Dr Andrew Thomas Kania...
Today we publish the second part of Dr Andrew Kania's address last week to the Oxbridge students at Eton College. An intellectual tour de force drawing on some of the best thinkers on spirituality and religion of the last century, Dr Kania builds the case for the importance of religion as a force to create political and social harmony in the world if it can be freed from the yoke of religious and political fundamentalism. If you missed Part One you'll find it HERE.
Faith-based Diplomacy [II]
Address to Oxbridge cohort — Eton College, 1st December 2009
However much we may enjoy listening to John Lennon's proclamation of imagining a world without religion, and thus a world of consequent harmony; the religious experience is neither possible to eradicate from humanity, as William James teaches us, nor should we seek to in some way belittle the place of religion in the universal human family, because of its misuse or because humanity does not have a single portrait of what the face of God looks like, that we all agree upon. As long as human beings are mortal — there will always be a need for religion; but what we need to do, is to ensure that our ways of rationalizing existential issues, do not become in turn, a means of solving the question of mortality and immortality for others, by way of armed conflict, or the impingement on the quality of life of others, by restricting a third parties opportunity to life and living as well as their opportunity to pray peacefully and love their God in the manner they have been taught and which they have so chosen.
Rather as Johnston's two texts recommend we must seek ways by which to bring religion to the negotiating table in order to fully understand what is at the core of our natures and therefore what is at the bed-rock of our prospective diplomatic negotiations. We may both wish to have Kashmir, but we can only do so peacefully, if we share a belief in a loving deity, who would see us prosper in fraternity, rather than tear out each other's throats, stressing all the while a divine right to do so.
In the concluding chapter to "Trumping Real-Politik", Dr. R. Scott Appleby of the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, pointed out ways in which for the future, "Faith-Based Diplomacy", can be implemented so as to create lasting peace by way of clearer religious understanding. Appleby stated that one of the greatest tragedies with regard the rise of religious fundamentalism, is that religion is robbed of its spiritual treasure, by becoming a radical façade — a papier-mache model of what it should really be. Thus Islam becomes reduced to the fuel that fired September 11, and Catholicism and Protestantism the tinder-box that lights up Northern Ireland. Instead of being led to the face of a loving God, and to the noble-path of self-realization, religion becomes a masquerade where mammon is killed and died for in order to win a macabre heaven. (cf. Johnston, 2003, cf. p. 237) It is little wonder that religion is given a bad name — when so many speak of loving God more than a member of another faith, and accompany this declaration of love with subsequent acts of sheer depravity.
Religious belief is essentially about peace...
Appleby is brilliantly astute in his call for leaders of world religions to show the world that religious belief is essentially about peace. To successfully achieve this renaissance education is required; for the future of diplomacy rests in the hands of a faith-based negotiator. Appleby writes:
"Getting religion right requires erudition of a particular type: deep knowledge of religious practices and teachings; intimate familiarity with the ethical traditions (e.g. "just war") and schools (especially important in the Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, and Islmaic cases); and where appropriate, advanced training in religious law (especially important in the Islamic and Jewish cases)". (Appleby, 2003, p. 242)
Further, according to Appleby, the diplomat of the future must be a person who understands:
"The psychoanalysis of religion and spirituality because he or she has experienced them personally and has mediated or reflected on them and on their relevance to conflict transformation". (Appleby, 2003, p. 242)
Cynics may consider that such an ideal of the modern diplomat far exceeds what an individual is capable of becoming. Yet if we can produce men and women of eclectic vision of other fields of endeavour, why can we not pursue the ideal of an individual who can see a synthesis between religion and politics?
Adam Curle (1972), a researcher at Harvard University, in his work Mystics and Militants, addressed the issue of the effect of a Mystic in a position of political power. Curle who took sabbatical leave from Harvard to research at the Richardson Institute for Conflict and Peace Research in London, sought to answer the question as to how a Mystic may bring to the public office of peace-keeping a different political texture. Using both Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. as his examples Curle concluded that the Mystics are:
"a constant threat to people whose security depends on a belonging-identity. They threaten either to make them, too, feel uncomfortable and dissatisfied, or actually to disrupt their protective systems of belonging. Throughout history the aware have been ridiculed, disowned, hated, tortured, and killed by those who feared them. The persecution and crucifixion of Jesus is just one example. But they are hated so much precisely because they are also attractive. Few people are so blind that they do not feel the compelling force of awareness and with part of their hearts yearn for it. Thus our attacks on the more aware are violent because contact with awareness has aroused doubts in ourselves. We hate those who force us to question ourselves and we escape from having to answer by attacking. We project our inner struggle outwards and many suffer or die or kill because we will not acknowledge our blindness, or try to regain our sight.
The challenge posed by the great mystic minds...
If we contemplate Adam Curle's words in the harsh light of the reality of so many of our slain heroes of the twentieth century — there is much truth in what this academic says, that the great spiritual and mystical minds of the world are both fascinating and attractive to us — but simultaneously the challenge they pose to us is so great, that in order to appease our consciences so often we must destroy them. It is almost as if like Herod imprisoning the great prophet, St. John the Baptist, we fear killing them, for we know that there is Godness in them — but alternatively, knowing that they are mortal, we send them to their God, and thus return to our slumber of a life half-lived, in the hope of an allayed conscience. How prophetic are the words spoken by the slain Archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero, who in the last few days of his life, spoke to his church audience, saying:
"The great need today is for Christians who are active and critical, who don't accept situations without analysing them inwardly and deeply. We no longer want masses of people like those who have been trifled with for so long. We want persons like fruitful fig trees who can say yes to justice and no to injustice and can make use of the precious gift of life, regardless of the circumstances [March 9, 1980] … Nothing is so important to the church as human life, as the human person, above all, the person of the poor and the oppressed, who besides being human beings, are also divine beings, since Jesus said that whatever is done to them he takes as done to him. That bloodshed, those deaths, are beyond all politics. They touch the very heart of God." [March 16, 1980] (Romero, 1988, p. 236)
Dr. Appleby notes that mystics often transcend religious difference, because they have a vision of a God Who unites all peoples. Perhaps Mystical Theology is more necessary than Systematic Theology, for the faith-based diplomat of the future, for Hammarskjöld's quoting Rumi in Vägmärken may be the key to understanding how religion can be used in international diplomacy: "The lovers of God have no religion but God alone". Unitive mystical love has the capacity to become a love for the universal.
The poet and statesman, Vaclav Havel, the first President of the modern Czech Republic, seems to have borrowed a number of lessons from the mystics in seeing the role of the spiritual as a specific pre-requisite for the modern statesman. Speaking to a gathering in Independence Hall, Philadelphia, U.S.A., on the 4th of July, 1994, Havel delivered an address which in its spirit recaptured much of the essence of Dag Hammarskjöld's writings. Havel appealed that technological progress had in effect meant that: "Man as an observer is becoming completely alienated from himself as a being". He explained that "the modern age has ended", that the contemporary world needs to search for its "own unified style, its own spirit, its own aesthetic".
Dag Hammarskjöld, as Secretary-General of the United Nations spoke on a similar theme. On one significant occasion Hammarskjöld stated his desire for a new "spirit" to be born.
"Many of us have had a contact with the European world of the fading nineteenth century — the typical attitudes of which have, of course, reached far into our own — and then experienced the breakdown of the European circle of culture, spiritually, politically and geographically, finally seeing at least the beginning of a new synthesis on a universal basis. Depending on temperament and background, reactions to this evolution may vary. One may reach back for the imagined calm of the closed world. One may find one's spiritual home in the very disintegration and its drama. Or, one may reach ahead toward the glimpse of the synthesis, inspired by the dream of a new culture in which there is achieved, on a level encompassing the whole world, what once seemed to have become a regional reality in Europe. He who chooses the latter course will be disappointed, if he believes the task to be easy or the goal close. But he can count on the richest satisfaction in meeting different spiritual traditions and their representatives, if he approaches them on an equal footing and with a common future goal in mind. He will also find rich satisfaction in the progress he will note in the direction of the human community which, while retaining the special character of individuals and groups, has made use of what the various branches of the family of man have attained along different paths over thousands of years."
The major thrust of Havel's speech however was to pose a question that the modern world searches for a new form of leadership to answer not only the questions of politics and economics, but the more broader questions of peace, cultural progress and spiritual longings. These questions stem from Havel's belief that: "Politicians are rightly worried by the problem of finding the key to ensure the survival of a civilization that is global and at the same time clearly multicultural. How can generally respected mechanisms of peaceful coexistence be set up, and on what principles are they to be established?"
The importance of the spiritual to human survival...
Havel moves on to answer the question that he posed:
"the only real hope of people today is probably a renewal of our certainty that we are rooted in the earth, and at the same time, in the cosmos. This awareness endows us with the capacity for self-transcendence. Politicians at international forums may reiterate a thousand times that the basis of the new world order must be universal respect for human rights, but it will mean nothing as long as this imperative does not derive from the respect of the miracle of Being, the miracle of the universe, the miracle of nature, the miracle of our own existence. Only someone who submits to the authority of the universal order and of creation, who values the right to be a part of it and a participant in it, can genuinely value himself and his neighbours, and honor their rights as well."
Havel concluded that only those who have a universal vision of the world can surely provide the necessary leadership that is required in an age of conflicting paradigms.
To gain this universal vision — education of the future leaders of our world is paramount; and it must occur at an age far younger than the university student who studies diplomatic and international relations in order to secure a lucrative posting. This education in faith must incorporate a solid and loving grounding in one's own Faith tradition, as well as a deep understanding of other world Faiths. Moreover, what is required is that this education be not solely of knowledge but one of experience. What is meant here is not some form of phenomenological side-show, where we gape at religious practice — but an intimate meeting, sharing and living with one another that creates a schooling whereby a stranger becomes a friend and a person to respect. For by so doing we create a classroom that was envisaged by Dag Hammarskjöld, when he wrote in Vägmärken how at: "the point of rest at the centre of our being, we encounter a world where all things are at rest in the same way. Then a tree becomes a mystery, a cloud, a revelation, each man a cosmos of whose riches we can only catch glimpses."
The Faith-Based leaders of tomorrow...
The great Jewish spiritual writer of the twentieth century, and close friend of Dag Hammarskjöld, Martin Buber, in his work, I and Thou, provides us with what may be the best syllabus outline for educating the young people of today to be the Faith-Based leaders of tomorrow. James J. Bacik summarizes Buber's importance in establishing lasting relationships between peoples of disparate cultural and religious backgrounds as follows:
"the I-It orientation leads to treating others in a detached and objective fashion, without personal involvement. The other person becomes an object to be experienced or used, rather than a subject to be treasured. The relationship itself is planned and calculated rather than spontaneous and free. By way of contrast, I-Thou relationships are inherently involving. They demand wholehearted personal presence and intense engagement. In these relationships we are lifted out of ourselves, while forgetting our own needs, concerns, and projects. The other person is treasured as a gift and respected as a unique subject. By recognizing the freedom and potential of other persons, we overcome the temptation to stereotype, manipulate, and control. Genuine encounters with other persons are direct, open, and intense; they engender a spontaneous sense of immediate presence. Such encounters help create a mutual relationship which enables both parties to actualize their potential. Through this interchange, individuals restricted by their distinctiveness are transformed into genuine persons liberated by the relationship. In the process, the partners come to a deeper awareness of their identity, which always exceeds objective knowledge and defies precise expression". (Bacik, 1989, p. 252)
To fulfil Buber's call we need less studies of religion as a quaint phenomenon — but a study of religion as a way of answering the existential questions — and a means of building relationships between peoples. For as Buber announced, in I and Thou: "Meeting with God does not come to man in order that he may concern himself with God, but in order that he may confirm that there is meaning in the world". (Bacik, 1989, p. 255) We must, create the opportunity for the Thou to be seen — and for a "life of dialogue" to be opened up; we must provide the leaders of tomorrow with the opportunity to build relationships that allows the Spirit to breathe between one another.
As the world has become increasingly smaller due to the development of faster and faster means of travel and communications — we have seen over the last century an ever-increasing, clash of civilizations and paradigms. Whereas before we could ignore the scenes photographed in National Geographic or Time magazine — today these images require from us in the West — understanding. The West has slowly become irrelevant, in that it has attempted for too long, to consider those who are not part of an Economic Union to be "Third World". The world is now too small for there to be: First, Second or Third — there is one world, and Europe and the United States and Australia, are in it; alongside Sudan, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Kashmir, Zimbabwe, and the Gaza strip. No longer can our participation in this world be based on financial aid, or military intervention, we are called now to act in spiritual diplomacy, in order to attend spiritual crises, both domestically and abroad.
For want of action we run the risk of becoming a quaint museum — materialistic nations, that are dead at the core. Whereas in many parts of the West, the presence of God in the life of the individual has been reduced to the sporadic attendance at a liturgy or service on a Sunday — for others in the East — the notion of a God who lives very much at the forefront of life, is not only present but thriving. That is not to say that all Westerners are materialistic, but rather as Pascal has mentioned to us in Pensees — many of our 'things' have distracted us from what is reality; questions as to the meaning of life and death are put away — and in their place we live in a world of fantasy — video-games and constant noise that removes the silence necessary to contemplate. The cacophony of things that we surround ourselves with, far from making us more real, entombs us in a world of loud loneliness, rather than a world of reflective solitude. As the frog realizes not that they are boiling to death in a pot of water on a stove — so we are too caught up in our own enjoyment of things to realize that there is more to life than the satisfaction of material wants and the unfathomable quest for pleasure. If we cannot realize this of our society how can we begin to talk to others about God?
The German theologian, Karl Rahner once noted that: "The Christian of the future will be a mystic or he will not exist at all." At the time that Rahner made this statement, many scoffed, or at the very least agreed to disagree. Yet today we can appreciate him for the wisdom and foresight that he had. No man or woman can turn away from a God that he not only identifies with, in a cultural sense — but walks alongside at each breathing moment. If one is a spiritual being, and acknowledges oneself as such, then one can allow for what Hammarskjöld described as a "community of the spirit"; a united nation of people who seek the face of God and who recognize the possibility, the potential and the reality of others so doing. To understand the world in such a light is to allow for a brotherhood of peoples, and a gentleness in dealing with others.
The famous Swedish theologian, Gustaf Aulén analysed Dag Hammarskjöld's response in the Ed Murrow Interview, soon after Hammarskjöld became the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Aulén wrote:
"As we have seen from his statement of 1953, the mystics helped Hammarskjöld to see how 'man should live a life of active social service in full harmony with himself as a member of the community of the spirit'. This statement draws our attention to two things. First, Hammarskjöld did not think that mysticism was weak at the point of ethics. On the contrary, the road from mysticism to ethical action was direct. That was his interpretation, many times repeated in Markings of the mysticism he appreciated ... Second, when he says that the mystics helped him to unite the life of social action with life 'as a member of the community of spirit', he is saying something most worthy of observation. Hammarskjöld did not often talk about his spiritual life in connection with the 'community of spirit', but from the fact that this expression does appear in a statement which summarizes what was most essential to him, we must conclude that the question of the community meant more to him than we may otherwise have supposed." 
All the great religions of the world in the context of the twentieth century alone have offered us sterling examples of individuals who based on a religious and spiritual paradigm have attempted to forge peace from under the sword of Damocles: Gandhi, the great Hindu; the 14th Dalai Lama, Dag Hammarskjöld, Martin Luther King Jr., Pope John Paul II, Anwar al Sadat, Yitzhak Rabin, all reveal that as much as religion can be used as a weapon — it can also be used as a ploughshare.
We can continue the cycle of error — by assuming that God is on the side of the most well-equipped army, but the cycle of violence will persist, and any victory which we broker, will find us with ashes in our mouths — and new enemies to fight. Or what we can do is learn from those great proponents of peace, who at times, have themselves carried a sword in their hand — only to realize that there must be a way better than death — and that way must be through life — and God.
Dr. Andrew Thomas Kania
©2009 Dr Andrew Thomas Kania