Unification News for November 2001

Religious and Spiritual Elements in Historical Clash and Reconciliation

by Dr. Frank Kaufmann

This is from a presentation at the Conference Renewing the United Nations and Building a Culture of Peace, United Nations, held in New York City, August 17-20, 2000

The 30 Years War (1618 - 1648) together with subsequent intellectual currents of the late 18th and early 19th century Europe contributed significantly to a situation in which religion lost status among the intelligentsia as a viable ground for social order, and a legitimate a voice for social morality. (The 30 years war diminished the population of Europe by close to 20%, as compared with 3% lost in WWII. Imagine the breadth and depth of devastation that has been attributed (rightly or wrongly) to religious intolerance.) I submit that this is a condition from which established religion (particularly Western religions) never recovered (even to this day), and further, that this circumstance facilitates the persistence of conflict for a number of distinct but related reasons.

Enlightenment secularism with its emphasis on reason and scientific method overtook the privileged status of established religion, claiming most importantly what is often called "the moral high ground." This development with its modern roots most conspicuously in the 17th century established quite ineradicably assumptions among the cultured elite (whether spoken or unspoken) which sounds essentially like this: "I am not like religious believers who tend to be inflamed with passions and sooner or later end up in war. I am a reasonable person. A tolerant person. An open minded person." The elite are permitted to be religious if necessary, but only privately. Contemporary writers describe this latter reality as evacuating religion from "the public square." I use the term intelligentsia, or cultured elite to include the academy, established media, entertainment content providers, and for the most part the professional class, with exceptions, of course, and not exclusively these groups. Furthermore with the help of media, like daytime talk programming, and the ideological sub-texts found in popular magazines, these views are mimicked in ever wider segments of the population. These trends are mildly in remission at present.

Scorn for Religion

There are a great many problems that result from the breadth and prevalence of the errant assumptions described above, which I discuss in this paper. It should be noted out the outset though, that it is not the writerís position that the community identified as the intelligentsia or the cultured elite are culpable. I hold that these errant assumptions about religious belief are reasonable, and further that the primary burden for reversing and setting aright the views of secular or religiously private intellectuals lies with religious leaders and believers themselves, not with their detractors.

When I mention errant assumptions I refer to the implied or express view that religious believers are less intelligent, less sophisticated in their thinking, more superstitious, more prone to hold beliefs which are internally inconsistent, more strident in their beliefs, more prone to aggression in defense of their beliefs, more likely to generate conflict, and so forth, than the intelligentsia and the cultured elite. Unfortunately for believing religionists it does not suffice merely to demonstrate themselves to be on the par with, or a touch more civil and compassionately engaged than their non-religious counterparts. I reiterate, severe damage was done in the 17th century and it was pinned on religion.. Until the legacy of the 30 years war is irrefutably repudiated, religious belief will continue to be disparaged and misrepresented. The status of sophistication, reasonableness, moral superiority, and social awareness, will remain with the secular and privately religious until that time, whether warranted or not.

Two-Fold Impact on Conflict Resolution

Peace-making requires process which has both interior and outer aspects. The outer aspects in turn are two-fold:

1. Conflict resolution relies upon rigorous and fair collection of data and information on the conflict in question (its history, and its current parameters and so forth).

2. Conflict resolution draws upon the careful use and application of social scientific findings concerning dynamics of human relationships. It is interested to know which induce or sustain conflict, and which beget peace and reconciliation.

Both the task of information gathering, and the application of social science are handicapped whenever peace-seeking disregards religion and spirituality.

The view described at the outset of this article in which religion is presumed to be the home of intolerance, narrow-mindedness, and eventual conflict underlies the tendency for peace-seeking efforts to gloss over religion in conflict-analysis.

Ordinarily all serious efforts at gathering information and data for analysis would never deliberately exclude a major element in the equation, yet this is precisely what occurs even at the highest levels of negotiations and diplomacy. This stems from the view that it is better not to bring up the matter of religion since this invariably leads to further antagonism among the parties in question. Attempts at reconciliation then are pursued solely on political and economic fronts even though religious and cultural allegiances are almost invariably far deeper and more far reaching for people.

Since the fact of religion itself often is not appreciated, it becomes impossible to positively appreciate the religious feelings, commitments, and concerns of people who are in the conflict situation. If religion itself is disrespected and presumed to be an agent of conflict, it becomes difficult for negotiators and mediators to extend empathy and sensitivity to parties involved in this all important part of their lives. Yet empathy and understanding are classically understood to be qualities which are necessary and expected of negotiators and mediators. Fact is, it is necessary to get the whole picture of a conflict, and to consider all the concerns of the people and groups involved, rather than to deliberately black out an immensely critical element in the equation.

For this change to happen mediators must develop a positive appreciation of the fact that people hold particular religious views. The fact that most people are religious cannot remain a mystery or a source of incomprehension for people who would seek to mediate and guide human, social relations.

Furthermore, good conflict-resolution professionals eventually should be able to appreciate not only the fact that people are believers, but even develop the capacity actually to comprehend the particular religious beliefs of persons or groups involved. Information gathered on a given conflict should properly require religious expertise to the same or greater degree as the study of political and economic forces that bring groups into conflict.

The second area of loss which derives from an adverse view on religion affects the social scientific and methodological side of peace seeking. In addition to sound and unbiased collection and analysis of relevant data, pursuing peace also relies upon effective procedures for organizing human relations in such a way that peaceful dealings result. Here, the notion of spirituality comes more forcefully to bear, and does so in two ways:

The pursuit of peace like everything else proceeds on the basis of core presuppositions. Embedded in every recommendation for the restoration, repair, or setting aright of undesirable circumstances is the view about how and why things are, or have gone wrong in the first place. All peacemakers proceed based on a world view which provides for them a key to the source and origin of conflict as a phenomenon in and of itself. Furthermore there always operates as part of those world views, beliefs about the nature of conflict itself. Here are some examples:

Some presume that conflict itself is always bad, and must be dissolved at all costs. It is always wrong to be in a conflict situation.

This differs from the view that conflict arises as a reaction to the fact that people and communities do terrible and evil things to one another. In this case conflict is not the primary evil, and both sides of the conflict are not painted with the same brush of bad behavior. This is a view of conflict in which there can be genuine good guys and bad guys. For example would it have been misguided to say to the allied forces in World War II, "You must never fight. Fighting is a bad, bad thing."

Some people may think that conflict is just part of the nature of things. They think its almost natural. It will always arise it can never be removed, but it is a noble pastime to battle against it. This view would have a distinct impact on the characteristics of peace programs built thereupon.

Others think that conflict characterizes human relations due to historical actions which corrupted an original and divine design for human nature which if restored would result in the capacity for peace.

Some may think that conflict comes from wrong thinking. Some believe that the problem should be approached structurally , others think the problem should be approached through programs for improving the individual.

However one views conflict, it is grounded on a base metaphysics (consciously or not), and what is known as a theological anthropology (again consciously or not).

The reason why disregard for religion is so harmful on this particular front is because these base metaphysics and theological anthropologies held by all parties involved in peace efforts, happen to be precisely what religious belief is all about. To believe religiously is to hold a view of the nature of reality, and a view on the nature of the human being and identify with a particular prescription to repair and restore.

Religious believers are consciously aware of these three aspects which naturally underlie all efforts for peace: Namely, what is the nature of reality, what is the condition of the human being, what prescriptions for peace derive naturally from the rigorous extrapolation of these first two positions.

Religionists and believers should be experts at understanding the impact of the unprovable assumptions about reality each person holds. This expertise and insight can be very helpful to peace negotiators and mediators in helping them recognize their own horizons of faith (including secular or non-religious faith systems), and can help point out how these faith positions play out when rigorously extrapolated to see the implications for action programs for human betterment.

The job of religion is to cause human beings to change for the good. Thus if peace makers have as a necessary part of their brief the responsibility to modify human behavior for the sake of good, it should be very concerned to have the constant presence of experts in religion. Since religion has as its brief to make people better, it is unreasonable to exclude the discipline oriented specifically precisely to this end.

Thus both for understanding the parties, the issues, and the history of particular conflicts, as well as for assessing presuppositions underlying proposed dynamics for reconciliation, it is necessary for contemporary leaders including the intelligentsia and the cultured elite to restore a positive understanding of the nature and role of religion.

What Must Religions Do?

Quite simply contemporary religions must remove from popular opinion the assumption that strong religious belief is characterized by the likelihood if not inevitability of clash and conflict with anyone who does not believe in the same way.

This task is far more demanding than the efforts to date by religious leaders and public figures who are able to demonstrate impressive degrees of sophistication, magnanimity in social welfare, and even in international relations. What is required is that religions demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are able and willing to cooperate on a permanent basis. This cooperation must be a permanent state of affairs, and not be event driven or issue driven.

Just as there exist international bodies, inter-economic bodies, and even joint military relations, religions must find a way to effect permanent dialogue and negotiations at the edges of their respective doctrines and practices as well or better than their counterparts and colleagues in politics and economy.

Religions working on parallel tracks no matter how magnificent the work will remain on the fringes of peacemaking. Religion has been tarred with an ever spreading image that strong belief is a divisive force in human affairs. This negative image must reversed before religion can take up its absolutely indispensable role in serving the cause of peace and diminishing conflict.

As religion comes to be recognized as a friend of peace, rather than being painted as inherently a threat, the diligent and noble labors among the worlds great individuals and institutions who pour out their hearts for peace and reconciliation every day can benefit and see their labors yield lasting fruit.

If religion can restore its reputation among the moderns by behaving as institutions in the same manner as nations, financial institutions, secular relief organizations etc., it should then become fully inserted into peace seeking work. There should not be a separate track of interfaith dialogue, off and to the side of the real McCoy (the Camp Davidís, the Osloís, the Wye Rivers and so forth). Peace seeking should be integrated and holistic. It must include in the foreground the elements of religion and spirituality which exert such powerful influence in personal and world affairs. Eventually, it should become inconceivable to attempt peace negotiations without religion experts deeply involved.

Dr. Kaufmann is the Director, Office of Interreligious Affairs, for the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace.

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