FaithWorld

Italian Muslims approve pope’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate

caritas-in-veritate1When Pope Benedict issued his encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Love in Truth) in July, he addressed it to “the bishops, priests and deacons, men and women religious, the lay faithful and all people of good will”. That list puts Catholics first, but it gets around to a wider audience by the end. Maybe because of that sequence, most of the discussion about the document has been in Catholic circles.

But in the pope’s back yard, i.e. in Italy, the message has attracted a wider audience. In a rare reaction from a non-Christian organisation, the Italian Muslim association Comunità Religiosa Islamica (CO.RE.IS.) Italiana has welcomed the encyclical and drawn parallels between its outlook and that of Islamic economic and social thinking. CO.RE.IS presented its reaction on the occasion of the Ecumenical Day of Christian-Islamic Dialogue in Italy on Tuesday. Following are some excerpts:

“The recent financial crisis, that witnessed an almost worldwide economic crash, should constitute a further confirmation of the impossibility of establishing a presumed society of wellbeing only upon market rules, excluding any transcendence, any metaphysical and religious perspective, as the pontiff has well expressed it … Just like the market cannot find in itself the meta-principles that would discipline it according to nature and to the function that God has entrusted to man on earth, money and capital cannot constitute a value in themselves, regardless of the finality of actions and of the realities that underlie their use…

“Islamic ethics, from its origins, develops the common principles of the Abrahamic civilisation as a whole aimed at providing ‘joint satisfaction in material and spiritual needs’. For example, the Islamic ban on loans with interest (ribâ) also existed in ancient Christianity. As early as the 4th and 5th centuries, the Fathers of the Church, both Greeks and Latins, ardently opposed it based on both the Old Testament and the Gospel… pallavicini“In the centuries that have passed, the West has wished to forget the economic principles present in religions, basically considering them to be, in modern times, a heritage of archaic thought. However, it is not about ‘turning back’ to some anachronistic and ideal restoration, but to consider, as Benedict XVI has done in his appeal, the real contribution that a religious sensibility can concretely offer in fields such as the economy.” (Photo: CO.RE.IS Vice President Imam Yahya Pallavicini/CO.RE.IS)

CO.RE.IS says it is not using Caritas in Veritate to call for Islamic law in Western countries, but for an appreciation of religious views also inherent in Islam:

Obama’s Nobel citation speaks of shared values – is hope on top?

obama-at-unThe statement announcing the Nobel Peace Prize for U.S. President Barack Obama says that “his diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population”. (Photo: Obama at the United Nations, 23Sept 2009/Kevin Lamarque)

Is there actually a set of values and attitudes shared by most people around the world? It would be interesting to know exactly what the Norwegian Nobel Committee meant by this. Are they talking about some vague form of world political consensus or even global ethics? The citation text mentions Obama’s “vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons” and his preference multilateral diplomacy, dialogue and negotiations. But none of these efforts has yet borne much fruit.

The citation also mentioned the “hope for the future” it said Obama has given the world. Hope is a powerful force, both in personal and political life. In the Christian tradition, it’s a theological virtue as important as faith and love. And it is a key element of the Obama “yes we can” message.

Pope pleased by business ethics debate since his encyclical

pope-on-planePope Benedict has pronounced himself pleased with the discussion about business ethics sparked by his encyclical “Charity in Truth” published in July. In a short question-and-answer session (here in the original Italian) with journalists en route to the Czech Republic over the weekend, he commented on reactions to the document:

“I’m very pleased by the broad discussion. That was my goal, to promote and motivate a discussion about these problems and not to allow things to go along as they are but to find new models for a responsible economy both in individual countries and for all of humanity. (Photo: Pope Benedict speaking on the plane, 26 Sept 2009/Max Rossi)

“Today it really seems visible to me that ethics is not something exterior to the economy, a technical issue that  could function on its own, but it’s an interior prinicple of the economy itself which cannot function if it does not take account of the human values of solidarity and reciprocal responsibility. Integrating ethics into the construction of the economy itself is the great challenge of this moment, and I hope to have made a contribution to this challenge with the encyclical.

Graying Britain looks to assisted suicide reform

nitschkeIt used to be an issue just for the terminally ill. Now as populations around the world age, governments are increasingly being confronted with the taboo idea of dying as something people can volunteer to do.

“The demand for the option, if not the practice, is growing rapidly,” said Dr. Philip Nitschke, 61, founder and director of the pro-euthanasia group Exit International. (Photo: Dr. Nitschke shows his ‘suicide kit,’ 7 May 2009/Stefan Wermuth)

The Australian doctor — nicknamed Dr Death for his work on suicide — is traveling the world to teach people how to end their lives safely with a suicide drug-testing kit.

Brain boosting, thought scanning and other neuroethics issues

Several comments on this and other blogs express surprise that the Reuters blog on religion, faith and ethics should be interested in neuroscience. Several posts here — on a “God spot” in the brain, on moral instincts, on religious studies and on meditation and prayer — showed the growing relevance of brain science to the issues we cover. One angle we haven’t yet covered is the one that originally drew me towards this field, namely neuroethics. Rapid progress in neurological research has prompted a debate on the ethics of unlocking the brain’s secrets. I first wrote about this debate in early 2007, interviewing several neuroscientists on how to separate good uses of their work from bad after studies showed brain scans could read some kinds of intentions before the subjects revealed them.

One of those experts, University of Pennsylvania cognitive neuroscience professor Martha Farah, is head of Penn’s new Center for Neuroscience and Society. She was also the director of the neuroscience “boot camp” that I attended this month. At the end of that session, I asked her to talk about new issues currently challenging neuroethicists.

In this short video, Farah discusses how neuroscience is increasingly producing insights into human behaviour that are relevant to society and below she discusses how this progress also brings new ethical concerns.

Pope urges bold world economic reform before G8 summit

popePope Benedict issued an ambitious call to reform the way the world works on Tuesday shortly before its most powerful leaders meet at the G8 summit in Italy. His latest encyclical, entitled “Charity in Truth,” presents a long list of steps he thinks are needed to overcome the financial crisis and shift economic activity from the profit motive to a goal of solidarity of all people.

Following are some of his proposals. The italics are from the original text. Do you think they are realistic food for thought or idealistic notions with no hope of being put into practice?

    “There is urgent need of a true world political authority. .. to manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration… such an authority would need to be universally recognized and to be vested with the effective power to ensure security for all, regard for justice, and respect for rights.” The economy needs ethics in order to function correctly – not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-centred…” “Financiers must rediscover the genuinely ethical foundation of their activity, so as not to abuse the sophisticated instruments which can serve to betray the interests of savers. Right intention, transparency, and the search for positive results are mutually compatible and must never be detached from one another.” “Without doubt, one of the greatest risks for businesses is that they are almost exclusively answerable to their investors, thereby limiting their social value… there is nevertheless a growing conviction that business management cannot concern itself only with the interests of the proprietors, but must also assume responsibility for all the other stakeholders who contribute to the life of the business: the workers, the clients, the suppliers of various elements of production, the community of reference… What should be avoided is a speculative use of financial resources that yields to the temptation of seeking only short-term profit, without regard for the long-term sustainability of the enterprise, its benefit to the real economy and attention to the advancement, in suitable and appropriate ways, of further economic initiatives in countries in need of development.” “One possible approach to development aid would be to apply effectively what is known as fiscal subsidiarity, allowing citizens to decide how to allocate a portion of the taxes they pay to the State.”
(Photo: Pope Bendict, 1 July 2009/Tony Gentile)

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Do animals have moral codes? Well, up to a point…

wild-justice-2“We believe that there isn’t a moral gap between humans and other animals, and that saying things like ‘the behavior patterns that wolves or chimpanzees display are merely building blocks for human morality’ doesn’t really get us anywhere. At some point, differences in degree aren’t meaningful differences at all and each species is capable of ‘the real thing.’ Good biology leads to this conclusion. Morality is an evolved trait and ‘they’ (other animals) have it just like we have it.”

That’s a pretty bold statement. If a book declares that in its introduction, it better have to have some strong arguments to back it up. A convincing argument could influence how we view our own morality and its origins, how we understand animal cognition and even how we relate to animals themselves.

Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals, a new book by Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce, presents a persuasive case for some animals being much more intelligent than generally believed. The authors show how these animals have emotions, exhibit empathy, mourn for their dead and seem to have a sense of justice. They draw interesting parallels to similar human behaviour that many people think stems from our moral codes and/or religious beliefs rather than some evolutionary process. All this is fascinating and their argument for open-mindedness about recognising animals’ real capabilities is strong.

French high schoolers struggle with philosophical puzzles

sarkozy-schoolOne of the things that makes France so French is the annual philosophy exam that traditionally kicks off the week-long series of tests for the baccalauréat diploma at the end of the lycée (senior high school). While France is a proudly secular state, the questions asked often pose puzzles with ethical aspects that many religions also contemplate. They are usually very broad — some would say impossibly broad — questions, leaving the student to decide how to understand and discuss them in a long essay.

Here are some of the questions the nervous students were given four hours to sweat over today:

    Is it absurd to desire the impossible? Are there questions that no science answers? What does one gain by exchanging? Does technical development transform humans? Does language betray thought? Does historical objectivity presuppose an impartial historian?

Are 18-year-olds set questions like this in exams in your country? If not, would it be worthwhile to ask them?

Can the EU promote ethical values in the economic crisis?

EU Parliament President Poettering and EU Commission President Barroso hold a news conference with religious leaders in BrusselsControversy overshadowed events this month when European Union officials invited Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders from 13 member states and Russia to a meeting on economic governance.  Most of the Jewish leaders invited refused to attend, saying they considered some of the Muslim organisations taking part to be radical and anti-Semitic. The Universal Society of Hinduism issued a statement complaining it had not been invited and declaring: “It was clearly an insult.” (Photo: European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering (2nd L), Archbishop Diarmuid Martin (C) and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (2nd R) address media in Brussels 11 May 2009/Francois Lenoir)

A spokesman for European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who initiated the annual gathering with religious leaders five years ago, said the reason no Hindu representatives were invited was largely to keep the meeting focused. “This meeting also has to be sort of conclusive and lead to real debate — it’s not that we can invite 100 or 1,000 persons to have a huge conference on these issues,” the spokesman said.

The 20 high-level participants in the end included four representatives of Islam, a single Jewish organisation which did not join the boycott, and 13 Christian groups.

Berlin campaign for religion lessons unites faiths

Berliners on Sunday voted against introducing compulsory religion lessons in schools. Social Democrat Mayor Klaus Wowereit has welcomed the result as a victory for “togetherness” and common values for Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim or aetheist children.

Campaign posterFor details on the result, look at the Reuters story.

However, as Pro Reli leader Christoph Lehmann said, the campaign to boost the status of faith-based lessons in the German capital — a city with a long secular tradition — has put the subject firmly on the agenda and made it a talking point.

Celebrities and politicians, even conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel,have joined the call for religion lessons. Perhaps she was trying to make amends with members of her predominantly Catholic Christian Democrats (CDU) who were angry with her for criticising the Pope in the row over a Holocaust-denying bishop.