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Kirill (Gundyaev), patr. Human rights and traditional values in Europe (Address at the meeting of the European Council of Religious Leaders “Human Rights and Traditional Values in Europe”, Moscow, June 21, 2011)
HUMAN RIGHTS AND
TRADITIONAL VALUES IN EUROPE
Address at the meeting of the European Council of Religious Leaders:
‘Human rights and traditional values in Europe’, Moscow, June 21, 2011
I wholeheartedly greet the participants in the European Council of Religious Leaders, which for the first time in its history is meeting in Moscow. The Russian Orthodox Church and our coworkers on the Interreligious Council of Russia extend our full hospitality to the representatives and leaders of the communities that represent the different religious traditions in Europe. In 2002, the Russian Orthodox Church supported the establishment of the European Council of Religious Leaders, which, over the past years, has demonstrated its viability and effectiveness, becoming an important tool for the maintenance of inter-religious dialogue in Europe. There are plans to significantly enlarge the Council, thus indicating the growing interest in the work of the organization. I have high hopes that in the future our joint will to establish peace and justice, harmonious inter-religious relations in Europe will be a major focus of interest for the European Council of Religious Leaders.
According to the established tradition, the right to choose the topic of the Council meeting belongs by priority to the hosts. The Russian Orthodox Church, in cooperation with the Secretariat of the European Council of Religious Leaders, proposed that the agenda for the current meeting include the issues of human rights and traditional values in Europe. This proposal, as far as I know,
received a positive response. Let me express some ideas about the topic of the meeting.
Today, the subject of human rights is one of the most controversial elements of the international agenda.We believe no religious community can stay on the sidelines of this discussion. The Russian Orthodox Church also has its own view on this issue, which is rooted in our church tradition and in the historical experience of our Church, particularly in the twentieth century.
We know very well the consequences of violating human rights and ignoring human dignity. In Russia, for most of the twentieth century, people’s rights were severely violated, and hundreds of thousands of our brethren fell victim to terrible persecutions of the Church. We are against any repetition of the suffering and death of innocent people, regardless of their religion, nationality or faith. It is not because we are afraid to become again confessors of the faith but because we do not want a targeted creation of the atmosphere of division and hatred that leads to fratricidal conflicts in society. We hope the value of human personality, based on moral dignity, can become a solid guarantee against persecution of believers and the human individual in any form.
It is a well known fact that any social change, from reform to revolution, is connected with renewed concept of freedom. History knows the examples of revolutions: The French and later the Russian, with the banners of freedom, attempted to abolish faith in God and destroy the priesthood as a hostile class. Hence, human freedom is not only only creative but is also destructive.
The religions of the world have, since ancient times, maintained an understanding of freedom and dignity, without which there the worldview of people of faith is inconceivable. In particular, in the Christian tradition, freedom is the expression of the image of God in man, without which it is impossible to inherit eternal life. Other religions also have an understanding of freedom. That is why the leaders of the religious communities are called to be ready to defend their positions on this issue in the global socio-political discourse, out of a concern for the true welfare and happiness of each
individual. I am convinced that it is a duty and vocation for religious communities to talk about dignity, about freedom.This is not question of participation in politics, but of duty and calling.
The Russian Orthodox Church approved its ‘Basic teaching on freedom, dignity and human rights’ in 2008.This document reflects the Orthodox attitude toward the current issues of the understanding of freedom, dignity and human rights, as well as the degree of its compatibility with the secular doctrine of human rights. The main reason for developing this document is our concern at the development of the concept of human rights and rights in general, in a direction that excludes the maintenance of its connection with moral responsibility.
The loss of the organic unity between rights and morality is demonstrated by the moral crisis, which in recent years has affected all sectors of society in Europe and worldwide. We have even moved away from the Roman understanding of the law, which the lawyer Celso defined as ars boni et aequi27. The temptations of the material world, consumist attitudes toward reality and the environment complete the sad picture of modern times, which could be described in the words of our Saviour: For this people’s hearts have grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them (Mt. 13:15). The most regrettable thing is that many refuse to distinguish between good and evil, preferring to live according to the principle ‘if only our rights were inviolable’. This brings to mind a famous aphorism of Dante, who said that ‘the hottest corners in Hell are left for those who, in times of great moral crises, remained neutral.’
As religious leaders, we should not take the attitude of moral neutrality. Attempts to adapt our religious teaching to the requirements of modern political correctness, turning people into soulless machines of consumption, controlled by passions, are unacceptable. On occasions, during inter-religious and inter-Christian forums, I
27 Art of the good and the just (Lat.).
have heard appeals to rethink the concept of sin, which has for at practical purposes has been revised by several religious communities, which have essentially abolished the ethical standards that have guided the life of the believers for centuries. These standards are declared obsolete, outmoded and belonging to the past. However, because these standards stem from the Divine Revelation - from the Word of God - what does the declaration of their outdated or outmoded status mean? This is a spiritual self-destruction that breaks the bond between Europeans and their religious heritage, thus endangering the survival of European civilization. We break the connection with the sources, with the basic ideas on which was based the entirety of European civilization and culture.
In the Soviet times, at Party meetings in the Soviet Union they often sang the ‘Internationale’, the main idea of which is that we will raze the old world to the ground and then build a new world. We know this ‘new world’. In people’s lives there are basic values that must remain inviolable, at least from a religious perspective: In the religious community we must preserve the idea of inviolability of moral values because, as I said, this was the basis for European law and culture.
Freedom of choice, as advocated by the modern world, cannot in itself make a person happy and prosperous when such choice is determined only by material factors. After all, the choice in favour of evil devalues human freedom, particularly when it serves to destroy the dignity of the individual. We cannot justify tyranny, despotism and terrorism, yet everyone who opts to apply these vicious practices - they too are free to choose what they want to choose.
Christians in being faithful to their spiritual tradition have already become victims of discrimination in Europe. After all, the message about the absolute value of moral bases, reflected right through the Christian culture of our continent, arouses irritation and sometimes hatred among those who would like to see Europeans as people guided only by consumerism. There is no doubt that behind the displacement of religions from the public sphere is the fight against moral absolutism in all its manifestations. This, of
course, is a serious challenge to all believers who accept this moral absolutism.
The cultural and religious diversity of Europe has, in the past decade, become distinctly more pronounced. This makes particularly important the question of the general ethical basis of existence of people coming from different faith traditions and different ways of life.
It is obvious that the economic and political relations that are taking shape on the continent cannot provide in themselves a basis for the well-being and prosperity of the pan-European home. In conditions of moral relativism, the existing social values of human rights, of the rule of law and democracy are merely outward formats that bring no benefit, and in some cases even harm. The simplest example is the decline of family values, leading to the depopulation of the continent. How can the value of the family be less important than the above-stated values, if its destruction leads to the physical decline of the European population? To what use are the political achievements if European nations cease to exist physically or are reduced to such an extent that their role on the continent is insignificant?
The Russian Orthodox Church invites Europe’s religious communities to become partners of the states and civil society of the continent in re-establishing the connection between the concept of human rights and the common European spiritual heritage.
The secular concept of human rights does not contain a clear, precise definition of the concept of human dignity, the basis of which is understood differently in the various religious cultures of the continent. However, the value of human dignity is recognised in the religious worldview. That is why we, the representatives of traditional religious communities of the continent, are called upon to give meaning to the concept of dignity; to establish its connection with virtue and strive for excellence. This will be our contribution to the formation of moral bearings not only for personal development but for social development as well. The fact is that today’s public space is nearly devoid of moral patterns and ideals. The only
thing that can be offered by mass culture is the image of a successful person who is wealthy enough to meet his every whim. However, is such a person worthy of love, happiness and respect? Will he find happiness in the pursuit of pleasure? Those who have chosen this path are responsible for their choices. It is their private matter and their personal beliefs. However, all of society is responsible for the promotion of a lifestyle that knowingly brings suffering.
Human dignity has enormous creative potential for defining life in society and family, defining the undeservedly forgotten ideal of the individual striving for peace in his or her relationship with God and others.
The sense of freedom is inseparable from the understanding of responsibility. It is the pairing of freedom and responsibility that provides guidance for the development of individuals and of society in general. Defining human responsibility cannot be the sole privilege of the legal system, rather the latter must not ignore the role of personal responsibility in the exercise of rights and freedoms. Human responsibility restores our relationship with others in society, imbuing us with a sense of care for those close and far as well as for all of God’s creation. We are responsible for the consequences of our choices, towards ourselves and towards others.
The traditional values of human freedom, dignity and responsibility have gained recognition in the documents of the U.N. Council on Human Rights, which, on March 24, 2011, approved the resolution ‘Promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms through a better understanding of traditional values of humankind’. The Russian Orthodox Church took part in the discussions, which brought about this result that is so important for all of us. Unfortunately, many European countries continue on the path of dogmatization based on an exclusively secular of human rights, considering it a sufficient basis for the creation of a healthy society. The moral crisis of modern society is the most powerful indicator of the fallibility of this worldview. Such an approach is a challenge to believers, because it leaves the concept of human rights closed to the valuable contributions of religious communities. If the concept is closed and
there is a taboo on anything that could help perfect it, this dogmatism can have a very bad impact on the life of the developing world.
I believe the European Council of Religious Leaders will be able to contribute to the intellectual enrichment of European society with the values of a religious tradition that has sustained Europeans in the drive for justice and life in accordance with moral standards, as formed by this tradition.
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