From the Editor

A World of Hurt, in Need of Healing

According to tradition, Rabbi Hillel, who lived in the first century before the Common Era, when asked about the essence of his religion, said: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary.” If only it were widely practiced, Hillel’s golden rule, universal to religious ethics, would shape a world profoundly different from the one we inhabit.

However uplifting religion’s ethical imperatives, believers’ conduct frequently fails to reflect the ideal. While Sept. 11 was a grotesque case of faith-based fanaticism, history has been punctuated with acts of intolerance in the name of some divinity.

Without peace among and within religions, there cannot be peace in the world. Despite their familial ties, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—each rooted in belief in revelation of divine truth—are exclusive in their orthodox forms. Liberal branches of the faiths stress their ethical points of convergence, yet popular leaders and their flocks tend toward certainty that they walk the one true road to salvation.

When moral vision ossifies into doctrinal rigidity, universal compassion takes a back seat. The fact that the faiths’ competing truth claims have fueled conflict for millennia lends support to the view that organized religion can as often be a roadblock as a path to a peaceful world.

This religious contradiction can even be seen in Pope John Paul II. On the one hand, unlike any previous pope, John Paul II has traversed the globe bravely speaking out against social and political injustices, as well as advocating for human dignity and rights.

Catholics and non-Catholics alike have flocked to the pope’s appearances wherever he has traveled, drawn to his prophetic judgments in defense of the downtrodden. He has sought reconciliation between nations riven by mutual grievances and asked forgiveness from the Jewish people for centuries of theologically sanctioned anti-Semitism.

Yet on the other hand, Pope John Paul II has engendered controversy and alienated many devout Catholics with his deep doctrinal conservatism, his reconsolidation of church power in Rome, and his acquiescence in the moves spearheaded by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to silence any Catholic theologians who raise questions about the traditional form of church doctrine.

Most notable among these censured theologians is Hans Küng, whose 1971 book Infallible? An Inquiry argued against the church’s authoritarian structure. Since the publication in 1991 of Global Responsibility: In Search of a New World Ethic, Küng has advocated for a united front among all religions to address global ills.

In 1992, the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions commissioned him to draft a “Declaration of the Religions for a Global Ethic,” which in its opening statement declares: “Religion often is misused for purely power-political goals, including war....We condemn these blights and declare that they need not be. An ethic already exists within the religious teachings of the world which can counter global distress. Of course, this ethic provides no direct solution for all the immense problems of the world, but it does supply the moral foundation for a better individual and global order: a vision which can lead women and men away from despair and society away from chaos.”

Sadly, the recent jeremiads by U.S. Lt. Gen. Boykin against Muslims and former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir against Jews signal that humankind still wanders in the wilderness of religiously driven conflict.