the mission of the church

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By LEONARDO BOFF*

In defense of a Samaritan Church and caregiver of life

Before approaching this topic, I intend to make two observations: (i) what message does Mother Earth want to communicate to us with the intrusion of the Coronavirus, which still persists with other aspects?; (ii) the confrontation of two civilizational paradigms: the dominus and the frater: what does it mean for the current widespread crisis?

Let's go to the first observation: in addition to vaccines and all precautions against the spread of the virus, we must ask ourselves: where does the virus come from? Everything seems to indicate that the virus is a counter-attack from Mother Earth as a result of the secular aggression that the industrialist process, the big corporations with their leaders, have done to it, devastating entire ecosystems based on the accumulation of material goods.

We have touched the Earth's ecological limits to the point where we need more than one and a half planets to meet consumption and especially the sumptuous consumerism of a small portion of humanity. Mother Earth wants to tell us: stop this kind of violent relationship against me, I give you everything you need to live every day. Otherwise, other more harmful viruses will come and eventually the Great Virus (The Next Big One) against which vaccines will be ineffective and much of the biosphere could be dangerously affected. Or other extreme events will come, such as great ecological and social catastrophes.

Everything indicates that this message is not being heard by the heads of state, leaders of large multinational corporations and the population in general. If they heard it, they would have to change their mode of production, make absurd profits and renounce their privileges.

It must be recognized that Covid-19 fell like a low meteor on neoliberal capitalism, dismantling its mantras: profit, private accumulation, competition, individualism, consumerism, minimal state and privatization of business and public goods. However, it unequivocally raised the dilemma: is profit or life worth more? Should we save the economy or save human lives? If we had followed such mantras, we would all be in danger.

What saved us was what capitalism lacks: the centrality of life, solidarity, cooperation, interdependence among all, generosity and mutual care for each one's life and for nature.

Second observation: The current sanitary, ecological, social, political and spiritual chaos is the unfolding of the paradigm that dominated the last three centuries of our history, now globalized. The founding fathers of seventeenth-century modernity understood the human being as the dominus: maître et possesseur (René Descartes) of nature and not as part of it. For them, the Earth has no purpose and nature has no value in itself, only ordered by human beings who can dispose of it at will.

This paradigm changed the face of the Earth, brought undeniable benefits, but in their eagerness to dominate everything they created the principle of self-destruction, of themselves and of nature with chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. The end of the world is no longer a matter of God, but of the human being who has appropriated his own death. We have reached such a point that the UN Secretary-General, António Guterrez, recently said at the COP in Egypt on the change of climate regime due to global warming that grows unexpectedly: “Either we make a climate alliance or an alliance of collective suicide” .

Faced with the paradigm of domain, Pope Francis in the aforementioned encyclical Fratelli tutti proposes another paradigm: brother, that of brother and sister, that of universal fraternity and social friendship (n. 6; 128). It shifts the center: from a technical-industrial, anthropocentric and individualistic civilization to a civilization of solidarity, preservation and care of all life.

We know from scientific data that all living beings share the same basic genetic code, the 20 amino acids and the same four nitrogenous bases, from the most primitive cell of 3,8 billion years, passing through dinosaurs, horses and legacy. This is why we are actually, not rhetorically or mystically, brothers and sisters. This is reaffirmed by Earth Charter, as well as the two ecological encyclicals of Pope Francis.

These two paradigms are today highly confronted. Following the paradigm of the lord and owner who uses power to dominate everything, even the last dimensions of matter and life, we are certainly heading towards an ecological armageddon, with the risk of exterminating life on Earth. It would be just punishment for the offenses and injuries we have inflicted on Mother Earth for centuries and centuries. It will continue its course around the sun, but without us.

With the shift to the paradigm of frater, of the brother and sister, a window of salvation opens. We are going to overcome the apocalyptic vision of the threat of the end of the human species, to a vision of hope, that we can and should change course and actually be brothers and sisters within the same Common Home, including nature. It would be a glory to live and live with the Andean ideal, of well live in harmony among humans and with all of nature.

 

The action of the Church

This is the context in which the Church's action must be situated, which intends to be Samaritan and caretaker of everything that exists and lives.

Pope Francis of Rome, inspired by the other Francis, that of Assisi, realized the seriousness of the dramatic situation of the Earth-system and of the life-system. He formulated an answer. At Laudato Si: how to care for our Common Home, invited everyone to a global ecological conversion” (n. 5), also “to a passion for caring for the world”…”a mystique that encourages us, drives us, encourages and gives meaning to personal action and community” (n. 216). At the Fratelli tutti he was even more radical: “we are in the same boat, either we all save ourselves or nobody will be saved” (n. 32).

I believe that the elements of Pope Francis' two ecological encyclicals can serve as inspiration.

The first thing is for the mission to be a Samaritan and a lifelong caregiver. But where to start? Here the Pope reveals his basic attitude, often repeated in meetings with social movements, whether in Santa Cruz de la Sierra in Bolivia or even in Rome: “Do not expect anything from above because there is always more of the same or even worse; start with yourselves", "from below, from each one of you, to fight for what is most concrete and local, to the last corner of the country and the world" (Brothers n. 78). The Pope suggests what is today at the forefront of the global ecological discussion: working the territory, the bioregionalism that allows true sustainability, with agroecology, a popular and participatory democracy that humanizes communities and articulates the local with the universal (Brothers n.147).

Hand in hand with the parable of the good Samaritan, it makes a rigorous analysis of the various characters that appear on the scene and applies them to political economy, culminating in the question: “with whom do you identify (with the wounded man on the road, with the priest , with the Levite or with the foreigner, the Samaritan, despised by the Jews? This question is hard, direct and decisive. Which one do you resemble?” (Brothers n. 64). The Good Samaritan becomes a model of social and political love (n. 66).

As never before in history, the Church, whether local or universal, must show itself to be Samaritan because millions and millions have fallen on the roads, like the 33 million people who starve in Brazil or die of diseases caused by hunger. It is cruel to note that 1% of humanity owns more wealth than 4,6 billion people. They are cruel and merciless.

The Churches have shown themselves to be Samaritan, especially with the most vulnerable. An immense wave of solidarity has manifested itself in Christian movements that have offered hundreds of tons of agroecological products and millions of plates of food to the marginalized on the outskirts of cities.

Interestingly, Pope Francis, in the arc of the new paradigm of universal fraternity and social love. it gives a political meaning to dimensions that have always been treated in the field of subjectivity, such as tenderness, care and kindness. He states that “in politics there is a place for tender love: for the smallest, the weakest, the poorest; they must soften us and have the 'right' to fill our soul and our heart; yes, they are our brothers and sisters and as such we must love and treat them as such” (Brothers n. 194).

He asks himself what tenderness is and answers: “it is love that becomes close and concrete; it is a movement that comes from the heart and reaches the eyes, the ears, the hands” (n. 196). Likewise, he defines kindness in its political aspect, which means “a state of mind that is not hard, harsh, rude, but affable, gentle, supportive and comforting. The person who possesses this quality helps others to make their existence more bearable” (Brothers n. 223). This is a challenge for politicians, addressed also to bishops and priests: to make a revolution of tenderness. Likewise, he sees solidarity as a way of “taking care of human frailty” (Brothers n.115).

The essence of the Church, whose roots are found in the communion of the three divine Persons, resides in the communion and not in sacred powers. Pope Francis, especially in Laudato Si, translates in terms of modern ecology and quantum physics: a common thread runs throughout the text, sustaining “that everything is related and nothing exists outside the relationship” (Laudato Si n. 117; 120).

The Church's mission is to build bridges, affective bridges between everyone and with nature. It is to rebuild the relationships broken by the individualism of the culture of capital. In fact, bioanthropology and evolutionary psychology have made it clear that the specific essence of human beings is to cooperate and relate to everyone. There is no selfish gene, formulated by Dawkins in the late 60s of the last century without any empirical basis. All genes are interrelated with each other and within cells. In this sense, individualism, the supreme value of capital culture, is unnatural and has no biological support.

Another fundamental point of the Samaritan mission of the Church is the care of all creation. Essential care belongs to all living beings and, according to the ancient fable of care, of the slave Hyginus, deepened by Martin Heideger in Being and Time, care is part of the human essence without which no one would survive.

Care is also a cosmological constant: the four forces that sustain the universe (gravitational, electromagnetic, weak nuclear and strong nuclear) act synergistically with extreme care, without which we would not be here reflecting on these things.

Care presupposes a friendly relationship of life, protective of all beings because it sees them as a value in itself, independent of human use. It was carelessness with nature, devastating it, that caused the viruses to lose their habitat, preserved for thousands of years, and pass on to human beings. Ecofeminism made a significant contribution to the preservation of life and nature with the ethics of care, because care acquires a special density in women.

Another fundamental point in the mission of the Church is solidarity. It is at the heart of our humanity and in itself is an ecclesiological value, as can be seen in the communities of the early Church.

Bioanthropologists have revealed to us that when our anthropoid ancestors searched for their food, they didn't eat it alone. They took them into the group and served everyone starting with the youngest, then the oldest, then everyone else. Hence came the commensality and a sense of cooperation and solidarity. It was solidarity that allowed us to make the leap from animality to humanity. What was valid yesterday is also valid today.

This solidarity does not exist only among humans. It is another cosmological constant: all beings coexist, are involved in networks of relationships of reciprocity and solidarity so that everyone can help each other to live and co-evolve. Even the weakest, with the collaboration of others, survive, have their place in the group of beings and co-evolve.

The capital system does not know solidarity, only competition that produces tensions, rivalries and the true destruction of other competitors based on greater accumulation. Today humanity's biggest problem is not economic, political, cultural or religious, but the lack of solidarity with the other human beings who are by our side. Capitalism does not love people, only their capacity for production and consumption.

As Christians, following Jesus, we must make the fact of essential solidarity a conscious choice: solidarity from the last and invisible, from those who do not count for the current system and are considered as economic zeros, expendable. Here lies the spiritual and theological basis of Liberation Theology, whose central axis is the option for the poor, against their poverty and in favor of their liberation.

What is the social project dreamed of by Pope Francis, based on universal fraternity and social love? What results from his texts and pronouncements is a “biocentered society”. Life with all its diversity is no longer central. Economy and politics are at your service so that this life is maintained on Earth, the Earth is understood as a living and generous Mother.

All of this cannot just be an intellectually formulated project with all the technical and scientific resources at our disposal. We have to incorporate something fundamental: cordial or sensitive reason. It is this type of intelligence that resides in the world of excellence, which moves us and encourages ethics, spirituality and care in such a way that we build an affective bond with Mother Earth, Pachamama or Gaia.

Intellectual reason, important to account for the complexity of our societies, is only about 7-8 million years old. The cordial or sensitive reason is about 2020 million years old and emerged when mammals emerged in the process of evolution. The mother, in giving birth to her creation, loves it, takes care of it and defends it. We humans are rational mammals, full of affection, care and affection for our sons and daughters.

Today this affective dimension is practically absent in technical-scientific processes, typical of our modern paradigm. It is important to enrich intellectual reason with sensitive and cordial reason to lead us to love and care for the Earth and nature. in his encyclical Report Yes, Pope Francis poetically shows this cordial and sensitive motive several times. He sees in San Francisco “the quintessential example of caring… it had a universal heart” (Report Yes n. 10). Elsewhere he says with deep cordiality: “Everything is related and all of us human beings walk together as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage… which also unites us with tenderness with Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother River and Mother Earth" (Report Yes n. 92; 86).

Without rescuing the rights of the heart, we will not commit ourselves to the salvation of the “common people”, nor will we establish an affective bond with Sister Forest, Sister Water, in short, with all the beings of nature of which we are a part. United in heart and mind, we can sustain the project of a biocentric civilization. The next step for humanity is to start shaping this type of civilization, which will be able to guarantee a blessed future for our Common Home, nature included.

I will end with a phrase from the Book of Wisdom, quoted by the Pope in the encyclical Laudato Si (n. 89): “Yes, you love all beings and do not hate anything you have made, if you hated something you would not have created it… you preserve them all, O sovereign lover of life” (Wis 11,24.26). A God who is a passionate lover of life will not allow his sons and daughters to perish so miserably. We hope that there will be substantial changes in humanity's consciousness, in the face of threats that could exterminate it, which will be, in short, "a global ecological conversion" (Report Yes n. 5) and so we will continue to live and shine on this small and radiant planet Earth, our Great Mother and Common Home. Dixit et salvavi animate meam.

*Leonardo Boff He is a theologian, philosopher and writer. Author, among other books, of Ecology: cry of the Earth-cry of the poor (Vozes).

 

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