Pedro Barrajon, L.C.
The role that religions play has been acknowledged recently in the fields of culture, politics, economics and the different domains of social life. In the Marxist doctrine, following the severe critic that Feuerbach made in his book The Essence of Christianity, religion was considered as the opium of the people or as Feuerbach said œthe vampire of humankind” as religions sucked the blood that the people needed to realize their own self-realization.
Work Together for a Better World
After the fall of communism in 1989 and September 11th 2001 many sociologists have considered in a different way the role of religions. It’s well known the appeal to peace that John Paul II made to world leaders in Assisi, and that created what was called the spirit of Assisi; that is, the spirit of cooperation among Religions to work together for peace.
A brief meeting on a hill, a word or two, a gesture, sufficed for fragmented humanity to joyfully rediscover its original unity. When, at the end of a grey morning, a rainbow appeared in the sky over Assisi, those leaders of religions, called together by the audacious prophet of one of them, Pope John Paul II, saw in it a pressing call to brotherhood: no one could doubt that it was prayer which had won this visible sign of concord between God and the descendants of Noah”, in these words described Cardinal Roger Etchegaray (1996) the œspirit of Assisi”.
A Special Mission of Religions and Their Leaders
The leaders of the world religions have a special mission in working together toward important world issues: peace, justice, brotherhood and ecology. Doing so they are using the natural leadership they have in their own communities for the good of mankind.
First of all, peace. We know that wars have plagued and ravaged humanity for centuries. But still there are many conflicts going on in the world in which many people lose their life daily in inhuman ways. The building of peace is a task of every man and woman, but religions have an important mission in this issue insofar religions should foster the esteem for human dignity. A common effort of the leaders of the main world religions toward world peace is needed in order to collaborate with others along the same goal. This action can be decisive. We know that normally the traditions of religions give important status to the leaders who guide a community, especially in matters of doctrine. Religions have normally an important hierarchical structure. That’s why the leaders can give to the organization of a religion an important contribution to foster conditions of peace among nations.
In a globalized world religions should unite their efforts in a common work to build peace. Each religion holds its own doctrine and belief, but there is a common ground in which it is possible to build together a peaceful world through the voice of natural moral conscience that demands from each one of us to do what is good and to avoid what is evil. The religious leaders should stress the importance of this common ground because it is on it, that it is possible to achieve common agreements.
Another issue in which the leaders of religions can work together is justice. We know that peace is built only if justice is assured in society. The relations between men of different cultures, races and religions should be performed on a basis of recognition of justice as a principle of a sane anthropology. Justice is the right relationship among men that is recognized by the law. The leaders of religions have this important mission to cultivate in the life of their communities, that every member of his community shows appreciation for justice. This virtue requires acknowledging the truth of the equal dignity of every man and woman. Many Religions profess that the Divinity guarantees justice in the world. This belief should help to admit a basic justice as a principle that regulates society. Religious leaders should emphasize these theological foundations that consents the principle of justice among individuals.
Many religions speak about the creation of the world and mankind, brought forth by the Divinity or, in the case of Judeo-Christian tradition, their creation out of nothing. This belief could found the principle of brotherhood in societies. If everybody has been created by the Divinity, this common creation, guarantees the principle not only of equality but also of brotherhood. There is a brotherhood between humans because there is this common Creator or at least a common first principle. Religious leaders can use this theological principal to foster unity between different cultures, nations and populations.
The issue of ecology, the respect for what the Divinity has created, is also closely related to religions. Religions can foster respect for the world that has been given to man to take care of it. Religious leaders should propose what in their Religions can help to create this purer and better world, this common house in which all men can lead healthy lives and in peace.
Dialogue with Modernity
In all these issues religious leaders can work together for a better world. The question that arises is how this is possible? Aren’t religions accused to provoke more divisions that unifications? Don’t believers tend to become fanatics? Are not religions guilty of many wars along history? These are questions many people ask and are not easy to answer, but it is clear that an important task for religions now is the dialogue with Modernity.
So the next short reflections will shed some light on the need for religious leaders to synthesize their beliefs with the values of Modernity. Modernity is a set of principles and values, a kind of vision of world and man, that is based in the ideas of Enlightenment, a cultural movement that was born in some European countries (France, Germany, United Kingdom) in the second part of the 18th century and that vindicates the separation between faith and reason, and the autonomy of human thought from other bonds. Religions have been confronted with Modernity in as much as they have suffered the impact of is always very these new ideas and they have to give an answer to them. Tradition is usually very important in every religious doctrine; that is, what has been passed on from the past. But at the same time, it is important for a Religion to have a healthy confrontation with new ideas. This dialogue allows the religions to give an integral answer to new questions and to integrate these new ideas into the set of doctrine. For example, within Catholicism the confrontation with science has been very important. The Galileo case is quite known by now. The famous Italian scientist, Galileo, presented his ideas about the movement of the earth around the sun in a then theological context of a restricted interpretation of the Bible. The ecclesiastical judges at that time did not consider the possibility of going beyond the literal interpretation of the Bible, using a wider, more integral and allegorical interpretation, that had been already adopted by some Fathers of the Church like St. Augustine. But, this case served the Catholic exegetes to review their criteria about the right interpretation and so finally in the second Vatican Council, in the Dei Verbum Constitution, the Church was able to give a more complete and integral vision of biblical exegesis. All this process took a lot of time to be assimilated by theologians and Church authorities, but it was very useful for both, faith and reason.
Some analogical integration is needed for the relationship between religions and Modernity. It doesn’t necessarily imply that a religion should change its doctrine, but this process of re-thinking a doctrine and confronting it with what science and eventually philosophy say, is an important task for religions and especially for their leaders.
Religious leaders need a good knowledge of what modernity is. Modernity may have had some exaggerations and sometimes the value of reason has been overstated. Modernity can’t be accepted as a whole and is also in need of a correct interpretation. But a healthy Modernity should balance the weight of a faith that could tend to fideism. It is important to integrate the positive points of Modernity in a more holistic vision of religion. To understand critically Modernity and its contribution to the right development of mankind is a special task for religious leaders. What Religions can’t do is simply ignore Modernity. Dialogue with Modernity is required to understand better some values of a democratic way of life like tolerance, liberty, justice, the value of science and technology. If the world can count on cultivated religious leaders, they can guide believers to a more integrated and peaceful world. Only doing so, can avoid the danger in which Religions can fall: fanaticism.
A Common Philosophical Background and Leadership
It would be very desirable to form properly world religious leaders in a good philosophy and in the acceptation of the principles of a healthy way of reasoning. They don’t all have to share the same philosophy, but the fundamental principles about human knowledge, the capacity of truth, openness to love, the dignity of the human person, the vocation to live in society, the research for the common good, the respect for other people and their ideas should be accepted by all.
Finally I want to remind you about the importance for religious leaders to hold those characteristics that should be present in any leader. Anthony A. D’Souza (2006) puts it. Leaders, according to this author, should be servants, shepherds and stewards. As a servant, the leader has to listen, have empathy, heal, persuade, be committed to service and the growth of people, know how to build a community. As a shepherd, he has to know his sheep, be present and available to them, lead them, be courageous and daring, guide and direct them, show concern for the lost sheep, have a spirit of self-sacrifice. As a steward, the leader is a man or woman of trust, responsible, accountable, gifted with honesty, integrity, transparency, and a man or woman of character.
All these qualities suppose a high formation in human values or virtues in the religious leaders. We need Religious leaders that can show real empathy for humanity and a true love for mankind, so they can be able to become real builders of a new and better human society.
D’Souza, A. (2004). Leaders for today, hope for tomorrow. In A. D’Souza Empowering and empowered leadership, pp. 11-67. Atlanta, GA: Pauline Publications.
Etchegaray, R. (1996). The spirit of Assisi.
About the Author
Father Pedro Barrajon is the rector of the Athenaeum Pontificium Regina Apostolorum in Rome. He hast a Laurea Degree in Philosophy, and a Doctorate in Theology, at the Gregorian University of Rome. Hex is a professor of theological anthropology at the Athenaeum Pontificium Regina Apostolorum in Rome, and member of the Catholic formation Legionaries of Christ, since 1974 dedicated to studying and spreading the teachings of the Pope. He has written several books on philosophy of science especially on middle age catholic authors such as St. Bonaventure
and St. Anselm (such s “La sabiduría cristiana en las Collationes in Hexaëmeron de San Buenaventura”, Ed. PPU, Barcelona, 1998) and the role of angels and demons in human salvation (Anges et démons dans l’histoire du salut, Ed. Liamar, Principauté de Monaco, 2011.). He is also a trained exorcist.