Conviviencia – Dream or Reality

From a Christian Perspective*

* This article was originally presented at the NATO Air Force Chaplains’ Conference
in Tromsø, Norway on 17 June 1999.

The post-Cold War world is adrift in a sea of paradigms. To some, it is a clash of civilizations. To others it is the end of history. To still others there can be no true progress until personal autonomy vanquishes the claimed oppressions of community.

To evaluate whether Conviviencia1The term is used to refer to coexistence of Jews, Muslims and Christians on the Iberian Peninsula roughly from 711 to 1492. The period yield a remarkable cross-fertilization of ideas in astronomy, philosophy, and mathematics. New architectural styles also emerged, melding the Mudejar style developed under Muslim and Christian rule with Sephardic Jewish design used in synagogue. Writers attribute the harmony that existed to the fact that all three religions, in varying ways, shared the Bible as the most holy book., or the peaceful coexistence of many perspectives, is possible in a world presently torn by brutal ethnic cleansing and genocide is a daunting task. It calls for faith in universal truths that are always sorely tested when war is thought necessary to peace. Many innocent lives have been lost in Kosovo, and even as the cause of rectifying crimes against humanity is clearly a just end, there is no one alive who does not see the hazards of employing violent means.

The exhilaration of the end of the Cold War, and hence the end of competing economic, and derivatively political, ideologies understandably produced some rosy expectations. Fukuyama’s prediction that it would be the end of history overstated importance of both economics and politics to history. Economic and political systems are merely means to have the leisure to explore higher ends. For many an understanding of these higher ends lies in religious faith. And yet, paradoxically, religious faith is normally often blamed for world or regional conflict, and even then curiously unexplored, in international analysis.

1. Searching for Human Identity – Will it Occasion Clash or Harmony?

This paper will argue that Conviviencia need not be a dream. Rather, it is a manifestation of the natural law that is recognized profoundly in the Christian, especially Catholic, tradition, but among all established religions. For Conviviencia to become real, however, both rejection of the idea of the inevitability of civil strife and a disavowal of false notions of freedom will be required. In particular, it will be argued that in modern day claims of personal autonomy, not religious belief, are the likely cause of international affront. Far from being the progenitor of conflict, religious belief understood as supplement to man’s internal natural law sense, is a facilitator of peace and a proper guide to the uses of freedom.

When the Berlin wall fell in 1989 and communism collapsed with more swiftness than anyone likely imagined even a year earlier, there was an assumption of world harmony. Francis Fukuyama posited that we may be witnessing

the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.2Fukuyama, Francis (1989): The End of History?, National Interest, p. 3, 1989.

Samuel Huntington in The Clash of Civilizations retorted that Fukuyama’s assessment was only a “moment of euphoria at the end of the Cold War” that was soon to be understood as an illusion.3Huntington, Samuel (1997): The Clash of Civilization, Touchstone, p. 31. In Huntington’s view, the world had indeed changed, but it had not necessarily become more peaceful. “Change was inevitable,” Huntington wrote, “progress was not”.4Ibid. The divisions of the world would no longer be ideological, political or economic, rather they would be cultural.

As the world approaches the end of the millenium, it is clear that Huntington grasped (sadly) more than an element of truth. Conflict still exists. But in passing, Huntington noted something else going on, though his thesis of culturally-determined clash prevented it from being assessed directly. “Peoples and nations are attempting,” Huntington wrote, “to answer the most basic question humans can face: Who are we?”5Ibid., p. 31. This search for identity is real and vitally important. But like Fukuyama – only at an opposite side of the optimism scale – Huntington did not fully appreciate the implications of this search. True, Fukuyama too facilely thought the search completed. Huntington’s error resided in understanding the search as a sub-aspect of potentially warring civilizations. In this respect, Huntington may have only anticipated conflict because he located the search in narrow or out-warn political concepts. People would use politics, he wrote, not just to advance their interests but also to define their identity. Yet, politics is the wrong place to define identity, since no government – even liberal democratic ones – is our Creator.

This is not to say that Huntington ignored the influence of religion. He did not. Yet, he largely saw religion as a source of division. He writes:

[P]eople who share ethnicity and language but differ in religion may slaughter each other, as happened in Lebanon, the former Yugoslavia, and the Subcontinent.6Ibid., p. 91.

He gave little credence to the idea that religions, both Western and Eastern, Christian and non-Christian, contain sufficient common, universal truth to permit coexistence. “A universal civilization,” scoffed Huntington, “requires universal power.”7Ibid., p. 91. In this, Huntington never fully grasps the power of universal values that might be derived simply from their better understanding and articulation. Instead his analysis quickly slides from bemoaning the absence of universal power to the decline of Western hegemony. American hegemony is receding. The erosion of Western culture follows, as indigenous, historically rooted mores, languages, beliefs, and institutions reassert themselves.8Ibid., p. 91-92. Huntington has confused what is Western with what is universal.

If universal values can be understood as not merely Western, then many of Huntington’s suppositions of conflict fall away. For example, his concern with the relatively dramatic growth of Islam becomes of reduced significance. While Islamic history is certainly not free of expansion by the sword, it is also true that Islamic teaching affirms, as Christianity does, that the only true faith is one that is wholly voluntary. The Koran makes plain that it is wrong to coerce another in matters of faith. “To you your religion, and to me my religion!”9Koran 109:1-5.  And similarly the later passage: “No compulsion is there in religion”10Koran 2:258.

In the end, Huntington’s thesis is not a denial of universal, religiously grounded values, but a lament that Western ideas are not likely to be accepted without resistance. Yes, there will be a clash of culture and civilization if it is assumed that the objective is not the honest search for human identity but the imposition of the West’s external norms. Huntington can see only conflict because his theory at its core is isolationist and exclusionary, rather than the articulation and defense of universal natural law values written on the heart of all men and women. Huntington’s abstention rule (whereby core states, like the United States, stay clear of conflicts in other non-core (and presumably minor (?) Civilizations) is hinged on the decline of Western ideas, and the presupposition that since these ideas would not be accepted without a fight, the United States might as well keep itself pure and free from integrative or multi-cultural impulse.

Some reviewers of Huntington’s work note a slight change in voice toward the end of his volume. Huntington, as John Knox observes, does seem to subscribe at least to the possibility of a thin morality uniting us all.11John H. Knox, “The Case of the Missing Paradigm”, Tex International Law Journal 32 (1996), p. 355. But at this most important point, the book stops, even as Knox explains: “It would therefore seem to be of some importance to know what these common values are and how they differ from Western values.”12Ibid., p. 361.

2. The Confusion of Human Right and Personal Autonomy

Of course, here is where the story gets most interesting for the prospects of Conviviencia. Huntington assumes that western values, and implicitly those worth universalizing, are individualist at their core. In this respect, Huntington sees as troubling and fundamentally at odds with the West’s idea of human rights Asia reverting to its emphasis of community over individual. Thomas Franck, an editor of the American Journal of International Law, joins Huntington in this, arguing that progress itself can be measured singularly by a nation’s commitment to the principle of personal autonomy.13Thomas M Franck, “Is Personal Freedom a Western Value?”, American Journal of International Law, 91 (1997), p. 5993.

But does unfettered personal autonomy actually advance peaceful coexistence? Does setting the individual above community, including especially religious community, help identify or obscure universal or human right? Perhaps it is the incorporation of radical conceptions of autonomy into international human rights documentation that is antithetical both to what frames day to day life for an individual and also to what is needed to ameliorate the likelihood of international conflict.

3. Religion as True Guarantor of Human Freedom & Check Upon International Conflict

Franck writes that the American and the French revolutions “permanently undermined the previously prevalent conviction that religion must play a leading role in governance.”14Ibid., p. 599. Franck is of course correct that the twin guarantees of religious freedom in the American constitution ensure freedom of conscience from governmental interference. But Franck conflates this salutary precept of human happiness with an implicit, if not explicit, view that religion is unimportant. Franck deduces that “the state . . . ought not to enforce any view, or even multiple views, of religion or morality.”15Ibid., p. 599 With a glancing reference to Thomas Jefferson’s casual observation that “it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god,” Franck transforms freedom of religion into freedom from religion. Speciously, he even contends that the Founders of the American republic favored this radical tilting of skepticism over faith. This is simply historically wrong as legions of material from the 18thcentury founding era in America could make apparent. Simply consider the words of America’s first president, George Washington:16George Washington, “Farewell Address [September 19, 1796]”, in W. B. Allen, ed., George Washington: A Collection,1988.

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of duties of Men and citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let simply be asked where is security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be connected to the influence of refines education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

In the United States, the government may neither prescribe, nor establish, a national church, or proscribe the method of worship freely chosen to be exercised by an individual. However, the American commitment to religious freedom, is not a means of demonstrating religion’s unimportance, but its salience. Alexis de Tocqueville, one of the first keen observers of the American scene, makes this exact point when he notes that religion supplies the mores that govern individual life in ways the positive or public law could not. Here are Tocqueville’s direct words:17Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, pp. 287-301.

[Religion’s] indirect action seems to me much greater still, and it is just when it is not speaking of freedom at all that it best teaches the Americans the art of being free.

. . . There is innumerable multitude of sects in the United States. They are all different in the worship they offer the Creator, but all agree concerning the duties of men to one another. Each sect worships God in its own fashion, but all preach the same morality in the name of God. Though it is very important for me as an individual that his religion should be true, that is not the case for society. Society has nothing to fear or hope from another life; what is most important for it is not that all citizens should profess the true religion, but that they should profess religion.

Religion in America or elsewhere is thus best perceived as the very guarantor of freedom, since without its insight into moral behavior and unequivocal affirmation of the transcendent value of human life, laws would multiply and freedom would contract. Rightly Tocqueville cautions against transient religio-political alliances, since temporal success or failure in the public realm cannot be the measure of truth. The apt quotation from Jefferson is therefore not his isolated comment colorfully illustrating the value of neighborly tolerance, but his corporate statement for a new nation in the declaration of Independence recognizing the existence of a Creator as well as the natural law, and tracing the inalienability of the rights to life, liberty and happiness’ pursuit to this transcendent source.

A failure to appreciate the significance of religious faith to the proper use of freedom, in private life or public decision undermines social order at its root. Indeed, it is an attack upon the human person itself because it indulges a notion that humanity is capable of redefinition at will. Herein lies the story of American slavery where positive law departed from Christian belief and tradition and presumed that humanity could be redefined as property. It is also the story of abortion, where women are told to be unconcerned about humanity of the unborn child because they have the right to define their own meaning within the universe. They have the autonomy to kill their children. Slavery, abortion, the widespread and brutal murder of Jews in the Holocaust, and today’s ethnic cleansing, are all hallmarks of undifferentiated claims of personal autonomy, not religious belief. It would surely be the Devil’s work to see autonomy as the vindication of human right, or as basis for coexistence across cultures.

Interestingly, those who decry religious influence and its emphasis on community do so in terms that are equally critical of Christian and non-Christian belief. Franck, for example, takes aim simultaneously at Islamic and Catholic teaching. Frank writes:

Papal displeasure with global efforts to enunciate and implement women’s reproductive autonomy parallels the interest in Islam in protecting its societies from non-Islamic missionaries.18Op. cit., p. 601.

Putting aside for a moment whether this is an entirely fair characterization of Islamic belief, Franck is surely right that both Catholic and Islamic practice emphasize community obligation and self-giving, rather than self-definition and indulgence. But should this not be applauded rather than assailed? Is Conviviencia more or less likely where individuals see themselves as obligated to one another and possessing a common origin? Is Slobodan Milosevic more or less willing to murder, rape and displace ethnic Albanians with the supposition that they are his equal or because he – as a claimed autonomy right – can redefine their existence? The answer is as obvious as the question is rhetorical.

Huntington’s dire prediction of a clash of civilizations – perhaps, in his judgment, leading even to cataclysmic World War – is thus more understandable in light of the mistaken notion that individual autonomy is the definition of human right. The view is in error from both Christian and non-Christian religious perspectives. Simplistic paeans to autonomy are not, and deservedly should not be, easily transferable outside the affluent segments of Western culture, where they have already done enough tragic mischief. Rather, the dream for peaceful coexistence depends on getting beyond self-centeredness, as both Islamic and Christian principle reveals.

Professor M. M. Slaughter examining Islam states that in Islamic belief “there is no a priori self as such, but only self as expressed in, and realized through constitutive attachments and relations.”19M.M. Slaughter, “The Salman Rushdie Affair: Apostasy, Honor, and Freedom of Speech”, Virginia Law Review 79 (1993), pp. 1553-89. This echoes St Paul’s proposition to Christian communities that no person truly owns himself, because no person is self-created. How important is this? Listen to the words of John Cardinal O’Connor of the Archdiocese of New York, who writes:20John Cardinal O’Connor, “‘You are not your own’: A Teaching From St Paul Has Everything To Do With Roe v. Wade”,Catholic Law 37 (1997), pp. 261-266.

I am not sure that even a sense of humanity, even a recognition that the unborn, the cancer-ridden, the vulnerable are persons will change anything. What will change it? I am not sure that anything will change it except a recognition of the sacredness of the human person, not simply the humanity, but that human beings belong to God. As St Paul says, “You are not your own. You have been purchased, and at what price! So glorify God in your body.” No, human beings will not be safe unless we recognize they are sacred persons.

This transcendent view of human origin and existence is more likely to reconcile dispute than excessive libertarian claims to be left alone or derivative materialistic claims premised upon over-statements of John Locke’s labor theory of property right. So too, even the exercise of an unquestionably important right of free speech is likely better understood from this perspective. Franck is disparaging when he writes

the [Western] concept of the autonomous self requires the free speech principle; the socially situated self of Islamic society necessarily rejects free speech in favor of prohibitions against insult and defamation.21Op cit, p 602.

But in the wake of the recent dramatic incidents of children murdering children in American schools, does anyone seriously doubt the importance of prudential limits on insult and denigration? While it remains unwise to tolerate any form of government censorship, it is certainly not untoward to ask for sapient and responsible codes of conduct to be observed by media and the entertainment industries.

4. The Ill Consequence of Ignoring Religion in Foreign Policy Analysis

Thus far our attention has been focused on disavowing faulty prognostications of global conflict premised upon notions of human autonomy that distort, rather than advance, human freedom. To make Conviviencia a genuine reality, however, effort must be made to identify what universal values are held in common by all human persons. Religion is an ideal source to explore for such values. Yet, this is a much neglected task since modern skepticism excludes questions of faith and religion. Edward Luttwak describes this as an enlightenment prejudice. Luttwak writes:22Edward Luttwak, “The Missing Dimension”, in D. Johnston & C Sampson, eds., Religion: The Missing Dimension of Statecraft, 1994.

Astonishingly persistent, Enlightenment prejudice has remained amply manifest in the contemporary professional analysis of foreign affairs. Policymakers, diplomats, journalists, and scholars who are ready to overinterpret economic causality, who are apt to dissect social differentiations most finely, and who will minutely categorize political affiliations are still in the habit of disregarding the role of religion, religious institutions, and religious motivations in explaining politics and conflict, and even in reporting their concrete modalities.

Why is religion ignored? Mistake paradigms of clashing civilizations and the untenable views of personal autonomy have already been mentioned, but there is another reason: conflict traceable to religious understanding is unresponsive to the normal means of social engineering and foreign policy intervention. When religion explains conflict, political and economic reform may prove pointless. Luttwak gives the example of the fall of the Shah in Iran.

By refusing to admit that the culprit was Westernization itself, which the Muslim masses found so profoundly disorienting and so corrosive of traditionally authoritarian relation­ships between men and women and between parents and children . . . US analysts could not imagine that the revolt was not aimed at the West and thus at the leading Western power, the United States.23Op.cit., p. 13.

Ignoring the significance of religion, the US misadvised the Shah and ultimately itself, by keeping its embassy open in Tehran well beyond the point of danger.

Religious claims are claims of truth, not praxis or efficiency. There is little doubt that democratic capitalism provides higher levels of prosperity, but not without significant alienating effect. Simulating new ideas through endless competition is vibrant, but it is also unsettling to family and community. For example, markets must attract new employees and they do this with attractive income packages. Such corporate transfers efficiently may direct individuals to where they are most economically valued, but not necessarily to where they are most needed by family, friend, and neighbor. The conflict between economics and community (or if you will: commitment to higher value) is yet another reflection of the dichotomy between personal autonomy and the recognition of obligation.

One limited, pragmatic remedy for this disregards of religious or higher value in foreign policy is simply its better study and diplomatic incorporation.

For example, religious attaches could be assigned to diplomatic missions in those countries where religion has particular salience, to monitor religious movements and maintain contact with religious leaders . . . Intelligence organizations that already have specialists in many functional areas could usefully add a religion specialist as well.24Luttwak op. cit., p. 16.

Beyond this, attention to the special role of particular denominations, most notably that of the Catholic Church, needs better recognition and coordination when assembling and evaluating policy alternatives. There are a number of reasons for paying unique attention to a Catholic presence in international matters. The Catholic Church has a world wide congregation and its focused internal ecclesiastical discipline and structure is augmented by schools, radio stations, and considerable property devoted to the promotion of social justice. At the moment, the Church is also blessed with a highly charismatic and intellectually adept leader. As Dr Barry Rubin of Johns Hopkins has written:25Barry Rubin, “Religion and International Affairs”, in Johnson & Sampson, eds., 1994, p. 33.

The political manifestations of Christianity and of Catholicism, in particular, have changed from a major force against change into a factor favoring the attainment of democracy and social justice through reformist or revolutionary means. Moreover, the Catholic Church has proven to be the one organized institution that has survived years of communist rule, having an almost instantaneous mass appeal.


5. Getting Beyond Economics and Politics – The Relationship Between Faith and Reason

If religion is to become this more prominent feature of foreign policy analysis, it requires more than specialized case officers and monitoring. It necessitates mental re-adjustment. In particular, it will entail an acknowledgment that economics and politics are not enough to make sense of the world order. To paraphrase the Holy Father, reason and faith are necessary complements. Contrary to the prevailing secular view of international study which boasts that “human reason [has been] elevated above divine revelation”26Franck, op. cit., p. 598., religious inquiry does not permit questions of ultimate value and truth to be avoided. This is the burden of John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio, which seeks to transcend the material and the historical in order to ask about who we are, about why we exist, about whether God and eternal life exist.27Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, “Culture and Truth: Reflections on the Encyclical”, Origins 28 (1999), p. 630. Note how closely this coincides with the insight mentioned, but not pursued by Huntington, that the present age is in a desperate search for human identity.

Cardinal Ratzinger aptly points out that

man is not trapped in a hall of mirrors of interpretations; one can and must seek a breakthrough to what is really true.28Ibid., p. 627.

Part of this truth is the recognition that human right is not merely cultural product. Christianity has always bolstered this view since it introduces people not to any particular culture, but to the “capacity of self-transcendence”.29Ibid., p. 629. This capacity involves listening to the word of God as it comes through diverse religious traditions and consciously applying it to reasoned evaluation of the world. In other words, when reason and faith are linked within foreign policy analysis, we are more likely to discover ultimate and universal norms of conduct that are culturally dependent. In his encyclical writing, for example, John Paul II illustrates how every culture tries too explain itself by struggling to liberate itself from the confines of its space and time. This struggle produces a secular body of cultural-specific political and philosophical thought. But when these aspects of reason are applied in the light of faith, something larger happens. Cardinal Ratzinger explains:30Ratzinger, op. cit., p. 628.

With this reference, the universalistic tendency of the great cultures becomes evident, their transcending place and time, and so too the way in which they advance man’s being and his highest possibilities. Here the capacity for reciprocal dialogue between cultures finds its foundation.

Compare this perspective to even the savvy international insight of Dr Zbigniew Brzezinski. In seeking to articulate “the norms that should govern global affairs,” Dr Brzezinski resents four as binding:31Zbigniew Brzezinski, “Global Dilemmas Democracy Faces”, Origins 28 (1998), pp. 206-207.

  1. That peoples should live in self-governing societies based on the rule of law.
  2. That world peace must be based on respect for national sovereignty and not hegemony.
  3. That the free market economic system is productive.
  4. That the benefits of science must be accessible for all of humanity.

A careful look at these should reveal that Brzezinski has only partially applied faith to reason. For example, his preference for democracy is by his own admission a desire to export the American model. In this, it again reflects Huntington’s preference for Western thought and structure. Brzezinski’s attachment to the free market is likewise of this nature. Although even Dr Brzezinski admits that as sound an engine as the free market is, it is not fully transferable to other nations.

It is no longer very clear (in light of Asian economic weakness and Russia and the Ukraine’s inability to carry forward economic reform) that there are universally valid prescriptions for successful economic transformation.32Ibid., p. 209.

Brzezinski notes as well that the market system that in spite of global economic growth yields ever higher numbers of poor is necessarily open to challenge. No faith perspective can complacently accept the free market as global norm where the number of people in abject poverty (earning less than US$ 1 per day) is 1,5 billion – an increase of 200 millions since 1993.33David Briscoe, “World Bank Estimates 200M New Poor,” Associated Press Wire, June 2 1999.

Focusing for a moment on Dr Brzezinski’s fourth proposed global norm, extending the benefits of science to all humanity, one sees a closer drawing together of reason and faith. Dr Brzezinski correctly observes that

the most dramatic scientific discoveries increasingly pertain to what might be «called internal reality», that is to say, what human being seems to be and what potentially it might become.34Zbigniew Brzezinski, op. cit., p. 210.

Making references to cloning, the enhancement of human intelligence, and the like, Brzezinski asks:

does it not pose the danger of a wholly new and fundamental division in the human condition between those who will benefit the most and those who will benefit the least, thereby generating also serious political consequences?35Ibid., p. 210.

Here, Brzezinski is forced to acknowledge that as attractive as democratic rule is,

there is no basis for assuming that democratic decisions on such matters will necessarily be ethical correct.36Ibid., p. 210.

With this admission, reason has met faith, and Brzezinski calls for science to be the tool and not the master of humanity.

If it is to be truly a tool, it must be guided by some shared values, on the basis of which both the direction and limits of scientific experimentation with the essence of the human being will be determined. That, without doubt, will be the most difficult problem to resolve.37Ibid., p. 211.

6. The Content of Universal Values

It would seem, then, that to promote Conviviencia, or at least to minimize the sources of conflict that disturb it, giving content to universal or shared values cannot be avoided. What does Christianity contribute to this? Very much indeed, but as will be briefly illustrated below its most significant contributions are held in common with many faiths. The most essential contribution is just this, however: the dignity of the human person is of transcendent value.Such value is inherent. No charter or government (and for Dr Huntington’s benefit, no civilization either) is the source or origin of this value or its most salient associated rights. Of course, a corollary emerges: to be legitimate, a government must acknowledge this inherent human dignity.38John Paul II, “Respect for Human Rights: The Secret of True Peace”, in Origins 28 (1998), p. 489. The Book of Genesis tells us that every person is created in the image and likeness of God. By contrast, Marxism, Nazism, fascism, consumerism are all based on the selfish satisfaction of personal demand. They are claims of unlimited right without responsibility. They are the ideological and institutionally ugly face of misunderstood claims of personal autonomy.

What specific universal values can be deduced from recognizing man’s transcendent origin? Most fundamentally, the proposition that life is inviolable and must be safeguarded from every form of violence, including poverty, armed conflict, criminal trafficking in drugs and arms, and mindless damage to the environment. Moreover, since religion offers the chance to express and better understand the deepest aspirations of the human person, unfettered religious freedom to manifest faith, belief and practice is likewise essential, as is a recognition that

recourse to violence in the name of religious belief is a perversion of the very teachings of the major religions.39Ibid., p. 490.

Other subpoints could be elaborated: rights of reasonable participation in public decision, freedom from irrational discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender or ethnicity, and access to meaningful employment capable of providing sufficient income for food, clothing and health needs. In addressing these specific aspects of universal value, however, we must never loose sight of the natural law foundation upon which they are based lest we slip back into the mistaken wants of unfettered personal autonomy and self-creation.

7. The Natural Law Foundation

What is natural law? It is the belief that God, an all powerful and magnificently intelligent Creator, made all things in accordance with his divine plan, or the Eternal Law. Under this Eternal Law, every person and every thing has a nature that is specifically devised to its purpose or end. The end of persons is much distinct from things. Every person is endowed with an immortal soul, a free will, and an intellect that has the capacity to reason. Through this reason, men and women participate in the working out of God’s Eternal Law. This participation is the natural law. Because men and women are fitted for this participation by the author of Creation, itself, they have certain antecedent rights which cannot be interfered with by any subordinate governor, even one that thinks itself a superpower.

These natural law precepts are very much part of the Catholic and Christian traditions. No possible conception of peaceful coexistence can exist without them. The United States declared its very existence to be founded upon the laws of nature and nature’s God. But it would be a profound mistake to think of the natural law as merely a Christian or Catholic dogma. If that is all t was, then the argument presented here would be imperfect as Huntington’s regret that it is not possible to merely export Western civilization without difficulty. As Professor Charles E. Rice, one of America’s foremost natural law scholars has observed, however:40Charles E. Rice: Fifty Questions on the Natural Law, p. 34, 1993.

The natural law has been around a long time. It is neither Catholic dogma nor even a Christian invention. Sophocles’ Antigone recognizes the reality that human laws are subject to a higher law, . . . Aristotle, (three centuries before Christ) observed that “one part of what is political just is natural, and the other part legal. What is natural has the same validity everywhere alike, independent of its seeming so or not. What is legal (in positive as opposed to a natural law sense) is what originally makes no difference (whether it is done) one way or another, but makes a difference whenever people have laid down the rule . . . ” Aristotle believed that «there is in nature a common principle of the just and unjust that all people in some way divine (discern) even if they have no association or commerce with each other.

Marcus Tullius Cicero (one hundred years before Christ) described “law” as “the highest reason, implanted in Nature, which commands what ought to be done and forbids the opposite.” He said that “right is based, not on men’s opinions, but upon nature.”

Natural law ideas found later expression in common law. Sir Edward Coke said: “And it appears in our books, that in many cases, the common law will controul Acts of Parliament, and sometimes adjudge them to be utterly void: for when an Act of Parliament is against common right and reason, or repugnant, or impossible to be performed, the common law will controul it, and adjudge such Act to be void.”

. . . The affirmation of natural law by Martin Luther King further indicates that natural law is neither the invention nor the exclusive property of Catholics. Professor John T. McNeill of Union Theological Seminary, discussing the views of Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, Holdreich Zwingli and John Calvin, concluded: “There is no real discontinuity between the teaching of the Reformers and that of their predecessors with respect to natural law.”

Yes, the Christian, especially the Catholic, tradition counts among its ranks some great natural law scholars, such as Thomas Aquinas, whose 13th century treatise on law systematically explains the natural law in the context of both reason and revelation. But, again as professor Rice observes:

the natural law is not «just another Catholic dogma». As Antiogene testified to Creon, its principles are rooted in nature and knowable reason: «These laws are not for now or for yesterday, they are alive forever; and no one knows when they were shown to us first.41Ibid., p. 36.

In proceedings nearly a half century ago, scholars of the Judaic, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Chinese traditions were called together

in an endeavor to find some common ground, and possibly, some additional support for the basic concept of natural law.42Rev Theodore M. Hesburgh: “Epilogue”, in V Natural Law Proceedings of 1951 of the Natural Law Institute of the University of Notre Dame, 1993, p. 162.

The conveners of this effort or conclave at the Natural Law Institute of the University of Notre Dame noted that the papers solicited were not in any sense artificially contrived. Wrote Father Theodore Hesburgh the following?:

we merely asked were there such points of contact [ ] as to give some hope of establishing a valid basis for a meeting of minds, eastern and western, as regards the basic concept of natural law43Ibid., p. 165

To answer that question, the Natural Law Institute outlined three essential elements of natural law thinking:

  1. that natural law is divine in origin
  2. that unlike human laws, natural law applies to all men of all times, and
  3. that natural law can be known or discovered by the exercise of reason.

Do these precepts cross denominational lines? With minor variation, the answer given by the Institute was affirmative. For example, on origin of natural law in the will of God, the Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Chinese traditions shared the Christian perspective. The Buddhist view did vary, not in the recognition of natural law, but in its point of origin. Still, Dr Daisetz Suzuki admitted

a law fundamental to all human action, but based on human nature considered in itself rather than as coming ultimately from God as its creator.44Ibid., p. 171.

On the binding nature of natural law to all times and places, there was again unanimity across religious traditions. As Dr Sundaram testified for the Hindu tradition,

the immortality of the soul is applicable to the followers of all religions and the Law of Nature pertaining to the soul of man is of universal acceptance. Natural law, according to the Hindu is identical in all faiths and is common to all mankind.45Ibid., p. 173

Similarly, Dr Hu Shih of the Chinese tradition cites the Canon of Confucius to support universality:

The times may change, dynasties may come and go, and metal and rock may decay and perish, but the Canon (Ching) will always remain as the unchanging rule and as the immutable law for a hundred generations to come.46Ibid., p. 174.

Finally, Dr Khalifa Abdul Hakim agreed from the Muslim tradition, positing that the natural law is

universal and objective, rooted in the nature of things and the nature of humanity.47Ibid., p. 175.

Writing in a more recent essay entitled World religions and Conflict resolution, Dr Harvey Cox, the Thomas Professor of Divinity at Harvard, confirms how the Muslim tradition includes

recognition of universal moral virtues with which all human beings are endowed.48Harvey Cox, “World Religions and Conflict Resolution”, in Johnston & Sampson, op. cit., p. 277.

Cox elaborated that the common ethical sense alluded in the Koran (91:8)

calls to mind the philosophical idea of natural law . . . [And] [i]t is important to note, writes Dr Cox, that the Koran regards this initiate capacity for moral goodness ingrained in the human psyche as leading to a rationally derived guidance that transcends the revelations, which are the major source for human guidance.49Ibid., p. 277.

Indeed, in the Muslim tradition, religious diversity, itself, is an aspect of God’s own will. As the Koran (5:48) explains:

If God had willed he would have made . . . one nation. But He did not do so, that he may try you in what has come to you [as guidance]. So, complete with one another in good works; Unto God shall you return; altogether; and He will tell you the Truth about what you have been disputing.

Returning to the third and final point inquired into by the Natural Law Institute – the knowability of natural law – there was again agreement among the religious perspectives. In the Christian view, the natural law

is nothing other than the light of understanding infused in us by God, whereby we understand what must be done and what must be avoided. God gave this light and this law to man at creation.50John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor n 40, citing St Thomas Aquinas, In Duo Praecepta Caritatis et in Decem Legis Praecepta Prologogus, ed. Taurinen (1954) Opuscula Theologica II, No 1129, p. 245.

Rabbi Freehof for the Jewish tradition concurs stating

it was [ ] the law inherent in the nature of man’s mind and conscience, used as an instrument to discover the implicit will of God which is eternally present in unceasing revelation.51Hesburgh, op. cit., p. 76.

Similarly, the Islamic voice at the Institute conclave observes the

[t]he Quran says that the best of divine gifts is wisdom, and wisdom dictates surrender which would dispel discord and lead to eternal harmony with God, with one’s own nature and with the nature of things . . . The fundamental principles (of law) are rooted in the nature of man, and men of knowledge, not misled by personal or collective egotism, can discover them.52Ibid., p. 177-178.

8. Conviviencia – Dream or Reality? Predicate Questions

How well do we know our personal faith? How well do we understand the faith differences of others? How well do we perceive the existence of a natural law capable of illuminating universal values that could bind us together in the international arena? The answers are likely embarrassing. Yet, natural law has not been invisible to international event. One example is the prosecution of the Nazi leaders in Nuremburg for the reasons of human rights. Another is Kosovo 1999, where NATO acted beyond its positive law charter for the same reason. The International War Crimes Tribunal has rendered its indictments. NATO’s work is unfinished until the indictments are prosecuted. Indeed, the reality of Conviviencia will be equally delayed so long as we confuse autonomy with human right and remain uninformed of the universal that underlies all religious belief – namely, God’s eternal law, a morally and inescapable natural law reality.

Fotnoter   [ + ]

1. The term is used to refer to coexistence of Jews, Muslims and Christians on the Iberian Peninsula roughly from 711 to 1492. The period yield a remarkable cross-fertilization of ideas in astronomy, philosophy, and mathematics. New architectural styles also emerged, melding the Mudejar style developed under Muslim and Christian rule with Sephardic Jewish design used in synagogue. Writers attribute the harmony that existed to the fact that all three religions, in varying ways, shared the Bible as the most holy book.
2. Fukuyama, Francis (1989): The End of History?, National Interest, p. 3, 1989.
3. Huntington, Samuel (1997): The Clash of Civilization, Touchstone, p. 31.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid., p. 31.
6, 7. Ibid., p. 91.
8. Ibid., p. 91-92.
9. Koran 109:1-5.
10. Koran 2:258.
11. John H. Knox, “The Case of the Missing Paradigm”, Tex International Law Journal 32 (1996), p. 355.
12. Ibid., p. 361.
13. Thomas M Franck, “Is Personal Freedom a Western Value?”, American Journal of International Law, 91 (1997), p. 5993.
14. Ibid., p. 599.
15. Ibid., p. 599
16. George Washington, “Farewell Address [September 19, 1796]”, in W. B. Allen, ed., George Washington: A Collection,1988.
17. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, pp. 287-301.
18. Op. cit., p. 601.
19. M.M. Slaughter, “The Salman Rushdie Affair: Apostasy, Honor, and Freedom of Speech”, Virginia Law Review 79 (1993), pp. 1553-89.
20. John Cardinal O’Connor, “‘You are not your own’: A Teaching From St Paul Has Everything To Do With Roe v. Wade”,Catholic Law 37 (1997), pp. 261-266.
21. Op cit, p 602.
22. Edward Luttwak, “The Missing Dimension”, in D. Johnston & C Sampson, eds., Religion: The Missing Dimension of Statecraft, 1994.
23. Op.cit., p. 13.
24. Luttwak op. cit., p. 16.
25. Barry Rubin, “Religion and International Affairs”, in Johnson & Sampson, eds., 1994, p. 33.
26. Franck, op. cit., p. 598.
27. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, “Culture and Truth: Reflections on the Encyclical”, Origins 28 (1999), p. 630.
28. Ibid., p. 627.
29. Ibid., p. 629.
30. Ratzinger, op. cit., p. 628.
31. Zbigniew Brzezinski, “Global Dilemmas Democracy Faces”, Origins 28 (1998), pp. 206-207.
32. Ibid., p. 209.
33. David Briscoe, “World Bank Estimates 200M New Poor,” Associated Press Wire, June 2 1999.
34. Zbigniew Brzezinski, op. cit., p. 210.
35, 36. Ibid., p. 210.
37. Ibid., p. 211.
38. John Paul II, “Respect for Human Rights: The Secret of True Peace”, in Origins 28 (1998), p. 489.
39. Ibid., p. 490.
40. Charles E. Rice: Fifty Questions on the Natural Law, p. 34, 1993.
41. Ibid., p. 36.
42. Rev Theodore M. Hesburgh: “Epilogue”, in V Natural Law Proceedings of 1951 of the Natural Law Institute of the University of Notre Dame, 1993, p. 162.
43. Ibid., p. 165
44. Ibid., p. 171.
45. Ibid., p. 173
46. Ibid., p. 174.
47. Ibid., p. 175.
48. Harvey Cox, “World Religions and Conflict Resolution”, in Johnston & Sampson, op. cit., p. 277.
49. Ibid., p. 277.
50. John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor n 40, citing St Thomas Aquinas, In Duo Praecepta Caritatis et in Decem Legis Praecepta Prologogus, ed. Taurinen (1954) Opuscula Theologica II, No 1129, p. 245.
51. Hesburgh, op. cit., p. 76.
52. Ibid., p. 177-178.

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