Religious figures address the European Parliament

posted by Kaihsu Tai on December 7th, 2008

I mentioned in these pages that the “green” Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, His All Holiness Bartholomew I, addressed the European Parliament earlier this year. This was as part of a series during the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue. The other speakers were His Eminence Sheikh Ahmad Badr El Din El Hassoun, Grand Mufti of Syria; Sir Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth; and most recently His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. Thanks to the intervention by the Liberals and the Greens, Dr Asma Jahangir, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, were also invited to speak. (Sophia in ’t Veld: “I would like to know why the Conference of Presidents has chosen to interpret intercultural dialogue exclusively as an interreligious monologue and whether it feels a part-session is an appropriate platform for religious messages.” and Sarah Ludford: “it seems that you [the President(s)] have made the Grand Mufti comparable to the Pope and the UK Chief Rabbi as a European representative of his particular religion.”)

Here are some highlights from each the speakers, with links to their texts for the gentle readers’ perusal over Christmastime:

Grand Mufti of Syria:

So, let us build a new generation that believes that the civilisation of mankind is a common work and that the most noble of all is mankind and freedom – after God, of course. If we would like to see peace in the world, let us start from the land of peace: Palestine and Israel. So we can tell people, as the Pope said years ago, rather than building the wall, let us build the bridges of peace, because Palestine is the land of peace. Considering how much it costs to build that wall, we could actually allow Christian, Jewish and Muslim children to attend the same school and to live as brothers and sisters in a school of peace.

Dr Asma Jahangir:

In my opinion it is important to start at an early age with getting acquainted with the approaches of your neighbours or of other religions. This would not necessarily need to involve long-distance travel, but, for example, could be organised by setting foot and meeting people at your local church, mosque, synagogue, temple or other places of worship. The size of the groups – especially for grass-root interfaith meetings – should not be too big, in order to give the interlocutors an opportunity to speak and to get to know each other personally.

The Ecumenical Patriarch:

For Orthodox Christians, the icon, or image, stands not only as an acme of human aesthetic accomplishment, but as a tangible reminder of the perennial truth. As in every painting – religious or not, and notwithstanding the talent of the artist – the object presents as two-dimensional. Yet, for Orthodox Christians, an icon is no mere religious painting – and it is not, by definition, a religious object. Indeed, it is a subject with which the viewer, the worshipper, enters into wordless dialogue through the sense of sight. For an Orthodox Christian, the encounter with the icon is an act of communion with the person represented in the icon. How much more should our encounters with living icons – persons made in the image and likeness of God – be acts of communion!

The Chief Rabbi:

What is a covenant? A covenant is not a contract. A contract is made for a limited period, for a specific purpose, between two or more parties, each seeking their own benefit. A covenant is made open-endedly by two or more parties who come together in a bond of loyalty and trust to achieve together what none can achieve alone. A contract is like a deal; a covenant is like a marriage. Contracts belong to the market and to the state, to economics and politics, both of which are arenas of competition. Covenants belong to families, communities, charities, which are arenas of cooperation. A contract is between me and you – separate selves – but a covenant is about us – collective belonging. A contract is about interests; a covenant is about identity. And hence the vital distinction, not made clearly enough in European politics, between a social contract and a social covenant: a social contract creates a state; a social covenant creates a society.

The Dalai Lama:

As a human being I believe – and for a number of years, many of my friends have agreed with my views and feelings – that in modern times there is too much emphasis on the importance of material values. We have somehow neglected our inner values. That is why, in spite of materially being highly developed, I have noticed there are still a lot of people – even billionaires – who are very rich but are an unhappy on a personal level. So one of the most important factors for happiness or joyfulness is very much to do with peace of mind, a calm mind. Too much stress, too much suspicion, too much ambition and greed I also think are factors which destroy our inner peace. So therefore, if we wish to achieve a happy life, there is no point in neglecting our inner values. These inner values are not necessarily what we bring from religious teaching, but I feel they are a biological factor we are already equipped with: warm-heartedness or a sense of responsibility, a sense of community.

By the way, the latest issue of New Left Review (number 54, November/December 2008) has a symposium on Robert Brenner’s book The Economics of Global Turbulence, also mentioned here earlier.

Published in: Catechism, China, Christmas, Green Party, Heresy, New Left Review, Orthodoxy, The Papacy | on December 7th, 2008 | Permanent Link to “Religious figures address the European Parliament” | Comments Off on Religious figures address the European Parliament

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