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Leading theologian calls for return of dialogue

Leading Swiss theologian Hans Küng has called for a return to religious values to ensure peace in the world.

In an interview with swissinfo, Küng said humanity's survival depended on the existence of a worldwide ethic and dialogue between religions.

The 75-year-old theologian is to receive an award for his work in fostering interfaith dialogue at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, which runs until July 13 in Barcelona.

Küng is the founder of the Global Ethic Foundation to help teach children basic ethical rules and understanding of values.

swissinfo: Religious and cultural movements have become more militant in the past year. You are now about to receive an award for interfaith dialogue. Does that give a boost to your work?

Hans Küng: It has really come at the right time. For me, because I have just finished writing a major book on Islam, and for my foundation, because it needs all the help it can get.

It is also important that the prize is awarded by an organisation based in New York and that has a strong American flavour.

Under the Bush administration, there have been plenty of disagreements between the United States and Europe. The award shows that America and Europe can be on the same wavelength.

swissinfo: Will the war in Iraq or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be discussed during the session of the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Barcelona?

H.K.: We will certainly discuss the war in Iraq in talks with the Iranian Nobel peace prizewinner, Shirin Ebadi. It is clear that this disastrous conflict has seriously damaged relations between states and religions, and has encouraged terrorism rather than suppressing it.

swissinfo: What can your foundation do to prevent a further hardening of positions between cultures?

H:K.: It’s a very slow, lengthy process to make people aware of the issues involved. Fortunately, events such as September 11 or the Iraq war have made people more aware of the dangers of a lack of dialogue.

In the 1990s, most people didn’t consider interfaith dialogue a condition for rapprochement between nations.

Nobody questions this today.

swissinfo: But many wars are conducted in the name of religion. Religious feelings are stirred up, even if political interests are behind most conflicts.

H.K.: That is true in many cases, but not always. There are religious motivations, when, for example, an Israeli settler insists on occupying a patch of soil and says God promised it to him.

Of course, it’s obvious that there are powerful political interests at work in the Israeli and Iraqi conflicts. The Israeli prime minister, Arial Sharon, and his supporters want to occupy all the available land.

In Iraq, it is clear that oil is more important than Islam for the Americans. It gives the US a power base for its Middle East policy and helps maintain its position as the world’s only superpower.

swissinfo: Is there someone in the Islamic world who is working like yourself for interfaith dialogue?

H.K.: There are people who express themselves publicly and call for dialogue despite the risks involved.

Prince Hassan of Jordan, an old friend, who has expressed himself in favour of peace at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, has always called for a peaceful Islam.

We can only wish there were more people like him.

swissinfo: Tensions are also growing throughout Europe. People are finding it harder to live in society. How can your foundation help to overcome this?

H.K.: By working with the younger generations, we can make people aware of the need for ethics again.

We live in a time when children murder other children, teenagers kill teachers, and where you read nearly every week of students failing to help abused classmates.

Much of this is happening because the churches have lost their influence. Morality has become soft and rotten. Many teenagers often don’t know where to draw the line.

However, I am convinced that people are waking up to this fact. You can read about moral issues in the newspapers nearly every day. That wasn’t the case a few years ago.

swissinfo-interview: Katrin Holenstein

Key facts

The Global Ethic Foundation suggests five main guidelines found in all the main religions:
Do not kill (injure others).
Do not lie (cheat).
Do not steal (abuse others’ rights).
Do not abuse sexually.
Respect your parents (help the needy).

end of infobox

In brief

Hans Küng is about to receive the Interfaith Education Award, worth SFr6,200 ($5,000) on July 10.

Küng, an ordained priest, was a professor of theology at Tübingen University, Germany.

He became the first major Catholic theologian to reject papal infallibility.

His right to teach at Catholic universities was revoked by the Vatican in 1979.

end of infobox


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