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Interfaith book discusses world peace
Many argue that there is no better example of an oxymoron than the mention of religion and peace in the same breath. An unfortunate irony. Religion, they say, has emerged as the catalyst for the most acrid of factional confrontations.
Millions have been conquered, enslaved and slaughtered in the name of God. Today’s conflicts take on a more pernicious and complex hue when infighting occurs within a single religion, as in the case of the Sunni-Shia divide.
The book, Interfaith Dialogue and Peace Building, tackles a seemingly insurmountable problem with deliberate sanguine. By no means are the contributors oblivious of the onerous task. Their credentials are impressive. For years, they have sought peace in some of the most fluid and unpredictable regions on earth.
From the perennial Middle East crisis and the still uneasy peace in Northern Ireland, to fractured Yugoslavia, the reader gets a detailed reading into the magnitude of man’s divisiveness. But are readers equally armed with the tools to temper man’s rage?
At the end of this collection of essays, should they be optimistic? Should they envision a world of peaceful coexistence?
In the conclusion, David Smock, the book’s editor posits that religion, despite popular belief, is not the underlying cause of conflicts.
He cites economic, social and political factors that manifest in religious clothing. It is a fairly accurate argument that should have set the thematic tone of the book, if only this essay was the prologue.
Throughout, strategies for peace are presented. Smock’s counsel is engaging. In any inter-religious dialogue, selecting the right participants is emphasised. He advances the importance of addressing imbalances in power among group participants. He also gives credence to healing and acknowledging collective and personal injuries, walking through history, so to speak. Joseph Liechty in, Mitigation in Northern Ireland, goes beyond negotiation, introducing mitigation as the best tool to address recalcitrant views that pose major obstacles to peace.
He writes: “One fundamental distinction between negotiating and mitigating applies consistently. Negotiation works by rejecting, neglecting, or substantially changing the perceived obstacle to peace, while mitigation maintains the problematic belief or practice but seeks to nullify destructive consequences.”
In dealing with the 2000 Roman Catholic issued Dominus Iesus that defines Protestant churches as not actually, “churches in the proper sense,” Liechty advices Catholics to be “sensitive in anticipating and avoiding circumstances in which the practice of exclusive communion may give offense.” He also states that positive relationships with Protestants should be sought, including sharing worship that is approved by Catholic teaching, practices where the communion question is not raised.
He argues that while both religions accept religious separation (in keeping with their gospel message), social separation need not follow.
“The distinction allows at least positive neighbourly relations and, potentially, cooperation in various enterprises without a religious element.” David Steele states in, “peace building in the former Yugoslavia,” that interfaith dialogue must involve the identification of basic human needs, such as recognition, well being, security, identity, community and control over one’s life.” In other words, as long as there is social and economic injustice, religious differences assume a twisted and threatening countenance.
Interfaith Dialogue, is a basically an academic text, a bible of sorts, in the area of conflict resolution for graduate students and NGOs working in war torn areas.
Interfaith groups (some more established than others) are formed to establish peace. But have they made a difference? The contributors are unanimous in the affirmative. While some may beg to differ, what is certain is that religious conflicts can only be managed. Equally notable in this effort, is the question of human nature, an area that is tangentially but compellingly addressed. Vignettes are used sparingly but effectively to lend that personal feel to the subject. For example, we identify with a Croatian woman who says that she could never forgive the Serbs but is convinced that one day she would.
We hear from the Serbian Orthodox priest who admits complicity in poisoning the air, leading to the Bosnia-Herzegovina conflict, and a Bosnian Croat woman who recalls her family’s suffering in a concentration camp because she is married to a Muslim. So much can be drawn from this scholarly work. For sure, the human spirit can soar to unfathomable, almost ethereal heights. But it can equally be dragged into a lethiferous vortex of unspeakable evil. In the end, the writers are banking on triumph of good over evil, with their overriding message of daring will and courage, forgiveness, redemption and the implacable yearning of the soul to love.
• Dr Glenville Ashby is a New York correspondent for the Guardian.
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