Eliseo Mercado – New Platforms for Interreligious Dialogue

Eliseo Mercado – « A New Wind Blowing Shaping New Platforms for Interreligious Dialogue »

This text is a part of the issue:
English: Asian Christianities
Deutsch: Asiatischen Christentümer
Italiano: Cristianesimi asiatici
Português: Cristiandades asiáticas
Français: Christianismes asiatiques
Español: Cristianismos asiáticos
中國人: 亞洲基督教

We are living in interesting times, to say the least.  There are several writings on the wall and we need to decipher them soon else we all perish. Today, we are witnessing a global “revolution” that involves, at first glance, the rapid advances in technology and the rapid movements both of trade and peoples across known frontiers and borders. At a second glance, a new horizon is emerging, which points to knowledge “explosion” and an opening into the cyberspace.  However, humankind also continues, ironically, to be “plagued” by the residue of divisions, fragmentations, new forms of xenophobia and violent religious extremism that menace the relationship of peoples and communities. 

Two types of movies beautifully capture these challenges mentioned above. The first types are the Star Wars Series and other Space Travel movies that point to the vast cosmos beyond our planet and galaxy. The other types of movies are Jurassic Park and other ancient mythologies that continue to pull us down to the narrow confines of “geography” and “territoriality”.  The former gives us a glimpse of the limitless expanse that our imagination and dream invite us to go beyond the limiting confines of territory and geography. The latter provides for the “grounding” of our divisions, fanaticisms, xenophobia and war.

There are two powerful symbols that can describe these two perspectives. The first one is what I called the “transit paradigm”. Transit is the instrument used mainly to delineate and measure territory and geography.  While “transit” has a long view, it returns home to concrete and specific landmarks, area and space. The other is the “telescope paradigm”.  Telescope is the instrument used to see the “beyond” and bridge us to that reality beyond.

By using the “transit” paradigm, we mark and delineate areas, boundaries and limits.  Something akin to the determination of what is mine and what is yours.  Translated in our present discourse, this would mean who and what shall be inside or outside our imagined communities/nations/tribes.  Who we are and identity; where do we belong; our imagined nation and community. In fact, by using this paradigm, we sound like real state realtors or brokers agreeing and disagreeing over this piece of land or that piece of body waters in arriving at a peace settlement or agreements. 

It is rather eerie to hear people debate heatedly and sometimes go to war on this subject when we are supposedly living in an era with no borders and frontiers. Since this paradigm is border/frontier based, it carries inevitably a culture that is geography-based identity.   Inevitably, ethnicity, religion and nationality are geography-based and it becomes important in this type of discourse.

With this paradigm, we understand the theories and postulates about clash of civilizations, dialogues that are both geography and resource-based. The more strategic the resources and land are, the more intense the clash becomes.  Attempts have been made to map the various “clashes” in the world according to strategic resources that are found in specific geography. The conflict is in the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia and in Africa. Sudan is a classic example: besides ethnicity and religions, the conflict is really about oil and water – two very important strategic resources in Africa and the world.

At the heart of this paradigm is the classic threefold source of  conflict, that is, poverty, injustice and the politic of exclusion. When one speaks of resources, he/she also asks the question who, ultimately, benefits from these resources? Division of resources of spoils often divides people between majority and minority, dominant and dominated, included and excluded and empowered and disempowered.  In short, we are talking of injustice and politic of exclusion – whether real or imagined, hardly, makes a difference.  

The last millennium saw countless territorial and geographical and religious wars in Europe.  In the last century alone, two world wars were fought over geography. Thirty years ago, peoples of Europe strongly think along borderlines – Italy, Germany, France, etc. Thirty years ago, they fought and died over ideological differences of East and West symbolized by the Berlin Wall.

Wars and conflicts are still fought in other parts of the planet, like Asia and Africa, and part of the former East Europe. After two millennia of wars and conflict, a new consciousness is emerging. This consciousness leads to the understanding of mega nationality – European, Americas and Asia or continental and in the near future it would be planetary and galactic identity.

This new development, coupled by science fiction and non-fiction like the Star War Episodes, tells us of becoming “citizens” of the Universe despite our diversities in ethnicities and religions while recognizing our planetary or galactic origins. I call this new development a “telescope paradigm”.  There is the galaxy or the universe or the cosmos out there and we are only tiny, yet important, speck in the whole.  This paradigm requires not the culture of isolation or exclusivism but the culture of connectivity and all-inclusiveness.  In a smaller yet understandable concept, we are seeing, today, the collapse of borders and the emergence of mega nationalities and multiple identities.  While the resources are basic what we are seeing is the survival of the planet and our galaxy.  Again in understandable terms, we speak of issues like global warming or climate change, care for the planet, dialogue and fellowship in the midst of emerging violent extremism either of the ethnic tyope or the religious type. We speak of mega nationality and multiple identities – like ASEAN or continental identity – Asia!

There are two big events that contribute to the emergence of this new paradigm.  The first is the phenomenal melt down of glaciers somewhere near Greenland and big portion of the Antarctic. Then there is the reported surge of methane gas in the Antarctica that is a catastrophe in waiting. A few years ago (2007), religious leaders under the leadership of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople and scientists made a pilgrimage to Greenland to see the impact of climate change.  They came and saw and have become convinced that the real threat to humanity and the planet is coming not in fifty or hundreds years from now but in our own lifetime – in fifteen to twenty years! Our planet earth will undergo drastic change akin to the destruction described in Genesis during Noah’s times.  In fact, this would soon change our understanding of wars, conflicts and survivals, even of sin and morality.  

I believe that while we continue the interreligious dialogue of recent past, we begin locating the solutions beyond the limits of the present geopolitical landscape.  What truly matters is not the question of this piece of land or that piece of body water – not the Muslim nor the Christians, nor the Hindus, nor the Buddhist – not this archipelago or that group of islands or this nation or continent  – but the survival of this planet and humankind.

It is in the light of the preceding discourse, that I believe the paramount importance of the seeming “uneventful” convergence of initiatives not only to introduce discussion and debates on climate change at the highest level of the United Nations but also to table at every gathering and Conference the agenda on climate change.  The imperative of planetary survival and the urgency of forging new alliance for environment remain formidable challenges both to each member-state (religious, secular or otherwise) of the UN and to all.  There is an urgent task to connect our national survival to  planetary survival that must unite all our effort and strivings beyond the narrow confines of ethnicities, religions and nationalities.  

Faced with this formidable global challenge, there is, yet, another trajectory that invites humankind to a conversation and fellowship.  The planet Earth is, once again, menaced by violent religious extremism. The urgent call of these two seeming “uneventful” initiatives is an invitation to solidarity and partnership among the citizens and peoples of faiths of planet earth.

In closing, I shall reiterate the urgency of the challenge of harnessing all our energy in the cause of peace and the survival of the planet. This is formidable and not for the faint of heart. Not only is this work is intellectually, psychologically, and emotionally draining, but it involves significant risks as well. Vested interests develop around every conflict that want to see that conflicts continue, and a number of inspired peacemakers have paid the ultimate price for their efforts: Mahatma Gandhi, Anwar Sadat, and Martin Luther King, Jr., to mention a few of the better known. Among the living, we point to people like Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Pope Francis. Despite the risks, however, and as climate change so powerfully illustrates, ecological engagement is a challenge we ignore at our peril.We need to be able to decipher the wirings on the wall. I believe that we need to get our acts together behind the call for planetary survival, interreligious dialogue and intercultural cooperation in building a new world that is not only more peaceful, equitable and just but also ecology friendly that would ensure the survival of the earth. 


Eliseo ‘Jun’ Mercado of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) is a professor of peace studies at Notre Dame University Graduate School and the San Beda Graduate School of Laws.

Address: Notre Dame University, Cotabato City, Philippines.

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