Another (world) agenda: free life or another civilizational paradigm?

                               Leonardo Boff                          

Previous note: An international group was organized that proposed “another world agenda to liberate life”. The first session was held on 5/5/2022. Each participant (about 20 in all, but not all participated) had 10-15 minutes to present his or her vision of the issue. The basic purpose is how to democratize the scientific knowledge that strengthens the search for an agenda that aims to liberate life. I present here my short presentation, made in French, with the ideas that I have proposed and defended in other writings. So far, as it seems, the new agenda is still situated within the old paradigm (the dominant bubble), and the question of the profound crisis that this paradigm, that of techno-scientific modernity, has provoked and that is putting at risk the future of our life and our civilization, has not been raised. Hence the opportunity to clearly expose a critical and totally unbelieving position regarding the virtuality of this paradigm of liberating life, which is rapidly destroying it. Lboff

*************

Let me get straight to the point: within the current civilizing paradigm, of modernity, is another Agenda possible, or have we reached its insurmountable limits and must we seek another civilizing paradigm if we want to continue living on this planet?

Inspired by three statements of great authority.

The first is from the Earth Charter, adopted by UNESCO in 2003. Its opening sentence assumes apocalyptic overtones: “We stand before a critical moment in Earth’s history, at a time when humanity must choose its future…Our choice is: either to form a global alliance to care for the Earth and each other, or to risk our own destruction and the destruction of the diversity of life” (Preamble).

The second severe statement is from Pope Francis in the encyclical Fratelli tutti (2020): “we are in the same boat, no one is saved by himself,either we all save ourselves or no one is saved”(n.32).

The third statement is from the great historian Eric Hobsbawn in his well-known work The Age of Extremes (1994), in his final sentence: “We do not know where we are going. However, one thing is certain. If humanity wants to have an acceptable future, it cannot be by prolonging the past or the present. If we try to build the third millennium on this basis, we will fail. And the price of failure, that is, the alternative to changing society, is darkness” (p.562).

In other words: our way of inhabiting the Earth, which has brought us undeniable advantages, has reached its exhaustion. All the traffic lights have turned red. We have built the principle of self-destruction, being able to exterminate all life with chemical, biological and nuclear weapons by multiple different ways. The techno-science that has brought us to the extreme limits of the planet Earth’s supportability (The Earth Overshoot) is not able, by itself, as Covid-19 has shown, to save us. We can file the wolf’s teeth down, thinking that we are taking away its voracity. But this does not reside in the teeth, but in its nature.

Therefore, we have to abandon our boat and go beyond a new world agenda. We have reached the end of the road. We have to open a different one. Otherwise, as Sigmunt Bauman said in his last interview before his death, “we will join the procession of those who are heading for their own grave”. We are forced, if we want to live, to recreate ourselves and reinvent a new paradigm of civilization.

Two paradigms: that of dominus and that of frater

I see at this moment the confrontation between two paradigms, well exposed by the encyclical Fratelli tutti:  the dominus paradigm and the frater paradigm. In other words: the paradigm of conquest, expression of the will to power as domination, formulated by the founding fathers of modernity with Descartes, Newton, Francis Bacon, domination of everything, of peoples, as in the Americas, Africa and Asia, domination of classes, of nature, of life, and domination of matter up to its last energetic expression by the Higgs Boson.

The human being (Descartes’ maître et possesseur) does not feel part of nature, but its lord and master (dominus) who in the words of Francis Bacon “must torture nature as the torturer does his victim until she gives up all her secrets”.He is the founder of the modern scientific method, prevalent until today.

This paradigm understands the Earth as a mere res extensa and purposeless, transformed into a chest of resources, considered as infinite that allow an infinite growth/development. However, today we know scientifically that a finite planet cannot support an infinite project, which is the great crisis of the capital system as a mode of production and of neoliberalism as its political expression.

The other paradigm is that of the frater: the brother and sister of all human beings among themselves and the brothers and sisters of all other beings of nature.All living beings have, as Dawson and Crick showed in the 1950s, the same 20 amino acids and the 4 nitrogenous bases, from the most original cell that appeared 3.8 billion years ago, passing through the dinosaurs and arriving to us humans. This is why the Earth Charter says, and Pope Francis strongly emphasises it in his two ecological encyclicals, Laudato Si’ on the care of the common home (2015) and Fratelli tutti (2020): a bond of brotherhood unites us all, “to brother Sun, sister Moon, brother river and Mother Earth” (LS n.92; CT preamble). Human beings feel part of nature and have the same origin as all other beings, “humus” (the fertile earth) from which homo is derived, as male and female, man and woman.

If the first paradigm is one of conquest and domination (the Alexander the Great and Hernan Cortes paradigms), the second shows the care and co-responsibility of all for all (the Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa of Calcutta paradigms).

Figuratively speaking, we can say: the dominus paradigm is the clenched fist which subdues and dominates. The paradigm of the frater is the outstretched hand that intertwines with other hands for the essential caress and care of all things.

The dominus paradigm is dominant and is at the origin of our many crises and in all areas. The paradigm of the fratern is nascent and represents the greatest longing of humanity, especially of those great majorities mercilessly dominated, marginalised and condemned to die before their time.

But it has the strength of a seed. As in any seed, it contains the roots, the trunk, the branches, the leaves, the flowers and the fruit. That is why hope passes through it, as a principle more than virtues, as that indomitable energy that always projects new dreams, new utopias and new worlds, that is to say, that makes us walk towards new ways of inhabiting the Earth, of producing, of distributing the fruits of nature and of work, of consuming and of organising fraternal and sororal relationships between humans and with the other beings of nature.

The passage from a dominus paradigm to a frater paradigm

I know that the thorny problem of the transition from one paradigm to the other arises here. It will be done processually, with one foot in the old paradigm of dominus/conquest because we must guarantee our subsistence and the other foot in the new paradigm of frater/care in order to inaugurate it from below. Here several assumptions should be discussed, but this is not the moment to do so. But we can advance in one thing: by working the territory, the bioregionalism, the new fraternal/care paradigm can be implemented regionally in a sustainable way, because it has the ability to include everyone and create more social equality and environmental balance.

Our great challenge is this: how to move from a capitalist society of overproduction of material goods to a society that sustains all life, with human-spiritual, intangible values such as love, solidarity, compassion, fair measure, respect and care especially for the most vulnerable.

The advent of a bio-civilisation

This new civilisation has a name: it is a biocivilisation, in which life in all its diversity, but especially personal and collective human life, takes centre stage. Economy, politics and culture are at the service of maintaining and expanding the virtualities present in all forms of life.

The future of life on Earth and the destiny of our civilisation is in our hands. We have little time to make the necessary transformations because we have already entered the new phase of the Earth, its increasing warming. The heads of state are not sufficiently aware of the ecological emergencies and it is still very rare in the whole of humanity.

Leonardo Boff, brazilian theologian, philosopher and wrote: Ecology: cry of the Earth, cry of the poor, Orbis Books 1999/2018; Inhabit the Earth: what is the way to universal brotherhood? Vozes 2022, Catelvecchi,Rom 2022.

Easter: the irruption of the unexpected

                                      Leonardo Boff

Christians celebrate at Easter what it means: the passage. In our context, it is the passage from disappointment to the bursting forth of the unexpected. Here the disappointment is the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth and the unexpected, his resurrection.

He was someone who went through the world doing good. More than doctrines, he introduced practices always linked to the life of the weakest: he healed the blind, purified lepers, made the lame walk, restored health to many of the sick, satisfied the hunger of multitudes, and even resurrected the dead. We know his tragic end: a plot hatched between religious and political leaders led him to his death on the cross.

Those who followed him, apostles and disciples, were deeply frustrated by the tragic end of the crucifixion. Everyone, except the women who also followed him, began to return to their homes. They were disappointed, because they expected him to bring deliverance to Israel. Such frustration appears clearly in the two disciples at Emmaus, probably a couple who were walking along full of sadness. To someone who joined them on the way, they complain: “We were hoping that it was he who would free Israel, but three days have passed since he was condemned to death” (Luke 24:21).This companion was later revealed to be the resurrected Jesus, recognized in the way he blessed the bread, broke it and distributed it.

The resurrection was outside the horizon of his followers. There was a group in Israel that believed in the resurrection but at the end of time, the resurrection understood as a return to life as it always was is.

But with Jesus the unexpected happened, for in history the unexpected and the improbable can always occur. Only the improbable and unexpected here is of another nature, a really improbable and unexpected event: the resurrection. It must be well understood: it is not the reanimation of a corpse like Lazarus’. Resurrection represents a revolution within evolution. The good end of human history is anticipated. It signifies the unexpected irruption of the new human being, as St. Paul says, the “novissimo Adam”.

This event is really the realization of the unexpected. Teilhard de Chardin whose mystique is all centered on the resurrection as an absolute novelty within the process of evolution called it a “tremendous”, something, therefore, that stirs the whole universe.

This is the fundamental faith of Christians. Without the Resurrection the Christian communities would not exist. They would lose their founding and founding event.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that the two greatest mysteries of the Christian faith are intimately linked to women: the incarnation of the Son of God with Mary (Luke 1:35) and the resurrection with Mary of Magadala (John 20:15). Part of the Church, the hierarchical one, hostage to cultural patriarchalism, has not attributed any theological relevance to this singular fact. It is surely in God’s design and should be welcomed as something culturally innovative.

In these dark times, marked by death and even with the eventual disappearance of the human species by a nuclear cataclysm, faith in the resurrection rips us a future of hope. Our end is not self-destruction within a final tragedy but the full realization of our potentialities through resurrection: the irruption of the new man and woman.

Happy Easter to all those who can believe and also to those who cannot.

Leonardo Boff is a theologian and wrote: The resurrection of Christ and ours in death, Vozes 2012.

Easter: the irruption of the unexpected

Christians celebrate at Easter what it means: the passage. In our context, it is the passage from disappointment to the bursting forth of the unexpected. Here the disappointment is the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth and the unexpected, his resurrection.

He was someone who went through the world doing good. More than doctrines, he introduced practices always linked to the life of the weakest: he healed the blind, purified lepers, made the lame walk, restored health to many of the sick, satisfied the hunger of multitudes, and even resurrected the dead. We know his tragic end: a plot hatched between religious and political leaders led him to his death on the cross.

Those who followed him, apostles and disciples, were deeply frustrated by the tragic end of the crucifixion. Everyone, except the women who also followed him, began to return to their homes. They were disappointed, because they expected him to bring deliverance to Israel. Such frustration appears clearly in the two disciples at Emmaus, probably a couple who were walking along full of sadness. To someone who joined them on the way, they complain: “We were hoping that it was he who would free Israel, but three days have passed since he was condemned to death” (Luke 24:21).This companion was later revealed to be the resurrected Jesus, recognized in the way he blessed the bread, broke it and distributed it.

The resurrection was outside the horizon of his followers. There was a group in Israel that believed in the resurrection but at the end of time, the resurrection understood as a return to life as it always was is.

But with Jesus the unexpected happened, for in history the unexpected and the improbable can always occur. Only the improbable and unexpected here is of another nature, a really improbable and unexpected event: the resurrection. It must be well understood: it is not the reanimation of a corpse like Lazarus’. Resurrection represents a revolution within evolution. The good end of human history is anticipated. It signifies the unexpected irruption of the new human being, as St. Paul says, the “novissimo Adam”.

This event is really the realization of the unexpected. Teilhard de Chardin whose mystique is all centered on the resurrection as an absolute novelty within the process of evolution called it a “tremendous”, something, therefore, that stirs the whole universe.

This is the fundamental faith of Christians. Without the Resurrection the Christian communities would not exist. They would lose their founding and founding event.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that the two greatest mysteries of the Christian faith are intimately linked to women: the incarnation of the Son of God with Mary (Luke 1:35) and the resurrection with Mary of Magadala (John 20:15). Part of the Church, the hierarchical one, hostage to cultural patriarchalism, has not attributed any theological relevance to this singular fact. It is surely in God’s design and should be welcomed as something culturally innovative.

In these dark times, marked by death and even with the eventual disappearance of the human species by a nuclear cataclysm, faith in the resurrection rips us a future of hope. Our end is not self-destruction within a final tragedy but the full realization of our potentialities through resurrection: the irruption of the new man and woman.

Happy Easter to all those who can believe and also to those who cannot.

Leonardo Boff is a theologian and wrote: The resurrection of Christ and ours in death, Vozes 2012.

Merciless attacks against Pope Francis, “righteous among the nations”

                                  Leonardo Boff*

Since the beginning of his pontificate nine years ago, Pope Francis has been receiving furious attacks from traditionalist Christians and white supremacists almost all from the North of the world, the United States and Europe. They even made a plot, involving millions of dollars, to depose him, as if the Church were a company and the Pope its CEO. All in vain. He continues on his way in the spirit of the evangelical beatitudes of the persecuted.

The reasons for this persecution are various: geopolitical reasons, power disputes, another vision of the Church and the care of the Common Home.

I raise my voice in defense of Pope Francis from the periphery of the world, from the Great South. Let us compare the numbers: only 21.5% of Catholics live in Europe, 82% live outside it, 48% in America. We are, therefore, the vast majority. Until the middle of the last century the Catholic Church was a first world Church. Now it is a third and fourth world Church, which, one day, originated in the first world. A geopolitical question arises here. European conservatives, with the exception of notable Catholic organizations of solidarity cooperation, nurture a sovereign disdain for the South, especially for Latin America.

The Church as a great institution was an ally of colonization, an accomplice of indigenous genocide and a participant in slavery. A colonial Church was implanted here, a mirror of the European Church. But for more than 500 years, despite the persistence of the mirror Church, there has been an ecclesiogenesis, the genesis of another way of being church, a church, no longer mirror but source:

 it was incarnated in the local indigenous-black-mestizo and immigrant culture of peoples from 60 different countries. From this amalgam, its style of worshipping God and celebrating, of organizing its social pastoral care alongside the oppressed struggling for their liberation, was born. It projected a theology appropriate to its liberating and popular practice. It has its prophets, confessors, theologians, saints, and many martyrs, among them the Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Arnulfo Romero.

This type of Church is fundamentally composed of basic ecclesial communities, where the dimension of communion of equals is lived, all brothers and sisters, with their lay coordinators, men and women, with priests inserted among the people and bishops, never with their backs to the people as ecclesiastical authorities, but as shepherds at their side, with the “smell of sheep”, with the mission of being the “defenders et advocati pauperum” as it was said in the primitive Church. Popes and doctrinal authorities of the Vatican tried to curtail and even condemn such a way of being Church, not infrequently with the argument that they are not Church because they do not see in them the hierarchical character and the Roman style.

This threat lasted for many years until, finally, the figure of Pope Francis burst in. He came from the soup of this new ecclesial culture, well expressed by the non-exclusive preferential option for the poor and by the various strands of liberation theology that accompany it. He gave legitimacy to this way of living the Christian faith, especially in situations of great oppression.

But what is most scandalizing to traditionalist Christians is his style of exercising the ministry of unity in the Church. He no longer presents himself as the classic pontiff, dressed in pagan symbols borrowed from the Roman emperors, especially the famous “mozzeta”, that little banking cap full of symbols of the absolute power of the emperor and the pope. Francis quickly got rid of it and wore a simple white “mozzeta”, like that of the great prophet of Brazil, dom Helder Câmara, and his iron cross without any jewels.

 He refused to live in a pontifical palace, which would have made St. Francis rise from the grave to take him where he chose: in a simple guest house, Santa Marta. There he enters the line to be served and eats together with everyone else. With humor we can say that this way it is more difficult to poison him. He does not wear Prada, but his old and worn-out shoes. In the pontifical yearbook in which a whole page is used with the honorific titles of the Popes, he simply renounced them all and wrote only Franciscus, pontifex.

In one of his first pronouncements he clearly stated that he was not going to preside over the Church with canon law but with love and tenderness. Countless times he repeated that he wanted a poor Church and a Church of the poor.

The whole great problem of the Church-great-institution lies, since the emperors Constantine and Theodosius, in the assumption of political power, transformed into sacred power (sacra potestas). This process reached its culmination with Pope Gregory VII (1075) with his bull Dictatus Papae, which well translated is the “Dictatorship of the Pope“. As the great ecclesiologist Jean-Yves Congar says,, this Pope consolidated the most decisive change in the Church that created so many problems and from which it has never been freed: the centralized, authoritarian and even despotic exercise of power. In the 27 propositions of the Bull, the Pope is considered the absolute lord of the Church, the sole and supreme lord of the world, becoming the supreme authority in the spiritual and temporal realms. This has never been denied.

It is enough to read Canon 331 in which it is said that “the Pastor of the universal Church has ordinary, supreme, full, immediate and universal power”. This is unheard of: if we cross out the term Pastor of the universal Church and put in God, it works perfectly. Who among humans, if not God, can attribute to himself such a concentration of power? It is significant that in the history of the Popes there has been a crescendo in the pharaohism of power: from successor of Peter, the Popes came to consider themselves representatives of Christ. And as if that were not enough, representatives of God, being even called deus minor in terra.

Here the Greek hybris is realized and what Thomas Hobbes states in his Leviathan: “I point out, as a general tendency of all men, a perpetual and restless desire for power and more power, which only ceases with death. The reason for this lies in the fact that power cannot be secured except by seeking still more power.” This, then, has been the trajectory of the Catholic Church in relation to power, which persists to this day, a source of polemics with the other Christian Churches and of extreme difficulty in assuming the humanistic values of modernity.

It is light years away from the vision of Jesus who wanted a power-service (hierodulia) and not a power-hierarchy (hierarchy).

Pope Francis is moving away from all this, which causes indignation to conservatives and reactionaries, clearly expressed in the book of 45 authors of October 2021: From Benedict’s Peace to Francis’s War organized by Peter A. Kwasniewski. We would turn it around like this: From Benedict’s Peace of Pedophiles (covered up by him) to Francis’ War on Pedophiles (condemned by him). It is known that a Munich court found evidence to incriminate Pope Benedict XVI for his leniency with pedophile priests.

There is a problem of ecclesiastical geopolitics: the traditionalists reject a Pope who comes “from the end of the world”, who brings to the center of power of the Vatican another style, closer to the grotto of Bethlehem than to the palaces of the emperors. If Jesus appeared to the Pope on his walk through the Vatican gardens, he would surely say to him: “Peter, on these palatial stones I would never build my Church”. This contradiction is lived by Pope Francis, because he renounced the palatial and imperial style.

There is, in fact, a clash of religious geopolitics, between the Center, which has lost hegemony in number and influence but retains the habits of authoritarian exercise of power, and the Periphery, with a numerical majority of Catholics, with new churches, with new styles of living the faith and in permanent dialogue with the world, especially with the condemned of the Earth, which always has a word to say about the wounds that bleed in the body of the Crucified One, present in the impoverished and oppressed.

Perhaps what most bothers Christians anchored in the past is the Pope’s vision of the Church. Not a castle Church, closed in on herself, in her values and doctrines, but a “field hospital” Church always “going out to the existential peripheries”. She welcomes everyone without asking about their creed or their moral situation. It is enough that they are human beings in search of meaning in life and suffering from the adversities of this globalized, unjust, cruel and merciless world. He directly condemns the system that gives centrality to money at the cost of human lives and at the cost of nature.

He has held several world meetings with popular movements. In the last one, the fourth, he explicitly said: “This system (capitalist), with its implacable logic, escapes human domination; it is necessary to work for more justice and to cancel this system of death”. In Fratelli tutti he condemns it forcefully.

He is guided by what is one of the great contributions of Latin American theology: the centrality of the historical Jesus, poor, full of tenderness for those who suffer, always at the side of the poor and marginalized. The Pope respects dogmas and doctrines, but it is not through them that he reaches the hearts of the people.

For him, Jesus came to teach how to live: total trust in God-Abba, to live unconditional love, solidarity, compassion for the fallen on the roads, care for the Created, goods that constitute the content of the central message of Jesus: the Kingdom of God. He tirelessly preaches the boundless mercy by which God saves his children and the Kingdom of God. He tirelessly preaches the boundless mercy by which God saves his sons and daughters, for he cannot lose any of them, the fruits of his love, “for he is the passionate lover of life” (Wis 11:26).

That is why he affirms that “no matter how much someone is wounded by evil, he is never condemned on this earth to remain forever separated from God”. In other words: condemnation is only for this time.

He calls on all pastors to exercise the pastoral care of tenderness and unconditional love, as summarized by a popular leader of a grassroots community: “the soul has no border, no life is foreign”. Like few others in the world, he has committed himself to the migrants coming from Africa and the Middle East and now from Ukraine. He regrets that we moderns have lost the ability to cry, to feel the pain of others and, as a Good Samaritan, to help them in their abandonment.

His most important work shows concern for the future of Mother Earth’s life. Laudato Sì expresses its true meaning in its subtitle: “On Care for the Common Home”. It elaborates not a green ecology, but an integral ecology that embraces the environment, society, politics, culture, daily life and the world of the spirit. It assumes the most reliable contributions of the Earth and life sciences, especially quantum physics and the new cosmology, the fact that “everything is related to everything and unites us with affection to Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother River and Mother Earth” as it poetically says in Laudato Sì.

The category of care and collective co-responsibility acquire complete centrality to the point of saying in Fratelli tutti that “we are in the same boat: either we all save ourselves or no one is saved”.

We Latin Americans are deeply grateful to him for having convoked the Dear Amazon Synod to defend this immense biome of interest for the whole Earth and how the Church is incarnated in that vast region that covers nine countries.

Great names in world ecology affirmed: with this contribution Pope Francis puts himself at the forefront of the contemporary ecological discussion.

Almost in despair, but still full of hope, he proposes a way of salvation: universal fraternity and social love as the structuring axes of a biosociety in function of which politics, economy and all human efforts are based. We do not have much time nor enough accumulated wisdom, but this is the dream and the real alternative to avoid a path of no return.

The Pope walking alone through St. Peter’s Square in the pouring rain, in times of pandemic, will remain an indelible image and a symbol of his mission as a Pastor who cares and prays for the destiny of humanity.

Perhaps one of the final phrases of Laudato Sì reveals all his optimism and hope against all hope: “Let us walk singing. May our struggles and our concern for this planet not rob us of the joy of hope.”

They must be enemies of their own humanity who mercilessly condemn the very humanitarian attitudes of Pope Francis, in the name of a sterile Christianity, turned into a fossil of the past, a vessel of dead waters. The fierce attacks on him can be anything but Christian and evangelical.

They, especially the cardinals and bishops who participated in the aforementioned book, are schismatic and in the ancient sense, heretical, for lacerating the fabric of the ecclesial community. Pope Francis bears it imbued with the humility of St. Francis of Assisi and the values of the historical Jesus. For this reason he well deserves the title of “righteous among the nations”.

*Leonardo Boff is a Brazilian theologian and has written Francis of Assisi and Francis of Rome, Rio de Janeiro 2015.