Hans Kung At FIU
Theologian offers a Golden Rule for world peace
By James D.
December 16, 2002
Peace on Earth in our
lifetime? Just maybe.
Peace on Earth in Hans Kung's
Well, the famed theologian will turn 75 in March. But no
retirement for him. He acts as if he can achieve peace before he leaves the
"I have to speed up," Kung says from his home in Germany, shortly
before a scheduled talk in Miami on what he calls a "Global Ethic."
still hope to see peace, and not the terrible war mentality we have now," says
Kung. "Maybe in heaven. But it would be better on Earth."
known as a dissident Catholic theologian who questioned papal infallibility, has
lately turned his efforts toward promoting a single standard of right and wrong
that all faiths and nations can agree on. It's the only way to change the
atmosphere of violence that seems to be stealing over nations, he
"It is not enough to have more police," Kung says. "If the
hearts of people change, the institutions will change."
Kung, who divides
his time between his Global Ethic Foundation and the University of Tubingen,
will speak at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Florida International University. His themes
will then be discussed by a panel of area scholars and religious
The Swiss-born Kung's appearance will mark yet another coup for
FIU, which has hosted several religious big names in recent years. The
university heard from the Dalai Lama, then Archbishop Desmond Tutu in
It's all part of an effort to bring spiritual values to public
"A university is as much about values as skills," says
Nathan Katz, FIU's chairman of religious studies, who will be one of the
panelists. "We can't let political beliefs drive everything."
they'll be discussing is a set of principles that Kung says lie at the heart of
all religions: not to steal, lie, murder or abuse people sexually. Underlying
those are a basic reverence for life and the Golden Rule.
He says a
common moral ground is needed to halt the world's many crises -- not just the
threats of war and poverty, but also spiritual maladies like fanaticism and
"If there are problems in the Middle East, it's because
people murder," Kung says. "And if there are scandals on Wall Street, it's
because people lie and steal. It should be made clear that there are standards
on which everyone agrees. And that they are not new inventions, but part of our
First drawn up in 1990, his global ethic preaches
the fundamental "dignity" of each human being, regardless of gender, race,
social standing or other condition. It broadens basic commandments to broad
modern concepts. "Thou Shalt Not Kill," for instance, translates into promoting
a "culture of nonviolence" -- even toward plants and animals.
Kung's approach has seen a steady march of acceptance.
In 1993, he was
asked to craft his statement for the wide-ranging Parliament of the World's
Religions. The leaders re-endorsed it six years later at their millennial
In 1997, he got 30 former heads of state to endorse a
"Declaration of Human Responsibilities." The list included Helmut Schmidt of
Germany, Pierre Trudeau of Canada and former President Jimmy Carter.
last year, after the Sept. 11 attacks, Kung was appointed by U.N.
Secretary-General Kofi Anan to write a manifesto for dialogue among nations,
called "Crossing the Divide."
Kung is currently organizing a traveling
exhibit on a global ethic, based on one that has stood at U.N. headquarters. The
12 tableaus would show the world's major religions, plus the six ethical
"I'm surprised that the idea has made such progress in a
dozen years," Kung says with elation.
He hopes other nations will follow
the example of his homeland, where 120,000 pamphlets have been printed for
school children. Also, a German-language series of TV films has been produced,
highlighting the major religions, plus the six ethical commandments.
has even persuaded Tubingen itself to sponsor lectures on global ethics: one by
English prime minister Tony Blair, the other by Mary Robinson, a U.N. high
commissioner. Secretary-general Anan is scheduled for next
Ironically, although his own church doesn't want to hear Kung,
several of the FIU panelists will be Catholic educators: Sister Jeanne
O'Laughlin of Barry University, Joseph Iannone of St. Thomas University and
Father Patrick O'Neill of the Archdiocese of Miami.
Also taking part will
be Rabbi Mitchell Chefitz of Miami's Temple Israel, FIU provost Mark Rosenberg
and FIU religion professor Terry Rey.
Appealing as they may be, Kung's
approach has its critics. Among them, surprisingly, is FIU's Katz.
says the global ethic statement is laden with a liberal Western mind-set -- for
instance, the talk of "a transformation of consciousness" and "a just economic
order." He adds that the statement draws support from religious liberals, but
"The debate is not interfaith anymore," Katz says.
"You've got to establish a dialogue with traditionalists in your own religion.
That's the hardest thing."
Not that he thinks a global ethic is a bad
idea. Just that it needs more work, with more minds.
"You don't have to
agree with people; otherwise, what do you have to talk about? If they come away
from the panel talk realizing that everyone is not an echo of themselves, that's
James D. Davis can be reached at
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