Archive for category Social Justice

The Original Praxis of Non-Violence by Richard Renshaw

Wednesday, 25 January, 2012

The Original Praxis of Non-Violence

 (from the blog of Richard Renshaw http://richardrenshaw.blogspot.com/ )
   Even if the coining of the word “non-violence” is attributed to Gandhi, the sources he turned to in order to give meaning to the word go back in history through people like Tolstoy, Thoreau and especially Jesus,    who appears to be the original source of the “praxis” (action-reflection-action) of non-violence (in the sense of ahimsa and of satyagraha).
   It is important to note that the most salient characteristic of Jesus’ practice is his attention to the sick and excluded. It was a question of the heart. We are told a leper approached him and said, “If you want to, you can cure me.” (Mark 1, 40-45) The Gospel writer goes on to say that Jesus replied, “Of course I want to” and, contrary to a very important norm of his time that forbade all contact with lepers, he touched him, thus making himself as “unclean” as the leper. In another place, we read that Jesus felt compassion for the crowd because they wandered without direction. He is also said to have wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus before calling him out of the cave. Jesus was filled with compassion for those who were rejected by society and condemned to poverty and solitude. Everything he did flowed from that unceasing love for the people who had no place in the society of his time.
   Jesus was a Galilean, progeny of a people who, at that moment, lived under a Roman military occupation that had established a local puppet government and were supported by a sector his own society (the Pharisees, Sadducees and, above all, the Scribes, who were the lawyers of his time). This sector conspired with the Roman authorities to assure their privileges.  He was wise enough not to attack the empire directly or his public life might have been even shorter than it was. Galilee was a zone of revolt against the occupation but also against the temple religion. There is nothing strange in the fact that Jesus rejected the temple and its rules as maintained by the Scribes. While he cast doubt on the legitimacy of the imperial authority, he reserved his anger and his direct actions for the temple and its defenders.
  His manner was to approach the excluded and to treat them as full persons, worthy of his attention and perfectly capable to participating fully in society. To demonstrate this conviction, he went against all the social norms that posed an obstacle to that participation: he “cured” the blind, the paralyzed, the deaf and the lepers; he “pardoned” those who had no means to comply with all the rules imposed by the authorities; he refused to recognize the legitimacy of norms that prevented doing good on the Sabbath. In so doing, he publicly opposed the authorities who interpreted these gestures as a personal insult.  He went so far as to chase the vendors from the temple. His was a life of classic “direct action.”
   Jesus placed enormous importance on the truth: “The truth will make you free,” that is to say, will liberate you. It is the same word in Hebrew as what religion terms “salvation.” For Jesus, the truth that counts here is that the excluded are persons who deserve recognition for their dignity and who can fully and freely participate in society. It was a fundamental commitment and he accepted the consequences. When the Gospel of Mark says that the people were awed by the fact that he spoke “with authority,”   It points to the inner power that radiated from his conviction of the value of the poor and excluded.
   Those who followed Jesus tried to do the same and paid a great price for being an open and inclusive community. For decades, that first community tried to dialogue with their own Jewish people until finally they were expelled from the synagogue. For two centuries after that, they remained distance from the dominant power of the empire refusing to recognise its demands. Thousands were executed.
   Even after the Christian authorities made a pact with the empire—for motives we can only imagine—there were always those who sought to be faithful to the initial inspiration. The best known of these is Francis Bernardoni, better known as “of Assisi.” It is well to remember that Francis took in hand the great conflict of his time between the state power of the Christians and that of the Muslims. He went, all alone, to ask for a dialogue with the Sheik on the Muslim side and after quite an adventure managed to meet him on Muslim territory. There is no document recounting the details of their conversation but we know that they had a meeting of hearts. Following that the Sheik ordered that Francis be given safe passage back to his own land.
   So then, when Gandhi developed his practice of non-violence, he had before him the example of Jesus and that whole history of the communities who followed him.
What might that mean for today? The empire and the complicit religion are all too clear and yet it would seem most people have no “eyes to see or ears to hear.”  The political empire is led by the “highly industrialized nations” led by the United States. The religion complicit with it is that of money led by the banking system and the major multinational corporations. The great handicape for change today is that the vast majority of the population (certainly of the countries of the “North” are in a situation of life-idebtedness to the system. Most depend totally on that economic religion for their survival, involved in “selling” their freedom in order to have a job and a livelihood. In this respect, the population of the countries of the “North” are in a situation of serfdom, of ecnomic slavery. They cannot imagine, at all, stepping outside the lines that provide their only imaginable option.
It would seem to me evident then that a non-violent approach would probably follow much of that employed by Jesus in his time. And for that I leave it to your imagination since the power of non-violenct action has always relied on its capacity for inventivent, creativity and surprise.
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It All Began in Greece. Will It All End in Greece? by Leonardo Boff

   It All Began in Greece. Will It All End in Greece?

                                             Leonardo Boff

                                                 Theologian
                                    Earthcharter Commission

 

Our Western civilization, now globalized, has its historic origins, in ancient Greece, during the VI Century, before the current era. The world of myth and religion, which was then the organizing principle of society, collapsed. To bring order into that critical moment, over a period of about 50 years, one of the greatest intellectual creations of humanity took place. The era of critical reason appeared, expressed through philosophy, democracy, theater, poetry and aesthetics. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and the sophists were paradigmatic figures who gave birth to the architecture of knowledge, underlying the paradigm of our civilization; there were Pericles, the governor at the head of the democracy; Phidias, of the elegant aesthetics; the great tragic writers, such as Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus; the Olympic Games, and other cultural manifestations, too numerous to list here.

The new paradigm is characterized by the predominance of a type of reason that omits any awareness of the Whole, any sense of the meaning of the unity of reality, that characterized the so-called pre-Socratic thinkers, founders of the original thinking. In this moment the famous dualisms were introduced: world/God, man/nature, reason/sensibility, theory/practice. Reason created metaphysics, that in Heidegger’s understanding objectifies everything, and sets itself as the holder of power over that object. The human being no longer felt he was part of nature, but placed himself above her, and subjected nature to his will.

This paradigm reached its highest expression one thousand years later, in the XVI century, with Descartes, Newton, Bacon and others, founders of the modern paradigm. The dualist and mechanical world view was consecrated by them: nature on one side and the human being on the other, prior to and above nature, as her “teacher and owner” (Descartes), the crown of creation in function of which everything exists. The ideal of boundless progress was developed, that assumes that progress can continue infinitely into the future. In recent decades, greed to accumulate transformed everything into merchandise, to be negotiated and consumed. We have forgotten that the goods and services of nature are for everyone and cannot be appropriated only by a few.

After four centuries of applying this metaphysics, this is, this way of being and seeing, we see that nature has paid a high price for this model of growth/development. We are now reaching the limits of her possibilities. The scientific-technological civilization has reached a point where it can destroy itself, profoundly degrading nature, eliminating a great part of the life-system and, eventually, eradicating the human species. It could result in an eco-social armagedon.

It all began in Greece thousands of years ago. And now it looks as though it all will end in Greece, one of the first victims of the economic horror, whose bankers, to salvage their profits, have pushed the entire society into desperation. It has reached Ireland, Portugal, and Italy. It could extend to Spain and France, and perhaps to the entire world order.

We are witnessing the agony of a millenarian paradigm that is apparently completing its historic trajectory. It can still be delayed for a few decades, in a moribund state that resists death, but the end is predictable. It cannot reproduce itself with its own resources. 

We must find another way of relating to nature, another form of production and consumption. It must develop an awareness of dependency with the community of life and of collective responsibility for our common future. If this change does not begin, we will be sentencing ourselves to extinction. Either we transform ourselves, or we will disappear.

I make my own the words of the economist-thinker Celso Furtado: «The people of my generation have shown that it is within the reach of human ingenuity to lead humanity to suicide. I hope the new generation shows that it is also within the reach of the human being to open a path to a world where compassion, happiness, beauty and solidarity prevail.» If, that is, we change paradigms.

 

Leonardo Boff
01-20-2012

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“Only a God can Save us” – Leonardo Boff

“Only a God can Save us”

Leonardo Boff

Theologian
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
01-13-2012

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Gospel of the Penniless, Jobless, Marginalized and Despised

James Cone’s Gospel of the Penniless, Jobless, Marginalized and Despised

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_gospel_of_the_peniless_jobless_marginalized_and_despised_20120109/

Posted on Jan 9, 2012

By Chris Hedges

“The Cross and the Lynching Tree are separated by nearly two thousand years,” James Cone writes in his new book, “The Cross and the Lynching Tree.” “One is the universal symbol of the Christian faith; the other is the quintessential symbol of black oppression in America. Though both are symbols of death, one represents a message of hope and salvation, while the other signifies the negation of that message by white supremacy. Despite the obvious similarities between Jesus’ death on the cross and the death of thousands of black men and women strung up to die on a lamppost or tree, relatively few people, apart from the black poets, novelists, and other reality-seeing artists, have explored the symbolic connections. Yet, I believe this is the challenge we must face. What is at stake is the credibility and the promise of the Christian gospel and the hope that we may heal the wounds of racial violence that continue to divide our churches and our society.”

 

So begins James Cone, perhaps the most important contemporary theologian in America, who has spent a lifetime pointing out the hypocrisy and mendacity of the white church and white-dominated society while lifting up and exalting the voices of the oppressed. He writes out of his experience as an African-American growing up in segregated Arkansas and his close association with the Black Power movement. But what is more important is that he writes out of a deep religious conviction, one I share, that the true power of the Christian gospel is its unambiguous call for liberation from forces of oppression and for a fierce and uncompromising condemnation of all who oppress.

Cone, who teaches at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, writes on behalf of all those whom the Salvadoran theologian and martyr Ignacio Ellacuría called “the crucified peoples of history.” He writes for the forgotten and abused, the marginalized and the despised. He writes for those who are penniless, jobless, landless and without political or social power. He writes for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and those who are transgender. He writes for undocumented farmworkers toiling in misery in the nation’s agricultural fields. He writes for Muslims who live under the terror of war and empire in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he writes for us. He understands that until white Americans can see the cross and the lynching tree together, “until we can identify Christ with a ‘recrucified’ black-body hanging from a lynching tree, there can be no genuine understanding of Christian identity in America, and no deliverance from the brutal legacy of slavery and white supremacy.”

“In the deepest sense, I’ve been writing this book all my life,” he said of “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” when we spoke recently. “I put my whole being into it. And did not hold anything back. I didn’t choose to write it. It chose me.

“I started reading about lynching, and reading about the historical situation of the crosses in Rome in the time of Jesus, and then my question was how did African-Americans survive and resist the lynching terror. How did they do it? [Nearly 5,000 African-American men, women and children were lynched in the United States between 1880 and 1940.] To live every day under the terror of death. I grew up in Arkansas. I know something about that. I watched my mother and father deal with that. But the moment I read about it, historically, I had to ask, how did they survive, how did they keep their sanity in the midst of that terror? And I discovered it was the cross. It was their faith in that cross, that if God was with Jesus, God must be with us, because we’re up on the cross too. And then the other question was, how could white Christians, who say they believe that Jesus died on the cross to save them, how could they then turn around and put blacks on crosses and crucify them just like the Romans crucified Jesus? That was an amazing paradox to me. Here African-Americans used faith to survive and resist, and fight, while whites used faith in order to terrorize black people. Two communities. Both Christian. Living in the same faith. Whites did lynchings on church grounds. How could they do it? That’s where [my] passion came from. That’s where the paradox came from. That’s where the wrestling came from.

“Many Christians embrace the conviction that Jesus died on the cross to redeem humankind from sin,” he said. “Taking our place, they say, Jesus suffered on the cross and gave his life as a ransom for many. The cross is the great symbol of the Christian narrative of salvation. Unfortunately, during the course of 2,000 years of Christian history, the symbol of salvation has been detached from the ongoing suffering and oppression of human beings, the crucified people of history. The cross has been transformed into a harmless, non-offensive ornament that Christians wear around their necks. Rather than reminding us of the cost of discipleship, it has become a form of cheap grace, an easy way to salvation that doesn’t force us to confront the power of Christ’s message and mission.”

Cone’s chapter on Reinhold Niebuhr, the most important Christian social ethicist of the 20th century and a theologian whose work Cone teaches, exposes Niebuhr’s blindness to and tacit complicity in white oppression. Slavery, segregation and the terror of lynching have little or no place in the theological reflections of Niebuhr or any other white theologian. Niebuhr, as Cone points out, had little empathy for those subjugated by white colonialists. Niebuhr claimed that North America was a “virgin continent when the Anglo-Saxons came, with a few Indians in a primitive state of culture.” He saw America as being elected by God for the expansion of empire and, as Cone points out, “he wrote about Arabs of Palestine and people of color in the Third World in a similar manner, offering moral justification for colonialism.”

Cone reprints a radio dialogue between Niebuhr and writer James Baldwin that took place after the September 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., that killed four girls. Niebuhr, who spoke in the language of moderation that infuriated figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Baldwin, was disarmed by Baldwin’s eloquence and fire.

Baldwin said:

The only people in this country at the moment who believe either in Christianity or in the country are the most despised minority in it. … It is ironical … the people who were slaves here, the most beaten and despised people here … should be at this moment … the only hope this country has. It doesn’t have any other. None of the descendants of Europe seem to be able to do, or have taken it on themselves to do, what Negros are now trying to do. And this is not a chauvinistic or racial outlook. It probably has something to do with the nature of life itself. It forces you, in any extremity, any extreme, to discover what you really live by, whereas most Americans have been for so long, so safe and so sleepy, that they don’t any longer have any real sense of what they live by. I think they really think it may be Coca-Cola.

“If Niebuhr could ignore it, there must be something defective in that faith itself,” Cone said. “If it weren’t defective, then they wouldn’t put black people on crosses. Niebuhr wouldn’t have been silent about it. I look around and see the same thing happening today in the prison industrial complex. You can lynch people by more than just hanging them on the tree. You can incarcerate them. How long will this terror last? I’m Christian. Suffering gives rise to faith. It helps you deal with it. But at the same time, suffering contradicts the faith that it gave rise to. It is like Jacob wrestling with the angel. I can’t give up with the wrestling.”

Cone wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Swiss theologian Karl Barth. But Barth, he admits, never moved him deeply. Cone found his inspiration in the black church, along with writers such as Baldwin, Albert Camus and Richard Wright, as well as the great blues artists of his youth. These artists and writers, not the white theologians, he said, gave him “a sense of awe.” He saw that “for most blacks it was the blues and religion that offered the chief weapons of resistance.” It was religion and the blues that “offered sources of hope that there was more to life than what one encountered daily in the white man’s world.” In the words of great poets and writers, in the verses of the great blues singers and in the thunderous services of the black church, not in the words of white theologians, Cone discovered those who were able to confront the bleak circumstances of their lives and yet defy fate and suffering to make the most of what little life had offered them. He had through these connections found his own voice, one that was powerfully expressed in his first work, the 1969 manifesto “Black Theology & Black Power.” Cone understood that “when people do not want to be themselves, but somebody else, that is utter despair.” And he knew that his faith “was the one thing white people could not control or take away.”

He quotes the bluesman Robert Johnson:

I got to keep movin’, I got to keep movin’,
Blues fallin’ down like hail
And the day keeps on worrin’ me,
There’s a hellhound on my trail.

“I wanted to go back to study literature and get a Ph.D. in that at the University of Chicago in the 1960s and do it with Nathan Scott [who was then teaching theology and literature at the University of Chicago],” he said. “But the freedom movement was too urgent. I said to myself, ‘You have a Ph.D., if you ain’t got nothing to say now, you ain’t never going to have anything to say.’ I’ve never taught a course on Barth.

“I like people who talk about the real, concrete world,” he said. “And unless I can feel it in my gut, in my being, I can’t say it. The poor help me to say it. The literary people help me to say it—Baldwin is my favorite. Martin King is the next. Malcolm is the third element of my trinity. The poets give me energy. Theologians talk about things removed, way out there. They talk to each other. They give each other degrees. The real world is not there. So that is why I turn to the poets. They talk to the people.

“Being Christian is like being black,” Cone said. “It’s a paradox. You grow up. You wonder why they treat you like that. And yet at the same time my mother and daddy told me ‘don’t hate like they hate. If you do, you will self-destruct. Hate only kills the hater, not the hated.’ It was their faith that gave them the resources to transcend the brutality and see the real beauty. It’s a mystery. It’s a mystery how African-Americans, after two and half centuries of slavery, another century of lynching and Jim Crow segregation, still come out loving white people. Now, most white people don’t think I love them, but I do. They always feel strange when I say that. You see, the deeper the love, the more the passion, especially when the one you love hurt you. Your brothers and sisters, and yet they treat you like the enemy. The paradox is, is that in spite of all that, African-Americans are the only people who’ve never organized to take down this nation. We have fought. We have given our lives. No matter what they do to us, we still come out whole. Still searching for meaning. I think the resources for that are in the culture and in the religion that is associated with that. That faith and that culture, it was the blues of the spiritual; that faith and that culture gives African-Americans a sense that they are not what white people say they are.”

Cone sees the cross as “a paradoxical religious symbol because it inverts the world’s value system with the news that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, that the last shall be first and the first last.” This idea, he points out, is absurd to the intellect, “yet profoundly real in the souls of black folk.” The crucified Christ, for those who are crucified themselves, manifests “God’s loving and liberating presence in the contradictions of black life—that transcendent presence in the lives of black Christians that empowered them to believe that ultimately, in God’s eschatological future, they would not be defeated by the ‘troubles of the world,’ no matter how great and painful their suffering.” Cone elucidates this paradox, what he calls “this absurd claim of faith,” by pointing out that to cling to this absurdity was possible only when one was shorn of power, when one was unable to be proud and mighty, when one understood that he was not called by God to rule over others. “The cross was God’s critique of power—white power—with powerless love, snatching victory out of defeat.”

“It’s like love,” he said. “It’s something you cannot articulate. It’s self-evident in its own living. And I’ve seen it among many black Christians who struggle, particularly in the civil rights movement. They know they’re going to die. They know they’re not going to win in the obvious way of winning. But they have to do what they gonna do because the reality that they encounter in that spiritual moment, that reality is more powerful than the opposition, than that which contradicts it. People respond to what empowers them inside. It makes them know they are somebody when the world treats them as nobody. When you can do that, when you can act out of that spirit, then you know there is a reality that is much bigger than you. And that’s, that’s what black religion bears witness to in all of its flaws. It bears witness to a reality that empowers people to do that which seems impossible. I grew up with that. I really don’t ever remember wishing I was white. I may have, but I really don’t remember. It’s because the reality of my own community was so strong, that that was more important than the material things I saw out there. Their [African-Americans’] music, their preaching, their loving, their dancing—everything was much more interesting.

“How do a people know that they are not what the world says they are when they have so few social, economic and political reasons in order to claim that humanity?” he asked. “So few political resources. So few economic, educational resources to articulate the humanity. How do they still claim, and be able to see something more than what the world says about them? I think it’s in that culture and it’s in the faith that is inseparable from that culture. That’s why I call the blues secular spirituals. They are a kind of resource, a cultural and mysterious resource that enables a people to express their humanity even though they don’t have many resources intellectually and otherwise to express it. Baldwin only finished high school. Wright only the ninth grade. But he still had his say. And B.B. King never got out of grade school. And Louis Armstrong hardly went to school at all. Now, I said to myself, if Louis could blow a trumpet like that, forget it, I’m gonna write theology the way Louis Armstrong blows that trumpet. I want to reach down for those resources that enable people to express themselves when the world says that you have nothing to say.

“People who resist create hope and love of humanity,” he said. “The civil rights was a mass movement, but a movement defined by love. You always have both sides. You have bad faith and good faith. I like to write about the good faith. I like to write about faith that resists. I like to write about faith that empowers. I like to write about faith that enables people to look another in the eye and tell ’em what you think. I remember growing up in Arkansas. There were a lot of masks. I wore a mask in Arkansas as a child, not in my own community but when I went down to the white people’s town. I knew what they could do to you. But I kept saying to myself, ‘One of these days I’m gonna say what I think to white people and make up for lost time,’ and so the last 40-something years that’s what I been doing. I write to encourage African-Americans to have that inner resource in order to have your say and to say it as clearly, as forcefully, and as truthfully as you can. Not all would be able to do that ’cause white people have a lot of power.

“Now white churches are empty Christ churches,” he said. “They ain’t the real thing. They just lovin’ each other. That’s all, that’s all that is: socializin’ with each other, that’s what they do most of the time. You seldom go to a church that has any diversity to it. Now how can that be Christian? God was in Christ reconciling the world unto God’s self. Well, it’s in white churches that God and Christ separated us from white people. That’s what they say. And I’m sayin’ as long as you are silent and say nothin’ about it, as Reinhold Niebuhr did, say nothin’, you are just as guilty as the one who hung him on the tree because you were silent just like Peter. Now if you are silent, you are guilty. If you are gonna worship somebody that was nailed to a tree, you must know that the life of a disciple of that person is not going to be easy. It will make you end up on that tree. And so in this sense, I just want to say that we have to take seriously the faith or else we will be the opposite of what it means.

“My momma and daddy did not have my opportunity, so when I write and speak, I try to write and speak for them,” he said. “They not here. They never had a chance to stand before white people and tell ’em what they think. I gotta do it somehow. I try to do that all over the world. I think of Lucy Cone and Charlie Cone, and of all the other Lucy Cones and Charlie Cones that’s out there who cannot speak. I think of them. I don’t think of myself, I think of them. It deepens my spirituality. It gives me something to hold on to, that I can feel and touch. It’s a very spiritual experience, because you are doin’ something for people you love who cannot and will never have a chance to speak in a context like this. So, why do I need to speak for myself? I need to speak for them. If you feel passion in my voice, you feel energy in this text, that’s because I was thinkin’ of Lucy and Charlie, my daddy, and my mama. And as long as I do that, I’ll stay on the right track.”

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Judgment Day For Our Culture? Leonardo Boff

Judgment Day For Our Culture?

Leonardo Boff

Theologian
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
12-30-2011

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No Grief is Necessary

Remembering the Montreal Massacre (with thanks to Brigid for the poem):  Dec 6, 2011

No Grief is Necessary

You grieve where no grief is necessary.
The wise-hearted mourn neither for the living
Nor for the dead.
You and I and all who have
Come to be here have always been
And will never cease to be.

Beyond birth and death are the spirit.
Death does not touch it,
Though the house of the spirit seems to die.

The end of birth is death;
The end of death is birth. As it is so ordained,
What is there to bring sorrow?

From a traditional Hindu story.

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The Great Perversity by Leonardo Boff

The Great Perversity

Leonardo Boff

Theologian – Nov 25, 2011
Earthcharter Commission

 To solve the economic-financial crises of Greece and Italy, by demand of the European Central Bank, governments have been formed that are composed purely of technocrats, without the participation of a single politician. They start from the illusion that it is all about an economic problem, that must be resolved through economics. But those who understand only economics, end up not even understanding economics. The crisis is not from having mishandled economics, but ethics and humanity. Both are closely related to politics. Therefore, the first lesson of basic Marxism is to understand that economics is not just mathematics and statistics, but a chapter of politics. A great part of Marx’s work is devoted to divorcing political economics from capital. When a crisis much like the present occurred in England, and a government of technocrats was created, Marx criticized it harshly, mocking it with irony, because he foresaw total failure, and that is what followed. The poison that created a crisis cannot be used to cure it.

People from the highest levels of finance have been called upon to lead the governments of both Greece and Italy. The banks and stock markets caused the present crisis, that has almost destroyed the whole economic system. These gentlemen are like fundamentalist Talibans: they believe in good faith in the dogma of free markets and the role of the stock markets. Where in the universe is it that greed is good, and that it is good to covet, are proclaimed as the ideal? How can one make a virtue out of a vice (and, let us also say it, from a sin)? They sat in New York’s Wall Street and in the City of London. They are not the foxes that guard the chickens, but those who devour them. With their manipulations they transferred great fortunes to a very few hands, and when the crisis exploded, they were helped out with thousands of millions of dollars taken from the workers and retirees. Barack Obama appeared weak, bowing more to them than to the civil society. They continued the party with the money they received, because the promised regulations of the financial markets became a dead letter. Millions are unemployed and in a precarious state, especially the young, who are filling the streets, indignant, rising against greed, social inequality and the cruelty of capital.

Can it be that people whose minds were formed by the catechism of purely neoliberal thinking are going to lead Greece and Italy out of this mess? What is happening is that an entire society is being sacrificed on the altar of the banks and the financial system.

Since the majority of those in the establishment do not think (they don’t need to think) we will attempt to understand the crisis through the light of two thinkers who, in the same year, 1944, in the United States, gave us an illuminating clue. The first was the Hungarian-Canadian philosopher and economist Karl Polanyi, with his classic work, The Great Transformation. What does it consist of? It consist of the dictatorship of economics. After the Second World War, that helped overcome the Great Depression of 1929, capitalism achieved a master stroke: it annulled politics, sent ethics into exile and imposed a dictatorship of economics. Since then, there has been only a society of market, rather than, as it was before, a society with market. Economics structures everything and turns everything into merchandise, ruled by cruel competition and shameless profiteering. This transformation has destroyed the social bonds, and widened the gap between rich and poor within each country, and at the international level.

The other is Max Horkheimer, a philosopher from the Frankfurt school, exiled in the United States, who wrote Eclipse of Reason (1947). There he sets forth the reasons for Polanyi’s The Great Transformation, that fundamentally consist of the following: reason no longer seeks truth and the meaning of things, but has been sequestered by the process of production and lowered to a mere instrumental function, «transformed into a simple tedious mechanism to register facts». He laments that «justice, equality, happiness, and tolerance, which for centuries have been deemed inherent in reason, have lost their intellectual roots». When a society eclipses reason, it becomes blind, loses the meaning of togetherness, and finds itself stuck in the swamp of individual or corporative interests. That is what we see in the present crisis. The most humanist Nobel laureates for economics, Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, have written repeatedly that the Wall Street players should be jailed, as thieves and bandits.

Today, in Greece and in Italy, The Great Transformation has acquired another name: The Great Perversity.

 

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