"A ruling class that is 'religiously illiterate' cannot lead in the 21st century"- Vatican Insider
According to the Blair Faith Foundation, "though many Enlightenment thinkers assumed that religion and faith were on the wane, to be inevitably replaced by rational, scientific insight, this theory looks increasingly implausible today. Rather than Europe leading the way, it is now clearly the exception to the rule. The world is becoming more religious". How do you explain this trend?
The point is that though the aspect of religion that sometimes wrongly seems to mirror superstition, is on the decline; the aspect of Faith that is about creating a basis of moral guidance for life, is very much still with us. Moreover, people do not see that basis as coming from humanity alone, but reflecting the will of a Higher Being. Yet the empirical evidence as to how people view Faith today, is hard to come by.We really need accurate qualitatitive and quantitative surveys and they are thin on the ground.
Why is Europe going in the opposite direction of this trend, and how can Europe deal with a world in which religion plays an increasing and sometimes dominant role?
I do not think that all of Europe feels the same on this. Also I believe that, whereas there is alot of disillusion with some parts of established religious organisations, there is still a deep yearning within Europe for spiritual fulfillment. Also I note that despite a lot of negative advance publicity around the Pope’s recent visit to the UK, when he actually arrived, there was a fantastic reception given to him. The vast majority of our contemporary cultures understand the world and think of their problems in a religious idiom. That is why two of my Faith Foundation’s programmes are about developing religious literacy, one in schools and the other in universities. It means both learning respectful language and sensitivity to people of other faiths and having the capacity to analyse two of the major forces in our world today, faith and globalisation in their contemporary interaction. I really believe that statesmen, entrepreneurs, leaders of civil society, civil servants who lack this knowledge and these skills are not equipped for the 21st century whether they are Europeans or not. We need to overcome a blinkered parochialism encouraged by extreme secularism in Europe. It impedes a vital aspect of statecraft.
How should religious minorities be treated? Is the way forward through multiculturalism, through a Republican assertion of shared civic values, or some mixture of the two?
I have come to the conclusion that the rights of religious minorities are a central issue for today. But they cannot be divorced from the creation of a global human rights culture that includes all the rights set out in the UN Declaration. The core concept we are dealing with here is equal citizenship. Whatever a citizen’s religion, they should have the same opportunity to participate in the life of the nation, as well as the same property rights, absence of “glass ceilings” in employment, and, of course, freedom of worship without any impediments at national or local level. No nation or state, community or family, can dispense with shared values. Freedom of religion means that each religion has a right to the outward manifestation of its core values. Shared civic values may clash in certain specific instances with the expression of religious values. These are difficult judgement calls. But if the clash is sufficiently grave and no compromise is available, I would say that there is only one way to resolve such clashes and that is recourse to Law.
How can the different faith traditions employ their different resources and perspectives to create compatible human rights cultures that affirm the human dignity of all human beings and peoples?
The answer to this is very simple: by interfaith dialogue. The Muslim initiative on A Common Word is a great step forward in its attempt to tease out by dialogue what is implied by love of God and love of neighbour. I would also add dialogue with secular thinking. Pope Benedict’s discussions with Jurgen Habermas provide a striking example.
How can the different faiths be encouraged to embrace more fully the project of a pluralist democracy?
The concept of “justice” is shared by all the faiths - as is the value of compassion. I would say that we get to pluralist democracy by imagining how best to create a just society in a globalised world, based on mutual respect, equal citizenship and a compassionate response to the poor. By drawing on each faith’s theological and ethical resources I believe there will ultimately be a congruence around what is normally meant by pluralist democracy.
Did you see the September 11 attacks as an effect of the clash of civilizations, or as the hijacking of religious faith? Are we winning now the battle against fundamentalists and extremists?
9/11 was a warning to us all when a wrong view of religion captures a group of people. The truth is that such suicide attacks are wholly contrary to Muslim teaching and to the word of the Holy Quran. So what is necessary is that all people of good faith, who detest such actions, come together to fight the extremism. So all civilisations should be united in alliance against these things. So the “we” is all of us united in a loving and peaceful view of Faith. But this also requires us to be frank about the challenge. 9/11 represented for me a symptom of a malaise in Islam that you might well call the high-jacking of a religious faith by a small minority. Are “we” winning? I need to say whom I mean by “we”. The battle against the reduction of a great world religion to a crude glorification and sanctification of a false notion of jihad, the worship of violence and the killing of innocents, is an enormous challenge to Muslims. How can people kill in the name of God in this way? What set of ideas ends up in this travesty of Islam, this betrayal of a merciful and compassionate God. This is a battle of ideas. And the struggle for the heart of Islam can only be won by Muslims. But we can all help. Progress is being made. Is the other “we” winning: our efforts at counter-terrorism? Clearly yes. Against extremism? We are learning how.
The turmoil in the world’s financial system and near collapse of the banking system has surfaced a discussion of business ethics into the public domain. What values does the contemporary capitalist system now need for proper functioning? How might faith communities influence both structural and cultural elements of our economic systems?
As a lay Catholic, for me Catholic Social Teaching is a valuable resource for reflecting on our contemporary financial predicament. In an interconnected world we have experienced the dangerous reality that the reckless behaviour of a few can jeopardise the wellbeing of the many. We must eliminate incentives for reckless behaviour in the financial sector but without putting fetters on the entrepreneurial spirit of the business community. For many years we have talked about corporate responsibility but this means developing a sense of responsibility in individuals in charge of financial transactions . Part of the core business of faith communities is moral formation and the development of moral character for business leadership is an important aspect of it.
Let's talk about health care, what should we make of those situations in which the religious commitments of faith communities or faith-based organisations conflict with the advice and expertise of secular scientific and public health organisations?
The problem is that there is not enough talking about health care undertaken by faith communities. My own Faith Foundation is working with imams, priests and pastors in Sierra Leone to educate their communities about the threat of malaria. Others have been working for years in an holistic approach to the HIV/AIDS pandemic making an astonishing contribution to health care in Africa. We need to step back from the easy headline stories about condoms to the bigger story. It needs telling.
What role have faith traditions played throughout history in protecting or destroying the environment? What role are they playing today? What role can and should they play in the future?
Well, some of the most devastated regions of the world are to be found in the post-Communist world. But it would be true to say that the emphasis of much of Christianity on dominion over the created world has not been helpful in curbing irresponsible predation of natural resources. Jains, Hindus and Buddhists could not be accused of this. In the last two decades Jews, Muslims and Christians have become increasingly aware of the stewardship of creation as a core issue. Led by the Orthodox Churches and the last two Popes we now have a more sophisticated understanding of what the demands of faith are in this respect. But there is much to do and the leadership of the faith communities will be important in doing it.
The "Vatican Insider" project will be focused on faith issues, but particularly on the Catholic faith and the Catholic church. What is your assessment on the role the Holy See has worldwide at the diplomatic level and on the global debate on moral and cultural issues?
The Holy See has had an incomparable role in he promotion of human rights and peace through its diplomatic service and made a major contribution to debate at the United Nations through its representatives.
Pope Benedict XVI has been leading the Catholic church for six years now. How do you think history will remember this papacy?
If the difference between the reaction of the British press and people to his visit before, during and afterwards is anything to go by, I’d say very differently from the way it has been seen in the first five years of his pontificate. In short, it is far too early to say. But I have enormous respect for him and am always struck by the fact that those who meet him and read his words, come away with great admiration.
By Marco Bardazzi Paolo Mastrolilli