It is essential to enable all individuals, alone or with others, to meet, particularly through culture, the challenges of life, both personally and collectively.
Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights talks about a 'right to education'. The same right is also mentioned in articles 10, 13, and 14 of the International Pact on economic, social and cultural rights. These articles recognise:
• the family as “a natural and fundamental group unit of society”, expected to provide “maintenance and education of the children in its charge” (article 10);
• “education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms” (article 26);
• education should allow all persons to play a useful role in a free society and “promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups”, thus contributing to peace (article 26).
The same ideas are found in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (articles , 23, 28, 29, 40). If to educate is to transmit values and knowledge, the link with religions appears quite natural.
Effectively, religions too teach, educate, transmit: dogmas, sacred books, liturgy. They generally call to respect for the human person, for a person's (material or moral) goods, as well as to the safeguard of nature. Even though today the values of religions are no longer regarded as founding, they do inspire social projects, and believers, even when in a minority, still are a minority that acts and counts.
I – Religions and Modernity
I would say that today there are two fundamental crises:
(1) A crisis of intelligence. We are over-informed – but are we able to reason? Noise, continual movement, the avalanche of virtual messages often make us the victims of stress. Many of us experience real difficulty in organizing their knowledge. It is the rule of “everything right now”, to the extent that what we call “interior life” has become a rarity.
(2) The other crisis is in the transmission of values. Family, moral and religious values are no longer a matter of course. Ignorance in matters of religion is massive in Western societies. According to the famous graffiti on the walls of the Sorbonne, “it is forbidden to forbid” – so our land has become a drifting raft. At a moment when our world is affirmed as a globalized space where all cultures are questioned, and where the religious phenomenon is omnipresent, the religious perspective cannot be left aside: without it, it is impossible to understand history, fraternity, or the human conscience. In other words, today too many young people are heirs without an heritage and builders without models. This is why some people are supporting the teaching religion in schools.
II The Comeback of Religions
As positive outcome of these two crises, we find a return to religion (I am not saying a return to Christianity). Muslims reclaim their own places of worship in the West. Violent acts and murders perpetrated in the name of religious convictions give religions a scary name. One wonders. One wants to know – all the more, as globalization favours the inter-religious dialogue. Some stereotypes have been broken by actual initiatives: I am thinking of the festival of religions, celebrated here in Lebanon on 25 March and of the administrative training of imams in France made possible by the Institut Catholique in Paris.
A few decades from now, it is probable that man will have mastered matter (the terrestrial globe, not excluding the sideral universe). We know that day by day discoveries are made about the matrix of living matter. But once all is explained to man, there remains to explain what man really is. Once we are in possession of the most sophisticated instruments the problem will arise about how to use them. And then there are the problems of evil and death. Unavoidably, all of us pose ourselves the question of the meaning of life and one day “the sacred” shall impose itself as the essential component of the human soul.
III – Christians and Education
The earliest monastic schools to appear on the European continent were inspired to Plato and Aristotle in proposing an intellectual and a moral education which would feed each other.
In elaborating their notions of duty and sacrifice tempered by divine love(Bergson) and the conversion of the heart, Christians were led to take freedom into account. So the tension between freedom, reason and truth was at the centre of the intellectual life of the Middle Ages. Dialectics and disputatio were at the heart of the Medieval university. It was the clerics of the Middle Ages who provided an education addressing the whole person: for them, it was not so much the question of learning a trade but that of forming persons possessing autonomy and a critical spirit.
Christian education was then made encyclopaedic (as the totality of human knowledge). The monasteries made hierarchies of everything they knew about human and divine things (later Descartes will present his “tree of knowledge”). All this was a preparation to embrace the Revelation of the Word and Truth in History. Christians have always had the ambition of reconciling reason and faith: “to understand in order to believe and to believe in order to understand”(St Augustine).
IV – Muslims and Education
This morning we heard some substantial essays on this topic. I would therefore limit myself to few remarks.
It seems to me that one could say that education within Islam consists in moulding the soul, a process to be carried out from the earliest years of a child, who is taught two fundamental values: faith, and the knowledge contained in the Koran. Once the young person's soul is full, there will be no place for deceit. What differs between the Christian and the Muslim concepts of education is the place and the role of reason
V – The Contribution of Religions to Education
What is then the specific contribution made by religions to education?
• religions provide a taste for the inner life. Deep down, all religions say that “man does not live on bread alone”. It is a question of developing the capacity we all have to reflect, to organize our mind, to reason (to use one's reason in order to know and judge). “The great unhappiness of man comes from one thing alone: not to be able to rest in one room”, as my fellow-countryman B. Pascal once wrote;
• religions make one aware of one's identity: man is the only creature who asks questions and asks himself questions. He alone searches for “a sense within the sense” (according to Bergson's formula). Man discovers himself as a mystery, the mystery of what he is, his potential, his place within the universe and thus the religious dimension inevitably appears on his horizon;
• religions facilitate the acceptance of pluralism by sustaining the generation mix within the family structure and, within the school, being attentive to the teaching of history and the contribution of the various civilisations;
• finally, religions contribute to guarantee the respect for the human person and his/her rights. Each of us is unique, each of us is sacred. Then we listen to each other and learn to express our identities not by our fists or our weapons but through reasonable and reasoned-out arguments.
VI – Christians and Muslims United before the Education Challenges
Let us consider young people as a whole.
• the Christian side:
In Western societies young people often live their Christianity as a kind of Deism but recently the so-called “new communities” have given rise to types of spirituality causing Christian practice to be more motivated and more missionary, with a clear desire to receive a complete doctrinal formation.
• the Muslim side:
It is impossible not to be struck by the visibility of their religious practice, by the way in which religion impregnates all dimensions (personal and community) of the life of a Muslim. It is necessary, nevertheless, to point out that a climate of religious indifference, particularly in Europe, may have either of two consequences on young Muslims:
a) in one case, a secularist environment pushes towards the aggressive affirmation of a religious identity;
b) in the other case, it leads to the absence of all religious practice.
Moving from these considerations, we can only wish for Christians and Muslims to compete in their initiatives:
* at an élite level, in sharpening the desire to getting to know and recognising each other: when there is no ambiguity in the dialogue education appears essential;
* young people today (both Christians and Muslims) must be on the same level in their dialogue: they must have the same opportunities to access religious education while being knowledgeable about the religion of others (this is the problem of religion in schools);
* religious responsibles should be better informed on other religions in order to dispel fears and foster mutual enrichment by sharing the best of our spiritual traditions, not in the sense of making concessions to the truth but with a will to get to know the other person, to listen, to find a common ground. This profound knowledge of the other can be achieved by a variety of paths such as literature or music, to reach the study of the Biblical, Koranic and theological cultures.
Then the encounter urges towards a dialogue and allows to act together for the common good. All together we can act for the good of family, school, university, business life.
It should not be impossible, today, for the Christian and Muslim religious authorities to raise the awareness of legislators and teachers to the opportunity to propose rules of behaviour such as:
• a respect for those seeking the truth as they confront the enigma of the human person;
• a critical sense allowing to choose between true and false;
• the teaching of a humanist philosophy allowing human responses before the questions on man, the world and God;
• the appreciation and spread of the great cultural traditions open to transcendence, expressing our aspiration to freedom and truth.
Together, Christians and Muslims (and I would say all believers), we can propose our common beliefs taken from our respective spiritual and cultural heritages:
• solidarity, which urges action in favour of the disadvantaged and the outcast;
• a sense of responsibility, which invites us never to forget that we will be accountable before God for what we will have done or omitted to do for justice and peace;
• freedom, which always presupposes an upright conscience and an enlightened faith (faith and reason);
• spirituality, which recalls the religious dimension of the human person and sheds light on the human adventure;
• a thirst for knowledge, which makes us attentive to what man, endowed with conscience and intelligence, makes – in good as in evil;
• pluralism, which urges us to consider us different but equal by rejecting all exclusion, particularly those forms of exclusion which invoke a religion or belief to justify themselves.
If we can say all these things together it is because we believe that men and women of all times and in all circumstances have an inalienable dignity and the rights to freedom, to the respect of their person, and to a decent life.
Education in the wider sense of the term cannot limit the religious dimension of the human person. The exponential development of the teaching of science and technology in the last few decades has caused us to marginalise what we call the humanities from the transmission of culture. Yet, through the millennia, the people of the earth have developed an artistic and literary heritage common to humanity and always expressing religious beliefs (no civilisation has ever escaped a preoccupation for the presence of the religious sense).
We Christians know that God has wanted to make himself known to man in Jesus, true God and true man. Yet we also know that God is at work in the hearts of believers of other faiths, as He is in each human being. This is why, all together, in the respect of our specific identities and paths, we have the duty to purify our memories in order not to impose but to point to the meaning of our wonderful human adventure. Man, charged with the management of this planet, capable of the greatest research, this very carnal man can also organise aid to the victims of every form of violence or of natural catastrophes.
Amidst all the contradictions of history, man is capable of generosity! Christians and Muslims, let us unite our efforts so that tomorrow we will never lack the men and the women who, by their courage, gentleness and perseverance, may be able to purify their memories and their hearts so that human wisdom may meet God's wisdom. This will be education!