Bahai News -- Malta Star - Interfaith And The Psychological Challenge 11th / 12th August, 2003 - Issue No. 577

Opinion

Interfaith And The Psychological Challenge

- Anthony J. Licari

Monday, August 11, 2003

On the 25th July 2000, one thousand religious leaders gathered at the United Nations headquarters in a historic summit for world peace. The first reaction one has to this event with noble intentions is that religion and peace are related. This is opposed to the notion of religion as pure ceremony.

For many, this is very obvious. For those who are aware of historic facts, this may not be quite obvious since battles, wars and all sorts of conflicts have occurred throughout the ages because of religion and, in some cases-like Northern Ireland, India etc., they still are occurring. Various committed personalities, ranging from Mahatma Ghandi and the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Corrigan (whom I had the pleasure of meeting in Austria a few weeks ago), have made religion an important banner of peace.

The aim of the above summit was to “identify ways that the worldwide religious and spiritual communities can work together as interfaith allies with the UN on specific peace, poverty and environmental initiatives.” A further scope of the summit was “to discuss how to harness the power of religious tolerance and spiritual faith to educated and mobilise their communities to focus on reducing divisions and ancient antipathies.” This again implies that religions, all based on love, have ironically not always been sufficiently sympathetic towards each other.

On 4th January 2002, thirteen religions presented a “golden rule for peace” to the UN and particularly to Ms Gillian Sorensen, the Assistant Secretary General. I have no space here to draw up a list of all the rules. However, one may easily establish a common trait between these rules.

Chief Dan George, for example, representing Aboriginal Spirituality, stated that “We are as much alive as we keep the Earth alive”, a reminder that ecological commitment and spirituality are related. From the Bahai Faith we have an emphasis on brotherhood and mutual respect between men: “Lay not on any soul a load that you would not wish to be laid upon you.” From Jainism we have: “One should treat all creatures in the world as one would like to be treated.” Love is thus here extended to animals not as an option but as a spiritual duty. This I will refer to again in a future article about love, spirituality and the torture of animals as a sport, such as for example in bull, cock and dog fighting and fox hunting. A dogma from Zoroastianism suggests not to “do unto others what is injurious to yourself.” One need not seek religions where harm and hatred are preached, for in principle these do not exist. The fact remains, however, that these ills are not sufficiently discouraged between religions, for otherwise there would not be war—if one assumes that religion influences politicians.

Moving now to 11 Sept. 2002, I wish to quote from the statement of Jan Kavan, President of the 57th General Assembly of the UN, on the occasion of the Annual Interfaith Service to the Commitment of the Work of the UN: “The UN…is a forum that unites peoples of a multitude of faiths and backgrounds…it is a place…for finding common language and common solutions through dialogue and cooperation. It is in this spirit that the Organisation can fulfil its mission of bringing peace, advancement and dignity into the life of human beings.” One notes here the emphasis on solutions and on the multi-purpose of initiatives. Idealism and practical earnestness are thus very present here.

At this stage I wish to refer to the International Interfaith Centre which is very active still in 2003 and which was inaugurated in Oxford, UK, on 6 Dec.1993 as a direct inspiration from the 1993 Year of Inter-religious Understanding and Cooperation. A Trust was eventually established by the two oldest international interfaith organisations: the International Association for Religious Freedom and the World Congress of Faiths. The activities of this Trust are much wider than the strictly religious (if one may say so) for they include a commitment towards the solution of social and political problems. This one may probably call practical religion. Following the 11 Sept. tragedies in America, 14 international religious socially-committed associations published a press release which includes the following appeal: We have found that inter-religious dialogue can help wounds caused by feelings of injustice, isolation and inequality. This is what I consider a placing of real human problems above all religious ceremony.

In July of this year I attended the most recent international interfaith meetings held in Graz, Austria, where I had the pleasure of meeting personalities such as the thinker and theologian Hans Küng and the Nobel Prize Winner for peace Mairead Corrigan and the satisfaction of speaking on religions and peace during the final plenary session.

The Graz meeting was very successfully organised by Friedensbüro (Peace Centre) and attended by about 300 international delegates representing religions or interfaith organisations. Among the participants, there were also journalists and freelancers interested in multiculturalism and multicultural communication like the undersigned. Incidentally some of the people I spoke to already access maltastar.com or have the intention of doing so. To mention one case, this issue of maltastar.com will be read by Trudy and Toni Ackermann, Bahai representatives in Liechtenstein.

What is Friedensbüro?

It is a relatively young peace and multiculturalism enterprise promoted by the Municipality of Graz--the European cultural city of the year—which has links of cooperation with several other organisations including Caritas and Amnesty International. Its declared mission includes “the promotion of peace-oriented thinking.” Its practical work includes educational and informational activities related to the reduction of xenophobia, adolescent violence and refugee problems.

It is my intention as an educator to organise in 2004 a visit to Graz for a group of students who will have the opportunity to observe and participate in the activities of Friedensbüro especially in Austrian schools. In order to do this, I hope to obtain the support of organisations—local and foreign--especially airline companies willing to offer return tickets for this venture which may establish permanent relations between Malta and Frienensbüro.

The Graz Peace Centre meeting was very fruitful and some extremely important cases of interfaith and intercultural initiatives all over Europe were exposed. The participants themselves took part in practical sessions of interfaith immersion. No doubt the effects of this meeting will be both spiritual from all points of view and peace-promoting for years to come.

The part of the Friedensbüro meeting that impressed me most was the extraordinary “Religions in Concert” held at the magnificent Kasemattenbühne ruins of Schlossberg. This was an exceptional musico-socio-literary evening with a multi-faith and multicultural background. It was well worth walking up the very steep hill of Schlossberg for at least half an hour before settling down to this concert among thousands of enthusiastic guests.

The musical aspects of this evening were mostly of great talent and originality. However I wish here to refer to some of the speeches delivered during this concert.

The first was by Tullia Zevi (read in her absence) known to all as a promoter of pacifist philosophy and cooperation between cultures. From her speech I particularly retained: “If we want to prevent strife and rivalries, we must work hard to elaborate a destiny of being, or becoming, a pluralistic, interfaith and multicultural community.”

I met Hans Küng immediately after his rousing, much applauded speech for which I congratulated him. He asked me about Malta and I mentioned to him my contributions to maltastar.com. He would like to see a copy of this article—which will be sent to him. What I particularly retained from Küng’s speech was: “There is no peace between nations without peace between religions. There is no peace between religions without dialogue between religions. There is no dialogue between religions without research on the foundations of religions.”

Finally I wish to quote from Siegfried Nagl, Mayor of Graz, who declared in his welcoming speech to participants, that interfaith is related to a concert. “The instruments play according to a common but still varied score; they listen to each other and thus form a unity, in which the individual maintains significance.”

As a kind of concert, I wish to refer to the interfaith calendar and, as an example, I chose that of May 2004. Here are its multi-faith elements:

May 1. Beltane---Wicca
2. Mawlid an Nabi---Islam
4. Buddha Day.Visakha Puja---Buddhist
20. Ascension of Christ---Christian/Orthodox Christian
26-27. Shavuot---Jewish
29. Ascension of Baha’u’ullah---Baha’i
30. Pentecost---Christian/Orthodox Christian

The interfaith calendar should, in my opinion, figure and be objectively explained in all religion lessons of all religions, unless we want to retain the division and suspicion there is now--which hardly leads to peace and harmony between cultures.

All the above is, of course, well and good and I came away from this multi-faith and multicultural experience feeling very optimistic. I was, however, brought down to earth and my optimism was challenged, when I was at the Sigmund Freud Museum in Vienna and refreshed some of what I had studied in my psychology course.

Compared to the above, the following is slightly shocking. However I feel that it has to be said since I am convinced that optimism has to be challenged before it can approach credibility and reality. Freud had indeed expressed some very strong opinions about religion, including his conviction that it was a kind of “mass hysteria.” In his 1907 essay “Zwangshandlungen und Religionsübungen” (Obsessive Actions and Religious Practices), Freud contends that religions are no more than obsessive neuroses of mankind.

Such statements are a direct challenge to the scopes of interfaith experiences like the ones above. Conflict between religions reinforces statements like those of Freud and other psychologists. It is only the success of peace and harmony between religions—which is still very far away—that religion as “an expression of puerility” will be emancipated while claiming increased credibility.

Anthony J. Licari DEUG (Psychologie), L.Sc.H (Linguistique), M.Sc.H (Sociolinguistique), DEA (Stylométrie) (Sorbonne) studied Human Sciences, including psychology and linguistics, at the René Descartes University and Paris-IV Sorbonne. He currently teaches French and Linguistics at the Education Division and the University of Malta.

©Copyright 2003, Malta Star (Malta)

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