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A Missionary of Ignorance

by Leonardo Boff Thursday, Jun. 07, 2007 at 11:49 PM

The king of arrogance and the missionary of ignorance are part of a frozen elite consciousness of fear and indifferent reason where there are no alter-natives and bankruptcies are just normal business practice. Another world is possible of open arms, not clenched fists!


The Brazil trip of the pope from a liberation theology perspective

by Leonardo Boff

[This article published May 18, 2007 in is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, Leonardo Boff (67), the most prominent voice of liberation theology, conservationist and author teaches ethics at the University of Rio de Janeiro.]

If one starts from the public enthusiasm that accompanied the pope’s visit to Brazil, it could appear a great success. Even without the charismatic radiance of his predecessor, contact with fervent believers made him visibly relaxed.

The figure of the pope is a powerful symbol with supernatural powers, the model of the great father suggesting the wise man and the shepherd. Such powerful pictures move people in their innermost being and evoke strong feelings.

But what model of Catholicism does the pope reflect? As everybody knows, there are two types of Catholicism in Brazil, the devoutly pious and the ethically engaged. The first type reveres saints, prayer and pilgrimage – that can be expressed nowadays in a media dramatization with strong emotions.

The ethically engaged model is inspired in catholic action and the social pastoral and culminates in liberation theology. This form of Catholicism emphasizes social discoveries because it has a spiritually motivated interest in participating in social changes.

Which of the two orientations is more appropriate for a nation like Brazil that must overcome its foreign-determined history – for a nation that has to bear the grievous inheritance of colonialism, ethnocide on the indigenous population, enslavement and dependence on the powerful metropolises?

The answer depends on the state of consciousness reached by catholic believers. In my opinion, devout Catholicism has no potential for social change since it is turned too much in itself. The socially engaged constantly proclaims faith and justice – and the gospel committed to liberation.

Viewing the pope’s visit from this vantage point, his remarks were ethereal until they became very explicit in meeting with the bishops in Aparecida. If he tried initially to keep an equal distance between the two models, he ultimately ended with a declaration of support for devout Catholicism.


With Benedict XVI, one hears a fundamentalist tone when he emphasizes the absolute centrality of Christ even in social affairs. This creates problems in the dialogue between the religions and leads to a theology without spirit since everything is reduced to Christ. In theology, this is termed “christo-monism” – a kind of “dictatorship” of Christ in the church as though the spirit as it appears in history and social processes were not the source of truth, justice and love.

The statements of the pope about the first evangelization in Brazil – characterized as a meeting between the cultures – are historically untenable: colonization and evangelization were parts of one and the same project that led to the greatest genocide of history. We cannot forget the sacred text of the Mayan Chilam Balama: “Sorrow came among us. Christianity was the beginning of our sorrow and our enslavement – they came to destroy our flowers and castrate our sons.”

The condemnation of the efforts to save these religions with their ancient wisdom – the pope described these attempts as “utopia and retreat” – is an insult of the indigenous population and a disheartenment of many missionaries who supported these efforts.

The thesis that God is unconditionally necessary to build a just society is theologically shaky. The Papal States themselves refute this thesis. The Spain of Franco and the Portugal of Salazar publically praised God and simultaneously tortured and condemned people to death. An ethical consensus and an opening for transcendence are necessary. The contents should remain open as is also true with modern states.

In any case, all these theoretical lapses divert papal discourse into moralism and spiritualism.

In a melancholy way, he constantly repeats the old story: no to contraceptives, no to divorce, no to homosexuals, no to modernity; yes to the traditional family, yes to rigid sexual morality and yes to discipline. So many negations make a mission simply antipathic as though there were no other important themes.

This way of argument is an expression of an “indifferent reason” – an analytical category created by the Portuguese thinker Bonaventura de Souse Santos: Reason is indifferent when it doesn’t grasp the present relevant challenges and misses the good experiences from the present.


A revealing silence marked the papal discourse. Only once did he mention the base communities; no word was said on liberation theology or the social pastoral. Global warming was not addressed even one time. Instead he gave dubious addresses about charitable welfare in the 1950s. Silence is also a form of negating.

Indifferent reason, so typical for mammoth institutions like the church, is short-sighted or myopic because it doesn’t seek any new ways, returns again and again to the old beaten paths (more catechism, more celibacy, more obedience) and is anti-utopian since it has no horizon of hope any more and acts as though the future were merely the extension of the present.

The pope obviously doesn’t notice the central concern today is not the mission of the church as an end-in-itself but the future of the earth and humanity and the question what the church can contribute to solving these problems.

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