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Education human wisdom and the wisdom of God

· Intervention by the Cardinal President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue ·

The following is a translation of the report in French given by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, on 21 June at the meeting of the Oasis International Scientific Committee in Beirut. The Cardinal's text on the theme of Interreligious Dialogue: “Christians and Muslims facing the challenge of education”, can be found online in the newsletter of the Oasis Foundation.

Immanuel Kant said that man only becomes man through education. To educate means to pass on some knowledge, art or technique, a range of different skills.

To educate means to engage to guarantee the development of all the person's faculties (physical, intellectual and moral). Hence to teach is always to educate, but educating is not automatically equivalent to teaching! What is essential in education is to enable every individual, alone or with others, to confront – through culture in particular – the challenges of their existence as individuals or as a group.

Art. 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights refers to the “right to education”. This same right is also mentioned in Articles 10, 13, and 14 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

These articles recognize the following principles: the family as “the natural and fundamental group unity of society, which must provide for the “care and education of dependent children” (Art. 10); the goal of education is the full development of the human personality and of the sense of its dignity, and the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms (Art. 13); it is the task of education to “enable all persons to participate effectively in a free society, [and to] promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations and all racial, ethnic or religious groups”, thereby contributing to the maintenance of peace (Art. 13).

The same ideas are contained in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Articles 23, 28, 29, 40). If educating means passing on values and knowledge, its link with religions is obvious and perfectly natural.

Indeed, religions also teach, educate and transmit: dogmas, sacred books and liturgy. In general, they appeal for respect for the human person and for his goods (material or moral), as well as for the safeguard of nature. Although today the values of religions are not always seen as foundational values, they inspire many projects of society and believers, even when they are in a minority, nevertheless constitute a minority that is active and that counts!

Religions and modernity
I would say that today we face two fundamental crises. One is the crisis of the mind. We are “super-informed” but are we able to reason? The noise, mobility and avalanche of virtual messages subject us to real stress. Many people find it hard to organize their knowledge. The rule “everything and immediately!” prevails, to the point that what was known as “interior life” has become a rarity.

The second crisis is in passing things on. The family, moral and religious values can no longer be taken for granted. Ignorance of religion is widespread in Western society. By complying with the famous graphito scrawled on the walls of the Sorbonne University in May 1968: “It is forbidden to forbid”, we have turned our earth into a drifting raft.

In a phase in which our world is presented as a globalized space and all the cultures – in which the religious element is everywhere evident – are called into question, we cannot disregard this key to their interpretation which is religion: without it conscience, history and brotherhood are impossible to understand.

Today too many young people are heirs with no heritage and builders with no project. This explains why some come to ask that religion be taught as a subject in schools!

Religions return

These two crises have in their favour the return of the religious element that we are witnessing (I am not speaking of a return of Christianity). Muslims in the West are demanding places of worship and visibility. Acts of violence and homicides perpetrated in the name of religious conviction make religions feared. People are questioning themselves, they want to know, especially since globalization fosters interreligious dialogue. Some material projects have destroyed stereotypes: for example, the Feast of the Annunciation, celebrated here in Lebanon every year as a national Feast on 25 March, and the administrative formation of imams in France, offered by the Catholic Institute of Paris.

In a few decades it is likely that the human being will dominate inert matter (the globe, not excluding sidereal space). We know that the mastery of living matter is progressing from one day to the next but once everything has been explained to us we shall yet have to discover what the human being truly is. Even when we have all the most sophisticated instruments at our disposal we shall still face the problem of how to use them. And then there are evil and death. We will necessarily all ask ourselves the question of their meaning and sooner or later the “sacred” will take its place as an essential element of the human soul.

Christians and education

The first monastic schools to appear on the European continent inspired Plato and Aristotle to propose an intellectual education and a moral formation that would be reciprocally fruitful.

Through the elaboration of the notions of duty and sacrifice, tempered by divine love (Bergson), and by conversion of heart, Christians were led to consider freedom. Thus the tension between freedom, reason and truth was placed at the centre of intellectual life in the Middle Ages. Dialectics and disputatio were the focus of the medieval university , and it was the clerics of the Middle Ages who provided education which addressed the totality of the person: for them it was not so much a matter of learning a trade as rather of forming autonomous people with a critical spirit.

Christian education has also wished to be encyclopaedic (the totality of human knowledge). Monasteries hierarchically organized all that was known of divine and human things (Descartes was later to present the image of the tree of knowledge).

All this constituted the preparation for receiving the Revelation of the Word and of Truth in History. Christians have always cultivated the ambition of reconciling faith and reason: “to understand in order to believe and to believe in order to understand” (St Augustine).

Muslims and education

I think it may be said that for Islam education consists in moulding the soul from the earliest age. Two fundamental values are to be passed on to the child: faith and the knowledge contained in the Qur’an. Once the child's soul is full, there will no longer be room for what is false. It is the place and role of reason that differentiate between the Christian and Muslim conceptions of education.

The inner life

So what is the specific role of religions in education? To transmit a taste for the inner life. Basically all religions affirm that “man does not live by bread alone”. It is a question of developing the capacity of each one of us for reflection, for organizing our thought, for reasoning (using reason to know and to judge). “All unhappiness in man stems from one thing: being unable to stay quietly in a room”, my compatriot Pascal wrote.

The specific role of religions is also to further knowledge of our own identity: man is the only creature who asks questions and who questions himself; the only creature who seeks “the meaning of meaning” (as Paul Ricoeur expressed it).

Man discovers himself to be a mystery, the mystery of what he is, of his potential, of his place in the universe. It is because of his discovery of himself as a mystery that the religious dimension is inevitably silhouetted on the horizon.

Religions foster a pedagogy of the encounter. They help people react to what is different with respect. In affirming my own identity I discover that the person before me likewise has an identity but one that is very different from my own.

Religions facilitate the acceptance of plurality, in the context of the family, by favouring the intermingling of generations and encouraging attention at school to the teaching of history and to the contribution made by the different civilizations.

Lastly, religions help to guarantee respect for the human person and his rights. Each one of us is unique, each one of us is sacred. We should therefore listen to each other and learn from each other to express our respective identities, not by resorting to blows or weapons but rather with reasoned and reasonable arguments.

A common challenge

Let us take into consideration youth as a whole. In the Christian context: in Western societies young people often live Christianity as a form of deism but recently what people call “the new communities” have given life to forms of spirituality that awaken a more motivated and missionary Christian practice and a conscious desire to receive a full doctrinal formation.

In the Muslim context: one cannot but be impressed by the visibility of religious practice, by the way in which – both community and personal – religion permeates all the dimensions of a Muslim's life. Yet it should be emphasized that the atmosphere of religious indifference, particularly in Europe, can have certain consequences – first, among young Muslims: the atmosphere of secularism tends to encourage the affirmation of an aggressive religious identity – secondly, secularism itself can lead to the abandonment of all religious practice.

These observations lead us to hope that Christians and Muslims will compete in initiatives: at the level of the elite, stimulating the desire to know and recognize each other. Since dialogue cannot be founded on ambiguity it is here that education displays its essential importance.

Young people today (both Christians and Muslims), must be on an equal footing in the dialogue. They must therefore have the same possibilities of access to teaching about religions, just as they should know about the religion of others (this is the problem of the religious factor at school).

Religious authorities must be better informed about other religions so as to dispel fears and to encourage reciprocal enrichment, by communicating the best of our spiritual traditions. This does not mean making concessions as regards truth but means knowing others, listening to them, discovering what we have in common.

This profound knowledge of others can occur in various fields, such as literature and music, to arrive later at the deepening of the knowledge of biblical, Qur’anic and theological culture.

In this manner the encounter that gives rise to dialogue makes it possible to act together for the common good. All together we can act for the good of the family, of school, of university and of business.

From now on it should not be impossible for Christian and Muslim religious leaders to sensitize legislators and teachers concerning the timeliness of establishing rules of conduct such as: respect for the person who is seeking the truth in the face of the enigma of the human person; a critical sense that enables people to choose between the true and the false; the teaching of a humanistic philosophy that makes it possible to give humane replies to questions concerning man, the world and God; the appreciation and dissemination of the great cultural traditions open to transcendence that express our aspiration to freedom and truth.

All together – Christians and Muslims (and I would say: all believers) – we have the possibility of presenting the common convictions we find in our respective spiritual and cultural heritages: solidarity that leads to commitment to the poor and the marginalized; responsibility, that urges us not to forget that we will answer to God for what we have done or have omitted to do for justice and peace; freedom that always implies an upright conscience and an enlightened faith (faith and reason!); a spirituality that refers to the religious dimension of the human person and illuminates the human adventure; the thirst for knowledge that makes people attentive to what man, endowed as he is with a conscience and intelligence, achieves (in the common good and in evil); plurality that urges us to consider ourselves different but equal, rejecting all forms of exclusion, in particular those which in order to justify themselves invoke a religion or a conviction. We can make all these affirmations together because we believe that men and women, in every epoch and in every circumstance, possess an inalienable dignity and have the right to freedom, to respect and to a dignified life.

The human patrimony

Education in the broadest sense of the term cannot be miserly with regard to the religious dimension of the human person. Scientific and technical teaching in recent decades has developed exponentially so that the subjects known as “humanistic” (philosophy, history, literature) have become marginal in the transmission of culture. Yet in the course of the millenniums the peoples of the earth have accumulated an artistic and literary patrimony that is common to all humanity and has always expressed religious beliefs (no civilization exists that has not focused attention on the presence of the religious dimension).

We as Christians know that God chose to make himself known to human beings in Jesus, true God and true man. But we also know that God is at work in the hearts of the believers of other religions, just as he is in every human person.

For this reason, all together, with respect for our specific qualities and our ways through life, we are duty bound to purify our memories, not to impose but to point out the meaning to give to the extraordinary human adventure.

Man, charged with the administration of the planet, man, capable of the greatest discoveries, this “flesh and blood” human being is also the one who works to organize and bring aid to the victims of all violence and natural catastrophes. Even amidst all the contradictions of history, the human being is capable of generosity! Christians and Muslims, let us join forces so that in the future we shall never lack men and women who, thanks to their courage, gentleness and perseverance, are capable of purifying their memory and their hearts to ensure that human wisdom converges with the wisdom of God. And if this were education?




St. Peter’s Square

Dec. 13, 2019