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Leonardo Boff. Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor.

Boff CryLeonardo Boff. Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor.

Maryknoll: Orbis, 1997. Pages, xii +242. Paper, $22.00.

Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor presents a new insight in theological thinking. Boff connects the cry of the Earth’s oppressed and marginalized with the cry of the Earth itself. His background in Latin American liberation theology gives him a unique perspective with which to address this blending of ecology and theology.

Boff offers two opposing paradigms that co-exist in our world. The dominant paradigm has been operative since the beginning of Western civilization. It assumes that the human person stands above rather than alongside things in order to turn them into objects of our own progress. This paradigm has brought us to the present crisis of both mass poverty and ecological disaster. The ultimate root of this crisis is “the ongoing disruption of the basic connectedness with the whole of the universe and with its Creator that the human being has introduced, fueled and perpetuated” (p. 81). We have failed to see ourselves as part of a larger whole. Boff argues that a new paradigm is emerging; however, a paradigm which centers on the notion of connectedness, and involves “engaging in dialogue with all beings and their relationships” (p. 11). Humans, he states, should see themselves as connected to all of life, not simply the rest of humanity.

Boff offers an in-depth look at a specific place where the violence of this ecological crisis is made manifest, the Amazon. The tale of mass destruction being forced upon this amazing creation is helpful in gaining insight into the comprehensive thesis which Boff develops. He explains, “There we see in unvarnished form the pursuit of bigness by the spirit of modernity, the rationalizing of the irrational, and the crystal-clear logic of the system” (p. 86). In the last several decades, projects in the Amazon have severely damaged the ecology and displaced indigenous peoples of the region. Such projects have contributed to the creation of slums, the clearing of hundreds of millions of acres of land, the loss of life, and the brutal murder of many indigenous persons. The descriptions of these shortsighted projects that have ignored their ecological ramifications help the reader understand the absolute relevance of Boff’s claims. His passionate example paints a vivid picture of the need for conversion on the part of humanity if we and Earth are to survive.

Yet hope prevails as Boff strongly asserts the presence of another way of looking at the universe that rises above such domination. Absolutely central to this notion is a return to a sense of connectedness. He emphasizes the fact that the universe, the Earth-system, and the human phenomenon are dynamic wholes and in order to do justice to this wholeness, we need to work toward synthesis and not only simplification.

The notion of cosmogenesis, God’s ongoing creation and presence in the universe, is central to Boff’s thought, and is used as a tool against the anthropocentric tendencies of the dominant paradigm. Boff describes  the awareness of God beginning first in the universe itself, and moving through the galaxy, the solar system, then onto Earth, and becoming conscious in the human being. In so doing, he affirms the believe that God is, in fact, the One who set in motion the universe, the very origin of all that is. A salient connection he makes is between the relational nature of God, expressed in the Trinity and the relational nature of our own connectedness. He describes the Cosmic Christ and the centrality of resurrection for the hopes of a different future.

Boff sees the human person as central in this ongoing creation of the universe. The consciousness of the human person makes him or her unique and unrepeatable, and to each person we should respond with “admiration, reverence, openness, and attentiveness” (p. 60). Yet, at the same time, Boff emphasizes the smallness of the human person in comparison to the vastness of the universe. I wonder if Boff takes a risk here, in presenting a theology that in some ways de-emphasizes the human person, especially in the context from which he writes. In one example, he shrinks the Creation of the universe until the present into one year, indicating that Christ would have been born in the last seconds of December 31. Current generations, then, are situated within milliseconds of the close of the year. I question how this thinking will affect the human person’s ability to see ourselves as creative agents in our current ecological system as well as our own lives. Will the human person’s need to see ourselves as connected to the universe jeopardize our ability to act responsibly within it? Certainly this is not Boff’s aim and his view of the human person stands contrary to this thinking. One might also argue that humanity has not acted responsibly to this point, so how could we lose? Yet it seems that there is a risk that the human person be left to feel even less than significant in a vast and unending universe.

Boff also looks at the relationship between liberation theology and ecology, comparing and contrasting their emphases. He concludes that liberation theology and ecological thought need and have much to offer one another. Dialogue between the two could increase our understanding of liberation, since we would seek not only the liberation of the poor in our world and the structures that oppress them, but the liberation of the Earth. According to Boff, the starting point for liberation theology should be redefined to hold up the supreme value, which is the preservation of planet Earth and the upholding of conditions for the fulfillment of the human species. Recognizing the importance of affirming the option for the world’s poor, he challenges theology and humanity to reach a self-understanding of humans as family with other species, and part of a community that includes both the planet and the cosmos.

Overall, Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor is well written and thoughtful, reclaiming of our connectedness with the universe, Earth and the poor of God’s creation. My hope is that it will serve as an ongoing call to conversation and reconciliation  for all persons, as we would do well to heed its hope-filled message.

Kristi Gonsalves