THE IMPERATIVE FOR CROSS BORDER COMMUNITY BUILDING
Thomas V Kunnunkal SJ
1. As we look at the world today, there are so many good reasons which make us feel happy about the tremendous progress that the human race has made during its long history. There has been a quantum jump in this journey of progress in the recent decades. How did this astonishing human progress take place? Even a cursory survey of human history would reveal the startling reality that the numerous inventions, events and progress steps that took humanity forward came as a result of contributions from many. An individual may have worked over a long period of time and made a discovery, but he/she was backed by a team of close collaborators. No culture group, or a religion or even a whole nation can claim that the progress that it has made and the status it has achieved are due to the efforts of any one exclusive group, based on religion, ethnicity or any other factor. Rather, it was the result of numerous inter-cultural and inter-ethnic contributions over a long period of history. For an example, we see this demonstrated so vividly in the long history of Europe or in the much shorter history of America. The bottom line: we need collaboration and mutual support to make greater progress.
2. As true as this good feeling is also the bad feeling when we see that, in a world of abundance, so many humans experience hunger, disease, hatred, fear and the threat of violence etc. In spite of the tremendously high levels of accomplishments, in various sectors of life, our human behaviour with others so often and so closely mirrors what we see on the TV screen about the Animal Planet. Strange but true!
3. As a nation, India too has had such a long history of evolution. None of us would reasonably claim that the present status and accomplishments of India have come from any single religion or ethnic or cultural group or region. On the contrary, we would readily accept that it is the result of the numerous and significant contributions of a very large number of culture groups. It is the strength of India, as also of other large countries, that we are multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural. India is the home of several world religions. This is our strength.
4. Every religion, culture or region wants to preserve its identity. This is indeed their right. But in the current contexts, wide open spaces have emerged in the modern world of today, spaces created by reason and by scientific research no less than by the inner search and spiritual quest that many seriously engage in, to find answers to the question: who am I? and who are we humans? As a result of this search, we see that religion and science, at odds earlier, are beginning to engage in a process of dialogue. Today, Science and Spirituality, Physics and Metaphysics, Religion and Reason are seen as bipolar realities of a dialectic that seeks a new synthesis. We surely need borders and identities. But when we push those borders and identities too hard and are not willing to cross and go beyond those borders, we become less and less human. It is heartening to witness the several movements that are currently searching for new answers for our times so that religion continues to hold meaning for today’s life and living, especially for today’s educated young, many of whom have professional training and updated competences and want to base their faith and meaning structure with support from reason.
5. Therefore, in our modern world of today, to be religious is to be also inter-religious; to be cultural is to be also inter-cultural; and to be human is to be inter-human. “In the name of God” so many horrendous atrocities have been committed, not only in the past, but continue to be done in today’s world as well. That is why, modern man’s behavior continues to mirror the behavior patterns of the Animal Planet, with this difference that we use very sophisticated weapons that we have developed to destroy others. It is in that context that every religion needs to engage in a critical and scientific evaluation of its own current practices, prescriptions and actions to see if these humanize or dehumanize persons and communities and take appropriate steps to bring about needed reform, where we find we are becoming less and less free, less and less human or more and more exclusive. Similarly, each religious community needs to engage in the study of other religions, in order to understand its basic ethos and perspectives and appreciate these, as a necessary step to be a good citizen of today’s world. Such study will help remove several of the myths, prejudices and stereotypes we often nurture about persons of other faiths and traditions. In our present day work places, whether in business or industry or in many service institutions, like a school, college or hospital, we will often encounter work-mates, class-mates and staff-mates from different cultures and religions. Developing the ability to engage in warm and friendly interaction and enter into synergistic alliances between the members of these groups and the ability to thus function well in that mixed group are crucial competences or life skills needed for personal growth and for one’s own promotion as well as for the proper functioning of the institution or business.
6. Therefore, the obvious agenda for the human family and in fact, the most urgent agenda, is to engage in Cross Border Community Building (CBCB), namely build human communities across those borders that presently divide us and which make us less and less human. There is no salvation (wellness) for our world except in and through community. Knowledge and technology alone will not save us. We need to humanize ourselves. We become more human and humane when we find a place in our hearts for the other, especially for those who are from other religious or cultural traditions or social conditions and thus become truly sons and daughters of our inclusive God, our common Father, who holds all whom He has brought into life as persons precious to Him.