Monday, August 16, 2010

Leonardo Boff in Cordoba: The Dia a Dia interview

By Matías Bengolea (English translation by Rebel Girl)
DíaaDía.com
8/15/2010

"You ask whatever you want and I'll answer whatever I want," he said, just after the greeting, this old man who bases his words on his studies, but especially on his years of experience working for the poor, the marginalized and towards a better relationship between human beings and the planet.

Leonardo Boff, the founder of liberation theology whose preaching earned him a "silencing" by the Vatican, visited Cordoba this week where he was recognized as a "distinguished guest." Between lectures and entertainment, he made time to talk with Día a Día.

Why do you think that the Church is moving increasingly away from society? For example, the curia here was extremely against gay marriage.

LB: I think the problem is not society, nor is it homosexuals. The problem is that the Church has no experience living in democratic spaces. First, it is not a democracy, it is the only single gender -- only men -- absolute monarchy in the world. And it combines well with military dictatorships because they have the same inherent structures. The Church must learn to live in a democratic space where there are many opinions, to respect them. She is entitled to have hers, but she has a duty to listen to others. And if a society has decided this, they have to accept it. A Christian might not view it as marriage, but as a union that guarantees the rights that give them legal status, citizenship, they should support that, irrespective of whatever moral judgment they might make about it. And the Church has not learned to do this to date, because it has never accepted democratic structures inwardly; and it has accepted them in society insofar as it keeps the moral hegemony, can have its space, its schools, its Catholic universities, but the moment there is any conflict, it opposes them and becomes absolutely anti-democratic. There's the problem.

You have suffered persecution within the Church. Why do you think that the Vatican is so afraid of the proposition that liberation theology puts forth?

LB: When I talk about the Church, I'm not talking about the Christian community which is very broad, I'm talking about the Church as a power institution, about the hierarchy. This hierarchy historically, as it is a power, has interacted with other powers and has never made an alliance with the powerless. Liberation theology begins with the economic "zeros", the exploited poor, for whom the Church has had a presence of accommodation, of resignation and has never helped them discover that poverty is evil, that it isn't natural or willed by God, that it's produced by economic and political exploitation. So there the Church seems lost, because the relationship with the poor is only charitable, existentialist, keeping the poor dependent. The vision of liberation is: the poor have a historical force, they know how to think, they can be organized, they can help change society, the Church and Christians can be allies. Not that the Church will magically liberate the poor, but that the Church has social and political power, it has an infrastructure, it can offer the parishes where they can meet and things like that. But the Church is afraid of them, because they want change in society and want change in the Church as well, because they want to participate, to consider together, and not be treated in the childish manner in which they are treated.

What's your opinion of Benedict XVI?

LB: I think he's a conservative Pope and reactionary at certain points, someone who is seeking to demolish all the achievements of the Second Vatican Council. His project is to build a strong inward Church, separated from the world, because he has a negative view of the world and all modernity. He sees modernity as decay, as relativism of the great medieval synthesis. We must rescue the good elements of modernity, modernity has given us human rights, individual dignity, it has given us technological and scientific development. There are positive elements, but they condemn them en masse. Also, he thinks that salvation comes only through the Church and strongly emphasizes that arrogant view that there is no salvation outside the Church, that other churches are not churches. He's a Pope who's still a professor, who never managed to become a pastor.


America, the cradle of change. Boff accompanied the current president of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo (another former priest like himself), at his inauguration and has shared the stage on several occasions with Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Evo Morales, who have acknowledged him as an influence on their thinking.

What's your opinion about Lugo's shift to politics?

LB: Lugo deserves credit for having introduced a rupture in the politics of Paraguay, which was dominated for more than 50 years by a highly corrupt party and an alliance between the military and civil society that was indestructible. He has managed to break that up. As corruption is strong, it has been very difficult for him to govern, he has also had personal problems that are very painful, but has now stabilized. He now has support from many Latin American presidents, especially the president of Brazil. Lula has been very supportive, not letting personal problems turn into political problems. He managed to renegotiate the treaty of Itaipu, which has allowed him funds to do social work and Lula made him conscious of that. Lula has acknowledged that "we have a historic debt that we have never paid. We have destroyed that country. We've always treated it as small and poor, but no, it's just like us, a brother who has to be helped." And that ethical dimension has made them great friends, talking to each other practically every week. Too bad Lugo has cancer and is being treated in Brazil. But I think that he will consolidate his rule and allow Paraguay to have another kind of history, not the corrupt one that has dominated for over 50 years.

What do you think about the direction the governments in the region are taking?

LB: I believe that Latin America is experiencing a time of democracy that it has never experienced before. We used to have democracies that were of the elite, then the military dictatorships, and now democracies based on the social movements. In Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela, Argentina and partly in Chile, there is a renewal of democracy in its nature. Before the policies were elitist, now the focus is on social policies. In Brazil, which is what I know a little better, the gap between rich and poor has fallen by 17 percent. Thirty-two million who were entirely excluded were included, more than 30 million rose from poverty to lower middle class. And this is a social revolution within the democratic camp, this is happening a bit all over Latin America as something new. I think that, as Boaventura de Souza Santos says, it is the only continent that is renewing democracy on the basis of community spirit, whether of the movements or the community democracy that comes from the indigenous, which is the typical structure of indigenous communities, with a deep sense of equality, being kind to the earth, not focused on economics, but on living. And that is renewing democracy and is the merit of the new democracy in Latin America.


Ecological crisis. On Wednesday, this 71 year-old man with a long white beard, spoke about climate change and the need for a new beginning in the relationship between humanity and the Earth.

In his thinking, there are two visions of the world in conflict: the classic, which sees the Earth as an object, one that provides for us and that is to be tortured to get everything out of it. And the other that takes the planet as a living supra-organism, that regulates itself and gives life, meaning that it is mother (this vision blends the old conceptions with modern conceptions of science). The first view corresponds to domination and the second to caring.

Concerning the two conceptions that are at war, from where do you think the new beginning will emerge?

LB: I believe that through the growing ecological crisis, with extreme events, mankind is realizing that we are entering a process of chaos, the land is in chaos. I believe that humanity will wake up. We can not continue like this. The worst thing we can do is continue the same way, we have to change, because what dominates today is the logic of the market which is extremely competitive, not cooperative at all, and the solution has to come from international cooperation. Because the risk is global, each has to give his brick to build something alternative. It's not whether we want to or not, because if we don't do it, everything gets worse. I believe in the lesson that comes from suffering, you learn a lot from suffering. We are facing a tragic situation, a lot of pain for humanity and that's obviously going to threaten us all. And they will learn that we can live much better with less. Along with that, the more positive side is that more and more people are trying to live in an alternative way: organic production, smaller cooperatives, treating waste better, water ... These measures help to build the framework of a better alternative.

So you think it's necessary to hit bottom, to suffer, before making a change?

LB: That is moving within the conventional physics of Newton: cause and effect. But if one starts from quantum physics, one works with uncertainty and surprise. The universe lives on emergency. In an emergency, there is something surprising: energy that accumulates and suddenly appears as a phenomenon that changes minds. I support the principle of surprise and unpredictability. No one could foresee that a black man born outside the United States [Translator's Note: Brarack Obama was NOT born outside of the United States, he was born in Hawai'i], would become president, it would be against all the rules of physics, but it's an emergency. Nobody could believe that a worker who narrowly escaped hunger would become President of Brazil. And so many things like that... I think that emergencies will appear in humankind, which will help save -- not the earth because the earth has no problem, the earth will go on -- but save the kind of life we have.

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