Archbishop hosts fifth multi-faith dialogue on international development
Wednesday 9th May 2012The Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday hosted the fifth multi-faith dialogue on international development at Lambeth Palace. This year the event was co-hosted with Islamic Relief Worldwide, Catholic Overseas Development Agency (CAFOD), Progressio and the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.
Participants from over 30 UK faith-based organisations explored how the values and beliefs contained in different faith traditions can offer fresh perspectives and innovative responses to development.
Building on relationships and knowledge generated by previous meetings, the seminar provided a space for a range of development organisations, from across the respective faith communities in the UK, to engage in dialogue around the contribution faith communities and faith-based NGOs make to poverty alleviation and social justice.
Quoting Pope John Paul II, the Archbishop drew on the theme of 'being more and having more' in his reflections on the morning session. He spoke about international development as more than simply economic growth:
"Running through all that we have been saying, running through all we do as people of faith in this context [of working in international development], is that notion of what a Christian would call life in abundance: “I have come that they may have life and may have it in all its fullness.” (John 10:10)
And I think that the whole of our development discourse needs to be shot through with that sense of what abundant life is, not just a life of sufficiency but a life of abundance, not in the sense of material abundance but in the sense of a powerful and rich solid sense of who I am in communion with my neighbour. That's abundance, that's what I believe we're about here.”
The Archbishop went on to discuss the shared moral responsibility those of faith have for others:
“Living with a sense of being answerable to my neighbour's good, living with a sense that we are genuinely in one condition, one situation, can feel quite risky. There is going to be no safe place to stand as long as one of my neighbours is at risk.
Their lack, their danger, their insecurity is mine ... and however much we might want to live in the moral equivalent of a gated community, with all the unstable and difficult people somewhere else, religious faith of whatever kind simply does not allow that. And that can feel a bit insecure - because it is.”
In the afternoon, participants worked in small groups to consider how to establish collaborative platforms for action on key development priorities, such as the economy, the environment and the MDGs, which are due to be completed in 2015.
A full transcript of the Archbishop's remarks follows:
Thank you very much. It’s a great pleasure to be able to respond to these three very searching, very far-reaching presentations. I'm going to suggest four areas that seem to be emerging from the discussion so far, which might perhaps feed into a discussion later on.
The first of these is picking up Pope Benedict’s observation, as quoted by Susy [Susy Brouard, CAFOD], about how the atheism of indifference is an obstacle to development. Now by ‘atheism of indifference’ what I'm assuming the Pope means is a lack of belief in God that is also a lack of belief in humanity.
I think one of the themes that is coming through is that a lack of belief in humanity is at the root of many of our problems. Even when people proclaim that they have faith in humanity, that doesn’t necessarily give them what Sister Modgala [Acharya Modgala Duguid, Amida Trust] called ‘a place to stand’ – a phrase which I found very resonant. Not believing in God, or not believing that there is somewhere we can stand that doesn’t depend on us - that seems to lead to a lack of faith in humanity. A lack of faith, therefore, that transformation is possible – redemptive transformation, picking up Modgala’s phrase at the very beginning. So I think that’s one theme coming through.
When we’re talking about this curious thing called spiritual capital – and I quite share some of the reservations expressed – is not just a set of religious ideas but a ground for conviction about humanity in the context of a universe that’s charged with meaning. And whether we talk about that in terms of theistic faith, or whether, like our Buddhist friends, we talk about it in rather different terms of taking refuge in what does not depend on our ego, the point is the same.
Moving on from that, the second area that I think emerges is that belief in humanity in this sense, finding a place to stand that allows us to think about redemptive transformation, has everything to do with a sense of solidarity – a sense of mutual responsibility. That’s come through with enormous clarity, I think, in all the presentations. The challenge that the religious person brings to discourse about development is whether this is really about a sense that I am answerable for the good of my neighbour, that my neighbour is answerable for me.
It can be, indeed, really intimidating. Sister Modgala spoke about the vow of taking responsibility for the salvation of all sentient beings, which is indeed somewhat ambitious. And yet, of course, that is shot through all of our discourses about ethics. All of us who profess religious faith of some kind are in effect saying: there is one human family, and we share that human condition. And what affects one part of the human family affects every part, and affects me – I cannot flourish without you. Whether we express that in the terms we’ve just heard about mutual responsibility, or in the wonderfully simple and elegant formulation that we’ve come to be familiar with from Africa, “there is no I without we”, the point is the same. Human good is never something that can be parcelled up and divided out so that I can comfortably say, “I know what’s good for me, and I'm not interested in what’s good for you.”
And all of that has quite a lot to do with a word which has cropped up once or twice, and which I want to say a bit more about later, and that’s the word ‘risk’. Living in this way, living with a sense of being answerable for my neighbour’s good, living with a sense that we are genuinely in one condition, one situation, can feel quite risky. There is going to be no safe place to stand, as long as one of my neighbours is at risk. Their lack, their danger, their insecurity is mine, and there’s an end of it. And however much we might want to live in the moral equivalent of a gated community, with all the unstable and difficult people somewhere else, religious faith of whatever kind simply does not allow that. And that can feel a bit insecure – because it is.
So, a belief in humanity and finding a place to stand; the involvement of that with the sense of solidarity, of my destiny and everybody’s destiny being woven together; and then, thirdly, moving on a stage to what came through as a common theme once again, what was called ‘inter-generational justice’. It gets worse and worse – I'm not just involved with everybody who’s now alive, I'm involved with everybody who’s going to be alive! That’s even more ambitious. The commitment to sentient beings here and now is to everyone who’s going to be alive.
I think it’s one of the most important discoveries of the last couple of decades, really, that justice applies inter-generationally. It is, of course, the environmental crisis that has really rubbed our noses in that. We’ve not been able to avoid the question of how we take responsibility for those who will come after us. We’ve been obliged to think that this too is a question of justice. It’s a strange commitment in a way. It means being committed to people we don’t know, whose existence is, in a sense, purely hypothetical – whom we shall never know in the way we know our contemporaries. In other words, it’s a huge act of faith being committed to inter-generational justice. And yet, because we cannot step back from the knowledge that the human race is not just us here and now, it continues. We can’t step back from that ‘involvement with posterity’, in the Islamic term. We are involved, like it or not, in the future of others.
And for all sorts of reasons (not least for the Abrahamic faiths, I suspect, a powerful belief in the absolute self-consistency of God through the generations), this is a theme which for religious people bites more deeply than it might for some. Once again it’s simply not open to us to say that the future doesn’t matter; that future human beings don’t matter. And while moral philosophers may argue – a lot of them do argue a lot – about what exactly the moral claim is for non-existent future people, we, as people of faith, know that despite all of those complexities we are simply aware of posterity as a moral question, and cannot escape it.
It’s bound up with the business of recognising that we are, under God, given the extraordinary responsibility of sustaining and transmitting life. If we are transmitters of life, then posterity is not an abstract question for us. It’s a real moral issue. All of this, I think, is a way of filling out that very powerful phrase which was quoted from Pope John Paul II, about the difference between ‘being more’, and ‘having more’. All of this assumes that economic development can only be understood – literally, only be understood – as part of an enrichment of being. An enrichment of the sense of who we are; an enrichment captured beautifully in that phrase ‘artisan of your own destiny’.
Again, I recognise the difficulty of talking about development in the way we so often have, as if we had a tidy and simple version of what it was to grow in some steady, cumulative way towards an ideal state of material posterity, and that was it. Running through all that we’ve been saying, running through all we do as people of faith in this context, is that notion of what a Christian would call life in abundance: “I have come that they may have life and may have it in all its fullness.” [John 10:10] And I think that the whole of our development discourse needs to be shot through with that sense of what an abundant life is. Not just a life of sufficiency, but a life of abundance – not in the sense of material abundance but in the sense of a powerful, rich, solid sense of who I am in communion with my neighbour. That’s abundance. That’s what I believe we’re about here.
But fourth and finally, just a thought about some of this terminology business. Yes, ‘social capital’ may very well seem to buy into the language of all the people we’d most like to challenge here. ‘Capital’, as we all know, is the title of a large, famous and influential book by some German economist or other… and it’s a book that’s made a very considerable difference to the history of the world! But go back a little bit behind the 19th century, and ‘capital’ becomes really important for the first time in around the 16th or 17th centuries when it’s got something to do with what you venture, what you put out there in a risky way in order for new things to happen: venture capital.
Capital is what we ‘adventure’. It’s the basis for risk. It’s the resource that allows us to take risks for an unseen future. And I suspect that if we come to the question of spiritual capital with that in mind, it may sound a little less obnoxious than it might seem at first. Because what we’re talking about here is what it is that allows us to take risks. To move us out of our comfort zones, to take risks – and there are risks – for the sake of those unknown future generations. To accept the risk of living in a world where no one of us is safe on our own, because others are suffering. And, I suppose above all, to take the risk of believing in humanity, because of the immeasurable relationships in which humanity is already placed with the truth that we call God.
So if ‘capital’ is a matter of what allows us to risk, ‘spiritual capital’ becomes vastly important for feeding the kind of imagination that keeps us going in the task of human development. How very easy it is – especially in a situation of pressure, scarcity, austerity, whatever you might want to call it – to opt for the low-risk possibilities, or what we think are the low risk possibilities. In fact, of course, there are no risk-free options these days, and it’s important we remember that.
But against all the temptations that might encourage us to draw in our vision – to opt for what look like the less costly and the less adventurous options – against all of that, to talk about spiritual capital is to say that between us we have enormous resources for taking creative risks. The venture capital of the moral world – I think that’s what development is fundamentally about. I think that’s what we’ve been exploring this morning in ways which I find enormously helpful and stimulating. I hope that’s what we shall spend the rest of the day discussing more deeply, and perhaps more adventurously, as we go on.