Mother Pelican
A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability

Vol. 9, No. 3, March 2013
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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The legacy of the current crisis: reviewing and reinventing concepts

Leonardo Boff

This article was originally published in
Iglesia Descalza, 8 February 2013
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

I nurture the conviction, shared by other analysts, that the current systemic crisis will leave us as legacy and challenge the urgency to rethink our relationship with the Earth, with the methods of production and consumption, to reinvent a form of global governance and coexistence that include everyone in the one same Common Home. For this, we are forced to review key concepts that, like a compass, point to a new north. Much of the current crisis stems from false premises.

The first concept to review is that of development. In practice, it's identified with material growth, expressed by the GDP. Its dynamic is to be as large as possible, which means ruthless exploitation of nature and the generation of large national and global inequalities. It's important to abandon this quantitative understanding and assume a qualitative one. In the latter, development is well defined by Amartya Sen (a Nobel Prize winner) as "the process of expansion of substantive freedoms", i.e., the expansion of opportunities to shape one's life and give it a sense of worth. Growth is essential, as it is the logic of all living things, but only good from the interdependencies of life networks that ensure biodiversity. Instead of growth/development, we ought to think about a redistribution of what has already been accumulated.

The second is the manipulated concept of sustainability which, in the current system, is unattainable. Instead we should introduce the theme of the rights of the Earth and nature, which has already been approved by the UN. If we were to respect them, sustainability would be guaranteed, the result of having adjusted ourselves to the logic of life.

The third is the environment. The environment [medio ambiente] doesn't exist; what exists is the whole environment [ambiente entero] in which everything lives and all beings are interconnected. Instead of environment, it would be better if we used the expression of the Earth Charter: community of life. All of us living beings possess the same basic genetic code, so we are all related to each other -- a real living community. This view would lead us to have respect for every being since it has value in itself beyond use by humans.

The fourth concept is that of Earth. It's important to overcome the poverty of vision of modernity that sees it just as a vast reality without intelligence. Contemporary science has shown -- and this has already been included in the ecology manuals -- that not only does Earth have life on it, but that it itself is alive. It is a superorganism, Gaia, that joins the physical, the chemical and earth and cosmic energy to produce and reproduce life forever. On April 22, 2010, the UN adopted the name of Mother Earth. This new view would lead us to redefine our relationship with it, no longer one of exploitation but of rational use and respect. A mother isn't bought or sold; she is respected and loved. So it must be with Mother Earth.

The fifth concept is that of the human being. In modernity, the latter has been thought of as detached from nature, outside and above it, making him "lord and master" of it (Descartes). Today, the human being is a part of nature and the universe as that portion of the Earth that feels, thinks, loves and worships. This perspective leads us to assume our responsibility for the fate of Mother Earth and her children, seeing ourselves as caretakers and guardians of this beautiful, small and threatened planet.

The sixth is the concept of spirituality. This has been confined in the religions, when it's the dimension of universal human depth. Spirituality arises when consciousness perceives itself as part of the Whole and intuits every being and the entire universe supported and penetrated by a powerful and loving force -- that Abyss of energy, generator of every being. It's possible to grasp the mysterious link that binds all things again and again, forming a cosmos and not a chaos. Spirituality gives us a feeling of reverence for the greatness of the universe and we are filled with self-esteem by being able to admire, enjoy and celebrate all things.

We still have to change a lot in order for all this to become part of the collective consciousness. But it is what should be. And what should be has the strength to become reality.


Leonardo Boff is former Professor of Systematic and Ecumenical Theology, Franciscan Theological Institute, Petrópolis, Brazil and former Professor of Ethics, Philosophy of Religion and Ecology, State University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

He is a renowned liberation theologian and author of more than sixty books in theology, spirituality, philosophy, anthropology, and mysticism. His weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. For translations to English, see Iglesia Descalza. He presently lives in Jardim Araras, an ecological wilderness area on the municipality of Petrópolis, Rio de Janeiro, and continues to work as a liberation theologian, writer, professor, conference speaker in Brazil and other countries, as well as an adviser of social movements such as the Landless Movement and the Base Ecclesial Communities (CEBs). For more information visit the Leonardo Boff web site.

In conjuction with this month's editorial essay, the reader may want to check this out: What kind of pope? The tensions in the Church today, Leonardo Boff, Iglesia Descalza, 13 February 2013.

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