Friday, February 1, 2013

What good are good wishes for the new year?

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're already far into the new year and we're still expressing good wishes for health and prosperity to each other. What good are such prayers in the national and global context in which we live?

They make sense if what the Earth Charter -- one of the most important documents that promotes hope at the beginning of the 21st century -- urgently demands, occurs: "a change of mind and heart,...a new sense of global interdependence and universal responsibility." (Conclusion). That is, if we would have the courage to change our way of living, if the mode of production and consumption would take into account the Earth's limits, especially the shortage of drinking water and the millions and millions of hungry people.

It's not impossible that there might be a synchronized breakdown of the Earth-system and the life-system. The tsunamis and hurricanes are small anticipations. Biodiversity might largely disappear, as in the well-known 15 major destructions suffered by the Earth in yesteryear. Many humans will also perish and barely scraps of our civilization will be saved.

Jared Diamond, a renowned specialist in evolutionary biology and biogeography at the University of California, in his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (Penguin, 2011) showed how this collapse occurred on Easter Island, in the Mayan culture, and in North Greenland. Might it not be a miniature of what might happen to the Earth, an amplified Easter Island? Who can guarantee that it won't be possible?

There are arrows along our path that point in that direction. And us, having fun, laughing nonchalantly, playing at stock speculation, like in Kierkegaard's fable: a theater is on fire, the clown is screaming at the spectators to come and put it out, but nobody comes forward because everyone believes it's part of the piece. The theater burns down, consuming the auditorium, the spectators and the surrounding area. Noah was the only one who read the signs of the times: he built a saving ark, guaranteeing it for himself, his family and representatives of biodiversity. But there is a difference between Noah and us: now we don't have an ark that saves some and lets others perish. This time either we are all saved or we all perish.

No wonder the final part of the Earth Charter convokes us: "As never before in history, common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning." Note that it's not talking about reforms, improvements, cutbacks, regulations, but "a new beginning". Not that such initiatives don't make sense, but they will always be more of the same and intrasystemic. They don't solve the root problem -- the system which must be changed; they only delay the solution. The system is corroded within and has become a threat to the life and future of the Earth. From it, there can come no new life that includes all and saves our civilizing attempts.

This means recognizing that the values and principles, institutions and agencies, habits and ways of producing and consuming no longer assure us a discernible future. A "new beginning" means inventing a new Earth and forging a new style of "right living" and "living together well", producing what is sufficient and decent for all, without neglecting the community of life and our children and grandchildren.

The pivotal elements will no longer be the economy, the market, the banking system or globalization, but life, humanity and the Earth, conceived as Gaia, a living superorganism of which we are its conscious and intelligent portion. All other subsystems have to serve this large single and diverse system in which all will be interdependent, building together a common destiny, with Mother Earth too.

The situation of Earth and humanity is comparable to a plane on the runway. It starts to run. Every pilot knows that there comes a critical moment in which the aircraft must take off, because otherwise it will crash at the end of the runway. There are many such as Mikhail Gorbachev, Martin Rees, James Lovelock, Edward Wilson, and Albert Jacquard among others, who warn us that we have passed the critical point and we haven't taken off. Where are we headed?

As evolution is not continuous but makes leaps, we never lose hope, but rather we cultivate it, starting with a quantum leap that saves us with a new mindset and a new heart and, therefore, a promising destiny for 2013.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Deprived of prophetic spirit

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
February 3, 2013

Luke 4:21-30

We know that historically the opposition to Jesus was slowly growing -- the reluctance of the scribes, the irritation of the teachers of the law and the rejection of the church leaders grew until it ended in his execution on the cross.

Luke the evangelist knows it too. But intentionally forcing even his own account, he speaks of the direct rejection of Jesus in the first public performance he describes. From the beginning the readers have to be aware that rejection is the first reaction Jesus finds among his own when he presents himself as prophet.

What happened in Nazareth isn't an isolated incident, something that happened in the past. The rejection of Jesus when he presents himself as prophet of the poor, liberator of the oppressed, and forgiver of sinners, would go on reproducing itself among his own throughout the centuries.

We followers of Jesus have difficulty accepting his prophetic dimension. We almost completely forget something important. God did not become incarnate in a priest, consecrated to tend the temple religion. Nor in a learned person busy defending the order established by the law. He became incarnate and revealed in a prophet sent by the Spirit to proclaim Good News to the poor and freedom to the oppressed.

We forget that Christianity isn't just another religion, born to give the followers of Jesus beliefs, rites and precepts suited to living out their relationship with God. It's a prophetic religion, impelled by the Prophet Jesus to promote a more humane world, oriented towards its ultimate salvation in God.

We Christians run the risk of neglecting again and again the prophetic dimension that should animate us followers of Jesus. Despite major prophetic events that have been taking place in Christian history, what the renowned theologian H. von Balthasar states remains true: In the late second century, "a frost fell on the (prophetic) spirit of the Church that hasn't come off at all."

Today, once again, concerned about restoring what is "religious" in the face of modern secularism, we Christians are in danger of going into the future deprived of prophetic spirit. If so, what happened to the residents of Nazareth could happen to us -- Jesus will pass through our midst and "go away" to continue his journey. Nothing will prevent him from continuing his liberating work. Others, coming from outside, will recognize his prophetic power and welcome his saving action.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

St. George and the Dragon: two dimensions of human beings

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)

Every religion -- Christianity too -- has many valences. Besides being centered on God, it produces narratives about the paradoxical human drama, creating meaning, an interpretation of reality, history and the world.

One example is the legend of St. George and fierce battle with the dragon recounted in the previous article. First, the dragon is a dragon, therefore a serpent. But winged, with a huge mouth emitting fire and smoke and a deadly odor.

In the West, it represents evil and threatening world of shadows. In the East, it is a positive symbol, the national symbol of China, lord of the waters and fertility (long). Among the Aztecs, the winged serpent (Quetzalcoatl) was a positive symbol of their culture. For us westerners, the dragon is always terrible and represents a threat to life or the harsh difficulties of survival. The poor say, "I have to kill a dragon every day, such is the struggle for survival."

But the dragon, as evidenced by the psychoanalytic tradition of C.G. Jung along with Erich Neumann, James Hillman, Etienne Perrot and others, represents one of the most ancient and cross-cultural archetypes (structural elements of the collective unconscious or primordial images that structure the psyche) of humanity.

And along with the dragon is always the heroic knight facing him in a fierce struggle. What do these two figures mean? Led by the categories of C.G. Jung and his disciples, especially Erich Neumann who specifically studied this archetype (The Origins and History of Consciousness , Princeton Univ. Press, 1970), and the existential-humanistic psychotherapy of Kirk J. Schneider (The Paradoxical Self, Prometheus Press, 1999) let's seek to understand what is at stake in this confrontation. It teaches and challenges us.

The path of evolution leads mankind from the unconscious to the conscious, from cosmic fusion with the Whole (Ouroboros) to the emergence of autonomy of the self. This step, fully realized, is dramatic, hence, the self must continually take it up again if it wants to enjoy freedom and autonomy.

It's important to recognize that the frightening dragon and the heroic knight are two important dimensions of the same human being. In us, the dragon is our dark, ancestral universe, our shadows, from which we emerged into the light of reason and of the independence of the self. Rightfully, in some iconography, especially in Catalonia (of which it is the patron) the dragon appears wrapped around the body of the knight. In an engraving by Rogério Fernandes, the dragon appears wrapped around the body of St. George, who is holding him by the arm, and has his face, which is not threatening at all, at the height of Saint George's. It's a humanized dragon, forming a single entity with St. George. In other images (in Google, there are 25 pages of St. George and the Dragon) the dragon appears as a domesticated animal whom St. George, who is standing, leads serenely, not with a spear but with a crook.

The activity of the hero, in this case St. George, in his fight with the dragon, shows the strength of the self, courageous, enlightened, asserting itself and winning autonomy, but always in tension with the dark side of the dragon. They coexist, but the dragon fails to dominate the self.

Neumann says: "The activity of consciousness is heroic when the ego takes on and performs the archetypal struggle with the dragon of the unconscious by itself, bringing it to a satisfactory synthesis" (Op. cit. p. 244*). The person making this journey doesn't deny the dragon, but keeps it domesticated and integrated as his shadow side. For this reason, in most stories, St. George doesn't kill the dragon but only tames it and reinserts it in its place, no longer being threatening. Hence the happy synthesis of opposites; the paradoxical self finds its balance since it achieves harmonization with the dragon's ego, of the conscious with the unconscious, of light with shadow, reason with passion, of the rational with the symbolic, of science with art and religion (cf. Schneider, p. 138*).

The facing of opposition and the search for balance is the hallmark of mature personalities who have integrated the dimensions of shadow and light. So we see this in Buddha, Francis of Assisi, Jesus, Gandhi and King.

Residents of Rio greatly venerate St. George, more than Saint Sebastian, the official patron of the city. The latter is a warrior who is riddled with arrows, therefore "defeated". The people feel the need of a brave warrior saint who overcomes adversity. And St. George represents the holy ideal.

Perhaps those who worship St. George before the dragon don't know any of this. Never mind. Their unconscious knows it and activates and carries out his work in them: the desire to fight, to assert themselves as autonomous egos that face themselves and integrate difficulties (the dragons) into a positive project of life (St. George, conquering hero). And they come out strengthened for the battle of life.

* Translator's note: Page numbers cited refer to the Portuguese editions of the texts.