Friday, July 15, 2011

The "God complex" of modernity

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

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

The current crisis is not just a crisis of increasing scarcity of natural resources and services. It is fundamentally the crisis of a type of civilization that has placed the human being as "lord and master" of nature (Descartes). The latter, for him, has no spirit or purpose and therefore he can do whatever he wants with it.

According to the founder of the modern paradigm of techno-science, Francis Bacon, man must torture it until it gives us all its secrets. This attitude has resulted in a relationship of aggression and outright war against the wilderness that must be mastered and "civilized." Thus the arrogant projection also arises of the human being as "God" who dominates and organizes everything.

We should acknowledge that Christianity has helped to legitimize and reinforce this understanding. Genesis clearly says, "fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over all the living things that move on it." (1:28). Then it says that man was made "in the image and likeness of God" (Gen 1:26). The biblical meaning of this expression is that the human being is God's lieutenant, and since He is the Lord of the universe, man is the lord of the earth. He has a dignity that is his alone -- to stand above other beings. From this, anthropocentrism -- one of the causes of the ecological crisis -- was generated. Finally, strict monotheism suppressed the sacredness of all things and focused it only on God. The world, not possessing anything sacred, doesn't need to be respected. We can model it to our liking. The modern civilization of technoscience has occupied all spaces with its equipment and has been able to penetrate the heart of matter, life and the universe. Everything came wrapped in the aura of "progress", a kind of recovery of paradise, once lost, but now rebuilt and offered to all.

This glorious vision began to crumble in the 20th century with the two world wars and other colonial ones that produced two hundred million victims. When the largest terrorist act in history was carried out -- the atomic bombs dropped on Japan by the U.S. military, which killed thousands and destroyed nature -- humanity got a shock from which it hasn't recovered to this day. With the atomic, biological and chemical weapons that have been built since, we have realized that we don't need God to bring about the Apocalypse.

We aren't God and wanting to be so leads to madness. The idea of man wanting to be "God" has become a nightmare. But he still hides behind the neoliberal "tina" ("there is no alternative"): "There is no alternative, this world is permanent." Ridiculous. Let us realize that "knowledge is power" (Bacon) when it is done without conscience or limits can destroy us. What power do we have over nature? Who dominates a tsunami? Who controls the Chilean volcano Puyehe? Who stops the fury of floods in the hillside towns of Rio? Who prevents the lethal effect of the atomic particles of uranium, cesium and other elements released by the Chernobyl disaster and Fukushima? As Heidegger said in his last interview to Der Spiegel: "Only a God can save us."

We must accept ourselves as mere creatures along with all others in the community of life. We have the same common origin: the dust of the earth. We are not the crown of creation, but a link in the chain of life, with one difference -- being conscious and with the mission to "safeguard and care for the garden of Eden" (Gen 2:15), i.e. to maintain the conditions for sustainability of all ecosystems that make up the Earth.

If we start from the Bible to legitimize the domination of the Earth, we must return to it to learn to respect and take care of her. Earth generated everything. God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind" (Gen 1:24). She, therefore, is not inert; she is generating, she is a mother. God's covenant is not just with humans. After the tsunami flood, God remade the alliance "with our descendants and all living beings" (Gen 9:10). Without them, we are a diminished family.

History shows that the arrogance of "being God", without ever being able to be Him, only brings misery. It's enough for us to be simple creatures with the mission of caring for and respecting Mother Earth.


  1. I like the idea of Unity and co-dependence of Men and Mother Earth,(The Gaia principle) still I am not sure that we, by our behaviour are the cause of natural disasters, as we call them, because for Earth, all is part of the natural cycle. But since we cannot prove that ,at least mankind should avoid totally causing man made disasters to him/herself...I.E: Wars, famines, contaminations, etc.
    I don't think we can control what the Earth crust and oceans have to do, but we could control what we can do to ourselves.
    Seems...but looks like we can't ..we keep on inflicting pain and suffering to ourselces, like a stupid masochistic race that doesn't know any better. ♦

  2. July 22nd.
    Saint Mary Magdalene. Disciple of Christ. Pray for us! ♦