Sunday, January 1, 2012

Is this judgment day for our culture?

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 end of the year offers the opportunity to take stock of our human situation on this planet. What can we expect and what direction will history take? These are troubling questions since the global scenarios are grim. A crisis of structural magnitude has settled in the heart of the dominant socio-economic system (Europe and United States), which is reflected throughout the rest of the world. The Bible has a recurring theme in the prophetic tradition -- the day of reckoning is coming. It is the day of revelation -- the truth comes to the surface and our mistakes and sins are denounced as enemies of life. Great historians like Toynbee and von Ranke also talk about the judgment of whole cultures. I believe that we are really facing an overall judgment on our way of living on Earth and on the type of relationship we have with her.

Thinking about the situation at a deeper level, one that goes beyond the economic analyses that predominate among governments, businesses, in global forums and media, we see ever more clearly the contradiction between the logic of our modern culture, with its political economy, its individualism and consumerism, and the logic of the natural processes of our living planet, Earth. They are incompatible. The first is competitive, the second, cooperative. The first is exclusive, the second, inclusive. The first puts its main value on the individual, the second, on the good of all. The first focuses on commodities, the second, on life in all its forms. If we do nothing, this incompatibility can lead to a very grave impasse.

Exacerbating this incompatibility are the assumptions underlying our social process: that we can grow limitlessly, that resources are inexhaustible, and that individual material prosperity brings us much-yearned for happiness. Such assumptions are unrealistic -- resources are limited and a finite Earth can not withstand an infinite project. Prosperity and individualism are not bringing happiness, but high levels of loneliness, depression, violence and suicide.

There are two problems that are intertwined and could send our future into convulsions: global warming and human overpopulation. Global warming is a code that includes the impact that our civilization produces on nature, threatening the sustainability of life on Earth. The result is the annual emission of billions of tons of carbon dioxide and methane, which is 23 times more aggressive than the former. The accelerated melting of the permafrost in the Siberian tundra creates a danger in coming decades of an abrupt warming of 4 to 5 degrees Celsius that would devastate much of life on Earth. Human population growth causes more natural goods and services to be exploited, more energy to be spent, and more gases that produce global warming to be released into the atmosphere.

Strategies to control this threatening situation are virtually ignored by governments and decision makers. Our ingrained individualism has prevented a consensus from being reached in UN meetings. Each country only sees its own interest and is blind to the collective interest and the planet as a whole. And so we are casually nearing an abyss.

But the mother of all the distortions listed above is our anthropocentrism, the belief that we humans are the center of everything and that things have been made just for us, forgetting our complete dependence of all that surrounds us. Herein lies our destructiveness that leads us to devastate nature to satisfy our desires.

A little humility and seeing ourselves in perspective is urgent. The universe is 13.7 billion years old, Earth, 4.45 billion; life, 3.8 billion; human life, 5-7 million, and homo sapiens about 130-140 thousand years old. Therefore, we were born only a "few minutes" ago, fruit of all previous history. And we are going from sapiens to demens, threatening our partners in the community of life.

We have reached the apex of the evolutionary process not to destroy but to save and care for this sacred legacy. Only then will the Day of Judgment be the revelation of our true identity and our mission here on Earth.

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