Faults of religions make it easy to ignore their wisdom


It is becoming increasingly clear that secularism as a public creed in the Western world has failed to meet the deepest needs of human beings and of society at large.

The signs of failure are evident in the increasing levels of mental distress, loneliness, social exclusion, racism, aggression against the truth, declining confidence in democracy, erosion of decency – the all combined with widespread unease and fear of the future stemming from threats such as the climate crisis.

Despite the freedoms enjoyed in this era of expressive individualism, many experience a lack of meaning in their lives. However, the pandemic crisis has exposed the human values ​​- based on our dwindling spiritual capital – which are essential for survival and flourishing.

Dr Fergus O’Ferrall was the lay leader of the Methodist Church in Ireland and participated in “structured dialogues” in the EU and Ireland.

I suggest, as we now seek to “build back better,” that the spiritual wisdom rooted in our religious traditions, when brought to a constructive encounter with secular worldviews, is a necessary, if not sufficient, ingredient to shape better public policies for a thriving world. society.

A secular progressive framework requires being informed by spiritual wisdom. Given the strong public response to the blatant failures of institutional religion, it’s easy to dismiss the deeper wisdom that is common to Christianity, Islam, and Judaism – wisdom and insights we need more than ever.

Xenophobia, racism and blatant inequalities, combined with contempt for dignity and human rights, thrive in the void left by secularism

It would be a serious mistake and would greatly impoverish our lives and our future. Human beings are spiritual beings who search for meaning. Secularism fails to provide an explanation – a “big story” that gives meaning to existence.

Secularism has no anchor for ethics: you cannot develop meaningful morality from a meaningless universe. The results are evident in the amoral winner-take-all game that dominates international relations as authoritarian regimes now rule much of our planet and threaten democracies.

Void of secularism

Xenophobia, racism and blatant inequalities, combined with a disregard for dignity and human rights, thrive in the void left by secularism. Globally, we increasingly live in a time of no truth and no mercy.

Secularism fails in terms of expectations: it offers no orientation on human values ​​except personal growth. He does not answer a question: what should we live for? It also fails the empowerment test – so many people now feel that their lives are dominated by unseen forces, fate, chance, or global corporations.

We could also say that secularism displays a lack of excitement. No one sings songs or holds celebrations every day or week about a secular creed.

The launch by Taoiseach Micheál Martin last April of a Center for Religion, Human Values ​​and International Relations at the University of Dublin underlines a new awareness of the key role of religions in solving our pressing global problems .

The common spiritual wisdom shared by our religions concerns values ​​and meaning, human dignity, relationships, solidarity, reconciliation

The center is under the leadership of former Ambassador Philip McDonagh who also co-authored his “founding manifesto,” the book On the Significance of Religion for Global Diplomacy. The center will develop proposals for new forms of engagement between public authorities and religions.

Jacques Delors, as President of the European Commission, wanted religions to give “a soul to Europe”. Its reflection has borne fruit in open, regular, structured and transparent dialogues with churches, religious associations, philosophical and non-confessional organizations.

Structured dialogue

These take place under Article 17 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union at a high level with the Parliament, the Commission and the Council of the EU.

In Ireland, successive governments have attempted with less success to initiate a similar process which has unfortunately not been supported on a regular, open and transparent basis because it lacks the legal basis underlying the dialogues within it. ‘EU.

Following his hopes for a “new alliance for the 21st century” between Church and State, expressed during the reception of Pope Francis in Dublin, taoiseach Leo Varadkar organized at Dublin Castle in July 2019 a “Structured dialogue”.

It involved representatives of churches, religious communities of different religions as well as organizations such as Atheist Ireland and the Humanist Association, in dialogue with the government.

Varadkar said that in “a participatory democracy, regular dialogue is necessary with churches, religious communities and non-confessional organizations” – the EU model was clearly in mind in its ambition to promote a pluralist democratic society rather than a society founded, as he said, on “absolute secularism”.

The common spiritual wisdom shared by our religions concerns values ​​and meaning, human dignity, relationships, solidarity, reconciliation, hope, peace, justice, equality, the common good.

These ingredients of human flourishing are needed more than ever in this critical and dark time and should be brought into regular, open, transparent and respectful dialogue with those who espouse secular views as we all seek to rectify our plight. current.

Dr Fergus O’Ferrall’s critical essay The Inflection Point on the issues raised here appears in the June issue of Dublin Review of Books (drb.ie)


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