An Interreligious Summit: How Could, or Should Religions Contribute to Peace
November 12, 2003
IIFWP Assembly 2003 - Global Governance at a Turning Point, Innovative Approaches to Peace in a Changing World
Thank you Madam Chairwoman.
Distinguished guests, I am grateful for the opportunity to offer some thoughts at this important meeting, on this important subject.
The question “How Could, or Should Religions Contribute to Peace” evokes a sense in everyone that they already know the answer. People automatically think, “The answer to that question is obvious. Just ask me. I’ll tell you.” Not every question evokes the same feeling. For example, “how many calories are there in an apple?” The fact that everyone thinks they know how religions should contribute to peace says a great deal.
We must ask, if the answer is so obvious, then why don’t we have peace already? Can it be that everyone in the world wants peace except religious people? If we can see a clear answer, then there must be something either in religion which is inherently antithetical to peace, or there is something in we ourselves which baffles our own efforts to bring to pass our own desire, and something (peace) which is patently in our own interest.
Whichever way one answers, the essential problem is the same in both cases. That is that there exists something split, divided, a house against itself. All religions teach peace, just as surely as all people desire peace.
Is there some dark shadow in religion(s) which inherently contradicts its own promise, its own core, its own sublime and elevated credenda? Maybe so. Surely people from time immemorial have legitimated war, oppression, and occupation with sacred scripture, and reference to religious obligation.
The other possibility is that the problem lies, not with religion but with we ourselves. Is this where the debilitating and self-destructive, internal conflict lies? Was Paul right, and speaking for us all, when decrying this inner battle? (Romans 2:24-25 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 … on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.)
The modern world supports a battle between two philosophical camps on this issue. One says that the debilitating, internal contradiction lies in religion itself, and that the human being is fine (and perfectly capable of peace), if spared the burdens of fear, guilt, and superstition, and released to enjoy the calm glories of reason. These are the statists, humanists, enlightenment rationalists and so forth. This view is widespread in modern society (commonly conceded at the United Nations, universities, elite media professionals and so forth).
The other camp says the opposite. Religion is fine (in fact good), and it is the human being which is wracked by this contradiction and split. In fact, it is precisely this human condition of being at war with the higher self which is the exact raison d’etre for religion in the first place.
A resolution to this debate is possible, but it is one which nods a touch in the direction of the religious side. It would state that religion given by God is without the shadow which is leads to war. But insofar as it must be received, constructed and maintained by human beings, it comes to be contaminated by the internal contradictions of its administrators. This resolves the modern debate so that both religions, and the human being bring to the table an inner contradiction which results in a world of war and terror.
Back to the question: What must religions do to contribute to peace? They must purge themselves and their leaders and believers of internal contradictions. In the case of religion, the battle rages between the higher part of each religion which says the religion must exist for the whole world and for every person. This battles with the impulse, likewise in all religions, which says that the religion exists only for its own sake, and the sake of its own believers. Our only concern is with Catholics, we have no compassion or concern for any other sort of religious believer. They are not my problem. (Or only Jews, or only Buddhists and so forth.) This impulse to devote oneself only to self interest at the expense of the greater whole contradicts the higher truth in all religions to serve the whole world, and every person.
The human contradiction is identical. There is a natural aspect of our make-up which altruistic, and conversely a part which is oriented to our own ways, habits (traditions), and self-preservation and promotion. As with religions, these parts of the self must be harmonized, so that the higher (interpretation of) self takes the lead as the primary force guiding our existence.
So, is there a way religions can or should contribute to peace? Yes there is. Enlightened leaders in each tradition must analyze the root revelation and sacred origins and development of each respective tradition to determine which aspects call for serving the whole world and every person, as well as to find in each those impulses which interpret in the direction of greater parochialism, and self-preservation and promotion. Finally these leaders must harmonize this contradiction into a seamless and unified whole in such a way that the narrow parochial elements support and fuel the Divine indwelling which calls believers to love the whole world and every person.
To the extent that each tradition can accomplish this is the extent to which religious difference will cease to be a causus bellum, and shift to become an indispensable voice and contributor to peace on earth.