Manataka American Indian Council

Proudly Presents







Respect for all beings 

and for Mother Earth

By Leonardo Boff, Theologian, Earthcharter Commission




If we acknowledge, as the original peoples and many modern scientists do, that the Earth is Gaia, the generous Mother, generator of all life, then we should give her the same respect and veneration we profess for our own mothers. The world ecological crisis derives in large part from the systematic lack of respect for nature and for the Earth.


Respect implies recognizing that each being has value in and of itself, simply because it exists, and, by existing, it expresses something of the Being and of the originating Source of energy and potentialities whence all of us come and to which we all will return (quantum vacuum.)  From a religious perspective, each being is an expression of the very Creator.


When we see all beings as having intrinsic value, a feeling of caring and of responsibility towards them arises in us, with the goal of enabling them to continue to exist and to co-evolve with us.


The original cultures give witness to their veneration before the majesty of the universe, their respect for nature and for each of her representatives. 


Buddhism, which is not so much a faith as it is a form of wisdom, a life's journey in harmony with the Whole, teaches a profound respect, especially for those who suffer (compassion).  Buddhism developed the Feng Shui, the art of harmonizing the house and oneself with the elements of nature and with the Tao.


Christianity knows the paradigm of Saint Francis of Assisi (1181-1226).  His earliest biographer, Tomas de Celano (1229) writes that Francis walked respectfully on the stones in memory of the one, Christ, who was called stone; he would tenderly pick up the slugs so that they would not be stepped on, and in winter he would give sugar water to the bees, so that they would not die of the cold and hunger.


Another form of inhabiting the world is exhibited here, by being together with all things, living together with them, and not above, dominating them.


Extremely compelling is the figure of the humanist Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965).  He developed a grandiose ethic of respect for every being and for all forms of life. He was a great philosopher and a famous concert player of the music of Bach. At one point, he left everything, studied medicine, and went to live with the lepers (it is simpler) in Lambarene (Gabon).


In a letter he explicitly says that what we need is not to send missionaries to convert the Africans, but persons who are willing to do with the poor what needs to be done, if the Sermon on the Mount and the words of Jesus are to have any value. If Christianity does not realize this, it will loss its meaning.   


In his hospital in the depths of the tropical jungle, in Lambarene, between one responsibility and another, between medical visits, he wrote several books on the ethics of respect, the principal of them being, Reverence for Life (Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben) .


He put it well: the key-idea of the good consists in preserving life, developing and elevating it to its maximum value; the bad consists in the destruction of life, damaging it and preventing its development. This is the necessary, universal and absolute principle of ethics.


To him, the limitation of the current ethics consisted in concentrating only on human behavior and forgetting the other forms of life. In few words: ethics is the unbounded responsibility for everything that exists and lives.


From this flow behaviors of great compassion and caring. In one of his sermons he said: Keep your eyes open so that you do not miss the opportunity of being a savior. Do not walk by, unconscious of the small insect that struggles in the water and is in danger of drowning. Get a little stick and remove it from the water, dry its little wings and experience the magnificence of having saved a life and the happiness of having done it for and in the name of the Almighty. The earthworm lost on the hard and dry street, who cannot dig her hole, take her and put her in the middle of the grass. "What you have done for the lesser of these, you have done for me." These words of Jesus are not only valid for us humans, but also for the smallest of creatures.  


This ethic of respect is unequivocally needed at present, when Mother Earth is undergoing dangerous stress.