Querida Amazonia and Latin American eco-theology [ANALYSIS]

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Querida Amazonia and Latin American eco-theology [ANALYSIS]

The attention of most of the world’s media and commentators shortly after the publication of the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Querida Amazonia focused on the issues of celibacy and the diaconate of women. Many people gave a sigh of relief. Pope Francis did not accept the scandalous proposals of “synod fathers”. However, other revolutionary changes – the inclusion and the reaffirmation of the sciences of eco-theology and “Indian” theology with pantheistic and gnostic characteristics as parts of the Magisterium – are ignored.


Both Special Secretary of the Synod on the Amazon Cardinal Michael Czerny and General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri stressed that Francis’s most recent post-synodal apostolic exhortation is a part of the ordinary Magisterium of the Church.


The document Querida Amazonia published on 12th February often refers to the encyclical Laudato Si, the apostolic exhortation Gaudete et exsultate, but, most importantly, to the provisions of Instrumentum laboris (preparatory document) for the Synod on the Amazon. All those writings are permeated with the terminology or sometimes large quotations taken from texts of liberation theologians. This theology emerged in Latin America, where the “practical philosophy” of Antonio Gramsci was adopted quite early on and combined with the teaching of the Church, the Marxist struggle for existence and anti-colonialism.


Gramsci said that the task of the new elites was to communicate a certain kind of ideology to the masses in an attractive way so that it would become the dominant world-view and assume a form of religion in the course of time. This philosophy has found particularly fertile ground in the homeland of Pope Francis.


Shortly after their publication in Italian, Gramsci’s works were translated into Spanish and issued in Argentina by the communist Jose Arico. The Argentinians noticed similarities between Italian fascism and their native Peronism.


Shortly afterwards, in the early 1960s, this notion gained importance in Brazil, although Gramsci himself had been known there much earlier. In 1966, Otto Maria Carpeaux published an article in the Catholic magazine Revista Civilização Brasileira in which he portrayed the Italian communist as a ‘saint martyr’. His philosophy caught on immediately and reigned at philosophical and sociological faculties of secular and later also Catholic universities as early as the 1970s.


Being an inspiration for the new leftist movement and the students’ protests of 1968, Gramsci’s philosophy was perceived as anti-hegemonic and coincided with 17 great decrees of the military dictatorship. The Brazilian saw a potential for an anti-government counter-revolution in it.


But it was in Chile that the left wing and Christian democracy parties interpreted Gramsci’s idea in a specific way and closed ranks in order to overthrow the military junta. A strong representation of liberation theologians formed there, too.


As prominent representatives of the new trend of the theology condemned by the Church, the brothers Leonardo and Clodovis Boff admit that it was formed under the influence of social-economic factors, modernism, the Second Vatican Council and works by such authors as Jacques Maritain, the evolutionist Teilhard de Chardin (condemned by the Church) or Henri de Lubac.


Those theological factors included, above all, the commencement of a dialogue between theology and society in the atmosphere of the intellectual turmoil of the 1960s and the exchange of thoughts between Catholic theology and Protestant theology in Latin America – at the same time, the world was debating on relationships between faith and poverty and between the Gospels and “social justice”.


Although various trends of liberation theology exist today, two of them have a particularly visible impact on the writings of the current pope: the system of the Peruvian theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez, which focuses on the phenomenon of oppression and enslavement, and the system of Leonardo Boff (a historical-cultural trend with scientific and academic inclinations). Francis straightforwardly refers to his works, such as the essay ‘Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor’.


Boff on the renaming of liberation theology and work on the Earth Charter

In August 2016, Leonardo Boff gave a symptomatic interview to Allen White of the Tellus Institute, referring to the relationship between liberation theology and the current ecology of liberation and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.


Boff explains that liberation theology is not a separate discipline, but a different way of practicing theology that draws upon the wisdom of the excluded and fights for ‘social justice’.


‘The opposite of poverty is not wealth but justice. This commitment to action spurred the birth of thousands of ecclesiastical communities, Bible circles, and centers for the defense of human rights, all focused on the rights of the poor, the landless, and the homeless, and the advancement of people of African descent, the indigenous, women, and other marginalized groups. ... This approach is visible in the words and actions of Pope Francis, particularly in his encyclical Laudato Si ... This method of living and thinking faith has helped the Church to better understand the reality of the poor and to shift away from doctrines and rituals. The Church of Liberation helped found political parties such as the Workers’ Party of former president Lula in Brazil that embody the commitment to social change that Jesus viewed as essential to a more just and fraternal society,’ he explained.


Boff flatly asserted that it was not the politics and works of Karl Marx, Johann Baptist Metz, or Jürgen Moltmann that inspired them to get close to the poor. ‘Marx was neither father nor godfather of liberation theology, though he has helped us in fundamental ways. He showed how poverty results from the way society is organized to exploit and oppress the weakest among us, and he called attention to the fact that the ruling classes, in conjunction with certain segments of the Church, manipulated the Christian faith to be a source of passivity rather than a force for indignation, resistance, and liberation.’


According to Boff, the key factor for the development of liberation theology was the activity of Bishop Hélder Câmara, who organised a pastoral meeting of more than 300 bishops for the first time and led to the creation of the National Conference of Bishops. The latter, in turn, developed strategies for social change that became widely adopted, advocating for such things as agrarian reform.


Another significant source was works by Paulo Freire, the author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Education as the Practice of Freedom, which helped to shape the minds of bishops, theologians, and priests. This made it possible for liberation theology to take root in Brazil and soon also in Peru as ‘a foundational concept in the Catholic Church’.


The further part of the interview contains symptomatic words. Boff says that each of us must be freed from the ‘system’ that has oppressed ‘Mother Earth’ and from the specific idea of the conquest of people and the Earth that has been imposed upon us by Newton, Bacon and others since the times of Cartesius. ‘The Earth was no longer viewed as the great Mother, alive and purposeful. Instead, it was reduced to something to be exploited by humans for wealth accumulation. ... This system creates vast economic inequalities as well as political, social, and ethnic injustices. Its political manifestation is liberal democracy, in which freedom is equated with the freedom to exploit nature and accumulate wealth. This system has been imposed worldwide ... Today, we realize that a finite Earth cannot support endless growth that overshoots the Earth’s biophysical limits and threatens long-term human survival and Mother Earth’s bounty.’


Boff explained that ‘the core of liberation theology is the empowerment of the poor to end poverty and achieve the freedom to live a good life.’ He said: ‘In the 1980s, we realized that the logic supporting exploitation of workers was the same as that supporting the exploitation of the earth. Out of this insight, a vigorous liberation eco-theology was born. To make this movement effective, it is important to create a new paradigm rooted in cosmology, biology, and complexity theory. A global vision of reality must always be open to creating new forms of order within which human life can evolve. The vision of James Lovelock [the Gaia hypothesis – AS] and V. I. Vernadsky [the noosphere – AS] helped us see not only that life exists on Earth, but also that Earth itself is a living organism. The human being is the highest expression of Earth’s creation by virtue of our capacity to feel, think, love, and worship.’


Boff admitted that, after his suspension by the Vatican, he had transformed liberation theology into the eco-theology of liberation, which is incredibly popular in the Church today. He also joined the preparation of the UN’s Earth Charter for the Earth Summit 1992 in Rio, which promoted the ideology of sustainable development.


‘The imposition of silentium obsequiosum in 1985 by the Vatican forbade me from speaking and writing. That is when I began to study ecology, Earth science, and their relation to human activity. This coincided with an invitation to participate in a small, international group convened by Mikhail Gorbachev and Steven Rockefeller to explore universal values and principles essential for saving Earth from the multiple threats she faces. I had the opportunity to meet leading scientists while actively participating in drafting a text that significantly inspired Pope Francis’s recent encyclical, Laudato Si’. I was determined to ensure that the views of the Earth Charter would be based on a new paradigm incorporating the interdependency of all creatures—indeed the whole living fabric—and the need for mutual care. This paradigm must extend beyond a purely environmental ecology to an “integral ecology” that includes society, human consciousness, education, daily life, and spirituality,’ he explained.


He added that it would be necessary to adopt ‘the new paradigm for physical reality’ that has emerged from the thinking of Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Stephen Hawking, Brian Swimme, Ilya Prigogine, Humberto Maturana, Christian de Duve and many others ‘who see the universe as a process of cosmogenesis—expanding, self-regenerating orders of increasing complexity. The basic law governing this cosmological vision is that everything has to do with everything else at all times and in all circumstances. ... Knowledge and science are interlinked to form a greater whole. Contrary to the earlier atomized paradigm, this helps us develop a holistic view of a world in continuous motion ...’


According to Boff, the encyclical Laudato Si´ is the fruit of the theological ecology that has developed in recent years in Latin America and indicates ‘relatedness of all with all’, focuses on the poor and the vulnerable, the intrinsic value of every being, the ethics of care and collective responsibility, and, especially, condemns the system that produces the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth.


Boff also explained that the new concept of liberation eco-theology is supposed to unite and build global solidarity in contrast to all religions that ‘show signs of the sickness of fundamentalism’ and contribute to ‘the bloodshed’. Therefore, in his opinion, Dalailama, Desmond Tutu or Pope Francis ‘are clamoring for cooperation among religions and spiritual paths to help overcome the current ecological crisis.’


In the same interview, Boff also suggests that actions being taken by the Pope are aimed at the gradual transformation of religious institutions and the shift of ‘planetary civilization’, which is called the Great Transition, in order to prevent large-scale unrest that will be brought on by the progressive exhaustion of the resources of Earth. ‘The Earth Charter explicitly states, and Pope Francis has repeated, “Common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning. This requires a change in the mind and in the heart. It requires a new sense of global interdependence and universal responsibility to reach a sustainable way of life locally, regionally, nationally and globally.” This is the foundation for a different way of inhabiting the Common Home in which material resources are finite. In contrast, human and spiritual capital are inexhaustible.’


Eco-theology present in Querida Amazonia


Already in Chapter 1 (point 8) of his most recent apostolic exhortation Querida Amazonia, writing about ‘A Social Dream’, the Pope refers – although not directly – to Boff and other eco-theologians, appealing for ‘good living’ for the peoples of the Amazon region and a ‘true ecological approach’ being always a social approach that must ‘integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor’.


In point 17, he indicates: ‘even as we feel this healthy sense of indignation, we are reminded that it is possible to overcome the various colonizing mentalities and to build networks of solidarity and development.’ In point 20, he speaks of a social struggle that assumes ‘a capacity for fraternity, a spirit of human fellowship’. He praises the peoples of the Amazon region for living in accordance with nature and their ‘strong sense of community’. ‘Everything is shared; private areas – typical of modernity – are minimal. Life is a communal journey where tasks and responsibilities are apportioned and shared on the basis of the common good. There is no room for the notion of an individual detached from the community or from the land.’ These human relations are ‘steeped in the surrounding nature, which they feel and think of as a reality that integrates society and culture, and a prolongation of their bodies, personal, familial and communal.’


The Pope does not hesitate to refer to the ‘wisdom of the way of life of the original peoples’ and to repeat after bishops of Ecuador that we need ‘a new social and cultural system which privileges fraternal relations within a framework of acknowledgment and esteem for the different cultures and ecosystems, one capable of opposing every form of discrimination and oppression between human beings.’


The Pope quotes (point 23) his own encyclical Laudato si’, which states that ‘if everything is related, then the health of the society’s institutions has consequences for the environment and the quality of human life’. In point 26, he writes again about ‘struggle’, as if urging the human being to take radical actions: ‘The Amazon region ought to be a place of social dialogue, especially between the various original peoples, for the sake of developing forms of fellowship and joint struggle.’


In point 27, again after Boff, he remarks that ‘dialogue must not only favour the preferential option on behalf of the poor, the marginalized and the excluded, but also respect them as having a leading role to play.’


In the next chapter ‘A Cultural Dream’ (point 32), we read after Instrumentum laboris that indigenous groups have their ‘own form of wisdom’: ‘Each distinct group, then, in a vital synthesis with its surroundings, develops its own form of wisdom. Those of us who observe this from without should avoid unfair generalizations, simplistic arguments and conclusions drawn only on the basis of our own mindsets and experiences.’


In the chapter ‘An Ecological Dream’ (point 41), we read about cosmic existence and the need to take care of the environment. ‘In a cultural reality like the Amazon region, where there is such a close relationship between human beings and nature, daily existence is always cosmic. Setting others free from their forms of bondage surely involves caring for the environment and defending it’.


It is necessary to note the particularly frequent occurrence of the phrase that ‘everything is connected’ and the fragment of point 42 that refers to maintaining bonds: ‘If the care of people and the care of ecosystems are inseparable, this becomes especially important in places where “the forest is not a resource to be exploited; it is a being, or various beings, with which we have to relate”.’


In the same point, he adds: ‘To abuse nature is to abuse our ancestors, our brothers and sisters, creation and the Creator, and to mortgage the future’, and further: ‘The harm done to nature affects those peoples in a very direct and verifiable way, since, in their words, “we are water, air, earth and life of the environment created by God. For this reason, we demand an end to the mistreatment and destruction of mother Earth. The land has blood, and it is bleeding; the multinationals have cut the veins of our mother Earth”.’


In point 48, the Pope speaks of the ‘cry of the Amazon region’ rebelling against the ‘conquest and exploitation of resources’. Point 52 again states that ‘if God calls us to listen both to the cry of the poor and that of the earth, then for us, “the cry of the Amazon region to the Creator is similar to the cry of God’s people in Egypt” (cf. Ex 3:7). It is a cry of slavery and abandonment pleading for freedom.’


In point 53, the Pope criticizes the failure to act resolutely in the defence of the Earth. ‘Frequently we let our consciences be deadened, since “distractions constantly dull our realization of just how limited and finite our world really is”. From a superficial standpoint, we might well think that “things do not look that serious, and the planet could continue as it is for some time. Such evasiveness serves as a license to carrying on with our present lifestyles and models of production and consumption. This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen”.


In point 55, the Pope repeats words about the need to learn from the original peoples how ‘to contemplate the Amazon region’ and to ‘feel intimately a part of it and not only defend it; then the Amazon region will once more become like a mother to us. For “we do not look at the world from without but from within, conscious of the bonds with which the Father has linked us to all beings”.’


The exhortation frequently emphasises the need for profound communion with the forest. In point 56, we read: ‘On the other hand, if we enter into communion with the forest, our voices will easily blend with its own and become a prayer: “as we rest in the shade of an ancient eucalyptus, our prayer for light joins in the song of the eternal foliage”. This interior conversion will enable us to weep for the Amazon region and to join in its cry to the Lord.’


Point 57 states, e.g., that ‘God our Father, who created each being in the universe with infinite love, calls us to be his means for hearing the cry of the Amazon region.’ And further: ‘we believers encounter in the Amazon region a theological locus, a space where God himself reveals himself and summons his sons and daughters.’


In point 58, the Pope regrets that ‘a sound and sustainable ecology, one capable of bringing about change, will not develop unless people are changed, unless they are encouraged to opt for another style of life, one less greedy and more serene, more respectful and less anxious, more fraternal.’


In the part entitled ‘An Ecclesial Dream’, we can read in point 70: ‘For the Church to achieve a renewed inculturation of the Gospel in the Amazon region, she needs to listen to its ancestral wisdom, listen once more to the voice of its elders, recognize the values present in the way of life of the original communities, and recover the rich stories of its peoples.’


Point 71 again refers to the ‘good living’ lived by the Amazon’s peoples: ‘In this regard, the indigenous peoples of the Amazon Region express the authentic quality of life as “good living”. This involves personal, familial, communal and cosmic harmony and finds expression in a communitarian approach to existence, the ability to find joy and fulfilment in an austere and simple life, and a responsible care of nature that preserves resources for future generations. The aboriginal peoples give us the example of a joyful sobriety and in this sense, “they have much to teach us”.’


In point 72, the Pope indicates that ‘we are called “to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them”. Those who live in cities need to appreciate this wisdom and to allow themselves to be “re-educated” in the face of frenzied consumerism and urban isolation. The Church herself can be a means of assisting this cultural retrieval through a precious synthesis with the preaching of the Gospel.’


In point 73, the Pope again refers to the interconnection of all things: ‘Certainly, we should esteem the indigenous mysticism that sees the interconnection and interdependence of the whole of creation, the mysticism of gratuitousness that loves life as a gift, the mysticism of a sacred wonder before nature and all its forms of life.’


In point 74, we learn that ‘similarly, a relationship with Jesus Christ, true God and true man, liberator and redeemer, is not inimical to the markedly cosmic worldview that characterizes the indigenous peoples, since he is also the Risen Lord who permeates all things.’


In the following point, we read: ‘Given the situation of poverty and neglect experienced by so many inhabitants of the Amazon region, inculturation will necessarily have a markedly social cast, accompanied by a resolute defence of human rights; in this way it will reveal the face of Christ, who “wished with special tenderness to be identified with the weak and the poor”.’


In point 84, the Pope stresses with regard to the sacraments: ‘Nor is there room, in the presence of the poor and forgotten of the Amazon region, for a discipline that excludes and turns people away, for in that way they end up being discarded by a Church that has become a toll-house. Rather, “in such difficult situations of need, the Church must be particularly concerned to offer understanding, comfort and acceptance, rather than imposing straightaway a set of rules that only lead people to feel judged and abandoned by the very Mother called to show them God’s mercy”.’


The Pope refers also to Latin American ‘base communities’ that ‘when able to combine the defence of social rights with missionary proclamation and spirituality, have been authentic experiences of synodality in the Church’s journey of evangelization in the Amazon region.’


A new cosmological paradigm


On 26 January this year, the Corriere della Sera published another interview with Leonardo Boff, who spoke of a ‘new cosmological paradigm’. ‘We are at a historical moment of the Anthropocene, in which the foundations of life and the earth have been deeply shaken. We will either change or die ... Only the Spirit can restore the balance destroyed by human greed. Only thanks to the Spirit can we move from the Anthropocene to the Ecocene: a sustainable vital society open for everyone to life with everyone,’ he explained, referring to deep ecology that contradicts the Magisterium of the Church.


Boff added that, in order to ‘refresh’ theology, it is necessary to take a new look at the world and to study quantum physics, new biology, astrophysics, the theory of chaos and complexity. ‘This path, I say from experience, makes it easier for us to practice theology, because such data immediately reveal God as a mysterious and loving energy that supports the whole and continues the entire cosmogenesis process. The theological category of the Holy Spirit is more appropriate for this new form of theology,’ he explains.


‘The dialogue with ecology and new cosmology forces us to change the paradigm. The paradigm of Western philosophy and theology is Greek. ... It is necessary to change our way of thinking about God, history and the Church,’ he adds.


‘This is exactly the idea of eco-theology: everything is connected and forms a big community of life, the whole nature and universe. And this way of thinking corresponds to the nature of the Holy Spirit.’


The author also added that Pope Francis had introduced ‘a different kind of Church, open as a field hospital where the central point is the chaplaincy of meeting, tenderness and co-existence rather than orthodoxy’.


The Vatican has already described this

For the purpose of assuming an attitude to the apostolic exhortation Querida Amazonia in the light of the teaching of the Church, a very valuable source is the document of the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue “Jesus Christ: The Bearer of the Water of Life. A Christian reflection on the New Age” (2003), which explains the Gaia hypothesis and the cult of ‘Mother Earth’, the ‘holistic paradigm’ and the related threat of totalitarian unity. The document refers to such issues as esoteric spirituality, gnosis, the psychologisation of religion and the sacralisation of psychology, ecologism, global ethics, cosmogenesis and new brotherhood. It also deals with the fight against ‘normality’ and an alternative form of society, with the focus on biocentrism, which is inconsistent with the anthropological vision specified in the Scriptures, with the dream of recreating the human being through the modification of the genetic code, a change of natural rules of sexuality, and with the global government.


The authors write: ‘The perennial philosophical question of the one and the many has its modern and contemporary form in the temptation to overcome not only undue division, but even real difference and distinction, and the most common expression of this is holism, an essential ingredient in New Age and one of the principal signs of the times in the last quarter of the twentieth century. An extraordinary amount of energy has gone into the effort to overcome the division into compartments characteristic of mechanistic ideology, but this has led to the sense of obligation to submit to a global network which assumes quasi-transcendental authority. Its clearest implications are a process of conscious transformation and the development of ecology. The new vision which is the goal of conscious transformation has taken time to formulate, and its enactment is resisted by older forms of thought judged to be entrenched in the status quo. What has been successful is the generalisation of ecology as a fascination with nature and resacralisation of the earth, Mother Earth or Gaia ... The Earth’s executive agent is the human race as a whole, and the harmony and understanding required for responsible governance is increasingly understood to be a global government, with a global ethical framework. The warmth of Mother Earth, whose divinity pervades the whole of creation, is held to bridge the gap between creation and the transcendent Father-God of Judaism and Christianity, and removes the prospect of being judged by such a Being.’


We can also read that ‘the rejection of modernity underlying this desire for change is not new, but can be described as “a modern revival of pagan religions with a mixture of influences from both eastern religions and also from modern psychology, philosophy, science, and the counterculture that developed in the 1950s and 1960s”.’


Agnieszka Stelmach

DATA: 2020-02-26 07:52
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