In a recent address in Ottawa, Bill Clinton identified inter-religious relations and environmental exploitation as major problems facing humankind today. He appealed to world religions to find common ground to work together in resolving these problems. The author of this blog argues that the task appropriately belongs to our educational institutions and not to the religious institutions.
In a news report dated March 7, 2006 by Bill Curry in the Globe and Mail, a premier newspaper of Canada, the former U.S. president Bill Clinton warned in an address to a conference in Ottawa that the world is at risk of coming apart unless citizens around the globe address the danger of extremism in inter-religious relations. Mr. Clinton appealed to the followers of world religions to find common ground and work together.
"Perversely, if we over-warm the planet, it will almost certainly trigger a set of cataclysms which will either provoke a new ice age or make the world look like one of those Mel Gibson war warrior movies," said Mr. Clinton while referring to the second major problem being faced by humanity today. Each one of the two problems in Mr. Clinton’s address if inadequately addressed is grave enough to destroy humanity.
Although Mr. Clinton is right on in the identification of the problems, his appeal to the world religions to work together is less likely to be fruitful. The reason lies in religion’s traditional focus on its doctrine, the community and its distinctiveness which might have been sufficient for homogenous communities of the past, but it is too divisive for today’s needs.
Today, humanity is sharply divided in faith communities. The lines of division are sharp and exclusive. Faith communities are intolerant of each other to the extent of violent clashes. In its zealousness of community building, religions have gone overboard. We need to apply a major correction to the prevailing divisions.
Paradoxically, religion that divides also has the potential of uniting. The unitive component of religion is its core spirituality. While religion has used its core spirituality to expand individual horizons to include others, it also has made use of its doctrine to divide humanity by excluding others who disagree. Now is the time to discard the divisive and focus on the unitive.
Today, we have pluralistic societies. Science and technology have rendered the world into a global village. We live in an era of unprecedented interdependence and interconnectedness. Diverse human beings and diverse societies must learn to coexist in a pluralistic setting in an atmosphere of mutual respect, justice and peace. What kind of mutual respect can be expected if we individually or collectively think we are better than the others? And what kind of justice can prevail if others are thought to be less human than ourselves? If there is no justice, can there be peace?
Today, in religious terms, we need a universal theology of oneness, unity, interconnectedness, interdependence and equality. If we inwardly feel oneness, we respect others as we respect ourselves. If we respect others as we do ourselves, we share and give others their due. That is justice and justice leads to peace.
Is this theology new? The answer is an emphatic no. All religions loudly declare the oneness of God who underlies, in one way or the other, all beings of the universe. Then are we not one in His/Her oneness? Are religions not aware of this core spirituality that underlies them all? Of course they are and they choose not to emphasize it because it takes away from their claims of special status, their right to convert, expand, dominate and exploit. It should be noted that the word ‘others’ used is this spiritual context includes all beings human and otherwise as we all are one in sharing in our one and only deepest essence.
Can we rely upon religions of the world to expand their historic mandate from developing a communal identity to an identity inclusive of all beings before a major cataclysmic event? In my humble opinion, it is unreasonable to expect human institutions, whether formal or informal, to voluntarily undergo such a drastic paradigm shift. I submit to you that the attainment of this paradigm shift is vital for our very existence and the proper vehicle for it is the Ivory Tower. Our universities, especially those in developed countries, must provide leadership to our colleges, high schools and primary schools by developing and providing teaching learning resources for engendering a feeling of oneness, unity, interconnectedness, interdependence and equality. What we need today is to develop a new discipline of universal spirituality based on a didactic synthesis of the intelligibility and meaning of truth as discovered by different knowledge disciplines including different wisdom traditions and scriptures of the world.