Faith can overcome religious nationalism. Here’s how

Religious Nationalism 2018

UN Photo/Rick Bajornas Religious leaders.

This article is brought to you based on the strategic cooperation of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Chris Seiple, President Emeritus of the Institute for Global Engagement; advisor to the Templeton Religion Trust; Senior Fellow, University of Washington’s Jackson School of International Studies.

It’s not the 1930s but you can see them from here. If we are to defeat the rise of religious nationalism, we will need a faithful patriotism equipped with new ideas and new skills.

The cross-cultural religious literacy skills of covenantal pluralism remind us of the best of who we are (defined by what we are for), equipping us to engage us at our worst (defined by what we are against).

It will take individuals and faith communities (the scriptural literacy of knowing what your beliefs say about the other); it will take education (the religious literacy to know enough about our neighbour’s faith to respect it); and it will take the cross-cultural skills of self- and contextual evaluation, communication and negotiation to lead and prepare faithful patriots to stand against the authoritarianism of religious nationalism.

I returned to Poland on 24 August, 1989. It was the day after the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which divided Poland between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. And a week later, on September 1st, church bells tolled across the land, marking the 50th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939. The next year, the Soviets would massacre Polish elites in Katyn, and soon the Nazis established their death camps in Auschwitz and Majdanek, among other places.

Lessons from the past

Poland, of course, is famous for the role that faith played in resisting the Nazis, and then the Communists. No one embodied this faithful patriotism more than Karol Józef Wojtyła, who would later be selected as the Archbishop of the town where I lived, Krakow, precisely because he was not considered a threat to the regime.

Wojtyła would become the first non-Italian Pope in 455 years. He knew his own faith at its best (scriptural literacy). He worked to ensure that his faith was equipped to respect other faiths, most notably at Vatican II (religious literacy). And as Pope, he led, relationally, and cross-culturally: as a Pole in the Vatican, as a European in the Cold War, and as a Christian in a multi-faith/multi-ethnic world.

Today there is no doubt that that John Paul II played a decisive role in ending Communism in Poland, and Eastern Europe, setting the stage for the demise of the Soviet Union. My return to Poland also witnessed the first non-communist Prime Minister to freely take power since 1946.

But it has been a generation since 1989, enough time to forget the lessons learned, the examples that inspired us.

Demonizing minorities

In some countries, we are in danger of returning to the 1930s — a time when dictators refashioned beliefs and behaviours in their own image, using a religious nationalism that manipulated the ethno-religious majority, defining it against ethno-religious minorities. Most citizens were not equipped to defend against this demonization, setting the stage for the invasion of Poland, and World War II.

The 1930s seemingly loom again. Unlike then, however, ordinary citizens now have much more information and choices that they can make about how their society and world is organized.

In my own global travels, I have found that only a faithful patriotism can defeat religious nationalism. A faithful patriotism is a non-xenophobic pride of country, defined by what it is for, and to include a welcoming place for ethnic and faith minorities.

Faithful patriotism, however, requires a covenantal pluralism that is, in turn, equipped with the practical skill sets of cross-cultural religious literacy.

Mutual respect

Covenantal pluralism moves beyond mere diversity — living side-by-side without engaging one another — to a mutual pledge to engage, respect and protect each other, without necessarily lending moral equivalency to the other’s beliefs or behaviour.

Covenantal pluralism includes exclusive truth claims. Covenantal pluralism does not seek to assimilate minority beliefs and behaviours — to make their adherents look and act like the majority — but to integrate them as key contributing ingredients to the common good, as fellow citizens.

I asked my friend how I should think about his identity. He responded, “I’ve been a Pashtun for 3,000 years, a Muslim for 1,400, and a Pakistani for 57.”

The result is more stability because minority faiths and/or ethnic groups see themselves as a part of the country’s common story, and thus feel like equal and contributing citizens to their country’s common good.

This effect is more likely, and sustainable, when people are intentionally equipped with the skills of cross-cultural religious literacy. I remember my first engagement with the Pashtun people. I asked my friend how I should think about his identity. He responded, “I’ve been a Pashtun for 3,000 years, a Muslim for 1,400, and a Pakistani for 57.”

I soon discovered during those trips to the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan, that the best way to engage such an ethno-religious identity was to embrace my own faith identity. I knew my own faith (Christianity) well enough that, when combined with the tremendous local hospitality, I was not intimidated by the overwhelming Muslim majority context. In fact, because we each knew what we believed, we were able to listen better. Across irreconcilable theological differences, we learned how to agree to disagree, agreeably, and therefore how to work together, practically (developing, for example, a scholarship program for students at the University of Science and Technology in Bannu).

Understanding your own faith

In other words, I had to understand my own faith at it best (scriptural literacy) and enough about my neighbor’s faith to respect it (religious literacy). The key is an elicitive and empathetic ear that enables the possibility of relationship—of a cross-cultural engagement that learns to speak to each other in a language and logic of mutual respect, and, eventually, mutual reliance.

I also learned in my travels that if I wanted to work on behalf of minorities, it was best to build work with and through the majority ethno/religious group. If I could understand those believers as they understood themselves, then I could also begin to understand how they understood and related to those of a minority ethnic/faith group.

In my many trips to Myanmar, for example, I met many Buddhist monks who had a profound respect for other religious traditions as a function of their own faith. Such influential leaders, in any setting, give permission for the majority to behave according to the best of their faith.

The worst of religion

But I also met some who believed that to be Burmese was to be Buddhist, and therefore there was no place for ethno-religious groups like the Muslim Rohingya in Burma. Such examples encourage the worst of religion.

Leadership begins with the majority group, whose responsibility it is, as a function of their faith, to include minorities as equals. Such leadership must be defined by a cross-cultural religious literacy that not only includes scriptural and religious literacy, but also, as I have learned, the relational skills necessary—of evaluation, communication and negotiation—to be better, together, across faiths and groups, developing practical policies and programmes.

Seeking these kinds of skills in order to be in, and deepen, a covenant among us won’t be easy. We will have to understand the best of faith and the worst of religion in our own tradition, promoting the good, and speaking against the bad.

We will have to learn how to listen in humility to other traditions that, like our own, will vary from culture to culture. And we will have to want to learn the cross-cultural religious literacy skills of building the multi-faith and multi-ethnic coalitions for the common good that our countries require, as global communities of the willing.

If we do, however, we will not only stand together as faithful patriots worldwide against religious nationalism, we will provide a new model of containing common threats by sustaining our common values.

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

‘Stealing’ food from hungry Yemenis ‘must stop immediately’, says UN agency

US migrant children policy reversal, still ‘fails’ thousands of detained youngsters: UN rights experts

The 5 mistakes we’re making in the fight against global energy poverty

EU Commission expects consumer spending to unlock growth

EU-UK Statement following the High Level Meeting on 15 June

5 futuristic ways to fight cyber attacks

Remarks by Commissioner Lenarčič on the deployment of EU Medical Teams to Italy

How the digital finance revolution can drive sustainable development

IMF: When high yield goes boom

UN relief official in Yemen condemns ‘horrific’ attack on passenger buses

National parks transformed conservation. Now we need to do the same for the ocean

UN member states express their will to tackle global migration but specific actions are still missing

New UN-supported farming app is cream of crop in tackling Sahel pest

COVID-19: EU co-finances the delivery of more protective equipment to China

Parliament backs a modernised EU electoral law

Is your business model fit for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

More efforts needed to boost trust in business and finance

3 reasons why Singapore is the smartest city in the world

Although Greece is struggling to pay salaries and pensions Varoufakis is “optimistic”; the Sting reports live from EBS 2015

A shipping industry leader explains how to keep supply chains moving amid a pandemic

EU and China in search of a win-win agreement through strategic cooperation ahead of the EU-China summit

Burning Amazon rainforests: Darting towards the doom of Human Race

FROM THE FIELD: ‘Hope’ on the horizon as UN Peacekeepers push deep into Mali

“Is Europe innovative? Oh, Yes we are very innovative!”, Director General of the European Commission Mr Robert-Jan Smits on another Sting Exclusive

Spread of polio still an international public health concern

New citizenship law in India ‘fundamentally discriminatory’: UN human rights office

EU unveils plan to accelerate Capital Markets Union ahead of London’s departure from the bloc

Mali just took a huge step towards universal healthcare

Women outliving men ‘everywhere’, new UN health agency statistics report shows

First-ever World Braille Day underscores importance of written language for human rights

The West and Russia impose a new order on the world

Praising Roma’s contributions in Europe, UN expert urges end to rising intolerance and hate speech

Security Council welcomes Yemen breakthrough, but lasting peace remains a ‘daunting task’

This woman changed the world of work – and you’ve probably never heard of her

Can Obama attract Iran close to the US sphere of influence?

UN launches plan to promote peace, inclusive growth in Africa’s Sahel

European Commission presents comprehensive approach for the modernisation of the World Trade Organisation

SMEs are driving job growth, but need higher investment in skills, innovation and tech to boost wages and productivity

Structuring Your Perception: The Key to a Good Mental Health during COVID-19

Does the world have strong enough institutions to handle risks like Trump and Brexit?

5 facts to know about Africa’s powerhouse – Nigeria

Prevention is key to ‘breaking the cycle of HIV transmission’, UN chief tells General Assembly

Trump’s Pandemic Failure: A Missed Opportunity

Greece: Tsipras’ referendum victory does not solve the financial stalemate of the country and its banks

5 lessons from China on how to drive sustainable growth

Public climate finance to developing countries is rising

Canada has the most comprehensive and elaborate migration system, but some challenges remain

How much time has the ‘European Union of last chance’ left?

Long-term EU budget: Parliament wants safety net for beneficiaries

Yemen: Security Council backs new mission in support of key port city truce

The result of European Elections 2019 seals the end of the business as usual era in Brussels

Syrian civilians must be protected amid ISIL executions and airstrikes: Bachelet

UN Committee says Ebola in DR Congo still an international public health emergency

OECD will follow Canadian proceedings addressing allegations of political interference in foreign bribery prosecution

Hunger in Yemen: WFP considers aid suspension in face of repeated interference by some Houthi leaders

Ten UN peacekeepers killed in a terrorist attack in northern Mali

New General Assembly President brings ‘valuable insights’ into key UN challenges

The G7 should take the lead on ocean targets for 2020

The DNA of the future retail CEO

‘Cataclysmic events’ in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, began ‘global push’ against nuclear weapons says Guterres, honouring victims

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s