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Pietro Parolin {*}

The Importance of Freedom of Religion

from the Catholic Church's Perspective


From the periodical of the Catholic Academy Bavaria 'zur debatte', 1/2008, P. 6f
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


1. Phenomenology of Globalization

It is obvious that our today's topic - globalization - is as phenomenon connected with secularization, even if it is more articulated and present in areas which remained closed to secularization. As result of globalization can be listed: the integration of the economies and the exponential growth of financial flows, the revolution in the means of communication and the speed within the transport sector, the interlinking of international organizations and the immigration flows, the formation of an international civil society, and the emergence of criminal and even terrorist networks.

In the development of globalization technology was of central importance; at the same time it succeeded in putting through a technical perspective for politics and democratic processes, in orientating economy towards the mere financial aspects, and even in trying to bring into line the religions in a syncretistic and also relativistic way. Thus globalization was to a certain extent changed into a kind of ideology - globalism - which narrows down the by its nature open character of globalization and is an inappropriate and biased interpretation of globality. By simplifying the complexity of globalization it applies rigid schemes which shame the dignity of man.

Therefore it would be absurd and dangerous to reduce globalisation to its technical and technological aspects, even though these are most noticeable. Globalization will constantly refer to the logic of the "as well as" and not to that of "or - or"; it cultivates a rationality which is able to unite and at the same time to diversify and differentiate without losing the connections. It is also to be assessed as positive that globalization uses the technical and technological progress in order to promote its spread. But it must beware of presenting this progress as an end in itself and it must accept a certain disorientation, when the expected efficiency is not forthcoming, and when the rationality of technology fails to realize the ideals of equality and integration.


2. A Human Face for Globalization

These - inevitably - brief remarks are to point out that globalization as mechanism is no self-runner. Admittedly it makes stipulations but cannot determine on its own, for it too is subject to man's freedom. Consequently globalization can and must get a human face, for otherwise it "gradually transforms man into a variable market quantity, into a product and an insignificant part of the whole."

Globalization has checkmated the ideologically, ethnically, nationalistically and culturally closed societies and promoted the positive opening to a universal society. But this process has also caused opposing dynamics: there is a constant and overwhelming tendency to protect the individual citizens and the nations, what quickly turns into nationalism and populism, and can lead to those devastating consequences which are only too well known to us.

In short, globalization has no face, just because it has several. It is like a prism with many facets that cannot all be grasped. What is more, above all the human being as individual has then to be regarded as "global" - with his own nature as image of God, and also humanity as a whole - with its quest for freedom and dignity. At this level the concept of globalization is appropriate, even if that level does not always succeed in presenting itself as evident for everyone. Thus the face that globalization must be given is the face of the human being. Globalization needs a human face. The Church's interest in globalization cannot consist in producing sociological analyses or in proposing economic and legal solutions; in what the church has directly to be interested is the preservation and promotion of man and of the goods important for him, namely the building of a world as a brotherly community for all. This is done through an anthropological, theological and ethical approach, to which Pope John Paul II referred when he said, "the standards for the life in society are found in man himself, in mankind as it has sprung from God's hand."


3. Relativism as Risk

The social projection of freedom of religion is therefore an important aspect of the globalized society. One cannot deny, however, that the globalization process promotes the tendency to relativism in a broader sense and to religious relativism in the strict sense; this leads to the fact that religions are presented as equal to each other and that each of them can lead people to salvation according to their own discretion. Then every religion - and especially Christianity - that appears with the claim to truth is logically seen as a fanatical and potentially fundamentalist movement.

In other words, globalization does not give the right to push aside the question of religious truth; to be precise, for the reason that man's dignity must be respected, on which freedom of religion is based. Like any freedom the freedom of religion is not an end in itself, but it is orientated towards truth. In important matters man cannot be satisfied to be "born as blind man". The turning away from - also religious - truth can never be final. If you want to lead a responsible life, then you cannot help looking for truth: the truth about yourself, and - as ultimate purpose of life - the truth about God. The right to freedom of religion therefore requires the obligation to look for the truth about God, without coercion and without prejudices.

That cannot remain without consequences for the interreligious dialogue, which is quite current within the globalized society. This dialogue is often promoted by very different authorities, which sometimes give the impression that they expected from it an approximation of the various religions or that at least the differences between them could be blurred, in order to eliminate the smouldering conflicts and to overcome the now even fanatical search for truth. When meeting the religions however must not do without truth but must try to deepen it. Relativism does by no means unite. Nor does mere pragmatism. The renunciation of truth and one's conviction does not raise people and does not bring them closer to each other, but leaves them in the sphere of calculation and selfishness, as a result of which they lose their greatness.

Therefore, I hope that the well-known initiative "Alliance of Civilization", as all the initiatives for intercultural and interreligious dialogue sponsored by civilian authorities that with it want to provide proof of their noble intentions, do not do without the actual proprium of the religions. Those initiatives should deal with general topics of interest, such as peace and development, without interfering into the religious issues; they should all treat equally, and avoid the dangers of relativism and syncretism.


4. Globalization and Privatization

Globalization undoubtedly contributes to the reduction of barriers, it forces the cultures and value systems to open; but this must not happen at the expense of truth and its perception in (the) public. Otherwise the many possibilities of opening would only result in an anonymous and formal recognition; and the opening up to new cultures and ways of life would only be a superficial comparison or an adapting to the culture which can most powerfully assert itself; tolerance would be tantamount to indifference or to the inability to discuss the major ethical issues. For one should not overlook that the contact to the "differences" may also lead to no longer communicating, as a result of which the public area would then be classified as "neutral". But if we want to extend freedom to the utmost without cutting the bonds which allow people to be close to each other and even to be united, then we must publicly declare our commitment to a common code of ethics. For this to happen we must however recognize the public dimension of freedom of religion. For this freedom includes the ethical values which can have an inspiring influence on democracy and enrich culture. The public dimension is intrinsic to the nature of freedom of religion, for who believes ought not to be hidden but must be encouraged to participate. Furthermore, the values connected with the deep faith convictions are identical with the values of nature and reason: they can be shared by all. It was Alexis de Tocqueville who had recognized that despotism does not need religion whereas freedom and democracy do need it.

Consequently the globalized society tries in public to leave the thought on transcendence to one's own conscience and the free decision of the individual person; it wants to neutralize the questions about the last things in the public debate, in order to be able thus to attend to penultimate matters, with which one thinks to reach a little easier an agreement between the people and the cultures.

Convictions of that kind require of the state that it does not take note of religious affairs, shuts itself off from any ethics, and limits itself to providing a space as large as possible for the individual's conscience and freedoms. But thus the state gets into danger to demand of the citizens of the global society to forswear their own moral conscience, at least as far as their actions in public are concerned. It wants that its citizens in their public and professional actions leave aside their own convictions, in order to fulfil all the demands that are covered by the laws as they now stand - and the law is regarded as the only moral criterion.



This conception can also lead to discriminations. How can you demand of believing people to live and act outside their privacy as if there was no God? As if theistic and religious arguments and reasons could not be stated in a liberal society, whereas secular and rationalist arguments were in force perfectly well, what would also amount to a violation of the principle of equality and reciprocity on which the whole conception of justice in politics is founded.

It is true though that the analysis of our present time shows that this ideology is outdated. For the "unpleasant" reality says that in the "penultimate things" problems arise which have to do with anthropology, ethics and public law. Public law is concerned, because here basic problems arise with which the political mediation is no longer sufficient, since these problems - in contrast to particular interests - have no actual focus. Nowadays all of this is with might "abandoned" to the law. In the past one could refer to the autonomy coined by Kant, for at that time the recognized moral code was equal to the Christian ethics, which was regarded as universal. But today, when the ethical "uni-verse" crumbles up into a moral "multi-verse" and when everyone produces his own laws? When only single individuals exist who very quickly regard themselves as absolute beings?

To be able to lead within the globalization a balanced life we should avoid regarding freedom of religion too much as private matter. In today's society with its many ethnic groups and denominations the religions are able to keep their members together; that is particularly true for the Christian religion, which in its universalism calls upon people to openness, dialogue and a harmonious collaboration.


5. Religious Freedom and Multicultural Societies

Here our subject now appears in a new light. Admittedly, through globalization many ethnic groups live together in the same area but there is the risk that tensions arise, caused by lack of understanding and missing respect for the cultural values of the host country or by the violation of the immigrants' dignity, because they have not the same culture or the same faith. It is well known that globalization leads to a swelling of immigration flows. With it a clear distinction should be made between a regulated admission of immigrants under adherence to their freedom of religion on the one hand, and the danger of unjustified concessions which would be a danger to the cultural and religious identity of the host country on the other hand. The globalized society tends to levelling out and to evening out, but this should not prevent the state in its laws and regulations to take into account the religious values accepted by the majority of its citizens and belonging to the historic, artistic and cultural heritage of its own nation.

The standing up for the value of equality supports the development of legal systems which - regardless of religion - defend man's dignity as such and thus also espouse the cause of equality of man and woman. This circumstance is not only legally of fundamental importance, because it leads to society models with the help of which globalization can be positively mastered, brings good results and nationally and internationally makes a peaceful coexistence possible. It is about the well-balanced, democratic and pluralistic development of our societies and probably also about the co-existence within the international community: this is the positive aspect which you must gain from globalization.

As negative the feeling of exclusion has to be assessed, which can also be triggered by that process with all its social and economic disadvantages leading then to tensions between the various groups and religions, which in various places are instrumentalized and taken advantage of. Moreover, the coexistence is thus damaged, and it can also come to a threat to the dynamics within globalization.


    {*} Monsignor Pietro Parolin, Under Secretary of the Holy See for relations with the States, Rome


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