Written by Brazilian theologian, Leonardo Boff, Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor opens by reminding its readers of a somber reality—mother-earth is sick. This diagnosis is not due to some geophysical phenomenon ordained to destroy our terrestrial homeland from its deepest innards beyond the stratosphere. Contemporary, western notions of progress have long skirted our holistic entity—animal-nature-earth-cosmos—in favor of gilded economics and politics, fast-tracking the devastation of life-sustaining elements.
Boff explains how Liberation Theology provides a religious inspired antithesis to a hyper-capitalist state of affairs benefitting, first and foremost, an elite minority class. He proposes that the same socioeconomic malfeasances jeopardizing life on earth are also responsible for plunging hordes of humans into a state of perpetual suffering and poverty. This is the point where his two distinct arguments—ecological awareness and poverty—merge. Modern (consumerist) civilization, defined and promoted by a conglomerate of western nations, has proven to be a predatory archetype that disproportionately extracts the fruits of mother-earth, debilitating and throwing off-track her perfected equilibrium. Also, the same human hand of modernity has created a world where a poverty stricken majority must contend for scraps left by an elite, wealthy minority. According to Boff, this antisocial panorama is the result of individual and collective disassociations to nature, a failure in creativity by modern societies to nurture people who view themselves as being parts of a greater whole. No longer treated with reverence and care, the world beyond the human body, inevitably, decays rapidly.
Countering a world in which humans are prone to view themselves as being supreme, Boff offers a divine-philosophical theology founded upon mutual interdependence. In this realm, human presence on earth is not projected onto a pedestal of preeminence. Ecology is placed in multiple spheres ranging from the divine, philosophical, mental, and social. Consequently, the only way that we can reconnect with the divine creation, helping to usher in social justice globally, is through conscious adherence to the manifestations of nature and the cosmos. Until we rekindle that spirit of holistic unity, subsuming our desire to be primary, universal agents and accepting a more complementary role, the current state of political and economic affairs will continue to deplete natural resources, pollute, and exacerbate levels of global poverty.
Boff’s analysis transposes Liberation Theology to a new paradigm that can be described as Liberation Ecology. It suggests that human relations be reorganized in accordance to many indigenous epistemologies that have long been ignored by the get-rich scheme of modernity. Only then will we be able to seriously address the issue of global poverty.
First published in the English in 1997 by Orbis Books, Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor, is a vital reread in this day and age for it links poverty with the greater question of ecology. By bringing the concept of nature and cosmos as a preeminent species-being to the forefront, Boff doesn’t emphasis human quagmires as being the central aspect of suffering. Mother-earth is very much alive. Without her where would capitalism, socialism, and communism or any other –ism exist? Where would social justice and economic equality exist? Certainly we can imagine and continue to struggle for a more egalitarian society. However, the question of our incessant consumption, pollution, and how we allocate earth’s natural resources, would still remain.
Jun Cola is a translator based in Brazil, who has translated everything from Marvel Comics to academic papers, travel & tourism magazines to fiction, real estate contracts to poetry, and then some. Jun is working on bringing Brazilian voices to the world stage.