“This Time There Will Be No Noah’s Ark”

512px-Noahs_Ark.jpgTierramérica recently had an interview with Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff on his thoughts about the COP 16 meeting in Mexico that took place in December. These talks have both been heavily criticized by some and hailed as hope for the future by others. As debates about climate change continue to rage in some circles, Boff argues that the crisis we are facing is one of ultimate consequences. Bolivia was the only country at the meeting not to sign on to the agreement. Here are Boff’s thoughts on that.

Bolivia supports the thesis that the Earth is “Pachamama,” a living organism that must be respected and cared for, not just exploited. It stands in opposition to the dominant vision, which is set in the framework of the economy: selling carbon credits, for example, means granting the right to pollute.

The dominant societies see the Earth as a chest of resources that can be used indefinitely, although now they have to be utilized in a sustainable way, because they are scarce. They don’t recognize the dignity and rights of natural beings, they see them as means of production and their relation is based on utility. These are issues that do not enter into the discussions at Cancún or any other COP.

I would like to do a longer post on this concept of Pachamama, what little of it I understand. I find it interesting to see the difference between the way a country is perceived from a North American, or international perspective compared to the view from within that particular country. I’m no expert on Bolivia, but it is already very clear that it is not accurate to say that the actions of Bolivia’s government or Evo Morales in particular represents all Bolivians. This is certainly the major flaw in democracy, though it may be the best thing going.

That said, I think Boff’s comments resonate with some recent thinking and reading on the intersection of ecology and economics (Ultimate Means and Biophysical Constraint). The view that earth is simply a “chest of resources” objectifies it. This is what makes it possible for us to believe that we can endlessly pillage the chest and it will never affect us, as if we are somehow independent of this spinning blue marble of resources.

I think Boff is right that there is a whole other order of thinking about our relationship with the planet that the structures and Powers cannot comprehend or take into account. It is beyond the scope of their view. This is the domain of the prophetic and the role of the church, to call the world and the Powers into another way of being.

The problem is the relation of the human being with the Earth, because it is a violent relationship, a closed fist… As long as we fail to change this, we are headed for the worst. And this time there is no Noah’s Ark. Either we save ourselves or we all perish.

Not everyone believes this. As I’ve discussed, there are many who believe that technology will be the new Noah’s Ark whether it’s to another planet or inventing the perpetual motion machine. Others simply trust that God will intervene or will perhaps destroy this planet when God creates a “new heaven and new earth.” Therefore saving this planet doesn’t really matter. I’m working on a post about that right now, but I will direct your attention to N.T. Wright’s article in The Green Bible called “Jesus is coming… Plant a tree!” It is an excellent article on why this planet matters in the Christian scheme of the coming kingdom and Jesus’ Second Advent.

Until we are able to see that our relationship with the earth is violent, I don’t think we’ll be able to overcome the problems we face. If the earth is our spouse, then our relationship suffers from serious dysfunctions. There is certainly abuse at work, but just like with domestic violence the abuser justifies his/her actions.

In the end we may be the instrument of God’s judgment on our own actions and beliefs about our relationship to the earth as the consequences implode in on themselves. If we don’t take this reality or possibility seriously, we violate the covenant with God to have dominion, be stewards or care for creation (Independent of which word you prefer or your theology, it seems that we should all agree that we will be held responsible for that which God has given us, as in the Parable of the Talents).

And there are the indigenous peoples, who don’t see the Earth simply as an instrument of production, but rather as an extension of their body, and they need it to uphold their identity.

I read this quote before reading Sharing Possessions which has some interesting connections with the idea that the earth is an extension of our bodies and our identity in relationship to “having” and “owning”. Perhaps I will have to explore this more when I reflect on that text. However, I think what Boff intends here is to direct us back to what homo sapiens knew for millenia before the advent of agriculture. We are intimately and inextricably bound up with our environment. Not only is it a bad idea to try and extricate ourselves from this relationship, it is in all actuality not possible when all is said and done.

4 comments on ““This Time There Will Be No Noah’s Ark”

  1. I like your thoughts here. But I think it is possible to create a ‘Noah’s ark’. Ideally we should be making multiple Arks -nature sanctuaries where humans and nature work in harmony; pieces of land that host the native species of that region and are managed so that all native species thrive. Arks that represent a better way that humans can relate to nature, where instead of objectifying nature as either an idol or a resource box, we become nature’s servant, living to bring justice to God’s kingdom. Where we put the needs of nature above our own, seeking God’s kingdom first and trusting that in doing so he will supply all of our desires.

    While every ‘ark’ location will be subject to the outside degradation that happens in the world around us, nature has an in built resiliency that will be able to withstand much of what goes on around it as long as it has help. And in the end, each sanctuary will be a source of forgiveness in it’s neighborhood, having the capacity for restoration in the larger community.

    The hard part will be in learning how to be good stewards, how to move our minds out of the mental boxes of traditional agriculture while at the same time learning/ maintaining the good from our past. In my attempts I am finding that one of the fundamental changes that I need to make is in how I view food: what I eat and how I fix what I eat needs to change to accommodate the earth, not the earth needs to change to accommodate me. Food is so much a part of our culture and identity. So changing my diet is changing a core part of who I am.


  2. Maria,

    I like your thoughts and ideas for how to deal with the coming changes in a positive way.

    I think Boff’s use of the Ark metaphor intends to point out that the way the flood narrative basically forces a hard reset on the ecosystem (to tiptoe close to mixing metaphors) is not an option anymore. Your suggestion of multiple arks assumes enough people to form these sort of communities/sanctuaries, whereas the flood narrative leaves only one family and a boatload of flora and fauna. Perhaps there are ways we still have an “Ark” mentality (as in a singular grand solution to the problem) when what we need is exactly what you’re suggesting.

    Thanks for your thoughts. Keep ’em coming!



  3. I think one can argue that 2 Peter 2 and 3 endorses an “ark mentality,” and I think one could consider local fellowships to be like “arks.”


    • You’ll have to clarify that some Justin. I don’t think you mean the same thing I do by “ark mentality” considering the passage you reference. If you’re only arguing that Christian communities function in some sense as places to live out another way of being within society (Hauerwas’ resident aliens or alternative societies or any number of other terms used to try and describe it) then I generally agree. However, if you’re advocating escapism or isolationism from the world then I cannot agree.

      Neither of those are what I was thinking of in my comment. I was thinking in the context of Boff’s article that an “ark mentality” would be that there is going to be one grand and final solution to the problems facing us (which is in its own way escapist) and we’re just biding our time until God sets all things right. The concept both you and Maria hint at is one in which we take an active role in living out that reality here and now. If I missed the mark on where you were going with your comments, I would love to here more.

      I will be out until Wednesday or Thursday though visiting Charagua where we may be moving in a few weeks. Until then peace and blessings!


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