Religious and inter-religious education
Professor Dr. Mark J. Wolff (USA):
Education in relation to Freedom of Religion or Belief, Tolerance and Non-Discrimination
|Professor Dr. Mark J.
Wolff, B.A., J.D., LL.M, Board of Directors, St. Thomas University Human
Rights Institute, Knight of Magistral Grace of the Sovereign Military Order
of Malta Observer served as Head of Delegation of the Sovereign Military
Order of Malta to the International Consultative Conference on School Education
in relation to Freedom of Religion or Belief, Tolerance and Non-Discrimination
Madrid, 25 November 2001.
The second paragraph of the
Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 10 December 1948
in pertinent part states: “Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights
have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind,
and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of
speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as
the highest aspiration of the common people,” (emphasis added)
|In this process, however,
it is important not to collapse into the philosophical relativism and indifferentism
that certain sectors of the modem West have attempted to impose on the
new planetary 1 culture. Often these voices of relativism and indifferentism,
themselves proceeding from secular and sometimes even anti?religious assumptions,
claim that all religions are equal and not really different from each other.
But if that were the case, there would be no meaning to humanity's diverse
and rich pluralism of religious traditions. All could be collapsed into
a vague and rather empty common religion, which, I propose, would satisfy
little the human search for truth and the actual spiritual yearnings of
the human heart.
Rather, as world religions enter into dialogue with each other, they need not put aside each of their unique claims to truth. The basis of their dialogue should not be relativism or indifference, but rather a profound respect for the human person and for the freedom of conscience of each person. One can simultaneously hold firmly to the truth as one perceives and follows it, even religious truth, and at the same time embrace and welcome the other who claims to perceive and follow a different truth. One may do that by distinguishing between one's firm commitment to the truth as one holds it, and one's sense of hospitality to and reverence for the other as a human person full of dignity grounded in freedom, and particularly religious freedom.
|We may and should hold firmly the truth as we know it, but we also need to welcome generously the other who claims to hold a different truth. Even should we believe in our heart that the “truth” which the other claims is in fact an “error,” that need not diminish our respect and openness to the person whom we judge to hold an “erroneous” position. In fact, our respect for the person of the other requires that we show generous hospitality even when we judge the other to be in “error.” Our respect for the other is not grounded in the intellectual or religious position that the other holds, but solely in the inherent human dignity of the other.|
|And so, out of hospitable mutual respect, we not only honour the other but also willingly enter into dialogue. We seek to learn about the other's experience, even about the other's religious experience. Thus we share stories, celebrate our common freedom, and yet do not compromise our own unique identity and commitment.|
|This same process of hospitable
sharing among religious traditions needs also to occur within the framework
of primary and secondary education, and also at the level of tertiary education.
In this new era of globalisation, children and youth in general need to
learn about the many religious traditions of the human family. In learning
about these traditions, their own religious tradition need not be relativised,
but only contextualised. One can simultaneously be firm and clear about
one's own identity, including religious identity, and at the same time
truly welcome as guests those of other identities.
This is particularly true with regard to the educational formation of children. Children can be supportively formed in their own religious traditions, and simultaneously be opened magnanimously to other religious traditions.
|Against this merged horizon of truth and hospitality, it becomes a special challenge for legislation and legal codes, including when legal codes claim religious roots, for example, the Canon Law of the Catholic Church, to assist societies, schools, and families in bringing to religious education the mutually enhancing processes of formation in one's own religious tradition and hospitable opening to all other religious traditions.|
|Only when one or more generations of children across the world's diverse cultures are so educated in a mutuality of respect for truth and otherness will we find emerging an authentic global culture of peace and tolerance, an authentic global celebration of human rights as universal, and an authentic global dialogue of civilisations. This is the challenge of the third millennium, and it 'must be achieved in our ever increasing globalising world.|