Addressing an international inter-religious Conference in Bahrain, organized by the state, His Holiness Aram I in his keynote lecture emphasized the crucial importance of “accepting and respecting each other the way we are” as the only way of building harmonious, coherent and peaceful societies and a better world.
In his introductory remarks His Holiness reminded that “The growing tension between peace and war, hope and despair, reconciliation and confrontation, cohabitation and polarization, integration and exclusion has become a salient feature of contemporary societies. Humanity’s future is seriously threatened because of its disordered relations with God, with the creation and with one another. Unless we accept and respect each other the way we are, humanity will face even greater dangers with far reaching consequences”.
Then Aram I posed a question” “Does diversity alienate or integrate?” Aram I said that “The Bible affirms that God not only brought into existence out of nothing the creation with all its diversities, He established interaction and coherence between them. God also created human beings differently and endowed them with different gifts. Diversity is therefore integral to life in all its forms, aspects and manifestations. It is a gift of God. Ignoring diversity is neglecting the richness of life; and aiming at uniformity is acting against the will of God. Human beings are called to respond in humility and gratitude to God’s gift of diversity by protecting, respecting and enhancing it.”
“Diversity does not alienate, it integrates; it does not divide, it unites within a coherent whole. When God-given diversities are misused and abused and are conditioned by human interests, they become a potential source of alienation. When God-centered diversities are disoriented by human-centered differences, the societies become exposed to polarization. In the world today societies are often dominated by alienating diversities manifested through ethnic, religious, confessional and political differences. Here is the problem. The right perception of diversity, as integrating factor, is crucial for the coherent relation and peaceful coexistence among human beings. How can we make diversities a source of integration? Here is the challenge”.
The second question that His Holiness posed was: “Does diversity cause inclusion or exclusion?”. He said that “According to the Bible the diversity created by God brings about inclusion, integration, reconciliation. In God’s creation all created beings coexist coherently and function harmoniously with their specific roles. Living together as a community of human beings in which all people of different ethnic, cultural and religious background is a God-given vocation. Therefore, diversity should not become a source of fear, but hope, a cause of alienation, but integration, a means of exclusion, but inclusion. The rejection of diversity creates exclusion. The rejection of diversity is, indeed, rejection of community. And where there is no community, there is exclusion and isolation which are the roots of hatred and violence”.
“Diversity is never enemy of inclusion; it is rather a reminder, facilitater and challenger of interaction, inclusion, i.e. of community. A credible community is built by legitimate diversities. A healthy and reliable community is sustained by coherent and interactive diversities. Opposing to diversity means ignoring my neighbour and ignoring my neighbour means alienating from God and from the richness and beauty of His creation. Diversity is not only a God-given reality, it is also a call of God. We must accept it and know how to make it a source of creativity and enrichment, and the basis of living together peacefully.”
According to Aram I “knowing each other is crucial to build a better world”. He said “Diversity urges to know each other. Knowing each other is a basic human need. It has a crucial importance for community building. Often we think or claim that we know each other. Yet our knowledge about the other is often bias, partial or superficial. Knowing does not mean simply having information. It is essentially engaging in close relationship, creative interaction and frank dialogue with each other. Therefore, a merely information-based knowing is insufficient; it may be also misleading. Knowledge must be checked by interaction, information must be transformed to communication, and monologue must be replaced by dialogue. This is a reliable and credible way of knowing each other. Knowledge opens us to the other; it generates responsibility towards the other. Knowing one another presupposes knowing oneself. How should I know the other when I do not know myself? The challenge of Socrates is well known: know thyself. In order to know myself I should know God (1 Cor. 28:9). There is no self-understanding without God-understanding. This is fundamental in the anthropology of monotheistic religions. In fact, he who does not know himself or herself does not know the other; and he who does not know the other knows himself or herself imperfectly. We have so much to learn from the experiences and perspectives of one another. Knowing each other implies listening to each other with an open heart and mind without any prejudice. Do we have the patience and humility to listen each other? Often ignorance and arrogance keep us away from each other, even from our immediate neighbour”.
Stressing that “knowing means understanding”, Aram I reminded that “We are living in an era in which the means to know the other are so quick and credible. The problem that we face is not lack of information – probably it is due to plenty of information. The question is rather how to use it in a proper and responsible way? How to use knowledge as a vital tool to understand each other. We often become prisoners of ourselves. Our values, our traditions, our judgments, our ambitions often become barriers by isolating us from each other. Lack of openness gives way to misunderstanding. Often we fear to interact with the unknown other; and fear emanates from lack of knowledge. We may overcome our fear in engaging in dialogical interaction with the other. Knowing is the first concrete step towards understanding, and understanding is the genuine way towards acceptance. Self-centredness and self-sufficiency are enemies of human being. They build distrust; they generates hate and shuts up all the avenues leading to mutual understanding. Diversity challenges all forms of self-centered existence, all expressions of self-sufficient life and patterns of self-contained approaches, and reminds the pivotal importance of knowing each other. Diversity questions narrow perspectives and enhances broader perspectives. It calls for mutual understanding”.
Developing his basic argument, His Holiness said that “understanding means tolerating”, then he reminded that “To tolerate the other we must know the other, we must have a comprehensive and accurate knowledge about the otherness of the other. Intolerance emerges where there is ignorance. Mutual knowledge builds mutual tolerance and trust. Hatred is often due to absence of mutual knowledge and understanding. Tolerance is accepting the other the way he or she is. It is responding to hate with love, to violence with non-violence, to distrust with trust and alienation with collaboration. Intolerance is an evil; and evil in Christian understanding is the absence of good. Indeed, the absence of knowing and understanding causes fear and the latter is a fertile ground of intolerance, hate and violence. How can we learn from each other to accept each other? Absolutizing the truth that we hold should not impel us relativising the other’s truth. Our claims of possessing the truth should not hinder us to open ourselves to the other and respect him. In fact, the more we open ourselves to the other, the more we deepen our self-understanding. The more we respect the otherness of the other, the more we affirm who we are”.
In his conclusion, Aram I emphasized the vital importance of living together: “Remaining faithful to our teachings and values, we need to rise above our narrow confines to the broader concerns of humanity. We must together build a society in which diversities are celebrated, differences are accepted, mistakes are tolerated, and values are respected. It is not diversities that alienate us. It is rather our prejudices, deeply rooted in our religions, cultures and ethnicities, which keep us away from each other. In the past, we erected religious, cultural, ethnic and political fences around us to protect us from the other. In the world today the other is next to me,; it is even in my family”.
“Often we focus our attention on what divides us and undermine what unites us. Our common humanity, our common moral values, our common concerns pertaining to the future of humanity call us to live together. Our commonalties matter more than our differences. Diversities should not divide us, but distinguish us; not alienate us, but make us to live together peacefully. We should not exploit our differences making them walls of separation; we must rather make them bridges of interaction. The Charter of the United Nations calls the nations “to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours”. The Quran says: “Do good… to neighbours who are near, neighbours who are strangers…” (4:36). The Bible commends: “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Mat. 22: 39). Hence, doing good, caring those in need is a core moral value in all living faiths”.
According to His Holiess Aram I, “Differences in religion, culture or ethnicity should not set us apart; disagreement on political matters should not cause distrust. Developing a common framework of living together as a broader community of integrated diversities, undergirded by common values and principles, must acquire a top priority for religions, cultures and civilizations. They must join their forces for a better and safer world. Living together in “God’s household” with mutual respect and understanding is God’s will. We must respond to Divine will with obedience, responsibility and accountability”.