Thursday, May 12, 2016

Fr Georges Massouh on National Unity and Religious Difference

Arabic original here.

National Unity and Religious Fabrication

Most clerics, both Muslim and Christian, tend toward a sort of fabrication when they try to deny doctrinal differences between religions or when they try to affirm that religions are in reality one religion. This usually occurs when they try to mix dogmatic religious discourse with unitary national discourse, especially during crises of wars, civil strife, and trials.

It goes without saying, in the manner of "after great effort, explaining that water is water," that the religions are not one religion. It is as clear as the noonday sun that there are many religions and certainly not just one religion. Therefore, it is necessary for those engaging in national discourse to transcend religious differences and stick to the domain in which they want to engage. They can, however, seek inspiration from the values of their faith and their religion without having to search in other religions for what they think is something in common, and so fall into what they should avoid-- that is, fabrication.

It is not a problem for us to disagree about religion. Indeed, the problem lies in slipping into a falsified "national" discourse that separates us from the true diversity that calls us to accept our difference with the other and that this difference does not prevent us from respecting the other in his faith, worship and traditions. What is needed, in order for us to live together, is not a structural rapprochement that leaves us all without an authentic identity. Rather, what is needed is actions inspired by the values that each one of us finds in our scriptures, doctrines, prayers and living heritage, and in our vision of man and his role in the universe.

We do not doubt the sincerity of those who fall into this sort of fabrication, neither their motives nor their good intentions. There is no doubt that through their discourse they are advocating peace, harmony and well-being among their fellow citizens. We cannot, however, tie citizenship to a single religious affiliation, since unity of faith is not one of the conditions for national unity, such that if unity of faith were negated, so too would national unity. Hence the necessity of separating religion and the state among those who call for a civil state.

This fabricated discourse also proves that combining the two forms of unity-- national and religious-- is useless and does not build a firm foundation for citizenship, since it changes with changing circumstances and political contexts. Citizenship is based on equality between all people of the same nation and on equality of rights and responsibilities, regardless of citizens' religious affiliation. The only role of religions is to guide the faithful to serve the nation and humankind, without regarding faith as a requirement of good citizenship. The separation, then, between religious affiliation and belonging to the nation is necessary for sound, correct citizenship. There are non-believers and non-religious people who are good citizens who surpass believers and religious people in their love of the nation and their defense of it and its children.

Religious difference is a source of richness for societies and so it must be preserved in the religious framework and not be cast aside in political or national affairs. Hence the necessity of pointing out that religious difference does not mean that religious people do not love one another. Love does not mean fabrication in matters of doctrine. Love does not mean an absence of honesty, nor does honesty mean an absence of love. Do those who advocate denying differences between religions realize that in doing so, they are not being honest and not practicing true love?

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