Life of the spirit and ethics of the Earth and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
If it is true that climatic disturbances are anthropogenic, that is, that they have their genesis in the irresponsible behavior of humans (less of the poor, but much more of the great industrial corporations), then it is clear that the issue is more an ethical than a scientific one. This is so because the quality of our relationships with nature and with our Common Home were not, and they still are not, adequate and positive. Pope Francis says in his inspiring encyclical letter, Laudato Sii: on the caring of the Common Home, (2015): «Never have we mistreated and hurt our Common Home so much as in the last two centuries…These situations provoke the howls of Sister Earth, joining the wails of the abandoned of the world, with a cry that demands that we take a different path» (n. 53).
That different path urgently implies a regenerative ethic for the Earth. This ethic must be founded on principles that are universal, understandable and practical for everyone. It is the essential caring, the loving relationship with nature; the respect for each being because each one has value in itself; it is the responsibility shared by all for the common future of the Earth and of humanity; the universal solidarity by which we help each other; and, finally, it is the compassion by which we make our own the suffering of others and of nature herself.
This ethic for the Earth must restore her damaged vitality, so that she may continue giving us all that she has always given us during the whole of our existence on this planet.
But an ethic for the Earth is not enough. We need to supplement it with spirituality. This spirituality finds its roots in the cordial and sensible reason. From there we receive the passion for caring and a serious commitment of love, responsibility and compassion for the Common Home.
The well known and always highly appreciated Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, in a posthumous text that was written in 1943, Letter to General “X”, (Carta al General “X” ), affirms with much emphasis: “there is but one problem, only one: to rediscover that there is a life of the spirit that is even higher than the life of intelligence, the only one that can satisfy the human being” (Macondo Libri 2015, p. 31).
Another text, written in 1936, when he was a correspondent for the Paris Soir during the Spanish Civil War, is titled, «It is essential to give meaning to life». In that article he retakes the theme of the life of the spirit. To that end he affirms, “we need to understand each other with reciprocity; the human being only becomes a reality together with other human beings, in love and friendship, however, human beings do not unite only by coming closer to each other, but by fusing together in the same divinity. We are thirsty. In a world turned into a desert, we thirst to find comrades with whom to share the bread” (Macondo Libri 2015, p. 20). And de Saint-Exupéry ends the Letter to General “X”: “We have such a great need for a God…” (op. cit. 36).
In fact, only the life of the spirit fully satisfies the human being. The life of the spirit is a beautiful synonym for spirituality, often identified or confused with religiosity. The life of the spirit is much more. It is an original aspect of our profound dimension, an anthropologic fact such as intelligence and will, something that belongs to our essence.
We know how to take care of the life of the body. That is now a true cult, celebrated in so many academies of gymnastics. The psychoanalysts of several tendencies help us take care of the life of the psyche, of how to balance our impulses, the angels and demons that inhabit us, to carry on that life with relative equilibrium.
But in our culture we all but forget to cultivate the life of the spirit. That is our most radical dimension, where the great questions are housed, where our boldest dreams nest and where the most generous utopias are formulated. The life of the spirit is nourished by intangible goods such as love, friendship, compassion, caring and openness to the infinite. Without the life of the spirit we wander around, rootless and without meaning to guide us and make life worhwhile.
An ethic of the Earth cannot sustain itself alone for long, without that supplément d’âme that is the life of the spirit, that calls us to the highest and to actions for saving and regenerating Mother Earth. Ethics and the life of the spirit are inseparable twin sisters.
Leonardo Boff Theologian-Philosopher and Member of the Earthcharter Commission
Free translation from the Spanish by
Servicios Koinonia, http://www.servicioskoinonia.org.
Done at REFUGIO DEL RIO GRANDE, Texas, EE.UU.