and I even went back and checked the original Portuguese version of the article (I translate from the Spanish one) and that is indeed what it says and obviously Leonardo is older than Lula and was born before he was elected so I don't get that part of the timeline either...

  3. I understand the time line. Is comparing the existence of the Universe since the beginning or so called Big Bang, all fit in 1 year period.
    That's why proto-humanity appears at 22 hrs of the last day of the year and then he tries to squeeze some events during the last mili seconds of the year.
    I kind of "like" the December 31 at 23:59:59.03 when Europeans get blamed for so much injustice. Well, part is true but other cultures and places had all those resources at hand for centuries and did nothing with them.
    Still, I get the point, in the grand scale of the Universe, our lives and time of existence, are just an atom among the ocean of the Cosmos, and we think that we are so important and transcendental.
    Look just for example, a few days of fumes and ashes from a single volcano are capable of disrupting life and business for thousands of people.
    One day we may have a bigger than normal magnetic solar flare and ka-boom...our electronics will go the way of the dinosaurs