Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Liberation theology and ecological concerns: Leonardo Boff and the call of Mother Earth

By Graziela Wolfart (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Unisinos (in Portuguese)
October 11, 2012

Someone passionate about the Earth. But more than that. About Mother Earth. Someone who has the humility to recognize the grandeur and divinity of God manifested in every element of nature. And that's how he lives and does theology. He is Leonardo Boff, a renowned Brazilian theologian, who graced the stage of the Padre Werner Amphitheater at Unisinos during the first lecture yesterday morning, October 10th, on the fourth day of the Continental Congress of Theology.

He opened his speech by clarifying that he would talk about the relationship between liberation theology and ecological concerns. After all, he explained, "as Christian theologians, we can't forget our responsibility in face of the threats to the Earth."

Then he presented some of his biographical features so that the audience would understand how he got to the subject of ecology in relation to liberation theology, given that he has worked on this relationship for about 10 years. "I received a letter from the Pope in which he asked me to be more serious. But I said, I'm studying in Germany; I am serious. [laughter] And he also asked me to address the real issues of theology. I realized that the big subject for reflection would be thinking about the earth, the condemned sons and daughters of the earth, and to see how we could ensure the future of our civilization, because we could annihilate ourselves completely. A theology that doesn't address these issues isn't serious," he specified.

Then Leonardo Boff recalled that liberation theology was born listening to the cry of the poor, water, animals, and the earth. "We need to express these cries. The greatest poor person is planet Earth, Pachamama, which is devastated and oppressed, and should be included in liberation theology. As Sobrino has rightly said, the earth is being crucified."

Then Boff pointed out that there are other interlocutors of theology that aren't just the classic ones like philosophy, anthropology, and sociology. There is other knowledge that comes from the sciences of life, of the universe, such as cosmology, astrophysics, and quantum physics. For 13 years, Boff worked with a Canadian cosmologist named Mark Hathaway, with whom he wrote the book The Tao of Liberation (Orbis Books, 2009), to think about liberation theology from the relationship with nanotechnology, with quantum physics -- a difficult path, but worth the effort, according to Boff, trying to incorporate Oriental values.

Accordingly, the theologian emphasized his involvement in a popular education project, headed by Fritjof Capra, of ecological literacy, to make the most illiterate in our society today, business entrepreneurs, "literate".

Leonardo explained how the Earth Charter was developed and that the first sentence of this document, which he considers the most important one with regard to the beginning of the 20th century, is the following: "We stand at a critical moment in history when humanity must choose: either form a global partnership to care for Earth and one another or accept the disappearance of the human race and the destruction of the diversity of life." This sentence was considered high impact and ended up being sent to the three major world institutions, which confirmed that it should be said. "The earth is tired; it can't bear any more," he reiterated.

Then Boff argued that capitalism has already fulfilled its historical mission and is no longer able to survive. "It then had to use violence to impose itself, because it doesn't have any more arguments to persuade people of its necessity."

In the theologian's view, "if we would respect the dynamic of nature and know the laws of the ecosystems, we could go on using their "bounty" calmly, going towards the future."

"We are in the midst of a great process of evolution and life is a moment in the evolutionary process," Boff stated, quoting Prigogine. According to the theologian, evolution is an attempt to put order into the chaos in which we live.

Leonardo advocates belief in a theology of creation. "God is continually creating, always present in His creation. God is in everything and everything is in God - it's what we call panentheism, which is different from pantheism. We need to think again of creation as something dynamic, and rethink Christology from the resurrection. The cosmic Christ is present in all reality. And the Holy Spirit, through its missionary work in the world, is also within creation," he explains.

After drawing a picture of the devastating chaos the planet is experiencing today, with humans as its main "meteor", Leonardo Boff presents two attitudes towards this situation: "We may consider it a great predictable tragedy, or we may identify that we are facing a great crisis of civilization and have to change. Either we change or we die. So we have to change because we don't want to die. We are in a major crisis; we are coming to the heart of it. We can learn through pain or through love. And we need to learn both ways."

Then he argued that it's necessary to recover cordial reason, emotional intelligence and sensitive reason. "We are victims of instrumental analytical rationality, which created modernity. It's necessary to recognize that along with all of evolution, we have created a death machine that can destroy us." In this context, Boff mentioned nuclear weapons and global warming as the two greatest threats to life on the planet.

And he ended his speech this way: "I don't want us to leave here calmly; I want to produce anxiety because it makes us work and puts us in motion. We are the land, the sons and daughters of the earth. If we don't regain sensitive reason to complement the other, we won't mobilize. The greatest crime of humanity today is the lack of sensitivity. We aren't feeling anymore, we don't get outraged. The origin of religion is the feeling of the world and not the world's rationality. That's what science is for. By embracing the world, we are embracing God."


One of the first questions answered by Leonardo Boff was about the indigenous peoples and their vision of "good life", starting from the search for balance among all human beings. "This is a necessary utopia. We have to unite and form a global governance. Even if we're all socialists -- not by ideology, but by statistics -- in the end we are flying blind." And he remembered one of the most important moments of his life when, at the UN, along with Evo Morales, they voted for Earth Day (April 22) to be changed to Mother Earth Day.

Then he used the plenary to address the subject of young people who, for him, are the greatest victims of the system today. "They are stealing from them the capacity for fantasy, dreams, utopias, offering everything right away through the internet, through games, movies and the whole capitalist machinery that turns us into mere repeaters, alienated and depoliticized consumers. The challenge is to get them re-enchanted with the world. I don't believe in evangelization primarily through words, but through art, music, dance, which are young people's speech," Boff responded.

Translator's note: The full texts of the speeches at this congress will be available later as a book. When this happens, we will let you know how you can get a copy.

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