Thursday, August 9, 2012

The path to believing in Jesus

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Web de Jose Antonio Pagola
August 8, 2012

John 6: 41-51

According to John's narrative, Jesus repeats more and more openly that he has come from God to offer everyone food that gives eternal life. The people can't go on listening to something so scandalous without reacting. They know his parents. How can he say he comes from God?

Their reaction cannot surprise any of us. Is it reasonable to believe in Jesus Christ? How can we believe that the unfathomable Mystery of God has been incarnated in this specific man, born shortly before the death of Herod the Great and known for his prophetic activities in Galilee in the third decade?

Jesus doesn't answer their objections. He goes directly to the root of their incredulousness: "Stop murmuring among yourselves." It's wrong to resist his radical novelty, obstinately thinking they already know everything about his true identity. He'll show them the path they can follow.

Jesus assumes no one can believe in him if they don't feel attracted to him. Perhaps from our culture, we understand it better than those people in Capernaum. It's harder and harder for us to believe in doctrines or ideologies. Faith and trust are awakened in us when we feel attracted to someone who is good for us and helps us live.

But Jesus warns them of something very important: "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him." God himself produces the attraction to Jesus. The Father who sent him to the world stirs our hearts so that we approach Jesus with joy and trust, overcoming doubt and resistance.

That's why we have to listen to God's voice in our hearts and let ourselves be led by Him to Jesus. Let ourselves meekly be taught by this Father, Creator of life and Friend of human beings: "Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me."

Jesus' statement seemed revolutionary to those Hebrew people. Biblical tradition said that human beings listen in their hearts to God's call to faithfully fulfill the Law. The prophet Jeremiah had proclaimed God's promise thus: "I will place my law within you, and write it upon your hearts."

Jesus' words invite us to have a different experience. Consciousness isn't just the hidden and privileged place where we can listen to God's law. If, in the depths of our being, we feel attracted to what is good, beautiful, noble, to what is good for human beings, what builds a better world, we will easily feel invited by God to tune in to Jesus. It's the best path to believing in him.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Reason in its larva and cocoon phase

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)

Anyone who has read my past articles on ecology and the plight of the Earth, may have been left with an impression of pessimism. Anyone who realizes the real dangers hanging over our destiny cannot be pessimistic. We must always respect reality. But, at the same time, it's necessary to expand our understanding of reality. The latter is greater than what shows, because potential is also part of reality.

There is always a utopic reserve that is present in all events. If we understand reality enriched like this, a closed pessimism isn't justified, but a hopeful realism. This captures the eventual emergence of the new, hidden inside the potential and the utopian. This new then makes history and founds another state of consciousness and inaugurates a different social experiment.

Moreover, if we were to stand at a distance and measure our historical time as cosmic time, we would have even more reasons for hope. If we were to condense the 13.7 billion years -- the presumed age of our universe --into one year of cosmic time, we would note that we humans have existed barely a tiny fraction of time. According to the calculations of cosmologist Brian Swimme, therefore, our pre-human ancestors were born at 5:00 p.m. on December 31st. On December 31st at 10:00 p.m. the primitive human being came on the scene. On December 31st at 23 hours, 58 minutes and 10 seconds, the man we call sapiens today emerged. On December 31st at 23 hours, 59 minutes and 56 seconds, Jesus Christ was born. On December 31st, at 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59.2 seconds, Cabral came to Brasil.

As can be seen, we are almost nothing temporally.

Furthermore, if we take into account the 15 major decimations the that have happened on Earth, especially the Cambrian one 570 million years ago, in which between 75-90% of the biotic capital disappeared, we find that life has always resisted and survived. And if we focus only on humans, they always survived the many glaciations. Moreover, there was a highly accelerated encephalization process. Starting 2.2 million years ago, Homo habilis, homo erectus and, in the last hundred thousand years, Homo sapiens sapiens -- now fully human -- emerged successively. Their representatives were social beings; they were cooperative and able to speak, a human characteristic.

Within the range of a million years, the brain of these three types of homo doubled in volume. After the appearance of homo sapiens, who emerged 100,000 years ago, the brain didn't grow any more. There was no need, since the external brain emerged, the artificial intelligence which is the ability to learn, create tools and artifacts to transform the world, and create culture, a unique feature of the homo sapiens sapiens.

Beginning in the Neolithic era, about ten thousand years ago, the first cities emerged that gave rise to elaborate culture, the state, bureaucracy, and also to the war. A systematic use of instrumental reason to dominate nature, to conquer and to subjugate others, also began. Obviously there were also other kinds of reason such as the emotional, the symbolic and the cordial, but they were subject to the regency of instrumental reason that has assumed hegemony since, until its culmination in our time -- reason that is both creative and destructive at the same time.

The butterfly's process offers us a suggestive metaphor. The butterfly isn't born a butterfly. It's at first a simple egg that becomes a larva, insatiable devouring leaves. Then it rolls itself up in the form of a cocoon (chrysalis). Inside it, nature weaves its body and draws its colors. When everything is ready, behold, the cocoon breaks and a splendid butterfly emerges.

We are still at the larva and cocoon stage. Larva because, day and night, we devour nature; cocoon, because we are closed in on ourselves, seeing nothing around us. What is our hope? That reason breaks open the cocoon and emerges as butterfly-reason. Perhaps the current high risk situation will force the birth of butterfly-reason. It flutters around; it isn't destructive but cooperative since it pollinates the flowers.

We are still in genesis. We haven't finished being born. When we are born, we will respect and live with all beings. We will overcome the larva and cocoon stage forever. Like butterflies, we will be bearers of sensible reason that will reward us with a future without threats.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The irrationality of reason: a disease of the mind

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)

We aren't far from the truth if we understand the current tragedy of humanity as the failure of a kind of reason prevailing over the past five hundred years. With the arsenal of resources at its disposal, it can't cope with the contradictions created by itself. We have already discussed in these pages how the split between objective reason (the logic of things) and subjective reason (self-interest) has worked since then. The latter imposed itself over the former to the point of establishing itself as the sole force of historical and social organization.

This subjective reason was understood as the will to power and power as domination over people and things. Center place is now occupied by the power of the "I", exclusive bearer of reason and design. It gestates what is innate to itself: individualism as the supreme reaffirmation of the "I". The latter becomes embodied in capitalism which is driven by individual private accumulation without any other social or ecological consideration. Trusting the structure of all reality solely to subjective reason was a highly risky cultural decision. This implied a true dictatorship of the reason that repressed or destroyed other forms of exercise of reason such as sensitive, symbolic and ethical reason, that are fundamental to social life.

The ideal that the "I" is pursuing without restraint is unlimited progress, on the unquestioned assumption that the Earth's resources are also unlimited. The infinity of progress and the infinity of resources are the ontological a priori and the foundational parti pri of this remodeling of the world.

But behold, after five hundred years, we realize that both infinities are illusory. The Earth is small and finite. Progress has reached the limits of the earth. There is no way to overcome them. Now the time of the finite world has begun. Failure to heed this finiteness implies hindering the reproductive capacity of life on Earth and thus endangering the survival of the species. The historical time of capitalism is over. Carrying it forward will cost so much that it will end up destroying sociability and the future. Persisting in this endeavor will reveal the destructive character of the irrationality of reason.

What is more serious is that capitalism/individualism introduced two logics that conflict with each other: that of the private interests of the "I"s and the businesses and that of the collective interests of "we" and society. Capitalism is, by nature, anti-democratic. It's not cooperative at all and is just competitive.

Will we have any way out? With just reforms and regulations, while maintaining the system, as the neo-Keynesians like Stiglitz, Krugman, and others among us would have it, no. We have to change if we want to save ourselves.

For this, first of all, it's important to construct a new agreement between objective and subjective reason. This implies broadening reason and thus freeing it from the yoke of being an instrument of power and domination. It can be emancipating reason. For the new agreement, it's urgent to rescue sensitive and cordial reason to be combined with instrumental reason. The former is anchored in the limbic brain, which appeared more than two hundred million years ago, when -- with the mammals -- affection, passion, caring, love and the world of values emerged. It allows us to make an emotional and evaluative reading of the scientific data of instrumental reason. The latter emerged in the cerebral neocortex only 5-7 million years ago. Sensitive reason awakens in us re-enchantment and care for life and Mother Earth.

Then, a new matter of central importance is crucial: no more private interest but the common interest, respect for the common good of humanity and the Earth for all. After that, the economy must return to being what is in its nature -- to ensuring the conditions of physical, cultural and spiritual life of all people. Next, politics should be built on endless democracy, a daily one that includes all human beings so that they are characters in history and not merely assistants or beneficiaries. Finally, a new world will not have a human face if it isn't ruled by shared ethical and spiritual values based on the contribution of many culture, along with Judeo-Christian tradition.

All these steps are very utopian. But without utopia we would sink in the quagmire of private and corporate interests. Fortunately, trials that are anticipatory of the new, are appearing everywhere, such as the economics of solidarity, sustainability and care experienced as paradigms of perpetuation and reproduction of all that exists and lives. Let's not give up the ancient longing for commensality: everyone eating and drinking together as brothers and sisters in the Great Common Home.