Dr Andrew Kania today delivers a lecture to students at the elite British boys' school, Eton College, who next year will be moving on to study at Oxford or Cambridge Universities. Catholica is proud to be able to bring you the text of his lecture at around the time Andrew will be delivering it on the other side of the world to a group of young people who will be in the leadership sectors of the future.
Address to Oxbridge cohort — Eton College, 1st December 2009
Who are you, and what or who will you become? How do you perceive others around you — those who are of a different race — those of a different religion — those who you perceive are not as intelligent or as athletic as you; or those who do not seek to share the same community of friends as you? Be honest with yourself — who are you — and what or who do you aspire to become? What is your motivation for striving — for living? What is your life's ambition? What is love to you? How have you experienced love? Do you know how to love? Who are you — and what or who do you strive to become? Who is God to you? For what God you believe or don't believe in — determines so much — in fact all of the preceding questions it is possible to derive from the single question of: "Who is God to you?"
At the close of the 1950's during the height of the race riots in the United States, and within the borders of the world's wealthiest and most powerful democratic nation, a debate was raging as to whether differences that are skin deep were in fact critical enough to make some men kings and others slaves. In this fiery furnace of violence and hatred, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., published a short book, titled The Measure of a Man (1959). King Jr. honed in on what he felt to be the single most important issue that was fuelling the crisis. He wrote:
The question "What is man?" is one of the most important questions confronting any generation … In our generation the asking of this question has risen to extensive proportions. But although there is widespread agreement in asking the question, there is fantastic disagreement in answering it.
Thus for Martin Luther King Jr. the political and social machinations of racial segregation in the United States were not founded on violence, or on bad laws — but rather were founded on the forgetting of a religious Truth, that all men warrant respect, because they have a singular Creator; and thus no man, of any colour, or of any Creed, can be considered the less, for he has within him the DNA of God.
Aristotle once claimed that man is a political animal — for being a social creature, he has a need to be part of a community, and every community that needs to live in peace and harmony must have a way of creating the structures in order to create this harmony. Thus we legislate to make laws; thus we execute the laws made; thus we make judgements, based on these laws.
Yet man is also mortal, and seeing his loved ones decay and die, and experiencing both personal pain and ill health, through this combined suffering he becomes acutely aware of personal mortality as well as the mortality of those who comprise his 'community'. As such, the rational individual by way of existential questioning, seeks out answers with regard his life and prospective death, as well as questions with regard theodicy, and virtue.
Such introspection is a spiritual journey...
Such introspection is a spiritual journey — a journey that because man is a political animal, behoves the context of a community where a set of religious principles are practiced in which those seeking meaning in life do so according to shared Truths; so that the individual does not become lost, in a menagerie of existential dilemmas. As human beings we pray to know that we are not alone; and religion gives us a communal form of spiritual affirmation and certitude.
Religion being based on values and ideas that transcend the spiritual journey of any one individual, suggests itself as an important facet with regard the founding principles of the State; for although the scarcity of resources determines the nature of economics, these scarce resources are distributed according to the notion of an individual's rights within the State, and these rights are in themselves determined by what the State in toto, affirms to be the nature of the human person and the notion of justice — as expressed through religion, even if an individual does not wish to acknowledge the existence of a God.
The United States, a nation that firmly guards the separation of Church and State, is itself founded on a Declaration of Independence, that unequivocally declares, that the political construct of the nation will be based on precepts that derive from religious tradition and the nature of humanity, thereof:
"When in the Course of human events, [the Declaration of Independence begins], it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."
Ironically the appeal to a God-given mandate that the Founding Fathers made in the Declaration of Independence was one in which the salvation of souls belonged first and foremost to an Anglo-Saxon ruling class, and then to the rest of humanity's hue; thus once more proving that in the world's most powerful democracy, religion determined from the outset political climate — irrespective of church and state divide. The very fact that it took nearly two hundred years to elect an Irish and Catholic president, and over two hundred years to elect a non-white President, is also indicative that rather than being a seamless democratic garment rolled out by some hidden hand of Providence, the United States political structure was set in motion by a machine made up of a certain notion that all men are created equal — but in fact some are more equal than others.
The greatest atheist realizes that every government must appeal to some form of authority from which to take its mandate — in a democratic government the mandate is derived from a free election; in a totalitarian regime, from the muzzle of a gun. Yet higher than this mandate, governments also appeal — swearing in Presidents on an oath to God — and crowning Kings and Queens in ceremonies inextricably linked to religion. Few governments, if any have failed to see that there is an authority higher than their Parliament — and that they cannot win over the trust of the people, the majority of whom would have some form of religion or spirituality in their hearts, without appealing to God for mercy for the right to be good stewards.
It is therefore a misnomer to suggest that politics and religion should be held in some form of splendid separation — for no State that comprises individuals with existential questions burning within their hearts, and unquenchable spiritual yearnings can in fact demand of its citizens a level of detachment from these searchings and yearnings that disembowels the spiritual from the temporal. Even in the Soviet Union, where the Ukrainian Catholic Church was brutally persecuted for a half a century, and where to practice this form of religion was punishable by death; after five decades of persecution, five million people registered as Ukrainian Catholics on the first Sunday after the Church was declared legal, in an independent Ukraine. The great and powerful iron fist that came out from behind an Iron Curtain could not destroy the religious element within the human heart.
Religion cannot exist without community...
It is also true, that Religion cannot exist without community — for religion is a shared experience; and even in the case of a Church underground — human beings will find a way by which to nurture modified forms of community.
Therefore, Aristotle's famed comment of man being a political animal, is only a half truth; for before man can successfully be an active member of a community he must first obey the words of the Delphic oracle in knowing himself. This coming to know oneself is integral to the spiritual journey, indeed the great English mystic, Evelyn Underhill, noted that the mystical journey begins from the singular launch-pad of the ego; for God calls — but the human person must respond. Similarly the ego, is one of the main reasons that religions exist; for no religion will ever win to its fold adherents if the fundamental yearnings both temporal and spiritual are not addressed.
Most of us are taught by our parents that when we are invited out to a party as adults we should steer clear of discussing two topics: politics and religion. Anyone choosing to address these twin issues runs the immediate risk, it seems, of isolating and splintering parts of his or her festive audience — or at the very least, turning a convivial situation into a morass of debate — or perhaps worse. Yet the images of September 11, as well as those of Omagh in Northern Ireland, or those of Kosovo or of the Sudan, all point to a fact that has become more and more apparent as we journey further into the twenty-first century: man does at his own peril, ignore the part that religion plays not only in the spiritual lives of men — but in the political life as well. For it is becoming increasingly clear that if we are to find lasting peace between nations, we must not avoid religious and political discourse, but we must seek to meet them head-on, candidly as well as intelligently; meet them as they are by nature, entwined and not isolated. Religion does cause, and does fuel war — and for this reason, being a reality for the majority of people in this world, it is the single most important factor in establishing peace.
When Douglas Johnston collated the articles for the text: Religion: The Missing Dimension of Statecraft, published in 1994, he did so in the shadow of the first Gulf War. True, the Gulf War, was not a war that had been initiated by a religious factor. The then leader of one Islamic state invaded another. The subsequent events that led to the response by the United States, were stimulated not by religion, but by political and financial issues. Yet as the war and the events which followed the peace were to highlight, religion was brought into the conflict to highlight the persecution of an Islamic state, Iraq, by the west. The Gulf War thus opened up a Pandora's Box of religious tension that had been festering since the crises of the Middle East with the establishment of the State of Israel and the displacement of the Palestinian people.
In the Balkans, Europe was to experience its first major armed conflict since the close of the Second World War. The breakdown of Yugoslavia, into separate nations saw two Slavic peoples warring over religious identities — Catholics and Orthodox, sharing the same language, brutally at war — both professing belief in the same Christ, albeit a Christ of varied liturgical tradition. That both churches in Serbia and Croatia had a part to play in the development and continuance of the conflict, neither side would today doubt.
Johnston's text was considered to be ground-breaking for it sought to challenge the western notion that religion had no place in the pragmatic world of 'real-politik'. The amputation of the religious element in political life by western democracies would not only cause problems around the negotiating table in the penultimate decade of the twentieth century, but it would also cause an increasing perception in the East of the West being godless. A decade after Johnston's first text, a follow-up work: Faith-Based Diplomacy: Trumping Real-Politik, revealed that religion had as much potential to unite as it did to fracture — and a lack of consideration for the religious element in life, would in fact lead to a continued, and perhaps an increasing development of regional conflicts — with global implications.
Dr. Andrew Thomas Kania
©2009 Dr Andrew Thomas Kania