Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Integral Ecology: The big news of Laudato Si': A special interview with Leonardo Boff

by Patricia Fachin and João Vitor Santos (English translation by Rebel Girl)
IHU On-Line
June 18, 2015

The concept of integral ecology is "the focal point of the theoretical and practical construction of Laudato Si'. I fear that it might not be understood by the great majority,  mentally colonized just by the anthropocentric discourse of environmentalism, dominant in the media and unfortunately in the official discourse of governments and international institutions like the UN. As the new paradigm suggests, we all form a large and complex whole," says the theologian and writer.

"The vision of integral ecology is systemic; it integrates everything into one great whole in which we move and have our being. The Pope makes this relationship connection of all with all derive from a theological fact. The Trinitarian God is essentially an eternal simultaneous relationship between the three divine persons. If the Triune God is relationship, then everything in the universe is also relationship," says Leonardo Boff when analyzing, in an interview with IHU On-Line via email, Pope Francis' encyclical letter Laudato Si' about the care of the common home, published this morning, 6-18-2015.

According to the theologian, for Pope Francis, "the North American motto -- one world - one empire -- isn't valid. But one world and one common project."

Leonardo Boff points out that the "Pope is using the methodology that he himself explicitly included in the Aparecida document -- see, judge, act and celebrate. This method has the advantage of always starting from below, from the specific realities, from the real challenges, not from doctrines from which deductions are made, usually abstract and not very incisive when referred to the issues raised."

And he remembers a phrase of St. Thomas Aquinas: "Error in the knowledge of the world can lead us to error in the knowledge of God. The sciences in their way serve the Lord of all things..."

"The value of this encyclical," he continues, "isn't measured only by what it proposes, but by the teaching of the other bishops around the world. This is also a novelty of this pontificate, so innovative and surprising in many respects."

He concludes by recalling "Chesterton's humorous phrase: we're all in the same boat, and we're all seasick. Not everybody. Certainly not Pope Francis."

Leonardo Boff is a theologian, philosopher, and author of a huge body of work on environmental themes. Of that work, we would cite Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor ["Ecologia: grito da Terra, grito dos pobres"], recently republished.

Check out the interview.

IHU On-Line - What's novel about the encyclical Laudato Si'?

Leonardo Boff - The absolute novelty is that the encyclical assumes the new contemporary paradigm under which everything forms a great whole with all interconnected realities, influencing each other. This moves it beyond the fragmentation of knowledge and gives great coherence and unity to the text. Not even the UN has produced a text of this nature.

IHU On-Line - What is the logical structure of Laudato Si'? What theories is the Pope defending in this encyclical and what is its main argument?

Leonardo Boff - The Pope is using the methodology that he himself explicitly included in the Aparecida document -- see, judge, act and celebrate. This method has the advantage of always starting from below, from the specific realities, from the real challenges, not from doctrines from which deductions are made, usually abstract and not very incisive when referred to the issues raised. The method requires us to look at incorporating the more certain data from the scientists and compose the actual framework of the most relevant issues.

In the judging, two movements are in process -- a scientific-analytical one and the other, theological. In this, the Pope was masterful -- he unmasks the illusory explanations of a certain type of intrasystemic science, where its ideological nature appears, usually for the benefit of the market and the dominant groups who consider social and ecological contradictions to be externalities that don't enter into business calculations. It is at this point that the impasse of the current situation and its inability to provide any solution except more of the same, is revealed.

The theological judging part is easier because there you're dealing with categories already known to theology. Even in that part, he makes the necessary corrections to the reductionism that has been done in the interpretation of the position of human beings within creation -- not as dominators, but as caregivers and guardians of the inheritance received from God. He explores the positive biblical times linked to creation and offers beautifully Jesus' example in relation to nature, birds, flowers, fields, harvests, at various moments.

In the act part, he draws from global governmental policies since the problem is global. For him, the North American motto -- one world - one empire -- isn't valid. But one world and one common project. He emphasizes small steps that come from below but bring seeds of the new.

In the celebrate part, he expands about ecological conversion and spirituality. This isn't derived so much from doctrine, but from the messages and inspiration that spiritual paths present for a proper relationship to creation, rather than to nature. The Pope's pedagogy is noteworthy -- he never gives prominence to the dark aspect of reality but emphasizes the human capacity to overcome difficulties and find beneficent solutions. In all issues, the poor are present, and he associates the cry of the earth with the cry of the poor, something that is emphasized a lot in Latin American thought.

IHU On-Line - What are the main theological concepts of Laudato Si' and how do they relate to Pope Francis' theology in general?

Leonardo Boff - The main theological concept is not looking so much at nature but at creation. It points to the Creator and is the expression of an act of love. He cites the beautiful phrase of the Book of Wisdom that "God is the sovereign lover of life." (11:26) Then, the concept of incarnation through which the Son didn't simply assume human nature, but the matter of the world and the world itself, referring to Teilhard de Chardin who developed this cosmic vision. He inserts Christ in the mystery of creation, citing the epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians.

The resurrection is the transfiguration of the whole universe. He sees the world not as something to be solved, but to be admired and praised. The Triune God is eternal relationship, so all things are His resonance and are always related.

IHU On-Line - What worldview is the Pope, in a way, opposing? And what worldview does he suggest to readers of Laudato Si'?

Leonardo Boff - Consistent with his integral ecology, he sees the world as orders open to each other, all interconnected, which implies an evolutionary view of the universe, without saying the name and getting into that issue. He does highlight the uniqueness of the human being, bearer of signs of divinity with an ethical mission to take responsibility for creation. He sees the world as a common home, suggesting a sense of acquaintanceship.

He draws inspiration from Saint Francis to recall the brotherhood between men and women, of all beings, also brother sun, sister moon, brother river and all other beings. Here his poetic-mystical flight takes off. The Pope's vision is always positive and he tries to rescue whatever good there is. But he's strict in criticizing the assaults we have inflicted on the common home, the millions of poor who have been neglected, and he is against the consumer culture. He proposes shared sobriety.

IHU On-Line - In the part that talks about the "human roots of the ecological crisis," the Pope mentions that the crisis is a consequence of modern anthropocentrism, also drawing attention to the dangers of relativism. What do you think of the thesis that the cause of the ecological crisis is based on a human crisis?

Leonardo Boff - For the Pope, the root of the ecological crisis lies in technocracy. He distinguishes it from techno-science that has brought us so many benefits. But it degenerated into technocracy, a kind of technical dictatorship claiming to solve all environmental problems. He rightly criticizes this view because it isolates beings that have always been interlinked. By dissociating them, you can produce more harm than good. In this context, he addresses anthropocentrism since technocracy is human beings' weapon of domination over others and over nature.

It starts from the illusion that things are only ordered to human use, forgetting that every being has an intrinsic value, praises God in its own way and brings a particular message, as it is unique in the universe.

Anthropocentrism separates the human being from nature. He doesn't feel part of it and puts himself over it as a form of domination, breaking the universal brotherhood. That's why simple environmentalism is always anthropocentric, because it only looks at the human being -- his well-being -- and not the common good of all the other beings, inhabitants of the common home.

IHU On-Line - How does the degradation of the planet interface with the excluded - the poor, the elderly, the victims of the financialization of life, always cited so much in Francis' speeches? How does the Pope establish a connection between human degradation and that of the planet?

Leonardo Boff - In his integral ecology, he is looking at all the interconnected facts and phenomena. Hurting the Earth is hurting the human being who is also Earth, as the Pope says, citing Genesis. Productivist and consumerist greed produces two types of injustice -- one ecological, degrading ecosystems, and the other social, throwing millions of people into poverty and destitution. The Pope denounces this causal connection. So he proposes a paradigm shift in the relationship between all, which is more benevolent to nature and more just to humans and all other beings that inhabit the common home.

IHU On-Line - What is the concept of integral ecology, proposed by the Pope in Laudato Si'?

Leonardo Boff - This seems to me the main point of his theoretical and practical construct on ecology. I fear that it might not be understood by the great majority, mentally colonized only by the anthropocentric discourse of environmentalism, dominant in the media and unfortunately in the official discourse of governments and international institutions like the UN. As the new paradigm suggests, we all form a large and complex whole. There is a network of relationships that run through all beings, connect and reconnect all orders. The Pope repeats like a refrain that everything is related, that all beings, even the smallest, are involved in bonds of connection. Nothing exists out of relationship.

This implies understanding that economics has to do with politics, education with ethics, ethics with science. All related things help each other to exist, subsist and persist in this world. This view is absolutely new in the discourse of the Magisterium, still hostage to the old paradigm that separated, dichotomized, atomized and divided reality into compartments. Because of this distorted view, every problem had its specific solution, without realizing that its impact on other parts could be harmful.

The vision of integral ecology is systemic; it integrates everything into one great whole in which we move and have our being. The Pope makes this relationship connection of all with all derive from a theological fact. The Trinitarian God is essentially an eternal simultaneous relationship between the three divine persons. If the Triune God is relationship, then everything in the universe is also relationship.

IHU On-Line - The text of the encyclical also brings ideas from the laity. How are the ideas of science present in the encyclical? What is Francis' intention in this move of listening to science?

Leonardo Boff - Pope Francis respects and listens to the sciences because they bring him the real ecological state of the world. We need to hear what they have to say. Without their contribution, the Church would have a narrow view and ineffective practice. The secular world is what cultivates scientific knowledge in particular. They should help the Christian community define the best approaches. A phrase of St. Thomas Aquinas is worth remembering here: Error in the knowledge of the world can lead us to error in the knowledge of God. Everything is related. The sciences in their way serve the Lord of all things.

IHU On-Line - Critics of Francis' text are claiming that the Pope wasn't neutral in his remarks on the subject. He was only listening to those who believe in the effects of global warming and not the aspect of science that is more skeptical of this view. How do you see Francis' stance?

Leonardo Boff - The Pope is simply telling us to look at the reality that is around us. Here we observe the devastation of the common home, the abuse of nature and especially the most vulnerable. We don't need a lot of science to realize that such inequities are the result of irresponsible human activity. We have so assaulted the Earth that it has lost its sustainability. To replace what we take from it in a year, it needs a year of work. Pope Francis didn't argue with the dissenting opinion, because today it has already been discredited by the scientific community and is refuted by the facts themselves, which are the extreme events that are occurring in all parts of the planet.

IHU On-Line - The encyclical cites excerpts from the encyclicals of Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, on ecology and other subjects, such as economics and inequality. How do the previous encyclicals relate to and dialogue with Francis' encyclical?

Leonardo Boff - The pronouncements of the previous Popes have never gotten to the key systemic point of the problem, which is that our way of inhabiting the common home is bringing countless discomforts to us and to our common home. But he does it to honor his predecessors. However, you can't overlook the fact of the Pope valuing the contributions of numerous national and continental conferences, from the most powerful such as the USA, to the simplest, such as Paraguay or Patagonia. The exercise of collegiality that the Pope says he wants to revive, is shown here.

I would say that the value of this encyclical isn't measured only by what it proposes, but by the teaching of the other bishops around the world. This is also a novelty of this pontificate, so innovative and surprising in many respects.

IHU On-Line - Francis himself points out that dealing with the subject of ecology is nothing new in his papacy. However, how does this expression by Bergoglio differ from the previous popes?

Leonardo Boff - Previous popes addressed ecology promptly. Now it is systematically within a bold new systems approach under the new paradigm, building, for almost a century now, from the life and Earth sciences, from the new cosmology, quantum physics and the new biology. In this, the Pope is absolutely innovative.

IHU On-Line - Some theologians have called attention to the fact that the encyclical doesn't refer to the great Eastern religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism. In your opinion, why wasn't this issue contemplated in Francis' encyclical?

Leonardo Boff - I think it's a void in the encyclical, because it's addressed to all humankind and he would have done well if he had honored Eastern wisdom, so rich in ecological perspectives. I don't know the reasons. But I believe he was reserving it for when he revisits the issue in the context of interfaith dialogue.

IHU On-Line - Is there a special intent in the fact that the Pope published the encyclical six months prior to the COP-21 in Paris? How does the document put the debate on the environment back on the public agenda?

Leonardo Boff - The encyclical is providential, especially as to the systemic method and in the span of integral ecology that has always been missing in these official meetings, some of which I myself have participated in. They don't have the slightest concept of a global vision, as if they hadn't yet discovered the Earth, only pieces of it, where national interests are rooted that always prevail over universal ones. If they don't seriously take an integral ecology view, the meetings will result in failure as has happened so far. All are flying blind and don't know where they're going. They just want to preserve their national interests and forget the global ones. Chesterton's humorous phrase applies: we're all in the same boat, and we're all seasick. Not everybody. Certainly not Pope Francis.

IHU On-Line - How do you think the text of the apostolic document should echo beyond the Vatican walls, in the Church throughout the world? And outside the Church, what should the impact be?

Leonardo Boff - I suppose that the impact will be huge because of the breadth of the approach and especially the new (for most) integral ecology perspective, valid for the entire planet, for its inhabitants, human or not. This time we don't have a Noah's ark, which included only a few. This time we must all save ourselves.

IHU On-Line - What kind of suggestions did you send to the Pope during the period when he was writing the encyclical? Which of these contributions were incorporated into the text?

Leonardo Boff - This question causes me embarrassment. The Pope has his body of experts and he consulted many people. The encyclical is his and not the collaborators'. With regard to Pope Francis' request, I sent through the Argentine ambassador to the Vatican -- otherwise there's the risk that it doesn't get there -- various materials and books, as I'd already been working intensely for 30 years on this integral ecology issue (I did a DVD for popular use on the four ecologies, where the last was integral ecology) and had especially delved into the subject of caring, of the common home, ethics and spirituality. Whether the Pope made use of these materials or not is not for me to say. I did my part as a simple useless servant, as the gospel says.

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