(Delivered at the Panel discussion with the Holy See and Institute of Cultural Diplomacy sponsored by Hungary)
THE universally shared sense of equality, said Martha Nussbaum in The New Religious Intolerance, is the foundation of human interaction, be it one of comity, cooperation and even conflict—if conflict is to be kept within some bounds of decency as dictated by the laws of war.
A devout Catholic, Corazon Aquino, my country’s liberator, told the UN General Assembly that “There are many ways to govern people but only one way to treat them, and that is with decency.”
For that matter it is only with decency that one can disagree with others, even if it is to get them to listen; hopefully get them to agree to least abide by a rule of law that favored neither side; compulsion and violence won’t do it. It is only with decency that one religion can live beside other religions.
Decency is the watchword of acceptable conduct. Nothing can be right if it is not polite. Religious intolerance is rude in the extreme; it is the pit of boorishness. Religious fanatics can have no seats at the table of civilization. They will chew their napkins and drink from fingerbowls.
Men of confident faith have no problem being polite with, or even helpful to others of different faiths or none at all. When I defended the Korean Moonies from government harassment, they asked why they, who were Lutherans, are well treated in Catholic countries. I said because we are certain of our faith, of its verity and universality. So we never feel threatened by other beliefs. Only the insecure are violent. Nussbaum traces intolerance to fear. I do not. I trace it to the propensity for evil planted by man’s first disobedience.
A moral imagination, said Martha Nussbaum in The Clash Within, is imperative if religions and any other strong persuasions are to co-exist in the same place. A moral imagination is putting yourself in another’s shoes even if he or she holds beliefs diametrically opposed to one’s own. It is never allowing oneself to be the judge of one’s own cause; which is, said John Rawls citing Locke, the first principle of justice. He explained this imperative as looking at the world behind a veil of ignorance that denies you the knowledge of where you actually stand and who you are; be it rich or poor, smart or less so, of one religion or political conviction or another—the majority’s or the minority’s. So you must be careful, Kant counseled, in adopting policies that may in the implementation be harmful to you. Think and act as if you may be a victim of what you think and do. Whatever you do, think of it as legislation applicable even to you.
There is no argument worth the name that justifies religious intolerance.
All rivers flow to the sea as all prayers go to God, said Malraux. To be sure, religions have at one time or another been intolerant and brutal in the extreme, be it Christianity against other faiths and among Christians—Catholics and Protestants. Or Muslim and apparently even Buddhism today. There is no political circumstance that permits an exception to the justly deserved condemnation of religious intolerance. But there are historical precedents that show civilizations attaining their peak by practicing tolerance. To name only a few, that of Frederick II of the Kingdom of Sicily, and of Asoka and Akbar of the Hindu and Muslim empires of India.
If you cannot accept these essential truths, the only recourse is a fight to the end or to defend what is yours by all the means at your command: a fight between all those of one religious or political persuasion and all those of other persuasions. And that is my contribution to this issue.
When the Rohingya started fleeing in search of places of greater safety, the Philippine government offered unconditional asylum. In the event, none of them came over although we have a small Punjabi community doing quite well in our country. But the UN in Manila gave me the polite explanation that we are not in the route of their natural migration. Just the same, the UN fellow said, our offer prompted Muslim countries to open their doors.
We completely overlooked the crying need for making the same offer to Yazidi and other Christian communities being murdered en masse in the Middle East, without a word of protest from Christian countries except Hungary. Every effort to finesse the outrage has been attempted, particularly in Western media which did not react to the religious cleansing of Christians as it is doing in the case of Rohingya. It appears that the extermination of Middle Eastern Christians is the votive offering of Big Oil to their associates in the business.
It is time therefore for other countries to follow Hungary’s lead, and step up to protect Christians abroad where they are degraded, sexually enslaved and traded, and butchered after use. The effort must carry the specific label: The Protection and Rescue of Christians in the Middle East.
It will not do to carry on the campaign under the vague rubric of religious tolerance. Such abstractions excite no passion. We are, first and foremost Christians, like those butchered and raped under the prompting of the foulest of motivations—which is plain blood and sex lust—and in no wise religion. No religion or political cause worthy of the name can call for rape.
Middle Eastern Christianity contains the roots of our religion; roots that haven’t been fully studied and explored in situ, in the life and religious practices of what is left of these communities. Unless they are saved, with their ancient practices and beliefs, we Christians shall be spiritually the poorer for it. Even now Catholic theology is plumbing other Christian practices that were closer to Christ in time and place. It is as if we had stood by and watched their crucifixions, literal today in many cases. We have to stop standing at the foot of the cross and take it down.
Now is the time to stop being shy about standing up for what we are: Christians—as individuals, as communities, as kingdoms and republics, some of them among the great powers of the world. Perhaps nothing as grand as Martel at Tours or Don Juan at Lepanto but something; at least let us speak up as Christians for fellow Christians. It is not enough to sweep away the bleeding mess left by the lions in the arena, although we are speaking of nothing so noble but just hyenas here.
If we do not speak up and act as Christians for others like ourselves, we send the signal to their tormentors that their victims, tied to stakes driven in the sand, are lunch for the lions; and that we shall merely watch in horror from the
sun-drenched galleries of the amphitheaters of hell, until we ourselves sink to the depths of intolerance of those whose atrocities we merely decry, and whose twisted interpretation of a beautiful religion we condemn. Thank you.