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A Peruvian “Pachamama” Eschatology

Christian eschatology and its secularized twin, Western eschatology, are in deep crisis today. So, too, is Adventist eschatology, which is a legitimate, even if rebellious, child of them. The differences, contrasts, and apparent alternatives are only quantitative and on-the-surface. In substance, eschatology is always hope-generating, and faced with this essential and qualifying fact, contemporary eschatologies are chronically deficient. Paradoxically, the mechanism that has blocked them is an obsession with order, a typical Moloch of modern and post-modern times. This has resulted in an eschatology of order at the expense of people who, by nature when they enter the scene, always introduce uncertainty, opacity, confusion, and thus disorder.

But an eschatology of order is also an oxymoron. If it is the hope extended to all people, then it is also the quintessential locus of the beneficial disorder of life. The well-argued eschatology of order thus has at its base a misanthropic component: a drive against life. It is more concerned with programs, strategies, prophecies, and plans about the future than about people who alone can guarantee a true future and hope. This is “Adventus” as opposed to “Futurum.” Adventus is not the arrival of an event, realization of a strategy, fulfillment of a prophecy, or an excitement that some new product creates in us. It is the arrival of persons and therefore always brings surprise by nature. Adventus is the unpredictable, embodied in people who are often different from us and whom we welcome through the love and hope of Jesus.

Today, however, the future has lost its mystery and has become the pure result of human programming. It is, therefore, not expected but planned. Instrumental reason, after tampering with nature, institutions, work, and relationships, has ended up tampering with the future as well. Indeed, today’s future is now the result of inferences, projections, statistics, demographic surveys, etc. And the future, as preached by Adventism today, is likewise the product of theological and prophetic calculations, projections, and inferences that try to detach themselves from real people in order to privilege salvation programs, initiatives, and strategies.

But is such a future still a future? Is it the bearer and generator of hope? Not according to Reinhart Koselleck. He says our future is actually a vergangene zukunft, a “past future,” which is already born old and does not create novelty and open new horizons.[1] It is a fearful, self-focused future that only knows how to compulsively extend forward the known present. It hates surprises and ends up generating an “age of sad passions.”[2] The typical instruments of this already “old” future are technical innovations like the Apple iPhone. After initial enthusiasm and curiosity awakened by the latest version, we are left empty once more, without having generated even a simulacrum of hope. Similarly and ironically, the Great Controversy 2.0 Project, a typical Adventist obsession with programs, will, after any initial myopic euphoria wears off, provide no more hope or love in the world, merely division and stigmatization of the “other.”

Therefore, the urgent task of eschatology is not to focus on the future but to rediscover the value of people, because there is no true future or true eschatology without people. This is what I proposed in my previous column in replacing the concept of “order” with that of “good.” It is the good that takes precedence over order and duty. Christian eschatology must therefore be an eschatology of “good.” Moreover, its evangelical matrix compels it to be so; an “Eu-escatology” is an eschatology of the good and the grace announced to all. This I tried to show through a connection with the parallel Peruvian concept of “Suma Qamaña,” which means “living well,” having a “good life.” And living well is always coexisting, coliving with others. It has nothing to do with individualistic, self-referential virtuous living or survival.

But now I wish to consider a second category of Andean cosmo-vision that can help restore Adventist eschatology: “Pachamama.” Again, this is one possible look at the end. Not the only one, probably not even the best, but it is mine as a Peruvian Adventist from the Global South. It is an experiential look at the end, as experience must ultimately be every confessional locus, with conviction but without definitive and absolute accents. Every confessional look at the end is called to be moderate, to produce testimony, not proof.

Christianity has today become overly dependent on the category of history. And the eschatology that comes with it also suffers from this dependence. Thus, the renewal of Christian hope today must necessarily involve a downsizing of history. Our thought today is that a community’s faith can only meaningfully survive if it advances, grows, progresses, transforms, produces results, etc. All these criteria of spiritual and theological “health” are the most frequent history synonyms used today to recognize, measure, and validate human experiences. But these categories, and the history that encompasses them, are not the solution. They have, unfortunately, become part of the problem. The ideology of movement and transformation, seemingly the more sober and civilized updates to classical ideas of progress, do not diminish but instead increase malaise. As the German-Korean philosopher of the Free University of Berlin Byung-Chul Han reminds us, historical ideology, with its related compulsion toward movement, is at the root of what he calls “performance societies,” which mortgage life, thinking to make it more efficient.[3] In so doing, it instead extinguishes curiosity, mystery, and the gift of passion (eros) for life. Our societies, theology, and eschatology have become realities without eros.[4]

This is where a beneficial balancing and corrective of Pachamama (earth) comes in. Modern Western culture has unilaterally privileged time and history at the expense of space and earth. But there can be no correction of this anomalous tendency, which University of Rome philosopher Giacomo Marramao (borrowing a phrase from Shakespeare’s Hamlet), calls “off-axis time” or “dromomania” or “hurry-up syndrome,” without a re-valuing of Pachamama.[5]

Pachamama is the name of a goddess representing earth, worshipped by the Andean people. In Inca mythology, she is a “Mother Earth” goddess, thus a fertility goddess who presides over planting and harvesting, embodying the mountains but also the plains. She is an ever-present and independent deity who has her own creative power to sustain life on this earth. Her shrines are sacred rocks or legendary tree trunks, and artists see her as an adult woman carrying crops of potatoes and coca leaves. The four Quechua cosmological principles—water, earth, sun, and moon—claim Pachamama as their main origin.

Pachamama represents the earth, not just geological earth or nature but everything as a whole. It is not located in a specific place. It includes springs, streams, rivers, the sea. It is an immediate and everyday deity, acting through a close presence with whom one converses, asking for support or forgiveness for some offense committed against the earth and all that it offers us. She is not a creator deity but a protector and provider; she protects human beings, makes life possible, and promotes fertility and fecundity.

Now, we certainly should not deify the earth. However, the concept of Pachamama can correct our eschatology at various levels:

1. Resizing the ubiquitous category of history and time. It is only when space and therefore Pachamama is recognized in its foundational value that the view of time is automatically rebalanced. In the Bible itself, the category of history is not absolute. This is demonstrated by the recurring spring and autumn festivals, which are related to the concept of Pachamama (cosmos) and were central to the Jewish faith.

2. Valuing Pachamama cannot take place without a change in theological and cultural language. Precise analytical verbiage makes Pachamama into lifeless, inert earth—sand and rocks. Rational language must give way to symbolic, poetic, and mythical expressiveness. Myth is the voice that best describes the nature and scope of Pachamama. Neither myth nor rational language is against faith and God. But we need to make a wise and differentiated use of it, as the Bible itself does.

3. The enhancement of Pachamama also produces greater anthropological inclusiveness. History, with the progress it infers, tends to divide people into categories of “advanced” and “backward.” Pachamama (space), on the other hand, allows people to remain in solidarity and equality before a common earth. A space to which we all belong and must care for and cherish.

4. Valuing Pachamama also creates another, more inclusive kind of ethics. As Pachamama is synonymous with space, a plant is the perfect metaphor precisely because it is rooted. From this we can see a different way of being in the world. Not an ethic of design and transformation, or one of movement and conquest, but an ethic of flourishing. Like a healthy plant, we do not need to move but need only be grounded in Pachamama.

Finally, this orientation centrally involves a correction to our image of God. God is no longer the victorious judge who ultimately achieves his plans at any cost but the sober and resilient farmer (Psalm 65). God ultimately rejoices not in his punitive justice toward those who have rejected him but in the flowering of his Pachamama, regenerating the twisted and lost lives that may then be left behind, replaced by a renewed future, rooted in God’s grace.

Notes & References:

[1] Reinhart Koselleck, Futuro passato. Per una semantica dei tempi storici (Bologna: Clueb, 2007) 11–29.

[2] Miguel Benasayag and Gérard Schmit, L’epoca delle passioni tristi (Turin: Feltrinelli, 2005) 9–23.

[3] Byung-Chul Han, The Burnout Society (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015).

[4] Byung-Chul Han, The Agony of Eros (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2017).

[5] “The time is out of joint” in Hamlet’s mouth. Giacomo Marramao, La passione del presente. Breve lessico della modernità-mondo (Turin: Bollati Boringhieri, 2008) 101.

Hanz Gutierrez is a Peruvian theologian, philosopher, and physician. Currently, he is chair of the Systematic Theology Department at the Italian Adventist Theological Faculty of Villa Aurora and director of the CECSUR (Cultural Center for Human and Religious Sciences) in Florence, Italy.

Previous Spectrum columns by Hanz Gutierrez can be found by clicking here.

Photo credit: U.S. Government, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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