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Kirill (Gundyaev), patr. Inter-Civilizational Dialogue (Address to the seminar ‘Dialogue between Cultures and Civilizations: a Bridge between Human Rights and Moral Values’, Paris, March 13-14, 2007)
Address to the seminar ‘Dialogue between Cultures and Civilizations:
a Bridge between Human Rights and Moral Values’,Paris, March 13-14, 2007.
Let me start by thanking the organizers for gathering in Paris representatives of various religious communities and political and social institutions to discuss the pressing and topical issue of human rights. I especially value the opportunity to speak today within the wails of a renowned international organization, representing the UN system and concerning itself with science, education and culture in the world. Given UNESCO’s specific sphere of competence, I would like to consider the proposed topic in a cultural perspective. As you well know, culture can be interpreted both in a narrow and in a broad sense. In the narrow sense of the word, culture refers to certain forms of expression, based on the aesthetic sense inherent in human nature. In a broad sense, culture is the whole complex of values that guide the life of the individual and society. Consequently, culture has a significant influence on political, social and economic life.
Today many stable cultural systems exist, based on different religions and different historical experiences. In such a diverse world there is, of course, a problem of mutual understanding between cultures, the differences between which can lead not only to cooperation but also to conflict.
However, the risk of conflict derives not only from the relations between distinct cultures, each with its own geographical area. In
the context of globalization, we are inevitably seeing take shape a global culture that is common to all peoples of the world, and which international organizations have taken upon themselves to define and police. The proper role of such a global culture should, however, be to serve as a bridge between different civilizations, not to seek to subordinate them to its standards. In recent years, however, we have seen the contrary: increasing tension between so-called universal values and cultural identities.
Today human rights are recognized as such universal values. From the outset, human rights have been emphatically shaped as a secular value, understandable by and acceptable to all people, regardless of ideological position. In turn, the secular nature of this concept serves as a basis for certain forces to assert that it is not open to influence by religion, and that religion itself should submit to its rules. I can confidently say that many religious traditions of the world today do not question the fact that the language of human rights must remain a secular language. At least the Orthodox tradition does not. But on the body of human rights and their realization, the religious world has every right to bring its influence to bear, as does any other ideology. And when I talk of the body of human rights, I have in mind a set of specific rights and freedoms. It is known that the list of such rights was formed gradually, beginning with civil and political rights, and is still in the process of formation.
The body of rights and freedoms should not be dogmatic in character. If we repeat the mistake of the Marxists and dogmatize socio-political doctrines, labelling all who dissent from them as revisionists, this will not bring about mutual understanding in society. The doctrine of human rights originated in Western Europe in specific historical conditions and can and should evolve with the changing world. Of particular importance here is the use people make of their human rights. For example a person given the freedom to possess a firearm for self-defence is also at liberty to break into a school and shoot his classmates. In other words, human rights provide opportunities, but their use depends on a person’s ideological position towards right and wrong.
After asserting that religious organizations are entitled to bring their influence to bear on both the content and the realization of human rights, I would like to clarify the direction in which, and the means by which, they seek to do so. Last year, the theme of human rights was widely discussed in Russian society. Today, Russia is facing many challenges, and is now rethinking much of what previously seemed obvious. In April last year the Tenth World Russian People’s Council held in Moscow focused on the theme of human rights. In passing I would point out that the World Russian People’s Council is an international organization that has consultative status with ECOSOC.This council serves as a platform to discuss current issues of social development from the viewpoint of the originality of Russian culture. This annual event gathers representatives of traditional religions, governments and society in Russia, and from Russian communities around the world. The Council is headed by the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexy II.The debate which began at the Council then spilled over into Russian society at large and is still very much alive.
One starting point of the Russian Orthodox Church’s reasoning on human rights is the freedom of the individual. So today, when someone says that the Russian Church, which initiated a debate on human rights, is trying to eliminate human rights or to invent some new interpretation of them, this is simply not true. Freedom is inalienable because it is part of human nature created by God. If the Russian Church were to preach anything else, this would be contrary to the divine teachings. However, our church, along with the social forces which support it, asserts the need to reconcile human rights with the support of traditional moral values in society. Which begs the question: what are these values? And how do they appear in society - are they contractual in nature or do these values have a universal character? The World Russian People’s Council responded to these questions, stating in its declaration that there are moral values that are supported by an absolute majority of the religious traditions of the world, as well as secular schools of thought.
To check its findings with other peoples and religious traditions of the world, the Russian Church has held a series of consultations over the past year. Last May, in conversations with the Roman Catholic Church, we found that our churches have the same vision on many issues. In July, Moscow hosted the summit of religious leaders, which was attended by representatives of many of the world’s traditional religions from 49 countries. The Council of Europe has also expressed interest in the debate raised by the Russian Church. Under its aegis conferences took place in Nizhny Novgorod and Strasbourg.We found that most religious traditions of the world and some secular currents of thought coincide in their definition of the contours of moral values. And what should we do when there are people who disagree with the traditional morality that is shared by most people in the world? After all, democracy is particularly sensitive to the non-discrimination against people of different views in society. How do we organize society in such a way that the majority lives in accordance with its values, but the minority is not discriminated against? These questions led us to consider how the Moscow Patriarchate sees the mechanics of way religion influences the formation of international and national norms and values.
Unfortunately, the development of contemporary international law often follows the path of imposing the views of various minorities onto the majority of the planet. And in this we see a dangerous trend that threatens the principles of democracy. In order to ensure freedom and at the same time take into account the values of the majority it is necessary, in our view, to determine in which areas of society - public or private - the values of the majority and of the minority should be present. In the private sphere, the freedom of moral choice should be as complete as possible. Here a person can make a moral choice at his or her own discretion, even act in a way that is contrary to public morality. In other words, a person should not be discriminated against if, for example, he cheats on his wife. This corresponds to the words of the Apostle Paul: ‘Who are you condemning the servant of another? Before his own master he stands or fills. And he will rise, for God is strong to make him
stand’ (Rom. 14:4).The only things that can be limited in the private sphere are moral choices which can cause injury to another member of society. However, in the public sphere of any state only those values shared by a majority of the people should be allowed to be disseminated and receive public support.The modern democratic state recognizes this practice. For example, in some democratic countries there is a ban on the establishment of Nazi parties. In so doing, these restrictions do not intrude into the sphere of personal belief. A person can hold Nazi beliefs, but he may never preach them in society.
The possibility of restrictions in the application of human rights is already defined in the sources of international law in this area. Thus, Article 29, paragraph 2 of the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights states that: ‘In exercising their rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for human rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and general welfare in a democratic society.’ Thus, enshrined in the Declaration is the idea that human rights cannot be an absolute measure, but should be consistent with a number of parameters.
In a normal democratic state, one or another system of values is strengthened by debate in which various ideological groups should participate without limitation. They represent their point of view, and the majority agrees with it or rejects it. Today, we are often faced with the distortion of this principle, especially in international organizations. People having their own private views, the inherent minority, seek by means of international and national mechanisms to impose their worldview on the majority. When recurrent battles are engaged for the rights of minorities, in many cases what is at stake is not any threat to the life and happiness of these people, but the desire to impose their way of thinking and living on the majority.
In this regard, I would like to point to several problems common to many secular countries where the majority of the popu-
lation belongs to the Christian culture. Under pressure from the views of religious minorities or secular circles, representing the minority, Christian symbols are removed from public places. Goodbye to Christmas trees, cribs, tables of the Ten Commandments, and crosses on the flags of many European states. Others support banning the teaching of religious subjects in schools, not because anyone is forced to study them - virtually everywhere these subjects are taught on a voluntary basis - but because someone is haunted by the fact that most people willingly associate with the bases of their religious culture. In the same vein, certain people protest when the authorities meet with Christian leaders or with religious leaders in general. The state, whose task it is to protect and preserve the cultural and spiritual heritage of the country, frequently denies this heritage in favour of the view of minorities who no longer feel beholden to it and who invent new occasions to combat what they hold up as discrimination.
A similar situation arises in the moral area, when no restrictions are placed on promoting immoral lifestyles. Of course, people of non-traditional sexual orientation should not be subjected to insults and attacks. But neither should we seek to impose a positive attitude toward homosexual relations through the school and the media, or allow such people to adopt children or teach their lifestyle. Because teaching and adoption is not just about the rights of gays, it is also about the rights of the other people whom they want to adopt or whom they intend to teach. Recently, associations defending the rights of sexual minorities have been becoming more aggressive in their slogans. Why are gay parades - in conflict with the morality of most people - imposed with so much energy on the inhabitants of the majority of European cities? What’s next? A requirement to legalize paedophilia? Here too they will tell us that this is human rights. In the Netherlands there is already a political party that stands for that freedom.
The Orthodox Church today offers a return to the understanding of the role of human rights in public life as it was laid down in 1948. Moral standards can legitimately serve as a barrier to the
imposition of human rights in the public sphere, whenever this is detrimental to the moral level of society. Of course, such restrictions must be clear and understandable to society. In the meantime, we are confronted only with the fact that pastors who speak out against the promotion of a homosexual lifestyle are clapped into jail. The creation of such barriers and restrictions calls for dialogue with religious organizations which uphold the standards of traditional morality at both national and international levels. Often even this democratic right is denied to religious organizations, at times under the guise of seemingly plausible premises. One technique is to bring the topic of the dialogue of civilizations into the discussion of inter-faith relations. We have seen this in particular in the wake of September 11,2001, with people trying to sell the idea that the origin of intercultural tension lies in the inability of religious traditions to live in peace and good neighbourliness. Many are the would-be many intermediaries, including among people far from faith, who are quick to suggest recipes for cohabitation of different religions in the same society.All these ideas, in fact, boil down to the need, in their eyes, to minimize the influence of religion in the public sphere and deny it a voice in public debate, under the excuse of multiculturalism of the contemporary world. For the representatives of religious traditions such conclusions look like ideological tricks to justify refusing the world’s religious traditions an equal right of say in the formation of international legal norms.
Modern international organizations should make a serious step towards openness not only in the direction of secular civil society, but also of religious organizations .Within the UN framework such a step could be the creation of an Inter-Religious Council or Assembly, where representatives of the world’s major religious communities can discuss values and socio-political issues. This would ensure that international institutions are not utilised to impose the views of the minority onto the majority of the population of the planet, which adheres to traditional, religiously-grounded morality. Otherwise, you will witness the further alienation of the traditional religious communities from the secular reading of human rights.
As I have said, the fact is that the dialogue of civilizations is neither a commonplace nor a nice-sounding slogan. It is a complex matter which cannot be reduced to simply inculcating into religious people the norms of modern social life. If the secular world were to abandon its paternalistic approach to inter-faith dialogue and its self-appointed right to judge religions and we were all to sit at a round table on equal terms, then we would have the real dialogue without which it is impossible to build a just and secure world in the context of globalization.
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