Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A Noble Cause For Religion

It was another talk in the lecture series God bless America, Religion, society, and policy in the USA, organized jointly by the Carl-Schurz-Haus Freiburg and the Landeszentrale für politische Bildung Baden Württemberg (State central to foster political education).

Carl-Schurz-Haus' charming Director Friederike Schulte introduces the speaker.
When Professor Thomas Matyók started talking about Religion as a Feature of Peace and Stability Operations spontaneously the title of a blog came to my mind: A noble cause for religion. Let's face it: How many wars were fought and are still fought and how many crimes were committed and are presently committed in the name of religion? So eventually religion would help as peacemaker?

There was one first argument that convinced me. In case of a conflict zone when governing authorities are absent religious institutions keep working. Yes, I remember 1945 as a boy. When US troops overran my village in East Westphalia the Catholic Church was present proving that religion is stepping in when and where governments lack capacity and legitimacy. As one of its grassroots's activity, as Professor Matyók called it, the local Church not only continued to offer mass and religious education but also engaged in assistance to incoming refugees. At the end there was the collaboration between the occupying forces and the operating Church so that in 1946 less than a year after the total defeat of Nazi Germany my fellow classmates and me celebrated the First Holy Communion on Sunday after Easter (Weißer Sonntag) with all the pomp possible in those difficult times.

Apropos Westphalia. Several times Professor Matyók mentioned the Westphalian Peace Treaty of 1648 that ended 30 years of atrocities between the warring parties always pretending they were fighting about religious issues. In the beginning of the peace talks the war-weary parties still insisted on two places to negotiate separately (Münster for the Catholics and Osnabrück for the Protestants) but at the end when they signed the treaty politics overcame religious issues. In fact, the Protestants in Brandenburg and Saxony had already sold their souls to their princes who not only governed but were their fidei defensor (defendor of their faith). Only the Catholic Church objected against the disregard of religion in the treaty with the papal nuncio Fabio Chigi issuing a solemn protesting brevis. The other negotiators not only couldn't care less but answered in agreement with most of the Catholics by an anti-protest note. Historically the pope rejected the treaty only in 1650; the bull: Zelo domus Dei ab however is backdated November 16, 1648.

Professor Matyók in full action
Back to Professor Matyók's talk. According to him 5,8 billion adults and children or 84% of the world population have some sort of religious affiliation. However, when worldwide 6 out of 10 people are religious and the figure is 8 out of 10 for the Middle East and Africa this figure must be much lower for Europe and the US. The speaker was convinced: Nevertheless religion will continue. It establishes normative values and ethics and since people approach religion emotionally and not intellectually they will act out of their feelings. Professor Matyók said that the global poor have more trust in religious than any other organizations.

He also stated that people younger than 34 tend to be more religious than older respondents. He quoted Jean-Marc Leger President of the Worldwide Independent Network/Gallup International Association (WIN/GIA) who concluded: With the trend of an increasingly religious youth globally, we can assume that the numbers of people who consider themselves religious will only continue to increase. Let him assume, I would rather call the movement spirituality and not religion for the "classical" churches in western countries continue to loose members.

Professor Matyók is categorical: The US government apparently has difficulties to engage with religious installations due to the First Amendment to the Constitution that had introduced the separation of state and religion in the States. US foreign policy does not strategically engage religious organizations and actors as peace building partners.It simply ignores faith, religion, and god.

The US seeks and has always sought to advance democracy. Democracy however does not work without religious freedom. About 70% of the world population lives where religious freedom is severely restricted. So religion becomes an important factor in many conflict scenarios in particular when religious groups engage in violence for rational, earthly reasons. It is the bad old story: Religion is used by extremists to escalate tensions with other religious communities.

The observed sacralization in the Middle East can be seen as a response to European secularization. However fear not: Christianity is on the rise in the Global South with Timbuktu and not Rome becoming the religious center. So we can expect that the future of Christianity will be conservative and fundamental and in conflict with the enlightened western society.

Syrian peace talks have started last weekend in Geneva. The representatives of the Assad regime and the rebels meet in separate rooms with messengers assuring the communication between the delegations. This is perturbing when thinking back to the Westphalian peace talks. Are those separate rooms a good sign? Mind you, the peace talks that ended the Thirty Years' War lasted for more than three years, from June 1645 to October 1648. Since in Geneva the discussing parties are both Muslims will religion help to make peace?

No comments:

Post a Comment