On Religions and World Peace

Author: ZENIT


On Religions and World Peace

Pakistani Bishop Sees a Common Anthropology

MILAN, Italy, 11 SEPT. 2004 (ZENIT)

Here is the text of an analysis of religions and world peace offered by Bishop Anthony Lobo of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, in Pakistan. He delivered it Tuesday at the Men and Religions meeting in Milan.

* * *

Mr. Chairman and distinguished guests, I would like to expose this topic in these phases:

1. A common anthropology (humanism) underlying all religions
2. The roots of violence and wars
3. Religions as the healer of violence

The theme of this international meeting is "Religions and Cultures: The Courage for a New Humanism." I think that what is called "new humanism" is rather an anthropology common to all religions. Though I will use the Bible to explain this, I am sure that the anthropology I describe, based on the Bible, will be echoed by scholars of other religions.

What is this common anthropology? In the book of Genesis, the origin of creation is described as one of compassion, gentleness, peace and harmony. A later Hebrew word to describe this is "hesed," which indicates a harmonious relationship between God and human beings, between human beings themselves, between human beings and nature (including animals) and within the human person's own being.

Violence, including war, is a parody of creation because it replaced the fourfold harmonious relationship with a fourfold alienation: human beings alienated from God, from one another, from nature — including animals — and alienated from one's own self.

Religions can engage in dialogue, despite their differences, because they have a common anthropology. Though I spell this out using Christian Scriptures, I believe other religious scholars will find echoes in their own scriptures of the main characteristics of the common anthropology, the basis of a new humanism, for the healing of violence in our world of wars.

1. Common anthropology

Common anthropology begins with the creation of human beings. They were made in the image and likeness of God. The one God of Christianity is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The life of God consists in the Father giving all to the Son: all his life, love, wisdom, power. The Son returns all to the Father. This mutual self-giving (self-emptying) is called the Holy Spirit (John 17:10).

Being made in God's image, the human person is, at the core and center of being, made for self-giving, which is love. Because God is essentially love (1 John 4:8) man was made for love. God made human beings male and female and blessed them and commanded them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the animals. This subduing the earth and dominion over the animals was characterized by kindness, gentleness, harmony and peace, in one French word: "douceur."

Since human beings were created before any of the religions we know existed, we can speak of an original anthropology, predating all religions. Hence I call it common anthropology. What are the characteristics of this common anthropology?

The first is truth. By this, I understand the correspondence of the human person with God. Made in God's image and likeness, the human person is true. As human beings lose their resemblance to the Divine Exemplar, they become less true.

The second characteristic of this common anthropology is equality. "Male and female he made them. He made them in his own image and likeness." Man and women are equal in dignity and their offspring, too, made in God's image and likeness, will be equal in dignity, rooted in their resemblance to their Creator.

The third characteristic is that human persons by nature are relational. Man and woman relate to one another, to God, and to others in creation. Each person has a wisdom open to the other. Each person is by essence, dialogical.

The fourth characteristic is gentleness (or love, harmony, kindness, peace) in French: "douceur." A negative word for this is "nonviolence." Man's mission to "subdue" the earth was a stewardship of caring, not a license to exploit and dominate.

2. Violence as a parody of creation

But, when Adam and Eve sinned, the whole situation changed so much that it resulted in a parody of creation. Instead of God's blessing, there was a curse on the ground. Instead of fruitfulness, the earth would bring fourth thorns and thistles.

Instead of being characterized by "douceur," "non-douceur," or violence, made its appearance. This does not mean that "douceur" completely disappeared. It was God's gift to the human being in creation and therefore our mission given with his blessing. Only now, after sin, all "douceur" is marked by violence and has to make its way along the road of violence, never outside it.

The first result of the fall of human beings came about when Truth was abandoned. Not content with resembling God, the human being wanted to be equal with God, the creature sought to compete with the Creator. Hence the human person became "false," and this would color all human thoughts, words and actions.

The second result of the fall of the human person was inequality: "Your yearning will be for your husband, and he will dominate you" (Genesis 3:16). This principle of inequality now entered the life of human beings and would extend its consequences in human relations.

The third consequence of the fall of human beings was alienation. The fourfold relational nature of human beings was replaced by fourfold alienation from self, from God, from other human beings and from nature.

Finally the chief characteristic of the human person gentleness (or "douceur") now changed to violence. There is a straight line from falsifying human nature to treating human beings unequally and from there to causing alienation from one's true nature and from alienation from others which finally necessitates attacking those others or defending oneself from attacks by resorting to violence.

3. Religion as the healer of violence

Cynics would snigger at this title. They can give many examples of wars caused by religions and even of "holy wars" (jihad), yet my topic is dialogue of religions in a world of wars. I believe this is not only possible but most necessary today.

My belief is based on experiences which prove it possible for religion to heal violence, specially in its systematic and structural form. I am not presenting you utopias but facts from recent history. These prove that on both the micro as well as macro level religion can indeed heal violence. So the dialogue of religions can heal the roots of violence and wars in our world today.

My macro example is Mahatma Gandhi. I stressed that the fall of man did not destroy the "douceur" of the human race. It weakened it, but it remains God's gift to us and our mission to proceed with it along the road marked by violence. Let us see how Mahatma Gandhi did it.

Deep down in the psyche of people of South Asia there are two characteristics stressed by two religions: nonviolence ("ahimsa") by Buddhism and fasting by Jainism. So what I called characteristics of common anthropology (based on our resemblance to the divine exemplar) were stressed by these two religions (nonviolence by Buddhism and self-sacrifice by Jainism).

Mahatma Gandhi took these deep-felt traits of the South Asian psyche and used them for political ends: to free India from colonial rule. Needless to say, all the peoples of India (which today include Pakistan and Bangladesh) despite being of different religions (Hindus and Muslims) were touched to the very depths of their beings and followed Gandhi on the road to freedom.

Gandhi used another trait of common anthropology which I call Truth. By his Satyagarha (holding fast to truth) movement, he led tens of thousands of Hindus and Muslims in peaceful protests, which resulted in victory for unarmed people, whose only weapon was the Truth that all human persons are equal and no race should colonize or rule another.

And if we think that Gandhi's success was only limited to India and had no consequence for the rest of the world, then we must remember that what he did in India was replicated all over the world, first in the dismantling of the British Empire in other parts of Asia and Africa, and then that of the Dutch, French and Portuguese empires all over the world.

Martin Luther King Jr. used Gandhi's methods to fight for civil rights and to end segregation of Afro-Americans in the U.S.A. Nelson Mandela used these methods to dismantle apartheid in South Africa. Not bad for a man called "the naked fakir of India" by Winston Churchill. His methods dismantled the structural violence of colonialism, segregation and apartheid on three continents.

Let me close this macro example with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi himself. It is said that it is difficult to end the war in Palestine because both sides are practicing the Mosaic law of retaliation: "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth."

Gandhi once said: "If everybody practices the law of an eye for an eye, then soon the whole world will go blind." If there are wars all over the world today, it means that by and large, people have become blind. The aim of this seminar in general and my talk in particular is to try to restore sight to the blind.

I conclude with two micro level examples. A letter came to my notice from someone inside Afghanistan. It was pathetic. It asked: "For 30 years all I see in my country is war, killings, hatred and revenge. Are there no people who believe in peace, who respect life, who practice love and forgiveness?"

This letter arrived in Pakistan and a reply was sent to the writer giving the names of some Afghan refugees who went back to their country after years of contact with a group of persons (Christians and Muslims) who, despite religious differences, practiced and shared their experiences of those very things which the letter from Afghanistan cried out for: peace, life, love and forgiveness. Now that he is in touch with those people, he is very happy.

The last example is of a group of seven Muslims who regularly engage in dialogue with deeply committed Christians. I attended a meeting where they shared their experiences. Four were Afghan refugees. One said: "My wife asked me one day: What is wrong with you? You treat me very kindly of late." The reason for this was that he met regularly with Christians who practiced the spirituality of unity, love and forgiveness.

Another Afghan refugee who also attended this meeting said: "My wife said: Every week you attend some meeting. I would also like to attend these meetings with you." Yet these Afghan refugees began their sharing by saying: "We are Muslims and we believe in the Koran. But we practice the spirituality of unity, love and peace."

Finally, a third Muslim from Pakistan shared that he was always busy and did not get much time to stay at home, but he also practiced the spirituality of unity because he belonged to the group of Christians and Muslims who did the same.

One day he arrived home but soon after he had to leave for business in another city. On the way, while driving his car, his mobile (cell) phone rang. It was his wife, scolding for half an hour, for [his] not spending much time at home. When he reached his destination at night she rang again but this time to apologize for scolding him.

I end by saying that I firmly believe that if such dialogue of religions continues and spreads, both on the macro and micro levels, then all systemic and structural injustices will be eliminated, and wars in our world will cease. ZE04091102

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