CAN RELIGIONS DELIVER OUR WORLD FROM VIOLENCE? Yes, if humankind can marry the ancient spiritual wisdom with the power of modern technology.  (Paper presented by SUDHEENDRA KULKARNI, Chairman Observer Research Foundation Mumbai, at the International Inter-Faith Congress promoted by the Community of Sant’Egidio, on February 19th 2014 in Rome, to discuss about “Religions and Violence”)

The topic of discussion in this conference is: “CAN RELIGIONS DELIVER PEOPLE FROM VIOLENCE?” I would like to slightly rephrase it and ask the question: “CAN RELIGIONS DELIVER OUR WORLD FROM VIOLENCE?” This rephrasing is necessary because we need to enlarge our violence-related concern from the ‘people’ to the ‘world’, so that we can acknowledge not only the violence that human beings inflict upon other human beings, but also the violence that the human species is inflicting upon other living beings and upon the planetary environment as a whole. These two kinds of violence are inter-related. And religions are called upon to guide human societies to end all kinds of violence, overt as well as hidden, and irrespective of whether the victim is human or non-human. A specific reason for viewing violence more holistically would be clear from a peculiar, and somewhat less recognised, reality about the times we live in. Certain types of violence ─ for example, inter-state wars and wars on a worldwide scale ─ have indeed come down since the second half of the 20th century. At the same time, certain other types of violence ─ for example, large-scale extermination of many non-human species ─ have actually risen on a scale never witnessed or even imagined in the previous eras of history.  Inter-State wars are on a decline “We are probably living in the most peaceful time of our species’ existence, and it will only get more peaceful.” This startling affirmation comes from Steven Pinker, a reputed Harvard professor, who conducted a study of the history of violence around the world. “Global violence has fallen steadily since the middle of the twentieth century. According to the Human Security Brief 2006, the number of battle deaths in inter-state wars has declined from more than 65,000 per year in the 1950s to less than 2,000 per year in this decade. In Western Europe and the Americas, the second half of the century saw a steep decline in the number of wars, military coups, and deadly ethnic riots.”  Many people disbelieve the thesis put forward by Pinker’s article on the subject, which was published in 2007. Why does it seem difficult for us to believe that many parts of the world have enjoyed remarkable peace in the era after the Second World War and, especially, in the past two decades? Fareed Zakaria, the renowned Indian-American journalist and writer, deals with this issue in his book The Post-American World: And the Rise of the Rest.  “Part of the problem is that as violence has been ebbing, information has been exploding. The last 20 years have produced an information revolution that brings us news and, most crucially, images from around the world all the time. The immediacy of the images and the intensity of the 24-hour news cycle combine to produce constant hype. Every weather disturbance is the ‘storm of the decade’. Every bomb that explodes is BREAKING NEWS. Because the information revolution is so new, we – reporters, writers, readers, viewers – are all just now figuring out how to put everything in context. We didn’t watch daily footage of the two million people who died in Indochina in the 1970s, or the million who perished in the sands of the Iran-Iraq war ten years later. We saw little of the civil war in the Congo in the 1990s, where millions died. But today any bomb that goes off, any rocket that is fired, any death that results, is documented by someone, somewhere and ricochets instantly across the world.” The curious thing about the information explosion, caused by the Internet Revolution, is that, even though it makes us think that we are living in very violent times, it is actually contributing to the reduction of violence in the world.  And this is where we can see the amazing impact that information and communication technologies are making on geo-politics of our times. Inter-state wars have actually become a lot less likely in recent decades. The probability of a Third World War breaking out has become near-zero, especially after the end of the Cold War between USA and the now-extinct Soviet Union two decades ago. And even though an accidental nuclear catastrophe can never be ruled out so long as there are nuclear weapons anywhere in the world, there is now a reasonably large global consensus about an inter-state nuclear warfare being completely unthinkable. The idea that “a nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought” – most passionately propounded by Mikhail Gorbachev, the last president of the erstwhile Soviet Union and one of the real heroes of the movement for world peace – has now become axiomatic. The theory of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), which propelled the nuclear arms race during the Cold War, is now universally accepted to be a mad and bad concept. It is not that the world has not witnessed any wars or violent conflicts in the past few decades. But whenever a war of aggression has been waged, such as America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Internet has played a big role in discrediting the aggressor, both in the home country and abroad, thereby strengthening anti-war forces around the world.  Internet, a ‘Gift from God’ as described by H.H. Pope Francis, has become a ‘weapon’ of peace Did religion play a role in bringing down violence due to inter-state wars? On the face of it, it does not seem so. But this is only a superficial view of religion. In my view, God has helped human communities through the agency of science and technology to get more inter-connected, become more inter-dependent, and engage in more dialogue and mutual cooperation. A defining feature of the post-World War II history ─ and especially the Cold War history ─ is the spread of information and communication technologies (ICT). The Internet has brought the world closer like never before. As a result, the world has got more democratised than ever before, giving individuals a voice. All this has helped humankind learn, at least partially, from its past follies.  The Internet is catalysing, each day and each hour, millions of conversations among common people cutting across national, religious, racial and other barriers. It is boosting economic and other kinds of cooperation among countries, communities and common people. And these conversations and multiple forms of cooperation are creating a strong constituency of peace. Outwardly, this expansion of the constituency of peace may not seem to be the contribution of religions. But once we recognise that science and technology, which are products of human reason, also have a spiritual origin and a divine purpose, it becomes obvious that the religious impulse in the modern era has been acting through the medium of ICTs to reduce at least some forms of violence ─ inter-state wars and the threat of a world war ─ in the world. The Internet has also cast a powerful spotlight on the forces of terrorism and religious extremism. It has vastly expanded the debate within the Muslim world on the true teachings of Islam and the real meaning of jihad. It has also deepened a similar soul-searching debate among people belonging to other faiths. For example, Shaykh-ul-Islam Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri of Pakistan, one of the foremost Islamic scholars in the world, recently said, while addressing an inter-faith conference in Mumbai (India): “Jihad has been hijacked by the terrorists, and we must take it back from them.”  He explained that the true meaning of jihad is an intense striving for self-transformation of individual human beings from a lower self to a higher self, and transformation of human societies from conflict to peace. He also referred to the same teaching of peace enshrined in Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and all other religions of the world. Interestingly, Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri, who now lives in Canada, was addressing the inter-faith conference for peace, harmony and solidarity in South Asia (called “People’s SAARC”) via a live high-speed Internet video link from Toronto.* He made an impassioned appeal for India and Pakistan to stop regarding one another as “enemies” and to begin a new era of mutual cooperation and good-neighbourliness. It was an inspiring sight to see religious leaders from India and Pakistan ─ two neighbouring South Asian countries that are locked in a hostile relationship for over six decades ─ engaged in a dialogue for peace, made possible by the peace-promoting medium of the Internet. In Pakistan itself, Dr. Qadri often addresses large congregations, simultaneously in scores of cities and towns via a live video link from Canada. The highlight of his discourses is a strong call to fight terrorism and extremism in the name of religion ─ which he says has sullied the image of Pakistan around the world.  Here is another recent example of how the Internet helped galvanise a powerful worldwide opinion in favour of peace and conflict-resolution. In September last year, there was a strong move by the United States and some other western powers to militarily “punish” Syria for its use of chemical weapons in the ongoing civil war, which has claimed over 100,000 lives and forced millions of Syrians to seek safe shelter in neighbouring countries. The military attack would have certainly escalated the bloody conflict in Syria and caused more deaths and destruction. It was at that crucial moment that H.H. Pope Francis made a strong appeal against military intervention in Syria. He condemned the use of chemical weapons and called for a negotiated settlement of the civil war. He even announced that he would lead a worldwide day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria on September 7. This appeal, carried around the world via Twitter and other social media, evoked a huge response from not only Catholics but also non-Catholics. Even though the civil war has not ended, the Pope’s intervention certainly proved decisive in preventing it from becoming a wider regional war with unforeseen consequences. It also led to the UN Security Council deciding unanimously on a plan to dismantle chemical weapons in Syria. Therefore, H.H. Pope Francis was absolutely right when he described the Internet as a “Gift from God” in a statement in January. He praised the Internet for the “immense possibilities” it offers to encounter people from different backgrounds. Of course, he also rightly warned that the obsessive desire to stay “connected” can actually isolate people from their friends, neighbours and family. Types of violence the Internet hasn’t been able to reduce In this discussion on the potential of the Internet to promote world peace, it is necessary to add an important caveat. What we have seen in the period after the Second World War is the diminishing occurrence of institutionalised wars between nation-states, and the near-impossibility of nuclear weapons states precipitating a new world war. However, this does not mean that the world has become similarly secure from other manifestations of violence ─ terrorism, inter-faith or inter-ethnic conflicts, armed insurgencies, civil wars, systematic state-sponsored violence against citizens, or structural violence or ‘indirect violence’ in the form of widespread poverty and socio-economic injustice in many parts of the world, much of it exacerbated by the flawed process of globalisation. Although ICTs have made some contribution to reducing these other forms of violence, it is obvious that their full potential in this regard has not yet been realised.  Where technology has proved itself to have a limited, and very tough, role to play is in combating forms of violence that have deep-rooted social, religious and ideological roots. All violence is committed first in human minds before it manifests itself in the spilling of human blood. Mental prejudices and exclusivist identities on the grounds of race, ethnicity, caste, creed and nationality often have long antiquity. When bitter memories and narratives of the past conflicts continue to remain a part of the present consciousness of communities, it sometimes becomes very difficult to make people think in new, reconciliatory, ways. The same is true about widely held religious or racial dogmas, which make people react in violent ways whenever their inflexible beliefs and their notions of superiority are questioned.  Even though globalisation and technological advancement have given birth to a new consciousness of global citizenship, they have not yet significantly diminished the potency of the above-mentioned sources of violence. These can be countered only through a strong and sustained revival of enlightened spiritual, cultural and moral traditions around the world. Destruction of the environment is also violence As mentioned earlier, the one type of violence that has increased to an unprecedented level since the beginning of the 20th century, and has indeed reached catastrophic proportions after the end of World War II, is man’s assault on the environment. Paradoxically, it is as if the end of the era of colonisation has heralded the beginning of another type of colonialism. There is irrefutable evidence of the shocking extent of violence that man has perpetrated through his ‘colonialism’ of other species on planet Earth. A recent study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world’s oldest and largest global environmental network, has concluded that Nature’s very ‘backbone is at risk’. The most comprehensive assessment of the world’s vertebrates confirms ‘an extinction crisis’ with one-fifth of species threatened. “On average, fifty species of mammal, bird and amphibian move closer to extinction each year”. Another study conducted by IUCN partners suggests that over one-fifth of all plant species are threatened.  Yet another study sponsored by the United Nations, called ‘The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB)’ calculates ‘”the cost of losing nature at US$2-5 trillion per year, predominantly in poorer parts of the world… putting the livelihoods of millions of people dependent on these vital resources at risk”. Kenneth E. Boulding (1910–93), an American economist and peace activist who was greatly influenced by the life and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, posed a pertinent question: “Are we to regard the world of nature simply as a storehouse to be robbed for the immediate benefit of man?…Does man have any responsibility for the preservation of a decent balance in nature, for the preservation of rare species, or even for the indefinite continuance of his race?” Since Boulding was also a poet, he expressed the same concern in the following limerick: With laissez-faire and price atomic, Ecology’s Uneconomic,  But with another kind of logic  Economy’s Unecologic.   Mahatma Gandhi, the greatest apostle of nonviolence in modern times, had recognised this inherent conflict between economics and ecology in the modern era of limitless consumption fed by limitless exploitation of nature. Today environmentalists all over the world have come to recognise the profound truth in the Gandhian tenet: “The earth provides enough to satisfy everyone’s need, but not for anyone’s greed”. The operative part of this message is the need to rediscover the environmental wisdom inherent in all religions of the world. This wisdom places welfare of all above aggrandisement of the few. It also affirms that material progress is simply a means for man to achieve the far more rewarding progress in social, cultural, artistic and spiritual spheres. It cannot reconcile with the modern paradigm of development which, according to Gandhi, “attaches undue importance to the body rather than the soul, which is infinitely more real than the body”. It is not difficult to see that this religion-embedded wisdom spells a mortal threat to the culture of consumerism, which keeps capitalism alive to the detriment of both the environment and human happiness.  Gandhian environmentalism is integrally linked to his world-view of nonviolence. “It is an arrogant assumption,” he wrote, “to say that human beings are lords and masters of the lower creatures. On the contrary, being endowed with greater things in life, they are the trustees of the lower animal kingdom”. He wanted “to realise identity with even the crawling things upon earth, because we claim descent from the same God, and that being so, all life in whatever form it appears must essentially be so”. In a highly original re-interpretation of colonialism, he affirmed that lording over nature and lording over other “inferior” people are both manifestations of colonialism. Gandhi’s advocacy of humane and eco-friendly economics was deeply anchored in his ethics of nonviolence. “Man has no power to create life, therefore has no right to kill any life also…A society can be judged by the way it treats its animals”.  Another pioneer of the green movement in Europe was Arne Naess (1912–2009), who is internationally known as the originator of a sub-movement called Deep Ecology. His spiritual vision, which affirms the unity and sacredness of nature, was deeply influenced by Buddha, Spinoza and Mahatma Gandhi. The latter’s philosophy and practice of nonviolence strongly endorsed his own concept of the unity of all living beings, and of self-realisation as an approach to truth. “Nature conservation,” Naess stated, “is nonviolent at its very core.” He found wellsprings of inspiration for his movement in Gandhi’s thoughts on the man-environment relationship ─ “I believe in advaita (non-duality), I believe in the essential unity of man and, for that matter, of all that lives. Therefore I believe that if one man gains spiritually, the whole world gains with him and, if one man fails, the whole world fails to that extent.” Conclusion: Resurrect and reactivate the core teachings of religions What emerges from the above, necessarily brief, examination of the causes of various types of violence that our world has been witnessing in our times is the fact that a new global identity of inter-connected and inter-dependent human communities and human beings is being created by the twin forces of globalisation and technology. This has broadened the constituency of peace and cooperative co-existence. Certain types of violent conflicts have indeed decreased. Since science and technology are also specific manifestations of the creative power that God has endowed human beings with, it can be surmised that this peace-promoting potential of science and technology demonstrates their spiritual or divine side. At the same time, the limitations of the power of information and communication technologies to create a comprehensively peaceful and nonviolent world are all too obvious. Our world is in need of multi-dimensional and multi-institutional transformation for it to overcome old and new forms of violence. This is possible only if the fundamental ethical teachings and humanising traditions embedded in all religions are resurrected to guide every human activity ─ political, economic, social, educational, entertainment-related, environment-related, and so on.  A crucial area of global transformation is indeed national defence/military systems. The enormous waste of resources being spent on building ever-more sophisticated (read: murderous) weapon systems is an anachronism in a world that is becoming increasingly small and inter-dependent. Religious leaders and institutions must raise their powerful voice against military solutions to inter-national or intra-national disputes. The successful intervention of H.H. Pope Francis in preventing escalation of the civil war in Syria has shown the way. The transformative power of religions should be resurrected and reactivated at not only the social plane but also in the personal space. This is what Gandhi ─ who was more a man of religion than of politics ─ emphasised when he said: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” The same has been stated by Fethullah Gulen, an influential Islamic scholar of Turkish origin:  “Those who want to reform the world must first reform themselves. In order to bring others to the path of travelling to a better world, they must purify their inner worlds of hatred, rancour and jealousy, and adorn their outer worlds with all kinds of virtues.  “Most of these virtues and values are accorded the highest precedence in the messages brought by Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, as well as in the messages of the Buddha and even Zarathustra, Lao-Tzu, Confucius and Hindu prophets. As a Muslim, I accept all prophets and books sent to different peoples throughout history, and regard belief in them as an essential principle of being Muslim”. Acceptance of the validity and universality of all the religions in the world, and making their common heritage of wisdom guide all human activities, is the surest way of ensuring an affirmative answer to the question under discussion in this conference: “CAN RELIGIONS DELIVER OUR WORLD FROM VIOLENCE?”

(This paper draws many ideas from the author’s book MUSIC OF THE SPINNING WHEEL: Mahatma Gandhi’s Manifesto for the Internet Age, published in 2012.)


Impegno comune delle comunità religiose nell’affrontare anoressia e bulimia, “mali dell’anima” prima che del corpo

In Italia oltre tre milioni e mezzo di persone soffrono di disturbi del comportamento alimentare, primi fra tutti anoressia e bulimia. Malattie subdole che gettano nella disperazione milioni di famiglie e rappresentano la prima causa di mortalità per le adolescenti.

Nadia Accetti ne ha sofferto a lungo, ma ora è guarita e si dedica alla prevenzione e sensibilizzazione. È una storia di speranza quella di Nadia, 35 anni, romana di origini siciliane con una formazione di attrice e pittrice. Parla di una gioia di vivere contagiosa ritrovata dopo anni di sofferenza, grazie alla fede.   «Ho subito una violenza sessuale – racconta -, tentato un suicidio e affrontato aspri conflitti con il mio corpo, passando da anoressia a bulimia e binge eating. Il mio grido è quello di chi ha provato sulla propria pelle questo cancro dell’anima. La fede, l’arte, il perdono e il coraggio di chiedere aiuto mi hanno salvata e il mio sorriso è il segno evidente che il dolore si può trasformare in opportunità».

Dall’esperenza di guarigione, nel 2009, è nata DonnaDonnaOnlus, ispirata alla lettera aspostolica “Mulieris dignitatem” del beato Giovanni Paolo II. Fiore all’occhiello dell’associazione è la realizzazione di un calendario.   «Quest’anno – spiega Nadia – oltre al patrocinio del Parlamento europeo, abbiamo ottenuto quello degli Uffici del Vicariato di Roma per la pastorale sanitaria, per l’ecumenismo e per le migrazioni. Un fatto importantissimo perché, per la prima volta, questo male viene affrontato anche dal punto di vista spirituale».

Il calendario, realizzato in collaborazione con l’associazione Religions for Peace Italia, contiene contributi di tutte le confessioni religiose. «Ogni mese è dedicato a un Paese della Comunità europea, ritratto in uno scatto di gruppo, e il titolo è “Che tutti siano uno” perché “Il capolavoro sei tu”».

Intanto, al Parlamento europeo, è stato presentato un progetto di legge per indire una Giornata internazionale di prevenzione dei disturbi del comportamento alimentare. Mentre Nadia, che nel frattempo testimonia la sua gioia di vivere nelle scuole e nelle parrocchie, spera di realizzare al più presto il suo sogno: aprire un centro di ascolto tutto suo.

( ripreso da   10 febbraio 2014 )

Accoglienza delle differenze religiose in ospedale. Le linee guida del Gemelli di Roma

 Per riconoscere l’importanza del rispetto delle radici culturali, della spiritualità e delle diverse appartenenze religiose di ciascun individuo, e delle persone malate in particolare, il Policlinico universitario “A. Gemelli” ha adottato un modello interculturale per l’accoglienza e la cura dei pazienti di cultura e credo religioso diverso. Il documento è stato elaborato su impulso del Centro Pastorale dell’Università Cattolica di Roma e della Direzione del Policlinico, alla luce delle Raccomandazioni per gli operatori sanitari delle strutture ospedaliere e territoriali della Regione Lazio, promosse dalla ASL RME.

La “Policy per l’accoglienza delle differenze e specificità culturali e religiose” definita dal Policlinico Gemelli è stata presentata l’11 Febbraio , in occasione della XXII Giornata Mondiale del Malato, alla presenza  di rappresentanti delle Istituzioni, delle Comunità religiose e delle Associazioni di Volontariato. Erano presenti all’evento, in rappresentanza della ASL Roma E, il dr Alessandro Bazzoni e la dr.ssa Daniela Santella che coordinano il “Laboratorio per l’accoglienza” operante presso la ASL stessa dal 2010.

“La Policy  – spiega una nota del Policlinico – nasce dalla consapevolezza della necessità di adottare una modello di accoglienza, orientamento e assistenza ai cittadini, con particolare attenzione agli aspetti relazionali e alle differenze culturali e confessionali, che rappresentano le fondamenta di una cultura dell’umanizzazione delle cure e dell’assistenza”.

L’obiettivo di tale Policy “è quello di fornire le linee di indirizzo per assicurare, all’interno del Policlinico Gemelli, un’adeguata gestione dell’accoglienza delle differenze e specificità culturali e religiose al fine di migliorare la qualità dell’assistenza e dell’accoglienza dei pazienti in base alle differenze e specificità culturali e religiose; favorire la conoscenza reciproca di culture, di tradizioni, di sistemi sociali, in una prospettiva di interscambio e di arricchimento reciproco; disporre di informazioni utili per anticipare i bisogni e pianificare attività a favore dei pazienti; individuare nei limiti delle possibilità spazi da dedicare al raccoglimento e alla preghiera; definire le caratteristiche delle figure di riferimento mediante accordi tra la Direzione del Policlinico e le diverse comunità culturali e religiose”.

La Policy si applica per le necessità culturali e religiose di tutti i pazienti che ne fanno esplicita richiesta ed è valida per tutte le Unità Operative e Servizi all’interno del Policlinico Gemelli.   In concreto, attraverso un approccio interreligioso ed interculturale alle cure, la Policy fornisce delle vere e proprie linee guida attraverso il recepimento delle raccomandazioni contenute nel documento promosso dalla ASL RME in cui l’ascolto, la conoscenza, la comprensione e il confronto rivestono un ruolo fondamentale nel rapporto tra medico e paziente. Ad esempio, vengono fornite informazioni riguardo al momento dell’accoglienza in ospedale, al rapporto con la corporeità, al lavaggio delle mani e dei piedi, alla gestione delle cure, alla comunicazione tra medico e paziente, alle differenze di genere, alla gravidanza e al momento del parto e della nascita, alle norme alimentari da rispettare nei menù, all’assistenza spirituale e religiosa durante la degenza, ai momenti di preghiera, ai riti funebri e alla gestione della salma, alle festività.

Teresa Petrangolini, consigliera regionale del gruppo ‘Per il Lazio’ ha affermato, in riferimento a questo evento :“L’iniziativa che il Policlinico Gemelli dedica oggi all’accoglienza e alla cura dei pazienti di diverse culture e religioni va nella giusta direzione. Ho presentato in Consiglio regionale una mozione che impegna Presidente e Giunta del Lazio a definire un progetto per l’attivazione dei servizi di assistenza religiosa, non solo cattolica, nei presidi ospedalieri delle Aziende Sanitarie della Regione, al fine di garantire indistintamente a tutti i pazienti ricoverati l’assistenza spirituale”. La stessa Petrangolini considera quesat iniziativa che si svolge  proprio in occasione  della Giornata Mondiale del Malato, “un importante passo in avanti nel campo dell’integrazione, della tolleranza e della tutela dei diritti di tutti i cittadini”.