Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Oasis Panel

... held at the United Nations in honor of the scholarly journal Oasis which focuses on (largely Christian-Muslim) inter-faith dialogue. The panelists were Dr. Seyyed Hossain Nasr, of George Washington Univ., a leading Islamic scholar (who will also be part of a panel on Christian-Muslim relations at the annual Hecker Lecture at St. Paul's College in DC later this month), Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, Rabbi Israel Singer of the World Jewish Congress and Angelo Cardinal Scola, Patriarch of Venice. John Allen has a decent summary at his blog. Fr. Guy Selvester of Shouts in the Piazza also has a brief summary, along with the full text of Cardinal Scola's remarks at his blog. (A summary of the panelists interventions is also present, in Italian, at the Oasis website.)

[The name of the review comes from the 2001 speech of Pope John Paul II at the Omayyad Mosque in Damascus:
The place of prayer is dear to both Christian and Muslim
as an oasis in which one meets the Merciful God
along the walk towards eternal life
and with one's brothers and sisters in the bond of religion.]
From John Allen's summary it seemed that Rabbi Singer talked about Egyptian muftis at Al Azhar in Cairo who had issued a fatwa denouncing violence in religion, and Dr. Nasr reminded the audience that all the three religions represented in the panel had violent histories (apparently responding to the Pope's remarks in his now famous Regensburg lecture.)

I've read through Cardinal Scola's remarks a couple of times. He seems to compare the American model of secularism favorably to the European one (with a much more "naked public square"), and talks about the need for a secular state which will nonetheless respect pluralism and the "hybridization of civilizations" that is one of the significant global phenomena of our day. What the resulfts of this "hybridization" will be is unclear, and will only be clear in the encounter itself. And the central way this encounter can take place peacefully, aided by the kind of State that he envisions, is one where the "testimonies" of the human experience of people (including believers) is taken seriously. No one can, of course, deny anyone else's experience.
The road that wish humbly to propose is the one which has seen come to birth the review "Oasis" and the Centre that promotes it. We can identify it in the theme of testimony, understanding this category in all its theoretical and practical force. Testimony challenges every man and every woman, inviting them to become persoanlly involved, to pay with their persons, and not to prejudge the limits of what can be achieved in encounter and dialogue with the other. Given the risk implied by freedom that is never definable a priori, nobody can ever evade testimony. Human freedom can never be "deduced", for its full significance is given only in the act which embodies it.
I like this! Especially because, in my experience and in my circle, the sense is that the only way the religions can coexist is if believers start taking their religion less seriously -- if Christians become lukewarm Christiand and if Muslims become lukewarm Muslims, for instance. That is, the only true way forward that favors peace is secularism. Religious seriousness is equated (not unreasonably!) with fundamentalism and therefore with violence. What Cardinal Scola (and the Popes have kept saying in their own fashion) proposes is a way that respects the integrity of different religious traditions, as well as their universalism (something which is certianly true of the Abrahamic religions) while inviting dialogue -- especiall in the form of giving and receiving "testimony" -- in a peaceful manner.

I will look forward to getting my hands on copies of some issues of Oasis to see what this looks like on paper.

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