Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 28, 2005
Faith in a troubled world
Church can stir reconciliation out of tolerance
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
The Christian faith has an important role to play in making today's unstable and turbulent world a better place, says an American theologian.
Speaking at the 2005 Anthony Jordan Lectures at Newman Theological College, Father Robert Schreiter said the Church has the faith resources and the clout to make a unique contribution in areas such as reconciliation, migrant identity, solidarity, and the eradication of racism.
In three lectures, Schreiter, a professor at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, said Christians must respond to the challenges presented by a world besieged by intolerance and turbulence.
"Faith, I believe, has to account for itself in the midst of what is happening in the world as we begin to offer some contributions to resolving the dilemmas that lie ahead," he told more than 200 people attending the March 18-19 lectures.
Schreiter said the prospects for a peaceful future are gloomy. Globalization, increased migration, the resurgence of religion and threats of global terrorism are the main causes of instability today.
Rough ride for the poor
"Globalization creates a great deal of turbulence and instability. It is a rough ride for many, especially the poor," he said. While the rich enjoy the fruits of globalization, much of the world population suffers from poverty, malnutrition and disease, or political oppression.
In this context, Christians are called upon to create ways to eradicate suffering, Schreiter said.
Malnutrition and disease can be addressed by more effective food production and medical distribution; racism must be combatted through education, he said.
Migration is as old as human history but the migration of the last two decades has had distinctive features, he said. "The relatively inexpensive possibilities of air transportation have now created migration from Asia, Africa and Latin America as well as inter-migration from Eastern Europe to countries in the West."
Pushing and pulling
The combination of push factors such as poverty and war and the pull factors of opportunities for a better life have created a pluralization of Western societies never before seen, he said.
One person in 12 is now a migrant and because of the relatively inexpensive means of communication and transportation, migrants no longer have to break their ties with their homeland. This affects how people choose to align their allegiances between the country of birth and the chosen country of employment.
As a result, countries have become intolerant of newcomers. Politicians in several European nations are claiming that their countries are full and that they cannot accept any more new faces.
Religion can help to create a "transnational" type of migrant identity that honours both the new country and the old. "This can be a powerful antidote to the xenophobia, the racism and the forms of prejudice that still mark the human family," Schreiter said.
Another movement creating turbulence is the resurgence of religion. It manifests itself in various ways.
"Among the poor and lower middle classes of Latin America, Africa and Asia, pentecostalism is sweeping through the landscape like wildfire," Schreiter noted. It is estimated there will be more pentecostals by 2025 than all the Orthodox and mainline Protestants combined.
"This is rapidly changing the face of Christianity around the world today."
In Islam, the world's second largest faith, has also seen a resurgence. It is fuelled by diverse factors, including the growing resentment of being humiliated by the Christian West.
"The invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq have been the most recent causes for resentment of Christian forces humiliating Muslims in their own heartland," he said. "The support of Israel by the United States and the neglect of the Palestinian people only confirm such resentment in the minds of many."
There are other factors. "Many young, educated males in the Muslim lands cannot find jobs. Since Western technology has failed them, they turn to their faith."
As recently as the early 1990s some scholars dismissed Islam as too disorganized to make much social difference. "Today they are speaking much differently about what is going on."
The resurgence of religion is closely associated to migration because "migrants are frequently more explicitly religious in their practice in their new country than they were in their homelands," Schreiter observed.
Religion a major player
Religious belief, however construed, now is a major player in international relations, Schreiter said. "It can no longer be discounted as merely the intrusion of private faith into the public forum."
Because of its intellectual and emotive power religion can add stability to the world, but it can also deepen its instability, the priest warned.
The final movement causing instability is global terrorism, Schreiter said. "Terrorist actions have multiple causes stemming from resentment, humiliation, hatred and desperation. Globalization, migration and religious resurgence all contribute to the environment that spawns and sustains terror."
Terrorism has led to much less tolerance of ambiguity, Schreiter said. "In my own country the language of multiculturalism collapsed in the weeks immediately after Sept. 11, 2001."
In a world filled with conflict and upheaval, reconciliation and forgiveness is the only path to stability and peace, Schreiter said. Christians have a definite role in reconciliation work in areas consumed by conflict.
"We must not forget that the language of reconciliation and forgiveness is largely a religious language and the advances that have been made in our understanding of reconciliation in a Christian context I think help us move forward in this regard,' he said.
"The religious capacity to envision reconciliation and forgiveness creates the conditions for the development of a genuinely new and renewed society."
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