Judgment Day For Our Culture? Leonardo Boff

Judgment Day For Our Culture?

Leonardo Boff

Earthcharter Commission


The end of the year offers a chance to make an accounting of our human situation on this planet. What can we hope for and what way will history go? Those are worrisome questions, because the global landscape is somber. A crisis of structural magnitude lurks in the heart of the dominant economic-social system (Europe and United States), with repercussions for the rest of the world. The Bible has a recurrent theme in the prophetic tradition: judgment day is near. It is the day of revelation: the truth comes out, and our mistakes and sins are revealed as enemies of life. Great historians like Toynbee and von Ranke also speak of judgment of entire cultures. I believe we really are faced with a global judgment of our way of living on the Earth, and of the relationship we maintain with her.

Considering the situation at a deeper level, one that looks beyond the economic analysis prevailing with governments, businesses, world forums, and the media, we can see with ever more clarity the contradiction that exists between the logic of our modern culture, with its political economics, individualism and consumerism, and the logic of the natural processes of our living planet, the Earth. They are incompatible. The first is competitive, the latter, cooperative. The first is exclusive, the latter, inclusive. The first puts its principal value on the individual, the latter, on the good of all. The first gives centrality to merchandise, the latter, to life in all its forms. If we do not do something, this incompatibility could lead us to a very severe impasse.

This incompatibility is aggravated by the premises underlying our social process: that we can grow without limits, that the resources are inexhaustible and that material and individual prosperity bring us the happiness that we so desire. These premises are illusory: resources are limited and a finite Earth cannot sustain infinite development. Prosperity and individualism are not bringing us happiness, but great loneliness, depression, violence and suicide.

There are two problems that interact, and could cause upheavals in the future: global warming and human overpopulation. Global warming is a term that encompasses the impact our civilization has on nature, threatening the sustainability of life and the Earth. The result is the annual emission of billions of tons of carbon dioxide and methane, which is 23 times more destructive than the former. The accelerating thawing of the frozen soil of the Siberian tundra (the permafrost), will create in the coming decades the danger of an abrupt warming of 4 to 5 degrees centigrade, that could devastate great portions of life on Earth. The increase in human population causes more goods and natural services to be exploited, more energy used, and more greenhouse gasses to be expelled into the atmosphere.

The strategies for controlling this threatening situation are largely ignored by governments and decision-makers. Our deeply rooted individualism has precluded a consensus from being reached in UN gatherings. Each country sees only its own interests, and is blind to the collective interest and the planet as a whole. And this way we are recklessly approaching an abysm.

But the mother of all the above-mentioned distortions is our anthropocentrism, the conviction that we human beings are the center of everything, and that everything has been created for us alone, losing sight of our dependency on everything around us. That is the source of our destructiveness, that causes us to devastate nature to satisfy our desires.

Some humility and perspective is urgently needed. The universe is 13.7 billion years old; the Earth, 4.45 billion; life, 3.8 billion; human life, 5-7 million; and the homo sapiens, some 130-140,000 years. Consequently, we were born only “few minutes” ago, the fruit of all the previous history. And from sapiens we are going to demens, threatening our companions in the community of life.

We have reached the apex of the process of evolution, not to destroy, but to guard and care for this sacred legacy. Only then will judgment day reveal our true identity and our mission here on Earth.


Leonardo Boff


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