Monday, August 20, 2012

Corrupt: one whose heart is broken

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 widespread outrage against corruption in Brazil and in the world is giving way to resignation and indifference, because impunity is so widespread that most people don't trust that there's any solution.

Theology has something to say about this fact. It argues that the current human condition is torn and decadent (infralapsarian it's called in theological dialect) as a result of an act of corruption. According to the Bible, the snake corrupted woman, woman corrupted man, and both left us a legacy of corruption upon corruption to the point that God Himself "regretted making human beings on earth" as the text of Genesis (6:6) reminds us. We are sons and daughters of original corruption.

In the Christian sphere, it's alleged that all evil comes from this original corruption, called original sin. But this expression has become strange to modern ears. Few people refer to it.

Still, I dare to rescue it, as it contains an undeniable truth, confirmed by Sartre's philosophical reflection and even the philosophical rigor of Kant, according to whom "humanity is such a twisted timber that nothing straight can be made of it."

It's important to note that it's a term created by theology. It isn't found as such in the Bible. St. Augustine invented it in an epistolary dialogue with St. Jerome. By the term "original sin", he wasn't intending to talk about the past. The "original" had nothing to do with the early origins of human history. St. Augustine meant the present -- the present situation of the human being, at its deepest level, is evil and is marked by a distortion that goes to the origins of his existence (hence, "original"). He does his philology of the word "corrupt" -- it's having a heart (cor) that is broken (ruptus, from rompere).

We are bearers, therefore, of an internal rupture equivalent to a laceration of the heart. In modern words: we are dia-bolic and sym-bolic, sapient and demented,capable of love and hate.

This is the current condition humaine. But out of curiosity, St. Augustine wondered, when did it begin? He himself answers: ever since we have known man, since the "origins" (hence the second meaning of "original"). But he doesn't attach any importance to that question. The important thing is to know that here and now we are corrupt beings, corruptible and corrupting. And that we believe in someone, Christ, who can free us from this situation.

But where is this state of corruption most visibly manifested? The famous Catholic Lord Acton (1843-1902) answers: in the power-bearers. He emphatically states, "My dogma is the general wickedness of men in authority; they are the most corrupt." And he repeatedly stated: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Why power, exactly? Because it is one of the most powerful and tempting archetypes of the human psyche; it gives us the feeling of omnipotence and being a little "god". Hobbes in his Leviathan (1651) confirms this: "I point out, as a general tendency of all human beings, a perpetual and anxious desire for power and more power, that ceaseth only with death. The reason for this lies in the fact that power is only maintained by seeking still more power."

That power is embodied in the money. So the corruption we are witnessing always involves money and more money. There is a saying in Ghana that "the mouth laughs but money laughs more." The corrupt one believes in this illusion.

We have found no cure for this inner wound to date. We can only decrease its bleeding. I think ultimately, the biblical method is worthwhile: unmasking the corrupt one, leaving him naked before his corruption, and plain and simple expulsion from paradise, i.e. taking the corruptor and the corrupted out of society and putting them in jail.

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