INTER-FAITH DIALOGUE: Universal values and lasting peace
Jose de Venecia Jr.
I must confess my diffidence – as a secular politician – in addressing this gathering of leaders of the great religions, the academe, youth, civil society, and political parties all over the world.
This is no ordinary time for humankind. We meet at a perilous hour for all our countries.
Fanatic terrorists – who claim falsely to act in the name of Islam – have struck not only at the United States, but also at Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and our own country.
All of us nowadays feel a physical and psychic vulnerability we have never felt before. International terrorism has become the dark side of globalization; and it has brought our world to a new age of conflict.
Why a dialogue of civilizations and a dialogue of religions have become urgently necessary.
In this conflict, our proposal for a global Interfaith Dialogue – a dialogue between the world’s great religions – must now march in tandem with the dialogue between civilizations proposed by the Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, for mankind to achieve multi-cultural and multi-religious understanding that is the only basis for the long-term security of the global community – and the only basis for global peace that will endure.
Through this Inter-faith Dialogue, I believe mankind can achieve a change of heart, however slowly, that will enable the nations of the world to avert what Samuel Huntington and the other scholars and scientists fear as the clash of civilizations.
Yet I must say that when we speak of the `clash of civilizations,` what we really mean is the `clash of religions` – the clash of the great religions, which we must avert at all cost.
In the old days, the clash of civilizations – the clash of religions – had been tolerable as limited wars between the armies of the likes of Saladdin and Richard the Lion Hearted, wars fought on foot and on horses by men wielding swords and arrows as their main weapons.
But today the clash of civilizations – of religions – lurk in the lethal shadow of the nuclear age, between nations that posses nuclear weapons of awesome power that could bring annihilation and utter destruction to the entire human race.
This is the clash that everyone fears – and that everyone must exert all efforts to avert.
An Inter-faith Dialogue in the UN system
The idea of a dialogue of civilizations seemed to have dawned on leaders of the Muslim and Christian worlds at roughly the same time.
In the world of Islam, President Mohammad Khatami was the first to propose such a dialogue.
In the Christian world, Pope John Paul II himself espoused a gathering of the great religions.
In international politics, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan took up the same idea.
Under the inspiration of these statesmen, Iran and the Philippines – jointly and separately – began to canvass the opinion of world leaders.
I broached the idea of a global Inter-faith Dialogue and Inter-faith Council within the United Nations system to President George W. Bush at the White House when I accompanied President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in Washington in 2003.
The American president – a devout `born-again’’ Christian – was enthused by the idea, which he promptly referred to then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and then Secretary of State Colin Powell, who were both present.
At the UN General Assembly, Filipino and Iranian diplomatic representatives worked together on a resolution entitled `Promotion of Inter-Religious Dialogue.`
I formally presented this proposal, supported by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, to the UN Security Council on October 6, 2004. On November 11, 2004, this Resolution was adopted by the UN General Assembly. Praise the Lord!
I thought it significant that on that same date – Armistice Day, 86 years ago – World War I had ended in Europe.
And today, I acknowledge with great respect the pioneering contributions to the Inter-faith Dialogue by one of the foremost advocates of peace in our time, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who will mark his 86th birthday in two days’ time. In this century and especially in the last, the Rev. Moon has advanced the cause of peace relentlessly with Dr. Chung Hwan Kwok, Dr. Thomas Walsh and Rev. Madame Hak Ja Han Moon.
All civilizations are equally unique
The Philippine-Iranian Resolution declares all civilizations equally unique and dynamic actors in world history.
It calls on all the states in the UN system to appreciate the diversity of cultures – and to recognize that every culture can contribute to global peace and the advancement of humankind.
The resolution enjoins individual UN member-states to carry out cultural, religious, educational, and social programs that promote awareness of – and respect for – the diversity of cultures and faiths, while emphasizing their common origins in humankind’s search for meaning.
In this light, I now propose – as I proposed two days ago at the `Islam and Inter-faith Dialogue` in Manila organized by the Islamic Republic of Iran – that leaders of this world forum now set out to organize not just a global inter-faith dialogue but also a series of regional inter-faith dialogues in each of the conflict regions of the world.
Too many regions are crying out for an inter-faith dialogue to stanch the bloodshed and senseless violence: The list is formidable: Aceh in Indonesia, the Islamic enclave of southern Thailand, Muslim Mindanao in the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, and Palestine, Kosovo, the Sudan and Nigeria in Africa, and Chechnya in the Russian Federation.
We must regard these regional conflicts as our new battlefronts. And the inter-faith dialogues at the level of regions are more immediate and more urgent, and they can explore in detail effective and mutually acceptable solutions to these conflicts.
There is no time to waste. We must start to organize – not tomorrow but now.
The roots of terrorism
Most of us accept that the secular state is the most appropriate to our time, because of its ability to tolerate dissent – the freedom of expression it allows – and its respect for human rights.
But we also recognize that the secular state has not lived up entirely to its own promises of political freedom, economic prosperity, and social justice.
In the richest nations, society has cut itself off from its moral foundations.
Much of social life has deteriorated into materialistic consumerism.
The pursuit of economic wealth has degenerated into the worship of worldly things – into what Pope John Paul II calls an `idolatry of the market.`
And we all know how empty public life can be without a moral purpose – how rootless society can be without some transcendent foundation.
A clearer sense of the oneness of the human family
The religious rebellion against secularism is most pronounced in the Muslim world.
But it is not confined there.
Large portions of the globe – Christian heresies no less than Buddhists, Confucians, Hindus, and Muslims – all reject the secular ideology, which they regard as empty of moral or spiritual values.
Fortunately, the shock of terrorism has also given us – in John Paul II’s phrase – `a clearer sense of the oneness of the human family.`
The global community has come to realize that every state is threatened by anarchic forces in the world system; and that poverty, oppression, and despair anywhere in the world must become the concern of all.
We have all become increasingly aware that we are responsible for one another; that none of us lives – or dies – for himself alone.
An appeal: Use your moral influence
to mediate the problem of terrorism
In the context of collective responsibility, and recognizing the great potential of the regional inter-faith dialogues, may I now make an appeal to Christian and Muslim leaders, to the ulamas and the Christian scholars and the moral pillars of our societies.
I appeal earnestly that you use your moral influence – as men of great learning and men of peace – to exorcise the extremists that have invoked the name of God and religion to inflict violence on the innocents of the world.
I appeal earnestly that you now exert your great moral influence to the limit in the effort to reconcile the great religions in your societies.
At this watershed gathering for global peace, I appeal earnestly to the men and women of moral courage in our societies to mediate the problem of terrorism and counter-terrorism that shakes our world.
For terrorism is a problem we share – and terrorism is a conflict where there can be no neutrals.
We must all do our part to ensure that the global community’s response to terrorism is both measured and correct – and truly multilateral.
Campaign vs terrorism is also a war of ideas
Most men will perhaps call us dreamers. Most men will perhaps deride our efforts as too utopian.
But peace is a cause that has been won, lost and won again through the centuries by men of peace who, like all of us, have not ceased believing that peace is the ultimate destiny of mankind.
This dialogue of religions and the dialogue of civilizations – if they are to prosper – will require your collective leadership. And the dialogues can start from the premise that, in the campaign against terrorism, force by itself is not enough.
The campaign against terrorism must also be a war of ideas.
We should elevate this confrontation with the extremists from the level of bombs and violence to that of the heart and the intellect.
We must win people’s allegiance by the power of our values and our ideals.
Not only must we isolate radicals and extremists. We must also help poor countries to prosper; and we must aim to create a world order that offers full participation to all the world’s peoples.
We must initiate the redressing of grievances – the reconciliation of ideologies – and the mutual understanding that leads to the transformation of human hearts.
In our conflicted societies, we must help open the eyes of peoples to the possibilities that modernization, which does not exclude God, can offer their young lives.
And we must speak out against the surge of racial hatred and religious discrimination.
We must create space for alternative faiths
One of America’s leaders said memorably that the 21st Century would be defined by a simple choice the nations must make – whether to emphasize their ethnic, ideological, and religious differences or their common humanity.
But nations can never make the right choice for as long as their peoples insist that, `Our faith must reign supreme!` – since this claim can be affirmed only by the negation of all other faiths.
So we must all reinterpret our traditions to embrace pluralism in culture and in society.
We must all learn to create space – in our nations and in our hearts – for alternative faiths.
After all, every great religion arose from the same wellspring of faith – accepting, for its central belief, God’s direct and decisive intervention in human history – by revealing Himself to humankind.
So that religious pluralism is a vital ingredient of the world that we need to organize for those who will come after us – a world more fair, a world more just, than this one in which we ourselves live.
May you – the religious and political leaders, leaders of the youth, media, academe and civil society gathered here to celebrate the Reverend Moon’s life-work for world peace – carry on in unity your efforts to bring peoples, cultures, and civilizations together – seeking no reward except those the Beatitudes promise for the peacemakers!
Finally, logic and absolute faith in the wisdom of the Almighty dictate that God in His own time will unite all the great religions of the world.
It would be folly to speculate that God could abandon all his children – 1.6 billion Christians, 1.2 billion Muslims, 1 billion Buddhists and 800 million Hindus as of now – all incredibly large populations on the face of the Earth.
And thus do I speak to you today strengthened by this faith. Let us now begin this act of reconciliation, this act of healing, this act of brotherhood and peace, and this act of recreating and restoring the oneness of the family of man.
This address was delivered at the 5th World Summit on Leadership and Good Governance, February 12, 2005, in Seoul, Korea.