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Kirill (Gundyaev), patr. A common approach to Church unity and the renewal of mankind (Paper given at the 1st International Theological Seminar “Toward a Theology of the World”. Budapest. December 14-18. 1987)
A COMMON APPROACH TO
CHURCH UNITYAND THE RENEWAL OF MANKIND
Paper given at the 1st International Theological Seminar ‘Toward
a Theology of the World’, Budapest, December 14-18, 1987
The theme I have been invited to speak on - a common approach to Church unity and the renewal of mankind - immediately confronts us with a methodological problem: Church unity relates uniquely to the activities of Christians, while the renewal of mankind concerns every man and woman on our planet. How can we talk of a common approach to these two problems? We may discover one or the other general principle, but otherwise our approaches will be as different as are the two problems. At the same time, Church unity and the renewal of mankind are deeply inter-related. In other words, the title of my paper covers at least three themes: church unity, the renewal of mankind, and their inter-relationship, each of which calls for separate treatment. To keep within my appointed time frame, I want to focus on one of these themes and examine the bases for this common search for the renewal of mankind and look at the specific contribution Christians can make to it.
What do we mean by the ‘renewal of mankind’? Implicit in this wording is the idea that the human condition is unsatisfactory and that action is needed to change it for the better. Also, the fact that we are talking about humanity as a whole and not individual nations and states, tells us that the problems that cloud our lives are global in nature, and that solving them will call for concerted ac-
tion across the planet. However, the ability to make take joint action presupposes a certain unity. Which begs the fundamental question: in what sense can one speak of unity in relation to mankind as a whole? What does such unity imply?
We can approach this concept on several levels. In the Acts of the Apostles, St Paul says: ‘From one blood He (God) has made the whole human race’ (Acts 17:26). From this affirmation comes the well-known theological concept of the unity of the human race, constituting a single family bound by invisible mystical ties. Evidence of this mystical unity is provided by the irresistible desire of people to enter into different forms of association. One of the axioms of our lives is that the human person can realize himself only through communication with other individuals. In isolation from his fellows, man cannot achieve fullness of life, he is doomed to destruction. All human activities, conscious and unconscious, associate us in one way or another with our fellow-men.
This mystical unity I have just mentioned is embodied in different social structures. The reasons for this unifying activity in our sin-damaged world can often be very prosaic, and this activity can also take on ugly and at times dangerous forms. But even this does not prevent it from being an expression of a universal human desire for unity, based on a sense of common ontological roots. Throughout history human communities have tried, with greater or lesser success (and at times have blatantly failed) to implement the idea of human unity. While at the level of family, clan, clan, tribe, nation and state, these attempts have produced certain results, at the higher, inter-state level, they have almost always ended in failure. The most obvious historical example is aggressive wars and the empires emerging from them. As well as satisfying the ambitions, greed, power-lust and vanity of conquerors, and aside from the military- strategic, political and economic objectives, empire-building in a certain way expresses a subconscious desire for unity, for a blurring of national and other boundaries. Within the vast world of an empire, a single state body is created as the essential precondition for social communality. History tells us, however, that such experiments,
based primarily on force, are inevitably doomed. Counteracting this unifying force are the centrifugal tendencies generated by frustration at the uneven distribution of wealth and at the swallowing up of the cultures of the peoples brought into this union. In the very nature of things, a community of people achieved by force and maintained by a balance of power can never be strong and durable. But even on a voluntary basis and in the absence of any coercion, the unity of mankind can hardly be expressed and accommodated within a single state, at least in the foreseeable future.
What then do we have in mind in calling for the unity of mankind? How can we describe this unity in categories that are clear and convincing not just for Christians but for all our contemporaries? How can we proclaim the biblical message of the unity of the human race, without ignoring the cruel realities of the modern world? These realities require us to use more reserved language, at least towards the non-Christian world. The idea of ‘unity of mankind’, almost incomprehensible in itself, needs to be made explicit in concrete, realistic concepts if this Christian message is to have any chance of being heard in our divided and contradictory world. And even these concepts may only be partially able to convey the biblical message of the oneness of humanity. Maybe they will be, not solid food, but milk, for feeding not ‘spiritual’, but ‘carnal’ and mutually- separated people (1 Cor. 3: 1-2).
Our starting point in defining such concepts has to be the threat that hangs over all mankind. This is a global threat: in today’s world there is no magic oasis where people can feel safe and secure. We live in a confined and interdependent world, and the only way in which we can resolve the global crises is for all of us, the whole of humanity, to do so together.
It is a well-known fact that an external threat has the effect of increasing the internal unity and cohesiveness of any state. A general danger forces people to put aside their internal differences. Without this unity, there is little chance of defeating the enemy. Today, the whole of mankind has common mortal enemies. The whole of human civilization finds itself under siege, faced with the
eternal question of ‘to be or not to be?’, posed, for first time ever, on a planetary scale. Faced with these threats humanity has no other path but to unite. In other words, the unity of mankind that is effectively achievable is a unity of action in the fight for universal human survival. It is important to state clearly at this juncture that such unity is a pragmatic one, falling far short of Christian aspirations. It is, rather, the first step on the long journey. At the same time it is also clear that without this first step there may not be any path to journey along at all.
The main difficulty in uniting humanity to overcome the crises threatening it lies in the very nature of these crises, not external to mankind, but generated by mankind itself. They are its internal diseases.
In the past, such diseases were treated on the familiar pattern: one state or one part of the world sought to solve its problems on the back of another state or another part of the world. Such ‘therapy’ was always carried out from a position of strength. The winner was the one who was stronger. This was the very basis of global politics. The driving force behind this policy was national self-interest, cloaked in the mantle of national security. The realities of today’s interdependent world reveal the utter bankruptcy of this policy. Any attempt to improve one’s own position at the expense of someone else’s turns into a phantom gain, exacerbating the crisis and harming not only the weaker, but also the stronger side. Global economic processes provide convincing illustration of this. In the military domain too, sticking with the old patterns will logically lead to universal destruction. In other words, humanity must learn to overcome the threats facing it by working together, following a new principle that the preservation of the interests of each is the precondition for the achievement of the interests of all, just as the security of each is the precondition for the security of all.
However, the proclamation of this principle immediately leads to the question of criteria. What do we mean when we say the interests and security of everyone? States and peoples can have very differing understandings of these concepts. To represent the complexity of the
problem it is enough to take, for example, a category like material well-being, the understanding of which is always an individual matter. In other words, joint actions to address the issues facing humanity need to be based on a common world view. Without such a basis it is impossible to achieve any general coherent understanding of these issues, let alone overcome them.Without such a basis there can be no unity of humanity to confront contemporary crises.
Does this mean that we must reject any idea of a common ideological basis as pure utopia? The extraordinary variety and often contradictory nature of existing worldviews do indeed make the implementation of this idea very much more complicated. And yet in our day there are encouraging signs, suggesting that the ice has started to break, that faced with risks that threaten the whole of humanity, people are beginning to understand the need to find common principles. Principles that rise above ideological, religious, national and class interests and that could provide a true basis of unity and coordinated action in today’s crises.
To understand in which categories this framework can be defined, we need to try and find a common factor in the various contemporary crises. Unfortunately, these crises are too numerous to list here. They are developing against a background of unprecedented scientific and technological progress - that same progress in which the romantics of the past saw a panacea for all ills, and through which they placed great hope in the future. ‘Technological euphoria’ was all too common in the 1960s in the search both for Church unity and the renewal of humanity.1 But already by the 1970s the mood had become more realistic. The energy crisis of 1973 with all its economic and political consequences exposed the extreme vulnerability of our contemporary scientific and technological civilization and its dependence on resources that no longer appeared inexhaustible.
However, the 1970s brought something more important in the assessment of scientific and technological progress. Even those who
1Steinbuch K.: Falsch programmiert. — Stuttgart, 1968.
had been carried away by the earlier euphoria began to talk about ‘changing course’, of the need to ‘consciously clarify the rules of our community’ and ‘reach agreement on the principles by which we wish live with each other’ 2. Discussion about the dangerous consequences of scientific and technological progress included deep reflection on the moral condition of modern man and society 33. Indeed, the threat of self-destruction hanging over humanity began to be seen as a result of the triumph of its scientific thought, its power over the forces of nature. On the way people manage this power, it was realized, depends the future of life itself. The fact that the tremendous advances in science and technology have got us no further towards resolving global crises tells us that we are not making good use of our power. Indeed scientific and technological development serves to escalate crises, fueled by material force (the arms race, ecology) and, in certain parts of the world, by economic oppression (transnational corporations).
Why? What is the mysterious rationale that converts scientific and technical progress into the flywheel of world crises? Let me quote here Russian religious thinker N.A. Berdyaev, who already back in 1932 said that ‘when such terrible force lies in man’s hands, the fate of mankind depends on man’s spiritual condition’4. Science and technology today offer people an opportunity to do good or evil on a truly cosmic scale, engaging the very forces of nature in their activities. But good and evil are moral categories.They belong to man’s inner world, a world that is revealed outwardly by actions of every kind. Are not the disasters that we see around us the outer expression of mankind’s internal diseases? Do not the crisislike consequences of scientific and technological progress point to a lack of spiritual progress, do they not witness to the ever-widening gap between the intellectual and moral state of the world? Some-
2Steinbuch K.: Kurskorrektur. - Stuttgart. 1973.
3Of particular interest here is the WCC conference ‘Faith, Science and the Future’, held in Boston m 1979.
4Berdyaev N. A.: Duchovnoe sostoyanie sovremennogo mira (Spiritual state of the current world) // (Put’ - 1932, no. 35. p. 59)
how one divines an inter-dependence between the development of modern civilization and spiritual decline of the individual. Scientific and technological progress offers modern man a more comfortable lifestyle and an easier means of livelihood. At the same time, a lack of stable moral norms pushes people, with their increased power, to seek ever greater comfort and wealth. This upward spiralling of material power is accompanied by discouraging developments in the field of ethical values, with morality seen as an unnecessary obstacle in the search for happiness, irrelevant to the pursuit of wealth and power.
In turn, the neglect of moral values further increases the importance of material values, stimulating the accumulation of personal possessions. However, it is a commonly observed fact that when people become careless with moral values, individuals begin to focus exclusively on their own well-being and ignore the interests of other people, until we arrive at a complete disdain for human life. This is what is happening in the world today. This is the spiritual and moral essence of the multiple crises we constantly face. We can say that today’s crises demonstrate a violation of the harmony of being that is achieved through the implementation in human life of absolute moral values.Therefore, without minimizing the role of well-known political, economic, historical and other factors in determining the face of contemporary crises, we can rightly state that their root causes lie in the human spirit, in human morality. And if so, then humanity must take up the fight against these crises on the basis of shared moral principles. In other words, the ideological basis needed to bring about a unification of the human spirit in the struggle for survival can be described in moral categories that are common to all.
Such an ideological basis seems, also, to be the only really feasible solution today. And the reason for this lies not only in the variety, contradictions and even mutual hostility of the world’s ideologies, but rather in the unique, universal and absolute nature of human morality. Even if, arguing from the multiplicity of the ethical codes of people living in different social, cultural and economic
conditions, many thinkers cast doubt the moral consciousness of humanity, the possibility of arriving at generally accepted ethical objectives governing the behavior of all human being, with a unified system of values, is widely accepted. The different codes that exist in different parts of the world are to be regarded rather as differing parts of the one whole 5.
One result of a purely rationalistic, pragmatic attitude to the organization of human society has been to reduce attention to the importance of morality in public life. The mistake of politicians, scientists and lawyers has been to effectively separate politics, science and law from ethics. Of course, this separation has never been explicitly proclaimed by anyone, and in theory the moral principle is generally recognized as superior to the principle of law. However, in practice the moral order falls more into the field of ‘good intentions’, useful advice and exhortations. With its emphasis over many centuries on the personal dimension of ethics, the Christian Church has in a sense helped create an atmosphere which has caused an ‘ethical secularization’ of public life. This ‘ethical secularization’ has cost humanity dearly. Millions of victims, especially in the wars of the twentieth century, bespeak the neglect, in political life, of the undiminished importance of absolute moral values, or else the attempt to interpret morality in the direction of national, class or racial interests.
The bitter experience of both past and contemporary crises convinces us that social and economic relations, politics and science cannot stand outside the realm of ethics. The only way to improve the world we live in is by observing and protecting the eternal and immutable moral principles of life.
5 Cf.: Lossky N.: Uslovya absolytnego dobra (Conditions of absolute good (Paris,1949)). Drawing on ethnographic research, we are convinced that ‘all the basic moral ideas contained in the Ten Commandments are the common heritage of all mankind... ’, and the moral codes of the different people give ‘sufficient material for an inductive substantiation of the truth of unity of the moral conscience of humanity’ (ibid., pp. 130).The surprising consensus among all religions on moral responsibility and moral values only confirms this conclusion, which is not only inductive but also finds an intuitive basis in people’s personal experiences.
However, the level of application of moral standards in public life is dependent on the moral level of the people. Without the ability to distinguish between good and evil, without a sense of duty and responsibility, without self-control and self-limitation, the human personality is incapable of healthy social life. From personal morality derives what has been called ‘natural law’.This natural law asserts that fair and reasonable order which, according to Russian philosopher, S.L. Frank, in concrete conditions most closely corresponds to the moral nature of man. The criterion of reasonableness of such an order is provided by a society that acts to ensure the implementation of the higher moral principles of human existence. The idea of ‘natural law’ derives from the principle of unity, integrity and indivisibility of human morality. It assumes an indissoluble link between the personal and the general. The spheres of personal morality and of social morality are interrelated and interdependent. Frank puts it as follows: ‘These two areas have an inner interconnection. This connection is formed by the layer of human life, which we can call the area of customs, habits, everyday moral teaching. .. Via this intermediate sphere the overall legal order or legislation, which sets the rules for the overall system of collective human life, is ultimately the expression and product of the personal spiritual lives of the members of society, and of their degree of moral perfection or imperfection-’6 ‘The quality of any social structure is a function of the moral level of the people of which it is constituted’.7 From this Frank concludes, in line with the ethical concepts of classical Russian literature and of Gogol and Dostoevsky in particular, that ‘the path to the most effective and lasting results is the one that leads from the inside outwards, from personal life to public life’.8 The moral integrity of society is the sum of the moral integrities of individual human beings. And on this inter-relatedness depends the very survival of the human race (a relationship that AIDS has made clear for even the most inexperienced). Evil has its own dynamic,
6 Frank S.L.: Svet vot’me (Light in the darkness). Paris, 1949. p. 378—379.
7idem p. 381.
8idem p. 379.
the logical conclusion of which is death and oblivion. If evil is not opposed at every level of existence, its multiplication will ultimately destroy the world. Evil brings chaos and formlessness, a ‘Dionysian principle’, entropy. This entropy allows evil to grow to its logical end, which is death. The preservation of life therefore calls for spiritual effort. A man who has lost his moral foundations, his spiritual connectedness to the world of other people, and to nature, is a danger to the planet.With today’s technical and scientific potential, evil ceases to be a private matter, even for those of us who do not have our fingers on the atomic trigger and do not control nuclear reactors.
A surprising discovery of our time is what some would call this relationship between morality and survival. In fact it is not that novel at all. More than a hundred years ago, confessing his Christian moral principles, Dostoyevsky said: ‘Beauty will save the world’. Our day and age only illustrate this interdependence. Indeed, there is only one force that can stop the growth of evil, and halt the entropy of the world. This force is the good being done by every human being singly and all together. Never before have people had such a strong motivation - that of sheer physical survival - to shun evil and do good. If you want to live, do good; live in accordance with the moral norms inscribed by God in human nature and identifiable in the norms of universal morality. There is no other way to survive. ‘What is peace?’, asks St. Gregory of Nyssa. ‘Nothing other than the implementation of love’, he replies.9 The moral principle needs to become the categorical imperative in personal and public life, providing the necessary guidance in building international relations and achieving scientific and technological progress. Moral values should be given top priority in undertaking the tasks arising in the path of human history.
Returning to the theme of the unity of humanity in the face of the crises that threaten it, and recognizing that moral norms are
9Svyatitel Grigoriy Nisskij (St Gregory of Nyssa): Tvorenija (Works) Part 2. Moscow, 1861. p. 458.
both the way to overcome these crises and the basis for such unity, we would once again stress that this conclusion is conditioned by the very nature of man as moral being. Another famous Russian philosopher,Vladimir Solovyov argued that, despite all the diversity and uniqueness of each human person, ‘there are irreducible foundations of human morality, on which any significant construction has to be built’.10 This moral basis is something different from the multitude of moral codes that exist today. The search for common ethical standards, expressing the very essence of the moral nature of man, needs to be the subject of dialogue between religions and ideologies. In other words, the current multiplicity of moral codes needs to make way today for a single moral code, based on absolute moral norms. Consensus on a jointly-accepted system of values arrived at through such wide-ranging dialogue would free humanity from the incompleteness and one-sidedness of each separate code.
Such a system would need to establish the interrelationship and interdependence of values and have clearly expressed priorities. The central tenet, or backbone, of such a common moral code must be the unity and indissolubility of absolute moral standards, and also the organic interrelationship and interdependence of personal and public moral ideals.Without this inner integrity, such a code will be a fiction and can never become a factor in a genuine renewal of mankind.
The most important consequence of the application of a common moral code in the field of international relations would be the possibility of developing uniform criteria for evaluating concepts like national interests and national security. This, in turn, could facilitate the realization of the only acceptable principle for international politics in the nuclear age: the maintenance of the interests of each is the precondition for achieving the interests of all, the security of each is the precondition for the security of all. Security built on the principles of moral order would eliminate fear and suspicion, selfishness and mistrust. Recognition of the interdependence of na-
10 Soloviev V.: Pervichnye dannye nravstvenniosti /Voprosy filosofii i psikhologii (The primary data of morality/ Philosophical and Psychological questions) - p. 361.
tions and peoples would be the best stimulus for the development of trust. The integration of moral standards into public life would help solve the problems of political, economic and social justice, achieve genuine respect for human rights, and overcome the barriers between East and West, North and South.
It is important that any common moral code arrived at through broad dialogue between religions and ideologies not be a syncretic mishmash of ethical concepts, to the detriment of truth. A common moral code cannot be a compromise between ethical concepts, but must be the jointly-formulated basis of universal morality, rooted in the moral nature of man. For the same reason such a code cannot conflict with the core values of Gospel ethics, which map out the natural moral law invested by God in human nature.
A common moral code would give Christians, together with the representatives of other world religions, an opportunity to express their commitment to eternal moral truths.
Needless to say, the universal adoption of a unified body of moral norms should not entail negative consequences such as universal standardization and unification. A common moral code cannot claim the role of mandatory universal law, repealing existing legislation, but should represent a moral basis on which to align the entire corpus of national laws and international agreements. In other words, the moral code is intended to humanize the realm of politics and law, while preserving a pluralism of social and political beliefs, economic systems, culture, traditions and national customs.
However, we need to recognize that the embodiment of the idea of general moral code will run into difficulties in two ways. First, there are the theoretical difficulties associated with the formation of the corpus of such a code of universally-recognized norms of morality; and second, the practical difficulties of implementing these standards in the modern world. These theoretical difficulties relate not only to the fundamental question of the existence and nature of (absolute or relative) norms of human morality, but also to reaching agreement on a moral assessment of the challenges facing modern man.
It is no secret that in the past the immutable body of Christian ethics has never been fully implemented in the life of Christian peoples, nor in their relationships one with another. Of course one can argue that Christianity inherited the difficult legacy of the pagan world, built on slavery and despotism. It is also true that Christianity’s influence is seen in the mitigation of the cruelty of slave states and their gradual humanization. But the fact remains that the full implementation of the system of Christian ethics was never achieved, either in Byzantium, or in medieval Europe. In Europe, the existence of a single Christian moral code did not prevent wars, including religious ones. Even if we can cast doubt on just how perfect Christian life was in the Middle Ages, even if we can say that the peoples of the earth were only partially Christianized, we cannot but recognize the fact of the failure of this historic attempt. The example of history is not absolute proof, but rather an analogy, but it can raise serious doubts as to whether human unity has ever been achieved on the basis of moral consensus.
And in this regard one can pose another dramatic question. Are today’s current crises exclusively crises of an extra-Christian secularized world, or do they relate to the inner life of Christianity? It is clear that the failure of godless morality, its inability to keep people from moral degradation, with all the ensuing consequences, stands clear today for all today to see. But we should not pretend that all is well in Christianity, nor should we maintain that what is happening in today’s society is not connected with the situation inside the Christian world. It is clear that the responsibility for the state of the world falls also on Christians. The problems of the modern world are connected not only with the impoverishment of faith, but also with internal diseases of Christianity, related not to its mystical and grace-given nature, but to its human nature. It is therefore important that Christians understand and grasp the meaning of what is happening in the world, and in Christianity itself, that they comprehend the significance of world crises and correlate these crises with their internal state. Is it not this internal state that provides the first explanation of Christianity’s failure to implement its ethical
principles throughout history? And the reason for this lies not in Christian ethics itself, but in the quality of Christian life. H. Kung is right when he says that ‘if the world changes too little, then the blame lies not with the fundamental programme of Christianity, nor with Christ Himself, but with Christians!’11
The moral and spiritual renewal of humanity needs to begin in the Christian environment with the commitment by Christians themselves to the complete and indissoluble norms of evangelical morality, and with the organic combination of the personal and social dimensions of Christian ethics in daily life. Any priority given to the one or the other entails the division of what are in essence undivided moral norms, distorting the structure of Christian life and weakening the Christian witness.
But is not all this wishful thinking? If in the past you were unable to unite nations and peoples on the basis of the common moral code of Christianity, why should one now take seriously the idea of unity of mankind through a common moral code? If for decades, for all the great enthusiasm, the search for Christian unity has not achieved its goal, where do these continuing hopes for the future come from? There is one simple answer to this question. This is that never before has the question the unity of mankind been directly linked to the issue of the survival of human civilization. After all, last but not least, it is precisely the division of the human race, including the division of Christianity, with all its consequences, that has brought our civilization to a fatal stage. Humanity stands on the threshold of the third millennium, but it remains unclear how it will step over it. Could it be that the perception of the dangers ahead will help mankind achieve what has escaped it throughout its entire history?
There would, however, appear to be one vital precondition for achieving the unity of the Church and the renewal of humanity. This condition is repentance. Repentance - metanoia - is the turning away from the old order and mindset, and the awareness of and
11Kung H.: On Being a Christian, 1974.
rejection of falsehood, it is restructuring (perestroika) in the deepest sense of the word.
It is no accident that the film Repentance by Georgian director T. Abuladze was the main event in the cultural life of our society at the very beginning of the perestroika process. Recalling the tragic events of the recent past, this film helped many of us to a deep awareness that without the rejection - however bitter - of falsehood, there can be no change for the better, either now or in the future. But repentance is both rejection and affirmation. Repentance is a genuine renewal, the implementation of truth, the restoration of beauty and truth, calling for not only humility, but also courage and daring. Repentance is a spiritual deed, committed in the name of the renewal of life.
Can the renewal of the world be achieved without spiritual struggle, without heroism, without recourse to eternal moral values?
‘Say, does this street lead to the church?’ the elderly woman asks the film’s heroine. ‘No, this street does not lead to the church’, the latter replies knowingly, because of the tragic childhood memories this street carries for her, and because the church - the symbol of eternal moral values - has long been blown up.The last words of the film are the words of the astonished old lady: ‘Why is this a street if it does not lead to a church?’