I. Do religions build a world at peace or war?
Miguel Angel Velasco cmf
Member of the cmf Team at the UN
Licentiate in Systematic Theology
1. Can religions contribute to the construction of a world at Peace?
It is not unusual for many to wonder to what extent institutions such as the United Nations are helpful. Looking back at the situation of our world throughout history, we see that it is little less than impossible to build a world where harmony and fraternity are a reality. Suppose the United Nations Organization is little appreciated as a transforming reality of the present history. In that case, we can imagine what can be said about the religious organizations that we are in the environment of the United Nations or recognized by ECOSOC.
The General Assembly of the United Nations approved in 2015 the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development Goals. The expression that has been most repeated when talking about this Agenda, in addition to Sustainable Development, has been “Leaving no one behind.” It is not strange that people framed in the “crass realism” of international relations judge the 2030 Agenda as utopian. It has always struck me that many of the people who have spoken to me about their skepticism about the possibility of achieving the 2030 Agenda have been believers in my circle of friends. It has been striking to me because those of us who have faith, specifically in my case Christian-Catholic faith, think of a world that goes far beyond the ideals presented by Agenda 2030. Why has skepticism of this magnitude nested in believers? Why do believers, specifically Christian-Catholics, not find resolutions such as Agenda 2030, a concrete sign that God continues to act in the heart of humanity?
I think that we religions are called to be revulsive in the face of the pragmatism that leads to hopelessness in the possibilities of humanity. But as Hans Küng says, there will be no peace in the world until religions find Peace among themselves. I would ask Hans Küng, if I could, what kind of Peace he was referring to: is it a peace understood as the absence of war or is it a peace that goes much deeper into the heart of every human being and every culture? Knowing the writings of Küng, who liked clarifying polemics, he would undoubtedly take the latter and repeat the phrase with a much more concrete definition. There will be no peace in the world until there is peace among religions, that is, until we, the religions or the different experiences of faith, start to build a world more dedicated to the care of others; until we give an example of walking together working for a better world.
Yes, the presence of faith-based non-governmental organizations at the United Nations is more than necessary. For religions to start building true PEACE, we need to come closer, dialogue and build a horizon of fraternity together. Our basis will not be the simple forces of human beings but the definitive decision of God in creating the world. Based on this certainty that God created this world seeking harmony and fraternity, we will have found the “pearl of great price,” of which the Gospel speaks, which will give us the strength to commit ourselves to work for humanity. Then, Agenda 2030 and much more will be possible, perhaps not with the urgency indicated by pragmatism, but with decision, patience, and tenacity based on God.
But let us analyze the subject of inter-religious Dialogue, the difficulties we have had in the past, the achievements of the present, and the path to the future. “The Dialogue is a path to begin the changes.”
2. A change in the perception of the other
The first thing we could ask ourselves if we want to advance in the path of dialogue is why there has been so much distance between the different religions. At the base of it all is a rejection of the other religions or a lack of knowledge of the others? The history of humanity has not made possible, until now, more global understanding of all religions. Yes, there has been a partial encounter between some and others, but there has not been, as at this moment, the possibility of a deepening of what unites or distinguishes us.
In particular, the encounter-discounter in the Mediterranean basin of the “religions of the book” can find a stellar moment in their positive relationship when Christianity, Islam, and Judaism converged in the Iberian Peninsula. Toledo, the city of the three cultures, was a meeting place in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries; in particular, the Toledo School of Translators (12th century) was a dialogue and a bridge for Muslims and Classical Antiquity knowledge to the rest of Europe. Even so, the political tensions of the time did not make the possible dialogue of unity even among these three religions. However, the 20th century and, above all, the 21st century has given the possibility of dialogue. “In short, before 1893, there are only infrequent occasions in which attempts were made to share religious truth in inclusive and tolerant ways”.
We refer to faith groups; we have to know that we are referring to human groups. By this, I mean that the dynamics of Social Psychology can be perfectly applied to faith groups, although with the specific difference that characterizes them. Dialogue is not simply exchanging ideas on a given topic or the participants’ presentation; that merely is not dialogue. Dialogue, whatever it may be, requires a prior decision that implies wanting to understand the other person, making it almost for granted that there is much that I have not yet fully understood as to why he does what he does, thinks the way he thinks and is the way he is. To begin a genuine dialogue requires “wanting to put on the other’s shoes” and trying to see the world and things from the other’s perspective.
Social and cultural identity construction has a significant religious component that provokes a mixture of pseudo-religious and corresponding cultures. Simplified stereotypes know some cultures and others of them. Well, religious groups function, concerning their social relationship, in a similar way, although with the depth of feeling that is proper to religion.
Having said this, the first thing we will have to do to arrive at a constructive dialogue is to think that cultural stereotypes about other religions may not conform to reality. To start with, the idea that we know perfectly well “the other,” “the other group,” or the “other religion” is to begin wrong. We must be open to learning how people of other religions think, feel, and live their religious experiences. The series of encounters or rapprochements between religious groups should be characterized by the search for: “New Knowledge,” “Positive emotional experience,” and “a Project for working together.” “Thus, religious identity in dialogue can be a source of powerful change owing to the deep convictions that bind participants to their particular religion. However, such deep convictions can be a source of resistance to change, too.” Smock (2002). Religious convictions can be an obstacle to peace. Still, if they are truly religious experiences instead of convictions, the very roots of different faith experiences can mobilize levers for understanding and Peace.
How can we turn the positive energy within believers into experiences that lead to encounters between people and religions? There are two keys to what Smock tells us that are important: the importance of the symbolic and the importance of narratives. The transmission of the values of cultures over many generations has been done through narratives that go far beyond theoretical reflection and symbols that express attitudes and convictions. The recovery of the narrative and the symbolic implies the recovery of the roots of religions, and, again, in these roots, we have a remarkable coincidence among all.
The distinction between “Secondary and Universal Language of Peace versus Primary Language” will be fundamental to keep in mind if we want to reach advanced stages in interreligious dialogue. We can look at what differentiates us or what we agree on. The Secondary Language gathers all those themes in which the different religions coincide, which can be viable to face joint projects (Peace, ecology, Justice, freedom, etc.). The Primary Language is the most specific to each of the religions; to give an example that appears in the authors, we cannot speak of the Trinity as a topic of encounter, knowing that we generate a problem with the purely monotheistic religions the polytheistic ones.
The dialogue meetings must always have important moments of symbolic and narrative content. If the symbol and the texts of the sacred books are conveniently chosen, we can have an encounter that breaks false stereotypes and brings hearts, reflections, and common actions closer together. The Golden Rule is one of the pillars of the new home for every one built by the Religious dialogue, but there are more pillars.
Miguel Angel Velasco cmf
Member of the cmf Team to the UN
Licentiate in Systematic Theology
There is a second part of this article.