“Only a God can Save us” – Leonardo Boff

“Only a God can Save us”

Leonardo Boff

Earthcharter Commission


This phrase does not come from a pope, but from Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), one of the most profound German philosophers of the XX century, in an interview with the weekly Der Spiegel, of September 23, 1966, but only published on May 31, 1976, a week after he died. Heidegger was always an attentive observer of the threatening destinies of our technological civilization. To him, technology, as an intervention in the natural dynamics of the world for human benefit, had penetrated our way of being in such a way that it had become second nature.

We cannot imagine ourselves today without the vast scientific-technological apparatus on which our civilization is based, but which is dominated by an opportunistic compulsion that translates into the formula: if we can do it, we must do it, without any ethical considerations. Weapons of mass destruction came from this attitude. They exist, so why not use them?

For the philosopher, such a technique, without conscience, is the clearest expression of our paradigm and mentality, both born at the dawn of modernity, in the XVI century, but whose roots already existed in classical Greek metaphysics. This mentality is guided by exploitation, by calculation, by mechanization and by efficiency, applied in all fields, but mainly in relation to nature. This understanding has so overtaken us that we consider technology to be a panacea for all our problems. Unconsciously we define ourselves in opposition to nature, which must be dominated and exploited. We, ourselves, become objects of science, as our organs and even our genes are manipulated.

The divorce of human beings from nature is shown by the ever increasing environmental and social degradation. The maintenance and acceleration of the technological process, according to the philosopher, can lead us to eventual self-destruction. The death machine was already built decades ago.

Ethical and religious calls, and, least of all, simple good will, are not enough for us to escape this situation. It is a metaphysical problem, that is, of a way of seeing and thinking about reality. We are on a fast moving train; headed towards an encounter with the abyss ahead, and we do not know how to stop it. What can we do? That is the question.

If we wanted, we could find a different mentality in our cultural tradition, in the pre-Socratic philosophers such as Heraclitus, among others, who still recognized the organic connection between human beings and nature, between the divine and the earthly, and nourished a sense of belonging to a main Whole. Knowledge was not placed at the service of power, but of life, and of the contemplation of the mystery of being. Or, it could be found in all the contemporary reflections about the new cosmological-ecological paradigm, that see the unity and complexity of the sole and great process of evolution, from which all beings emerge and are interdependent. But this path is forbidden to us by the excess of techno-science, of calculating rationality, and by the immense economic interests of the great consortiums that live off the present status quo.

Where are we headed? It was in this context that Heidegger pronounced this famous and prophetic sentence: «Philosophy cannot directly provoke a change of the present situation of the world. And this is not true only for philosophy but also for all activity of human thought. Only a God can still save us (Nur noch ein Gott kann uns retten). The sole possibility we have, in thought and poetry, is to prepare our availability for the appearance of that God or for the absence of God in sunset times (Untergrund); given that we, if God is absent, will disappear.» 

What Heidegger affirmed is also being forcefully expressed by notable thinkers, scientists and ecologists. Either we change our ways, or our civilization endangers its own future. Our attitude is one of openness to an advent of God, that powerful and loving energy that sustains every being and the whole universe. That God can save us. This attitude is well represented by the openness of poetry and free thinkers. And since God, according to Scriptures, is «the supreme lover of life» (Sabiduría 11,24), we hope that God will not allow a tragic end for the human being. Humans exist to shine, to live in harmony and to be happy.


Leonardo Boff


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