How to bridge the gap of “Civilisation from above” with “Religions from below”? by Petrus Bsteh, Vienna 7-5-2013

Vienna:Tuesday 7 May 20132

Roundtable on

inter-religious dialogue in promoting freedom of religion or belief

organized jointly by the Ukrainian OSCE Chairmanship,OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and
the European Council of Religious Leaders RfP-ECRL 

Opening session , one: of the Speakers

President of the Religions for Peace Austrian chapter:  Rev. Petrus Bsteh 

A heartfelt welcome to this distinguished Assembly’s meeting on behalf of our Local Chapter of Religion for Peace.

Interfaith Dialogue was fostered in the Afro Asian Institute inVienna ever since its foundation in 1959. We intensified this Culture of exchanges particularly since the eighties of the past Century and were founded as a chapter in 1989 by the then Secretary General Dr. John Taylor. The Austrian Chapter was soon entrusted with the General Meeting of WCRP Europe with late Kardinal Franz König and then Ambassador of Poland to Austria Vladislav Bartoszewski as key speakers.Vienna was also privileged to host the thirty years celebration of WCRP international in 1991 with its present Secretary General Dr. Bill Vendley and the head of WCRP Europa Dr. Klaes attending.

Our chapter made it a point to annually organize international meetings, but most of all we convene exchanges on various topics of relevance every second month. Friendly ties with all our religious leaders in Austria, who mostly are members of our Chapter, are a special scope.

Article on Religious Freedom of the Human Rights Declaration (Manifest) is one of its most important passages. It deserves deeper reflection to bear out its true meaning. Allow me to insinuate, however, what we deem a stable frame of contents indispensable to avoid creating a vacuum which may be filled in no time with fundamentalist tendencies and extremist ideologies.

Civil Religious Freedom first of all safeguards the full liberty of worship and public witness. It prevents conflicts of interests amongst religions where interferences are at stake. Promoting such freedom of religions seems indispensable in an increasingly global society where a majority of the population lives in urban conglomerates. Conviviality today depends largely on mutual social recognition and on respect of human dignity, indeed of individual consciences.

Consequently a number of issues of peaceful survival are nowadays topics of common strive for all religions: Preservation of clean air and drinking water supply, of all vital resources of the earth, care for the flora and fauna of this globe, health, hygiene of mankind, safe disposal of its waste. Also, more importantly, a climate of welfare free from racism, social injustices, and political repression. All religions would wholeheartedly agree that promoting international peace deserves such positive engagements beyond any limits of religious convictions.

We who are in positions with responsibility in our religions should be aware that there is a fundamental change of climate for religions. Whereas unto modernity religions determined (or prevailingly influenced) public (and private) life, the “anthropological turn” brought substantial mutations for factually all religions – especially in Europe. For humanists it became less important (or meaningless), whom religions subjected to a number of preliminary tests (scrutinia) for acceptance and membership (catechumenates), for them it is now the individual in turns who subjects religions to a number of questions, tests, criterias. This prominence of the emerging “self” was conditioned by the individual discovery of natural sciences, later per “ideas claras et distinctas” of mathematics, still prior by the discovery of the very texts of the Holy Scriptures. The traditional role of Religions declined from divine absolute priority to private relative piety. From Church Community a christian collective Assembly emerged. Reformers became isolated (“here I stand I cannot otherwise”) and caused innumerable more types of Reformation to proliferate. The individual making up its choice for a religion of its taste gained prominence by its free turn to membership. This turn makes an “idiot”, bare of what he left already and of what he is to gain in the future. But the self obtains a lasting stamp (Character sacramentalis) by membership, a qualification enriched by vertical and horizontal relations: Salvation, Redemption, eternal Beatitude is linked up with such membership. But before membership is assuming its role, religions may make promises of paradise with angels resp. deterr with hell and demons. Religions find ways to fascinate and fetter followers.

The deepest roots of human cultures remain cults and veneration of the “Holy” however we describe or define it. Any conscience and indeed language takes its origin from what we call awe of the sacred. From the innermost fanum all clans and tribes, peoples and indeed any human organisation, be it religious or civic, emancipated profane or conservative traditional, evolves. And as the cult of the transcendent will always include the claim of being unique as well as universal it bears the potential to be missionary, even “fanatic”, consequently suggesting competition, confrontation and conquest.

The deepest desire was explaining faith by reason. But this state was so lonely, that it became hated and religions were made culprits. Atheism, Agnosticism became more and more aggressive, religions ever more segregated.

Is there a clash of civilisation preprogrammed? Maybe the fundamental change or rift between the paradigms of the religious fanum and civic profanum is often overlooked in this case. To avoid or overcome such seemingly unavoidable dilemma one may abstract from religious convictions for the sake of a certain humanist armistice like the declaration of human rights has pledged seemingly. But, maybe, one will abstain and miss thereby the innermost values of a neighbour or of humanity all together. Can we afford to risk such loss? This is why we propose a Dialogue of Religions trying by all human means to translate one’s most precious values to someone else’s who is eager to listen, understand, to learn and, in turns, may offer his own sacred convictions in mutual hospitality. Inquiring and asking, answering and proposing means promoting Dialogue in such a way which leaves many things open for the present and hopefully to the future. In mutual respect religions then would constitute a lasting motivation for civilisations and cultures alike. This seems to be the missing link.

We need to spread a civilisation of peace, likewise we have to deepen the cultures of mysticism.

“Wer das Tiefste gedacht, liebt das Lebendigste.”
(“who has thought the deepest, will reach the sources of life” Fr. Hölderlin).

Struggle for survival seems to gain priority nowadays. How to bridge the gap of “Civilisation from above” with “Religions from below”? By personal Dialogue of mutual hospitality and trust, seems to be the urgent answer. From there to bridge the rift to civilisations may be a common goal of religions themselves in modern societies on our globe.

Petrus Bsteh

Written by RfP Europe

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