The E-Journal of
Solidarity, Sustainability, and Nonviolence

Vol. 5, No. 3, March 2009
Luis T. Gutierrez, Editor

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This month the SSNV journal is honored to reprint a recent article by Dr. Leonardo Boff, a Catholic liberation theologian from Brazil. The article is a reflection about the current, worldwide financial and ecological crises.

The indignation that millions of global citizens feel about this calamity resounds in Boff's writing. The indignation is justified, for this is a crisis that was manufactured by irresponsible human hands. The repercussions of the crisis are still proliferating, and it is already clear that the poor of the world are the most affected. It is also clear that this will be a long recovery process, and one for which our children and grandchildren will have to pay. It is pathetic.

The human habitat is also bound to suffer additional deterioration. As Boff points out: "The philosopher Kant's dream of pax perpetua between all peoples is not enough. We urgently need a perennial peace agreement between everyone and Earth. We have already tormented her too much. We have to heal her wounds and care for her health. Only then will Earth and Humanity have a basically secure destiny."

The voice of God resounds in the events of history. Indeed, this crisis is entirely the fruit of human greed, and is by no means an "act of God." But the crisis may turn out to be a blessing in disguise if it brings about a new awareness that human solidarity is the only sensible way forward. This entails balancing self-interest and the common good, and also requires responsible stewardship of the human habitat. And we should be careful not to assign all the blame to Wall Street executives. Except for the very poor of the world, who has not been contaminated by the sin of consumerism?

Everybody Against Gaia

Leonardo Boff

Former Professor of Systematic and Ecumenical Theology
Franciscan Theological Institute, Petrópolis, Brazil
Former Professor of Ethics, Philosophy of Religion and Ecology
State University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Liberation theologian and author of more than sixty books in the areas of Theology, Spirituality, Philosophy, Anthropology and Mysticism

Published in
Articles by Leonardo Boff, 2 January 2009
Leonardo Boff Web Site

The financial and economic cataclysm — fruit of greed and lies — conceals a Via Crucis of suffering for the millions of people who lost their savings, their houses and their jobs. Who speaks of them? The truly guilty meet more to salvage and correct the system that guarantees their hegemony over others than to find paths that are characterized by rationalism, cooperation and compassion towards the victims and all humanity.

This crisis exposes other crises that, like the sword of Damocles, hang over the heads of everyone: the climate, energy, and food crises and more. All of them go back to the crisis in the dominant paradigm. The situation of general chaos raises metaphysical questions about the meaning of the human being within the group of beings in evolution. At the moment the "everything goes" of the postmodernists is silenced. Whether they like it or not, there are things that have to have value, there is meaning that must be preserved, otherwise we drown in the coarsest cynicism, an expression of deep disdain for life.

It has been a while since thinkers like Teilhard de Chardin or René Girard noticed a certain excess of evil on the road of conscious evolution. I quote a thought from Girard, a scholar of violence, who was among us in 1990 conversing with liberation theologians: "Everything appears to prove that, for mysterious reasons that I am trying to understand, the forces generating violence in the world are at a certain level stronger than harmony and unity. This is the ever-present dimension of original sin in that, beyond any mythical concept whatever, it is a name for the violence in history." There is no reason to reject this somber verdict. Only the thought of hope against all hope, of compassion and dreams offers us a glimmer of light.

We also have to coexist with the shadow side that we are beings with an immense capacity of self destruction even to the last human being. Years ago, a German study on wars in the history of the human race, quoted by Michel Serres in his latest book Guerre mondiale ("World War", 2008), found the following facts: from three thousand years ago to the present, three billion eight hundred million human beings have been assassinated, many in wars of total extermination. In the 20th century alone, two hundred million people have died. How can we not honestly question the nature of this complex contradictory creature — good angel and Devil of the Earth — that is the human being?

Today we are experiencing an absolutely unheard of situation. It is the collective war against Gaia. Up until the introduction of total war (totaler Krieg) by Hitler, wars had their ritual: they were between armies. Then they came to be between nations and peoples: the war of all against all. Now it has intensified: it is the war of all against the world, against the planet Gaia (bellum omnium contra Terram). This is what is implied in our civilization paradigm that proposes to exploit and extract, with technological violence, all the resources of planet Earth. In effect, we are attacking Earth on all her fronts — the soil, the undersoil, in the air, in the jungle, in the water, the oceans, and outer space. What corner of Earth has not been the object of domination and conquest by human beings?

There are wounds everywhere — blood and wounds on our Mother Earth, who aches and cries out through earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones, the devastating flooding in Santa Catalina and the terrifying droughts in the Northeast. They are signals she is sending us. We must interpret them and change our behavior. We will not win this war. Gaia is patient and long suffering. Let us hope that she does not decide to rid herself of us in the next generations, as she has done with other species in the past.

The philosopher Kant's dream of pax perpetua between all peoples is not enough. We urgently need a perennial peace agreement between everyone and Earth. We have already tormented her too much. We have to heal her wounds and care for her health. Only then will Earth and Humanity have a basically secure destiny.

Free translation from the Spanish provided by Anne Fullerton.

Copyright © 2009 by Leonardo Boff

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Leonardo Boff is well known as a champion of social and environmental justice in Latin America and elsewhere. He is a liberation theologian and author of more than sixty books in the areas of Theology, Spirituality, Philosophy, Anthropology and Mysticism. According to the biography posted in his web site, "for 22 years he was the professor of Systematic and Ecumenical Theology at the Franciscan Theological Institute in Petrópolis. He has served as a professor of Theology and Spirituality in various centers of higher learning and universities in Brazil and the rest of the world, in addition to being a visiting professor at the universities of Lisbon (Portugal), Salamanca (Spain), Harvard (United States), Basel (Switzerland), and Heidelberg (Germany)." His has been an illustrious career as professor, researcher, and activist. For more information, see the biography posted in his web site.

Feedback may be sent to
Leonardo Boff
c/o Cristiano M. de Miranda


What have I done to foster solidarity, sustainability, and nonviolence?

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"What we are doing to the forests of the world
is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing
to ourselves and to one another."

Mahatma Gandhi
India, 1869-1948


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Both subscribers and nonsubscribers are cordially invited to submit a paper to be considered for publication in the SSNV e-journal as an "invited paper." It should be related to the journal's theme about solidarity, sustainability, and nonviolence as the three pillars of sustainable development. Some suggested themes:

  • Gender equality as a positive factor for sustainable development.
  • Successful initiatives to foster solidarity, sustainability, and nonviolence.
  • Removal of obstacles for progress toward any or all the UN MDGs.
  • Management of technologies for social and environmental justice.
  • How to foster changes in human behavior that are conducive to SSNV.

Invited papers will be published in a separate web page (i.e., page 2 of a given issue). If you have friends who could submit a good paper, please invite them to do so. Papers from educators and students are highly desired.

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