Eco and Boff—a riff.

Leonardo Boff: The dead is only invisible, not absent. There is a great spiritual void in humankind. A good theologian has to go through the temptation of atheism. What would happen to sailors and astronauts without the stars to guide them and give them courage for the journey? I live in utopia, like stars…we never reach the stars, but what would happen to our nights if they didn’t have stars? Paulo Freire, who was also one of the founders of liberation theology, noted that the poor must be the agent of his/her own liberation. We don’t want a theology of development; we want a theology of liberation. A good theologian has to go through the temptation of atheism. The challenge will be to learn to divide the few resources we’ll have fairly, so this community of peoples will have enough to survive. One day we’ll all be socialists, not because of ideology, but because of statistics…we do not have another earth, ours is a small planet with limited resources. To live together with all our differences in a ‘communal house’ with scarce resources, for that’s all we will have. One day we will have an earthly democracy, a planetary democracy where human beings will have to learn to survive together. Humankind is headed for great suffering, one that will cause us to change and learn… As Hegel argues, ‘we learn from history that we do not learn from history;’ and I say that we learn not from history but from suffering…

Umberto Eco: I do not want to draw a hard and fast line between those who believe in a transcendent God and those who do not believe in any supra-individual principle. Remember, Spinoza’s great book was called Ethics and opened with a definition of God as cause of Itself. This Spinozian divinity, as we well know, is neither transcendent nor personal; and yet even from the idea of a great and unique cosmic Substance into which we shall one day be reabsorbed, there can emerge a vision of tolerance and benevolence precisely because we all have an interest in the equilibrium and harmony of this unique Substance. We share this interest because we think this Substance must, in some way, be enriched or deformed by what we have done over the millennia. What I would hazard (not as a metaphysical hypothesis, but as a timid concession to the hope that never abandons us) is that even from this point of view you can postulate once more the problem of some kind of life after death…Who knows if death, rather than an implosion, might not be an explosion, a re-formation somewhere in the vortices of the universe, of the software (which others call the soul) which we fashion in the course of our lives, and which is made up of memories and personal remorse (and therefore incurable suffering), or of a sense of peace at duty fulfilled—and love.