Unification News for December 1998
Directions for Interfaith
Rev. Chung Hwan Kwak
This address was given at the opening plenary of the IRFWP Conference on "Realizing the Interfaith Ideal: Action Beyond Dialogue" December 18-20, 1998, Washington, D.C.
This evening I would like to share with you a vision for a new direction in interfaith activity. There is no question that the worldwide interfaith movement has been an extremely important development in the history of humanity. A vision of peace lies at the heart of the interfaith movement. And, while this vision has grown and prospered in recent decades, the forces that resist peace have not been dormant. We all know the twentieth century has been a century with two devastating world wars, and a cold war struggle that dominated human history for nearly seventy years. Even now, in the post-cold-war era, ethnic, racial and national conflict remains ever present. Equally disturbing is the plague of family breakdown and the rapid moral decay occurring worldwide among today's youth populations.
All religions teach that God, or ultimate reality, intends for all human beings to realize peace and to experience joy and happiness. If we ourselves are troubled as we observe the suffering in our world, how much more is God. I believe God grieves as he witnesses our miserable situation. His greatest longing must be for the elimination of this suffering, and the evil from which it derives.
However, God does not alter the human reality simply by divine edict. God moves the world through human agents. In this respect, the invisible God needs a substantial body through which to achieve the heavenly will. In fact, the origin of the world's religions can be attributed to God's commitment to guide humanity toward ultimate peace and happiness. It is God's ideal that his own will and heartfelt longings can be expressed through the leaders and the followers of the very religions He has inspired. According to God's ideal, religions are meant to manifest God's heart of true love, and through religious leaders God could speak to and serve the world.
As the cold war era came to a close, there was a brief time of celebration. Quickly, however, we learned that the end of the cold war did not lead automatically to an era of universal peace. For while the flaws of the communist system were exposed, so too were those of the liberal democratic societies. In both the communist world and the democratic world, there emerged a kind of moral and ideological vacuum.
While, on the one hand, the suspicion of ideologies and moral truths prevents one from being taken in by false ideologies, this situation, on the other hand, also gives rise to greater individualism, cynicism and moral relativism. As we see among many of today's youth, there tends to be only a short-term vision. Unfortunately, self-centeredness, hedonism and the pursuit of immediate gratification are traits which are being encouraged and supported by popular culture.
Such an outlook stands in direct opposition to the classical religious traditions which emphasize eternal values and standards. Religions have taught from time immemorial that human society should be guided by heavenly ideals. The role of religious leaders is precisely to guide and educate others in the way of heavenly standards. Not merely by presenting religious theories, but by serving as a living example.
In the face of contemporary social crises linked to sexual decadence, family breakdown and youth alienation, religious leaders are sorely needed as models of a heavenly, yet practical ideal. At the deepest core, all human beings long to flourish in a true and lasting love relationship. For this reason, the family is absolutely crucial. Indeed, the family is the school of love. With the rise of selfish individualism, moral relativism, and sexual permissiveness, the family will only decline, leaving in its wake a spiral of socially destructive consequences.
If the family remains on a course of decline, future generations will suffer. That is, the love that is longed for in the heart of every child will go unfulfilled. As the moral and social significance of the family is lost and forgotten, future generations will lose respect for all human institutions, including religion and the state. There is great need for a renewed awareness of the importance of the family as the foundation for the development of human character and as the basis of social well-being. At the present time, there is perhaps no greater task to be taken up by the world's religious leaders. That is, to teach God's ideal of true love and the family.
Human beings, unlike animals whose sexuality is only expressed at specific times for the sake of reproduction, have been given sexual freedom. That freedom, however, only comes with responsibility. According to God's ideal, human sexual love is fully free, but only within the context of marriage, between a husband and a wife. The conjugal relationship between a husband and wife is meant to be exclusive, and permanent. The sexual organ of the husband is solely for the sake of his spouse and no one else. Likewise the sexual organ of the wife is solely for the sake of her spouse and no one else.
This principle applies even prior to marriage. The youth of the world should be educated in the practice of pure love, namely, that they are to preserve their purity until marriage. All religions should work to promote the ideal of pure love. It is precisely through the practice of pure love and true family that full human flourishing and social well-being is possible.
It is sometimes said that a focus on sexual and family matters distracts religious leaders from broader social concerns such as social justice or conflict resolution. This should not be the case. Sexual ethics and family ethics are fundamentally social in their relevance. There is no greater or more socially significant—not to mention religiously significant—act than that of loving parents having and raising children.
Family and sexual ethics are directly linked to social issues such as crime, disease, literacy, education, psychological health, individual character traits, social skills, attitudes toward others, etc. Thus, the focus on family is not merely a private concern, but rather a social concern; a universal human concern. In fact, it is the most fundamental of social concerns, and the area that must be addressed if we are to solve today's pressing social problems.
The responsibility of religious leaders lies not only in the area of teaching about and exemplifying family values. That is, the concern with family issues derives from the broader commitment to follow God's will and to serve humanity. In so far as God's vision and ideal are global and universal, so too should the religious leader step forward to address global problems.
Often in the modern era religious ideals have been marginalized and kept distant from the realms of worldly power. This marginalization has its roots, perhaps, in the reality that relations among religions have frequently been characterized by conflict, competition, and mutual disrespect. Sadly, such a characterization of religious history is not inaccurate. But, due to the rise of an interfaith consciousness, the situation today has changed dramatically. This gives rise, in my estimation, to the need for a positive re-evaluation of religion. In particular, international organizations which serve the ideal of world peace should re-examine their relationship to the world's great religious traditions.
Perhaps more than any other international organization, the United Nations exemplifies a global consciousness. In the eyes of many, the UN represents humanity's highest institutional expression of the human ideal for world peace. At the UN we have representatives of all the world's nations working together to resolve problems and promote peace and prosperity.
However, the efforts to establish world peace through an assembly of national representatives, has met with sizable obstacles. While its great achievements are not to be denied, there is certainly room for improvement. To be specific, there needs to be a joining of forces of both the world's statesmen and the world's religious leaders.
Since human problems are not, at their root, only political problems, political solutions alone will always be found wanting. While certainly most human societies are politically governed, at the root of most national and cultural identities lies religion. Religious loyalties, in fact, may far outweigh political loyalties in the minds and hearts of most of the world's populations.
For this reason, world peacemaking calls not only for the wisdom of statesmen and diplomats, but also for the wisdom of the world's religions, as embodied in the most honored representatives of those religious traditions. To implement such a program would involve a restructuring of the UN as currently conceived. For, in addition to the representation of nation states, there would be representatives of the world's religious traditions.
One can perhaps imagine a congress with two houses. One house—a House of Representatives— would be structured very much as the existing United Nations. It would consist of an assembly of wise and experienced representatives of the world's national governments. In addition to this house, however, there would be added a second house or senate. This Senate would consist of distinguished religious leaders. Together, in a spirit of mutual respect and cooperation, these two houses would work together with a single objective: moving the world toward peace. In this way, the political wisdom of the world's leaders would be fruitfully complemented by the wisdom and vision of the world's great religious leaders.
These ideas and the specific proposal which I present to you tonight, and which joins the idealism present in both the interfaith movement and the United Nations, are rooted in the global vision of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. Rev. Moon, whose teachings and example have been my guide for over 40 years, has always taught that religious leaders should be fully engaged in world affairs. Their moral vision and their example should be a light to the world, pointing not only to a world beyond, but pointing the way to true and lasting peace in this life. Religious leaders, in effect, should function as "world senators." We should be leaders who not only have absorbed the holy and precious wisdom of our traditions, but also who carry that wisdom into the world with dignity, professionalism and, most of all, an attitude of selfless service for the sake of others. The great disqualification of any leader—whether religious or political—is selfishness.
Rev. Moon teaches that we can successfully end the suffering of humanity and move forward to a world of peace, but only if religious leaders move ahead in two ways, building on the foundation of our interfaith consciousness. First of all, we must work together to stem the tide of moral decadence, seen most especially in sexual immorality and family breakdown. Stated more positively, we must work together to promote the ideal of true love and true family values.
Secondly, we should work together to implement a system wherein the highest expressions of religious wisdom are brought to the table where the world's most serious and urgent problems are being addressed. As Rev. Moon has proposed, such a system can be achieved by creating a "senate of religious leaders" who hold official seats at the United Nations. In this way, global problems can be addressed from a broader, and even more realistic perspective.
In order to realize these twin goals, and in order to fulfill both the interfaith ideal and the United Nations ideal, Rev. Moon is proposing the establishment of a new federation which works to transcend conventional religious barriers and national barriers. Moreover, this federation will also work to overcome the conventional split between the religious and the secular quests for world peace. The provisional name of this proposed federation is The Inter- Religious and National Federation for World Peace and Unification. It will have its official inauguration in the very near future.
It is my sincere hope that you will support this bold initiative and lend your own experience, wisdom and effort to the realization of its high ideals. At this time in history, we must not let national boundaries or religious differences keep us from fulfilling the ideal that lies at the heart of all religions, world peace.
Again, let me thank each of you for taking time during this holiday season to attend this important conference on "realizing the interfaith ideal." It has been my privilege to address you this evening. It is my hope that you will reflect seriously and prayerfully on what has been proposed. I welcome your own constructive thoughts and suggestions, as well as your cooperation in establishing this religious and national federation. Let us continue to work together to realize world peace.
Rev. Kwak is President of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification International; and the Inter-Religious Federation for World Peace
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