In Greek philosophy there are two words which signify “time”: “Cronos”, and “Kairos”. Cronos refers to quantitative time, by which we mean hours, weeks, years, centuries. Kairos is qualitative, and refers to “the right or opportune moment”. There are moments in the reality of this world, when we have to make a choice, to speak or to act, because our dignity and life itself are at stake: these are Kairos moments.
In Christian traditions Kairos is often referred to as God’s time. According to Mark Braverman, a Jew who works tirelessly for peace between Jews and Palestinians, the life of Jesus was itself kairotic which the disciples speak of in Acts of the Apostles 4:19-20 when they say “for we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard”. In biblical terms, it is therefore a moment in time in which we cannot remain silent or sit on the fence. These are moments when silence becomes an accomplice, when the sympathetic word spoken to others is hypocritical, when not expressing oneself clearly means betraying faith itself.
Groups within the Protestant churches have acknowledged several moments like this, both in this and in the last century. In 1934, a group of German theologians, calling themselves “Bekennende die Kirche” the Confessing Church, spoke out against the trend within the German Evangelical Church to legitimize Nazism, in a 6 thesis document issued in the city of Barmen. In 1985 a group of South-African theologians published a Kairos document, the Belhar Confession, against the justification of the apartheid system by white churches in South Africa. In 2009 the Christian churches in Palestine produced the latest Kairos document, which rails against the apartheid situation under which the people of Palestine are subjected.
In Chile also, the church has witnessed its own moments of ethical action without fearing the consequences, as for example in the Movement against the torture of Sebastián Acevedo during the dictatorship. The deep ecological crisis in which we are now living is also a kairotic moment. The Catholic Church of Aysén took it on when it raised its voice against Hidroaysén (a controversial megaproject that aims to build five hydroelectric power plants in Chile’s Aysén Region), and now Laudato Si’ is comparable to a Kairos document: a timely and prophetic one.
The Encyclical says that we have to make radical changes. Radical means “going to the root”. The changes needed are not merely cosmetic, but rather structural. It’s about turning the way we see the world on its head. The other day the Dutch prime minister was reported as saying: “Sustainability is ok, as long as it does not harm the economy.” He, and many others in positions of power in the world need to realize that the issue is actually the other way around: “The economy is ok, as long as it does not harm sustainability.”
We cannot reconcile the current economic system with the care for nature, because the system itself is based on a concept of unlimited progress, which is unsustainable and leads to collapse. This year Chile, for the first time ever, surpassed its own ecological thresholds, requiring more resources than Chile can give and replenish in order to sustain the country’s current consumption and demand[i]. We live in a time of kairos, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to simply redefine our notion of progress.
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