These were exactly the words with which I opened my lecture in March 1985 to a distinguished group of high ranking mullahs in Tehran.
And this was indeed my most challenging dialogue experience with Muslims, among them the later president Chatami.
Before and after this event I had numerous encounters and dialogues with Muslims all over the world. All this encouraged me to write my big volume on Islam.
But, ladies and gentlemen, I am addressing you also as a sincere friend of Judaism.
Already as the theological adviser to the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s, together with Professor Joseph Ratzinger, the current pope, I struggled in favour of a positive document on the Jews and on religious freedom.
And also spoke out constantly in favour of the official recognition of the State of Israel by the Vatican and for a two-state-solution for Israelis and Palestinians.
Before and afterwards I had numerous encounters and dialogues also with Jews all over the world. And this encouraged me to write my big volume on Judaism.
But I do not want to bore you with past memories, but I wish to address today’s global crisis and to convey ultimately a message of hope.
Especially after September 11 2001 we face in Europe and America the threat of a general suspicion – this time not of Jews but of Muslims. It is as if they were all incited up by their religion, and were all potentially violent. Whereas conversely, Christians, because they are taught by their religion, are all seen as non-violent, peaceful and loving… That would be a fine thing!
Of course there are many problems with Islam, especially in Europe with its big Muslim minorities, but let’s be fair: of course we citizens of a democratic constitutional state reject forced marriages, the oppression of women, honour killings and other archaic inhumanities in the name of human dignity.
But most Muslims join us in doing so.
They suffer from the fact that the condemnations made are sweepingly of the "Muslims" and the "Islam", without differentiation. They do not recognize themselves in our picture of Islam, because they want to be loyal citizens of the Islamic religion.
Let’s be fair: those who make "Islam" responsible for kidnappings, suicide attacks, car bombs and beheadings carried out by a few blind extremists ought at the same time to condemn "Christianity" or "Judaism" for the barbarous maltreatment of prisoners, the air strikes and tank attacks carried out by the US Army (several 10,000 civilians have been murdered in Iraq alone), and the terrorism of the Israeli army of occupation in Palestine.
After five years of war also a majority of Americans realize that those who pretend that the battle for oil and hegemony in the Middle East and elsewhere is a "battle for democracy" and a "war against terror" are trying to deceive the world – though without success.
In the third Global Ethic Lecture in Tübingen in 2003 the then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan emphasized: "No religion or ethical system should ever be condemned because of the moral lapses of some of its adherents. If I, as a Christian, for instance, would not wish my faith to be judged by the actions of the Crusaders or the Inquisition, I should be very careful to judge anyone else’s faith by the actions that a few terrorists may commit in its name."
So I am asking you: Should we go on with a tit-for-tat reckoning which leads only deeper into misery?
No, another basic attitude to violence and war is called for. And basically people everywhere want it, unless – in the Arab countries and sometimes also in the USA – they are being led astray by power-obsessed and blind governments and are having their minds dulled by ideologues and demagogues in the media.
Violence has been practised in the sign of the crescent, but also in the sign of the cross, by mediaeval and contemporary "crusaders", who perverted the sign of reconciliation, the cross, so that it became a sign of war against Muslims and Jews (Spain).
Both religions Christianity and Islam have expanded their spheres of influence aggressively in history and defended their power with violence. In their sphere they have propagated an ideology, not of peace, but of war. So the problem is a complicated one.
We are all in danger of being inundated by the gigantic floods of information and thus losing our bearings. And one can sometimes hear even scholars of religion expressing the opinion that in their own discipline it is hardly possible to see the woods for the trees. So I shall attempt to offer you a wider context and give you some basic orientation on Islam in relation to the other two Abrahamic religions, Judaism and Christianity.
To get straight to the point: I want to address three complexes of questions:
I. The abiding centre and foundation, what must unconditionally be preserved:
II. Epoch-making upheavals: what can change;
III. Present-day challenges: the tasks that press in on us.
I. The abiding centre and foundation
This is a very practical question: What should be preserved, what should be unconditionally preserved, in each of our religions? In all three prophetic religions there are extreme positions: some say "Nothing just this should be preserved," while others say "Everything, really everything should be preserved":
– Completely secularized Christians say that "nothing" should be preserved: they often do not believe either in God or in a Son of God, they ignore the church and dispense with preaching and sacraments…
At best they treasure the cultural heritage of Christianity: the European cathedrals or Johann Sebastian Bach; the aesthetics of the Orthodox or Anglican liturgy or also paradoxically the Pope, as a pillar of the established order, though of course they reject his sexual morality and authoritarianism and sometimes are agnostics or atheists.
– But completely secularized Jews also say that "Nothing should be preserved": they think nothing of the God of Abraham and the patriarchs, they do not believe in his promises, they ignore synagogue prayers and rites and ridicule the ultra-Orthodox.
They have often found a modern substitute religion for their Judaism which has been evacuated of religion: the state of Israel and an appeal to the Holocaust. This also creates a Jewish identity and solidarity for secularized Jews, but often at the same time seems to justify a state terrorism against Arabs which is contemptuous of human rights.
– And completely secularized Muslims also say that "Nothing should be preserved". They do not believe in one God, they do not read the Qur’an, Muhammad is not a prophet for them and they roundly reject the Shariah; the five pillars of Islam play no role for them.
At best Islam, of course emptied of its religious content, is to be used as an instru¬ment for a political Islamism, Arabism, nationalism.
You certainly understand now that as a counter-reaction to this "Preserve nothing" the opposite cry can be heard: "Preserve everything". Everything is to remain as it is and allegedly always was.
"Not a stone of the great edifice of Catholic dogma may be torn down; the whole structure would totter," trumpet Roman integralists and traditionalists.
"Not a word of the halakhah may be neglected; the will of the Lord (Adonai) stands behind every word," protest ultra-Orthodox Jews.
"Not a word of the Qur’an may be ignored, each is in the same way directly the word of God," insist many Islamist Muslims.
You see: Here conflicts are pre-programmed everywhere, not just between the three religions, but above all in them, wherever these positions are advocated militantly or aggressively: often the extreme positions goad each other on.
But be sure, reality doesn’t look quite so gloomy. For in most countries, if they are not loaded with political, economic and social factors, the extreme positions do not form the majority. There are always a considerable number of Jews, Christians and Muslims – of different magnitudes of course depending on the country and the time – who although often indifferent, lazy or ignorant in their religion, by no means want to give up everything in their Jewish, Christian or Muslim faith and life. On the other hand, though, they are not prepared to keep everything: many Catholics do not swallow all the dogmas and moral teachings of Rome and many Protestants do not take every statement in the Bible literally; many Jews do not observe the Halakhah in all things; and many Muslims do not observe all the commandments of the Shariah strictly.
Be this as it may: if we don’t look at some later historical forms and manifestations, but reflect on the foundation documents, the original testimonies, I mean the "holy scriptures" of each religion – if we look at the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Qur’an – there can be no doubt that the "abiding" (that which must abide) in the religion concerned is not simply identical with the "existing" (what exists at the time); and that what makes up the "nucleus", the "substance", the "essence" of this religion can be defined by its "holy scriptures".
So the question here is quite a practical one: what should be the abidingly valid and constantly binding element in each of our own religions? It should be clear that not everything need be preserved, but what must be preserved is the substance of faith, the centre and foundation of the religion concerned, its holy scripture, its faith! as Pope John XXIII formulated in his famous opening speech to the Second Vatican Council, in which I participated as theological adviser, together with my dear colleague Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, as the two teenager theologians!
But you may ask me some more concrete questions, and I give you very brief but basic answers:
You may ask me –
1. What must be preserved in Christianity if it is not to lose its "soul"?
My answer: in the light of the New Testament (seen in the context of the Hebrew Bible), the central content of faith is Jesus Christ: as the Messiah and Son of the one God of Abraham who is also at work today through the same Spirit of God. There can be no Christian faith, no Christian religion, without the confession "Jesus is the Messiah, Lord, Son of God!".
You may ask me
2. What must be preserved in Judaism if it is not to lose its »essence«?
My answer: in the light of the Hebrew Bible, the central content of faith is the one God and the one people of Israel. There can be no Israelite faith, no Hebrew Bible, no Jewish religion without the confession: "Yahweh (Adonai) is the God of Israel, and Israel is his people!"
And you may ask me
3. What finally must be preserved in Islam, if it is still to remain "Islam" in the literal sense of "submission to God"?
My answer: For all believing Muslims it is clear that the Qur’an is God’s word and book. And the central message of the Qur’an is completely clear: "There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his Prophet."
The distinctive feature of the three monotheistic religions which is to be preserved is something that they have in common and at the same time something that distinguishes them.
– What have Judaism, Christianity and Islam in common?
Faith in the one and only God of Abraham, the gracious and merciful Creator, Preserver and Judge of all human beings. Not a cyclical view of world history and individual life, but oriented towards an end. They have in common the high esteem of prophetic figures, a normative scripture and common ethical standards.
– And what distinguishes them?
For Judaism: Israel as God’s people and land (essential for Israel).
For Christianity: Jesus Christ as God’s Messiah and Son.
For Islam: the Qur’an as God’s word and book.
In the constant centre of the three religions, of Judaism as of Christianity and finally of Islam, is grounded:
– Originality from earliest times,
– Continuity in its long history down the centuries,
– Identity despite all the difference of languages, peoples, cultures and nations.
However, this centre, this foundation, this substance of faith never existed in abstract isolation, but in history: it has time and again been reinterpreted and realized in practice in the changing demands of time. Toynbee: challenge and response!
II. Epoch-making upheavals
In response to ever new and great challenges in world history the commu¬nity of faith has undergone a whole series of religious changes, indeed in the longer term revolutionary paradigm shifts. This concept I learned from a historian of sciences, Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962): What changed in the Copernican Revolution? The sun, the moon, the stars remained the same, but we changed: our way to look at them, our world view – the paradigm: "The entire constellation of beliefs, values, techniques, and so on, shared by a given community." I applied the paradigm theory to the history first of the church then of the different religions. What changed e.g. in the Reformation? God, Christ, the Spirit for Christians remained the same. But the view of the believers changed: the paradigm, the models.
The historical analysis of the paradigms of a religion, those macro-para¬digms or epoch-making overall constellations, serves to orientate knowledge. Paradigm analysis makes it possible to work out the great historical structures and transformations: by concentrating on both the fundamental constants and the decisive variables at the same time. In this way, it is possible to describe those breaks in world history and the epoch-making basic models of a particular religion which emerged from them.
So against the background of such a considerable history, a historical-systematic analysis of its epoch-making overall constellations must be attempted. In my book Christianity I worked out the macro-paradigms in the history of
I: the Jewish apocalyptic paradigm of earliest Christianity: Many Christians even today do not realize that the first Christians were Jews. But already with St. Paul Christianity expanded to the Greek culture:
II: the ecumenical Hellenistic paradigm of Christian antiquity. But with the shift to a Christian Empire under Constantine a specifically Latin paradigm developed:
III: the medieval Roman Catholic paradigm: It reached its climax in the High Middle Ages, but its decline provoked paradigm IV.
IV: the Protestant paradigm of the Reformation: It was challenged, alongside with the Roman Church, by the Enlightenment and the French Revolution:
V: the paradigm of modernity oriented on reason and progress. But even this paradigm seems today to be in a crisis and in a transition to paradigm VI:
VI: the paradigm of post-modernity which will hopefully be more ecumenical.
First insight: Every religion does not appear as a static entity, in which allegedly everything always was as it is now. Rather, every religion appears as a living and developing reality which has undergone different epoch-making overall constellations. Here a first decisive insight is that paradigms can last down to the present, and this is valuable also for Judaism and Islam. This is represented on the diagram by continued lines. This is in contrast to the "exact" natural sciences: the old paradigm (e.g. that of Ptolemy) can be empirically verified or falsified with the help of mathematics and experiment: the decisions in favour of the new paradigm (that of Copernicus) can in the longer term be "compelled" by evidence. But you see in the sphere of religion, however, things are different: in questions of faith, morals and rites (e.g. between Rome and the Eastern Church or between Rome and Luther) nothing can be decided by mathematics or experiment. And so in the religions old paradigms by no means necessarily disappear. Rather, they can continue to exist for centuries alongside new paradigms: the new (the Reformation or modernity) alongside the old (of the early church or of the Middle Ages).
II. Likewise, in Judaism I worked out the macroparadigms in the history of Judaism:
I: the tribal paradigm before the formation of the state, which was founded by King David only around 1000 BCE;
II: the paradigm of the kingdom, the monarchical period ended with the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BCE. After the exile developed:
III: the paradigm of theocracy: Temple, priests, but foreign rulers.
IV: the medieval paradigm started with the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE: no Temple nor priests but rabbis and the synagogue. This lasted until the Enlightenment and the American and French revolutions, leading into:
V: the modern paradigm. But the assimilation of European Jewry ended with the catastrophe of the Holocaust. The foundation of the State of Israel in 1948 was the starting point of what could be called:
VI: the ecumenical paradigm of post-modernity.
Second insight: The persistence and rivalry of different paradigms is of utmost importance in assessing the situation of religions. This is a second important insight. Why? To the present day people of the same religion live in different paradigms. They are shaped by ongoing basic conditions and subject to particular historical mechanisms. Thus for example there are still Catholics in Christianity today who are living spiritually in the 13th century (contemporaneously with Thomas Aquinas, the mediaeval popes and an absolutist church order). There are some representatives of Eastern Orthodoxy who have remained spiritually in the fourth/fifth century (contemporaneously with the Greek church fathers). And for some Protestants the pre-Copernican constellation of the sixteenth century (with the Reformers before Copernicus, before Darwin) is still normative.
This persistence is confirmed if we look now at the paradigm changes of Judaism and Islam; also in Judaism and Islam people live in different paradigms.
Some Ultra-Orthodox Jews see their ideal in mediaeval Judaism and reject a modern state of Israel. Conversely many Zionists strive for a state within the frontiers of the empire of David and Solomon which lasted however only a few decades. In a similar way some Arabs still dream of the great Arab empire and wish for the union of the Arab peoples in a single Arab nation (Pan-Arabism). Others prefer to see what binds the peoples together not in Arabism but in Islam, and prefer a »Pan-Islamism«.
III. Finally in my book on Islam I also demonstrate the macroparadigms in the history of Islam.
I: the paradigm of the original Islamic community of Mecca and Medina remains the "Golden Age": Muhammad and the four right-guided Caliphs;
II: the paradigm of the Arab empire of the Ummayads in Damascus was the consequence of a split in the original community between Sunnites and Shiites. The revolution of the Abbasides led to:
III: the classic paradigm of Islam as a world religion. After the end of this Caliphate of Bagdad developed:
IV: the paradigm of the Ulama and Sufis: the expansion of law schools and mystical orders. Under the impact of European colonialism and imperialism
V: the Islamic paradigm of modernization was initiated. It remains an open question if
VI: the ecumenical paradigm of post-modernity will develop also in Islam.
Third insight: It is precisely this lasting quality, this persistence and rivalry of former religious paradigms today, that is one of the main causes of conflicts within the religions and between the religions, the main cause of the different trends and parties, the tensions, disputes and wars. The third important insight that emerges is that for Judaism, Christianity and Islam the central question proves to be: how does this religion react to its own Middle Ages (at least in Christianity and Islam seen as the "great time"), and how does it react to modernity, where one sees all three religions forced onto the defensive? After the Reformation Christianity had to undergo another paradigm shift, that of the Enlightenment. Judaism after the French Revolution and Napoleon experienced the Enlightenment first, and as a consequence, at least in Reform Judaism, it experienced also a religious reformation. Islam, however, has not undergone a serious religious reformation and so to the present day has quite special problems also with modernity and its core components, freedom of conscience and religion, human rights, tolerance, democracy.
III. Present-day challenges
You may have experienced it yourselves:
Many Jews, Christians and Muslims who affirm the modern paradigm get on better with one another than with their fellow-believers who live in other paradigms. Conversely a certain Roman Catholicism, imprisoned in the Middle Ages, can ally itself better for example in questions of sexual morality with the "mediaeval" element in Islam and in Judaism (as it happened at the UN population conference in Cairo in 1994).
Those who want reconciliation and peace will not be able to avoid a critical and self-critical paradigm analysis. Only thus is it possible to answer questions like these: Where in the history of Christianity (and of course also of the other religions) are the constants and where the variables, where must be continuity and where disconti¬nuity, where is agreement and where resistance? This is a fourth insight. What has to be preserved is above all the essence, the foundation, the nucleus of a religion, and from that the constants given by its origin. Jesus Christ as a basic model is a constant, but the law of celibacy is a variable. What need not necessarily be preserved is everything that is not essential in the light of the beginning, what is shell and not kernel, what is structure and not foundation. All the different variables can be given up (or conversely developed) if that proves necessary.
Thus in the face of all the religious confusion, particularly in the age of globalization, a paradigm analysis helps towards a global orientation. Beyond question we find ourselves in a tricky closing phase for the reshaping of international relations, the relationship between the West and Islam, and also the relationships between the three abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The options have become clear: either rivalry of the religions, clash of civilizations, war of the nations – or dialogue of civilizations and peace between the nations as a presupposition for peace between the nations. In the face of the deadly threat to all humankind, instead of building new dams of hatred, revenge and enmity, we should tear down the walls of prejudice stone by stone and thus build bridges of dialogue, bridges particularly towards Islam.
IV. The three religions contribute to a global ethic
It is vitally important for this bridge-building that different though the three religions are, and different again the various paradigms which shift in the course of centuries and millennia, at the ethical level there are constants which make such bridge-building possible.
Since human beings have developed from the animal kingdom and become human, they have also learned to behave humanely and not inhumanely. But despite the use of reason which has now developed, because of the drives in human beings the beast in them has remained a reality. And time and again human beings have had to strive to be humane and not inhumane.
Thus in all religious, philosophical and ideological traditions there are some simple ethical imperatives of humanity which have remained of the utmost importance to the present day.
I shall now describe how the four elementary ethical obligations that occur in all great religious and philosophical traditions are also grounded in the holy book of Muslims, the Qur’an. I shall keep to the core statements of the Declaration toward a Global Ethic of 1993, confirmed by "A Call to our Leading Institutions" made at the Parliament of World’s Religions in Capetown, South Africa in 1999 and finally by the report "Crossing the divide: dialogue among civilizations" of 2001.
1. A culture of non-violence and respect for life:
"Have respect for life" – "You shall not kill", torture, torment or violate! Respect for life, in fact for all life, is deeply rooted in Islamic ethics. The Qur’an says that the killing of an innocent person is equivalent to killing the whole of humankind and the Prophet’s concern for the animals and for nature emerges from the hadith.
2. A culture of solidarity and a just economic order:
"Deal honestly and fairly" – "You shall not steal, exploit, bribe, corrupt. For the ethic of the Qur’an justice is so central that only a just person can be a right believer. "O you who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in your devotion to God, bearing witness to the truth in all equity; and never let hatred of anything lead you into the sin of deviating from justice. Be just: this is closest to being God-conscious." An unjust social order cannot be an Islamic order. The Qur’an requires that the surpluses beyond actual need shall be distributed to the needy and poor. Against this background mandatory almsgiving, the zakat, is even one of the five pillars of Islam.
3. A culture of tolerance and a life of truthfulness:
"Speak and act truthfully" – "You shall not lie, deceive, falsify, manipulate. The ethic of the Qur’an is essentially grounded in faithfulness to the truth. Truth (haqq) is one of the names of God and as central a value in Islam as justice. A just social order cannot be realized without truthfulness as a fundamental postulate.
4. A culture of equal rights and partnership between men and women:
"Respect and love one another": "Do not abuse sexuality", do not deceive, humiliate, dishonour. In principle, the Qur’an gives women and men the same status: "The rights of the wives [with regard to their husbands] are equal to the [husbands’] rights with regard to them, although men have precedence over them [in this respect]."
The principle of humanity, the most elementary principle of the global ethic, the human dignity of each individual, appears in the basic statements of the Qur’an: God has chosen human beings before all other creatures, and appointed them his governors on earth. But the golden rule of mutuality has been handed down in the Sunnah: "None of you is a believer as long as he does not wish for his brother what he wishes for himself."
All this is so obviously a common heritage of the three abrahamic religions that many bitter controversies of the past could be overcome in its spirit. It is made historically specific in the famous Islamic code of responsibilities in surah 17.22-38, which closely corresponds with the biblical Decalogue.
Let me conclude now: My whole presentation is based on a threefold unshakable hope dispite the enourmous difficulties and obstacles we have to face in the 21st century:
My hope is
– that each of the three prophetic religions have effective potential for the future on the basis of their spiritual and ethical wealth;
– that they will come to share more thorough understanding and collaboration;
– that they will together make an contribution to a more peaceful and more just world.
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