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The new politics, history and history of religions: the world after 11 September 2001.

The purpose of this paper was to sketch in the outlines of the New Politics that is necessary following recent changes and events. The requirements of this New Politics aim not to restrict international, national and regional politics solely to the area of rational planning, but to increase the number of its partners by bringing in the religions as well and taking on as tasks their demands for justice, their universal ethics and an education in non-violence. This vision of the tasks is crucially based on peace, ethical standards and promoting the human. Involvement in politics, in the sense of the New Politics described here, gives UNESCO the important role of being the meeting-place for dialogue between religions and civilizations and gives the United Nations the role of political forum for the implementation of the knowledge acquired through dialogue. As regards the university disciplines essential to an advisory function serving this New Politics, the political, economic and social sciences will of course have to be included, but we must also add History now, and particularly the History of Religions (including the Sociology and Psychology of Religion), in order to respond appropriately to the new challenges thrown up by the protest expressed in the name of religion.

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Many people say that the world changed after 9/11 and that nothing is as it was. What does indeed appear true is that international politics has to change and come up with a new concept with new tasks and principles appropriate to the requirements of the situation.

This brief contribution aims to suggest an outline by tackling the transformation of the old concept of politics into a new politics, a politics adapted to the challenge thrown down by the events of 11 September 2001 that so shocked the world. A first draft of the tasks required will define the new principles on which these tasks are based, and will conclude with a short observation on the future political analysis of the university disciplines involved.

The concept of the new politics

Since the Second World War more than 40 years ago international politics has been based on the East-West conflict with the world divided into two opposing camps. This dichotomy meant that every conflict situation was analysed in terms of this dualistic vision, putting each party involved on one side or the other. Even those who got together to attempt to develop a third force outside the dominant dichotomy more often than not ended up being the object of criticism and suspected of being in fact directly in the pay of one of the two superpowers, then generally accused of playing into the communists' hands or at least being useful to them through their actions.

Being in politics therefore meant analysing day-to-day events as signs indicating a reasonable logic and strategy for arriving at world domination by the economic, ideological and, if necessary, military destruction of the enemy in the opposing camp. Thus politics became the privileged domain of rational planning, a public reality where strategic calculation alone was the source of directives, a totally secularized world in that neither religion nor emotion had the right to intervene, since they were restricted to the strictly private sphere of the individual.

In general, hope was high, fed by the expectation that this idea of a secularized world would spread and soon dominate the public and political thinking of all people worldwide. The fall of the Shah's regime and the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 challenged these assumptions for a while. But there was a swift return to an agenda based on the old notion of politics as a rational enterprise for resolving problems in the world through a philosophy of the possible based on a discourse of reason, without recourse to principles of a metaphysical or religious nature.

People were certain that, once the dichotomy between the two ideological superpowers had been resolved, peace would reign on earth and the world would become one village (Marshall McLuhan's 'global village'), characterized by harmony amongst peoples. In fact the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the break-up of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union soon afterwards did not bring about the 'end of history' (Francis Fukuyama); quite the reverse. We have been forced to discover that this world without ideologies can suffer upheavals, and that victorious capitalism with its expanding world market is confronted by other actors, such as religious fundamentalism (Martin E. Marty, A. Scott Appleby et al.) or the famous 'clash of civilizations' (Samuel Huntington), using religious doctrine to frame their critique.

Although this return of religion, or rather religions, had already been anticipated in various regions of the world for some years, (1) it took some time and perhaps, sadly, the events of 9/11, for this change to be understood and for it to force us to rethink the concept of politics itself.

All this seems to indicate that the challenge to international politics will in future be launched by fierce fighters or terrorists bent on destruction, using one of the doctrines of their respective religions to justify and legitimate their actions: Muslims fighting in Chechnya, ex-Yugoslavia and Sudan, and, as regards terrorists, Hamas and Bin Laden with his Al-Qa'ida, all go to prove it. The New Politics can therefore no longer ignore the fact that ideas from different religions will motivate actions in the public domain, a territory that until now was reserved for rational strategies alone. It has thus become vital to attend to religious messages. With conversion nowhere implied, we are required to take religions into consideration, treat them and their demands seriously and so become genuine partners in the political interplay of forces and interests.

Dialogue between and with religions will no longer be restricted to high-ranking specialists alone, but will be essential and compulsory for every politician, since the New Politics will no longer be allowed complacently to operate only with the rational. Indeed it will have to become informed about religious matters and requirements in order to organize public life properly. (2) UNESCO looks like the ideal meeting-place for such a dialogue of religions and civilizations, which would have the aim of communicating its results and requests to the world political forum, the United Nations. The New Politics will have to compel UNESCO to identify actions for this New Politics and define its principles.

The tasks of the New Politics

In order to get involved in the dialogue between and with the religions, the New Politics should attempt to achieve at least three aims: demands for justice, a universal ethics, education in non-violence.

Demand for justice

Many analyses of attacks carried out by Islamic terrorists offer, as reasons for these actions, frustration, the feeling of humiliation and the anger aroused by their socio-political situation, with the only choice they see open to them being the destruction of the enemy. Their requirements on the local, regional and world level are for justice to be done in sharing out goods and participating in concrete solutions to improve the lot of the poor and the outcasts in whose name they claim they are fighting.

These fighters are increasing in number, if we add to those who use violence those complaining of living conditions that do not deserve the name and yet are not prepared for armed revolt or some violent form of protest. (3)

In many cases, according to experts in religious fundamentalism, the same actors are involved as once used to fight the Americans, of their allies in Europe and the Muslim world, on behalf of communism of socialism, but today formulate their accusations and critiques on the basis of religion. This significant change reflects a new situation. It is well known that Marxist theory is based on the class struggle and makes a very clear distinction between exploiters and exploited to describe social injustices. But this description no longer fits reality as it is experienced, because the gap is getting wider between those who are involved in the process of production--whether as exploiters or exploited--and those who are excluded from it, of even totally marginalized, without any form of active participation in society. They have no way of exerting pressure in the struggle between forces and interests. They have only moral accusation as a protest against a world where, since the 1990s, the dominance of capitalism has been undisputed, following the disappearance of the only alternative economic system, communism. In such a situation religions in general and Islam in particular lend their voice to express the complaints of those who have no voice, the damned of the earth, the poor and the outcast. It is religions that raise their voice in this situation (4) to say that such an existence cannot be justified, either in the name of justice or as a realization of the mission of human beings, who were created, according to the Koran (2, 30), to be '[God's] lieutenants on earth', and, according to the Bible (Genesis 1, 27), 'in the image of God'. It is clear that this mission cannot be subordinated either to market strategies or to the vicious circle of material circumstances and facts. People's dignity demands everyone's respect and in order to defend it the religions are speaking out increasingly loudly against abuses by the economic system.

There is no doubt that the religions will continue on this course of protest, insofar as the lack of justice and respect for people goes hand in hand with a socioeconomic situation that is increasingly disastrous for a majority of our contemporaries in the poor as well as the rich countries of our planet. The task of the New Politics is therefore to attend to the criticisms voiced by the religions in order to understand what the human needs are that have to be satisfied if we do not wish to court catastrophe in political relations, on both the international and the domestic front.

A universal ethics

The New Politics cannot be content with listening to complaints and formulating demands, it must also set out directions for a common ethics in relation to the great challenges of progress and scientific and technical opportunities. In this regard, and in order to give an indication of the great tasks that flow from it, we need only mention the worldwide ethics project launched by the theologian Hans Kung and the associated declaration (Declaration toward a Global Ethic) from the Parliament of World Religions, signed in Chicago on 4 September 1993.

Whatever their differences, the religions came to an agreement there on certain rules of human conduct that are dear to all their hearts. And so they represent a huge reservoir of pointers and values to be exploited in many human situations. They have a wealth of experience and have always taught us how to make people more humane by giving them rules for right behaviour in both individual and community life. Needless to say, the accomplishment of this task leads automatically to education in an attempt to establish and implement standards and values that are essential for the individual and the whole of society.

An education in non-violence

In his famous book entitled La Violence et le sacre Rene Girard stresses the regulating aspect of religion, which limits and civilizes uncontrolled violence. It is now time to reflect on that, when violence seems to be breaking out and mounting as never before.

Requiring civilized ways of solving conflicts assumes that these ways are in fact likely to succeed in resolving existing problems. It also assumes that the civilized methods turn out to be the right ones and superior to the uncontrolled use of force; and finally that the balance of forces and interests indicates that such a course of action is desirable and acceptable. A great educational task is therefore necessary for this course of action to be generally accepted. In order to achieve this aim the international community needs the educational skills of the religions to support it.

We must not deceive ourselves. This process is a long-term one. For if we observe the different changes that have taken place throughout the history of humanity, we are forced to make a distinction between time to make personal changes, which took a few decades, and time to effect social changes which extended over centuries, not to mention evolution, which can be measured in millions of years. Nevertheless, the difficult job of bringing about social change has to be undertaken without losing heart and in spite of failures and inevitable setbacks. (5)

The tasks of the New Politics are closely linked to implicit principles that deserve finally to be laid out here in the light of day.

The principles of the New Politics

The tasks referred to above are inconceivable without certain premises consisting of implicit principles, three of which are dealt with here: peace, ethical standards and the promotion of the human.

Peace

If peace is not simply the absence of war, but also implies harmony and social justice among peoples, achieving it clearly assumes a certain balance between the various groups in society. Flagrant social injustices, for example, if they are felt to be so, are always extremely dangerous for a society, even if the justified claims of excluded or disadvantaged groups can be suppressed for a while by force. History teaches us that a regime imposed by force has never survived in the long term, but that extreme tensions within a society sooner or later lead to battles that are often brought to an end with a compromise designed to satisfy the needs of the parties involved.

If we consider the world in its current state, the cry for justice from the poor and outcasts is a threat to peace. So, listening to them and trying to respond positively means that we are committed to bringing about the necessary conditions for lasting peace, both within a society and in the relations between peoples.

The work of listening to the cries for justice is based on the fundamental principle and conviction that world peace cannot be guaranteed as long as flagrant injustices remain. And so the religions, which increasingly speak on behalf of outcasts, will have to become the main partners in the social discourse that expresses the demands for justice and broadcasts them to the forum of international politics. As the chief authorities on moral values, the religions are indispensable to the political debate, if justice and therefore peace are to be achieved.

Ethical standards

The role of religions as the chief authorities on moral values is no coincidence; it flows from the function that is specific to their mission. The majority of religions, whether those called religions of the law or those of salvation, take on this function at a particular moment in their history.

Their teaching is clear: it emphasizes respect for the order of the world, whatever the reasons for it, and keeps repeating that human beings must submit to that order instead of thinking they can control it. Thus all rights and duties are formulated in terms of that pre-established order, which is the criterion for good actions and defines its violation as a bad action harmful to the happiness that springs from a contented harmony of life.

Though a detailed list of the values and ethical standards taught cannot be given in the context of this short paper, it should be noted that this teaching contains many details common to all religions, whatever their doctrinal leanings: monotheistic, polytheistic or apersonal, like Brahma in some Hindu schools. Furthermore, all religions are persuaded that the actions of human beings do not spring from the instincts but are the result of acts of will, though the will is sometimes restricted in realization, which is why humans are responsible for their actions and religions are convinced they can influence human behaviour by teaching about these standards and values.

Promoting the human

The opportunity to teach standards and values successfully strengthens the conviction of all educators that they are working to promote the human. Thus it is education that gives people the necessary ethical orientation for their action, because human beings are not guided in their action by their instincts, as animals are, but by their free will, a freedom that needs to be trained and directed in order to lead them, not to destruction, but to a positive realization of their capacities.

There is no doubt that one of the greatest temptations for humans is to resort to violence to resolve their problems. In this regard it is important to note that all religions attempt to show how to confront this danger. Various solutions are offered: ritualization of violence, described by Girard in the form of the 'scapegoat'; legitimation of violence in certain well-defined circumstances such as, for example, between peoples in the form of a 'just' or 'holy' war, and in society by educational or legal authorities; and finally there is the ideal of non-violence suggested by certain religions, Buddhist schools or Gandhi-style Hinduism with the doctrine of ahimsa.

All religions see the ethics of their teachings in the perspective of improving humanity, if they believe in the positive nature of evolution, the continuity of the present world or the negative deterioration in human history. Dialogue among and with the religions can bear fruit here and help humanity to move forward towards civilized and continually more humane behaviour in solving society's problems.

The purpose of this paper was to sketch in the outlines of the New Politics that is necessary following recent changes and events. The essential requirements of this New Politics aim not to restrict international, national and regional politics solely to the area of rational planning, but to increase the number of its partners by bringing in the religions as well and taking on as tasks their demands for justice, their universal ethics and an education in non-violence. This vision of the tasks is crucially based on peace, ethical standards and promoting the human.

Involvement in politics, in the sense of the New Politics described here, gives UNESCO the important role of being the meeting-place for dialogue between religions and civilizations and gives the United Nations the role of political forum for the implementation of the knowledge acquired through dialogue.

As regards the university disciplines essential to an advisory function serving this New Politics, the political, economic and social sciences will of course have to be included, but we must also add History now, and particularly the History of Religious (including the Sociology and Psychology of Religion), in order to respond appropriately to the new challenges thrown up by the protest expressed in the name of religion.

Translated from the French by Jean Burrell

Notes

(1.) See Gilles Kepel (ed.) (1993); and David Westerlund (ed.) (1996).

(2.) For all this see Peter L. Berger (ed.) (1999); and Harvey Cox (2000: 1-13).

(3.) See Albrecht Metzer (2000).

(4.) On this point see Peter Antes (1996: 5-13).

(5.) On this point see Antje Vollmer (1999: 273-6), where the incomplete process throughout history of making humanity more human is described.

References

Antes, Peter (1996) 'Religions and Politics: Facts and Perspectives', Religioni e societa. Rivista di scienze sociali della religione 26, Anno XI (Sept-Dec): 5-13.

Berger, Peter L., ed. (1999) The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics. Washington: Ethics and Public Policy Center; Green Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans.

Cox, Harvey (2000) 'The Myth of the Twentieth Century: The Rise and Fall of Secularization', Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 27:1-13.

Kepel, Gilles, ed. (1993) Les Politiques de Dieu. Paris: Seuil.

Metzer, Albrecht (2000) Der Himmel ist fur Gott, der Staat fur uns. Islamismus zwischen Gewalt und Demokratie. Gottingen: Lamuv.

Vollmer, Antje (1999) 'Gibt es Gemeinschaft ohne Sundenbocke?', Zeitschrift fur Missionswissenschaft und Religionswissenschaft 83: 263-76.

Westerlund, David, ed. (1996) Questioning the Secular State: The Worldwide Resurgence of Religion in Politics. London: Hurst.

Peter Antes

University of Hanover

Peter Antes born in Mannheim (Germany) in 1942, studied the history of religions, Islamology and Catholic theology at the universities of Freiburg im Breisgau and Paris, gaining a doctorate in theology (1970), philosophy (1971), and Dr. theol. habil. (1972). He holds the chair of History of Religions in Hanover, where he teaches; and since April 2002 has been Dean of the Faculty of History, Philosophy and Social Sciences. From 1988 to 1993 he was president, and from 1993 to 1997 vice-president, of the German Association for the History of Religions (DVRG). From 1995 to 2000 he was vice-president and, since 2000, has been president of the International Association for the History of Religions. His research areas are contemporary Islam, religious movements in Europe and problems of methodology in the history of religions. Among his publications are: Der Islam als politischer Faktor (2001); Jesus zur Einfuhrung (1998); Mach's wie Gott, werde Mensch. Das Christentum (1999); with other collaborators Grosse Religionsstifter (1992); Die Religionen der Gegenwart. Geschichte und Glauben (1996); Christentum und europaische Kultur. Eine Geschichte und ihre Gegenwart (2002). Address: Seminar fur Religionswissenschaft, Im Moore 21, D-30167 Hannover, Germany. [email: antes@mbox.rewi.uni-hannover.de]
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Author:Antes, Peter
Publication:Diogenes
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Date:Aug 1, 2003
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