Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

The World's Religions: Common Ethical Values

This talk was delivered by theologian Hans Küng March 31, 2005, at the opening of the Exhibit on the World's Religions at Santa Clara University. The exhibit was prepared by the Global Ethic Foundation, of which Kung is co-founder and president.

Introduction by Paul Locatelli, S.J., President, Santa Clara University

It truly is my pleasure and privilege and Santa Clara's honor to introduce Professor Hans Küng this evening. He is one of the great theologians of the 20th Century and continues to be one the great theologians, who teaches us much about the Catholic faith, about Christian religion and about the common religious, and ethical heritages of all religions.

Professor Küng was born in Switzerland and received his early education there. He did philosophical and theological studies at the Gregorian University in Rome and received his doctorate from the Sorbonne and Institute Catholique in Paris.

In 1959, he began teaching at the University of Münster and the next year went to the University of Tübingen, where he continued until his retirement from teaching in 1996. From 1980, he was director of the Institute for Ecumenical Research at that University and he's been a visiting professor at universities in United States, Canada, and Switzerland, and has lectured all over the world.

Although he retired from teaching, he continues to be a very active scholar and an active teacher. Remarkably, he has authored some 50 books and articles, many of which have fundamentally challenged and changed the way theologians and thoughtful people look at some of the great issues of the Catholic Church, Christianity, world religions and global ethics, global politics and economics. His most recent work is on Islam, and I believe he has a book coming out this year on Islam.

During the Second Vatican Council, he was appointed as an official theological advisor to the Council by Pope John XXIII. He has received numerous honorary degrees and awards—far too numerous to mention here.

Today, he is still recognized as one of the great theologians of our time. He is also recognized as a foremost international advocate for the global ethic and was a principal author of the InterAction Council's Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilites in 1997.

As President of the Global Ethic Foundation, he has promoted the inclusion of ethical considerations into the complex and sophisticated realities of economics, politics, international human rights and responsibilities, and leadership based on common ethical values shared by the world's great religions.

Ladies and Gentlemen, please join me in welcoming Professor Hans Küng.

Hans Küng

Thank you very much for this nice welcome. It's a great joy to be with you. I consider it already as a good omen when I arrived in the San Francisco airport. I did not have the same troubles I had in New York just a few months ago. The officer at San Francisco immigration read my name and said, "What is your profession?" I said, "I am theologian." "A Catholic theologian?" "Yes." "I read one of your books."
[Laughter] I hope to meet other officials of this kind.

As a matter of fact, I have co-written many books. The number of books was never relevant, I must say. I would not even know how many there are because I'm not counting like this. I'm counting according to the decades because those were the practical periods I was able to observe afterwards. If you want to see divine providence in your life, you have not to look ahead; you have to look backwards and then you can see a certain order in your life.

I started as a young theologian in Rome and Paris with my dissertation on justification in the '50s. This justification was a real breakthrough for the doctrine that separated Christianity in the time of Martin Luther and was finally just ratified by the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity 40 years later. So, I was well grounded in my Christian faith in this very central doctrine on Christianity.

In the '60s, I worked for the Second Vatican Council. The Council, Reform, and Reunion was my first book published in the United States. Then came a book which made a great impact but also was for me very-well, it gave me a great deal of troubles of course, at the end of the '60s: Infallible? And then into the '70s, I really worked out a Christian theology on the basis of the New Testament in the books, On Being a Christian, Does God Exist? and Eternal Life. Only in the '80s did I finally come to an intensive dialogue with the world religions. I was always impressed with world religions but previously I had had no time to study them. So, I was well prepared to enter the '90s and I published a book on the global ethic in 1990, especially in the context of the peaceful revolution in Eastern Europe where it was visible that we were entering a new phase which made progress possible. Before, when I wrote the book on the global ethic, the word globalization was even not known.

I think it's important to mention that I did not give up anything I taught in the earlier phases. It is possible—it is even very realistic—to be rooted in your own faith and to be at the same time open for the others. I often observe that people who are not really rooted in their own faith are much more uncertain, sometimes also aggressive. If you know where you stand, if you have the steadfastness in your own faith, you'll then also have the freedom to be absolutely open for all the others. I think that's a very existential attitude, not only a problem of theology.

With the influence of all that is happening in the world, I was myself forced to enlarge my theology, from the churches to the world's religions, and to world problems in general.

My creed—or better, my hope—is still directed towards three complexes. I still hope for the unity of the Christian churches. I could imagine that under a new pope, we will go ahead again acknowledging the ministries of the persons and the ministers, giving the freedom to participate in the Eucharistic services, and vice versa. That would be easy, and I am sure that we shall move again, because everything is prepared. There are a lot of papers, and it's just a problem of the decision making process in Rome.

I hope for the unity of the Christian churches. I do not hope for the unity of the world's religions; that would be a total misunderstanding of this program. The world's religions are very, very different and have very different bases. It would be illusionary to think that you can just unify the religions. But, I hope for peace among the religions, and that is a very realistic hope.

And from this peace of the world's religions, I was myself driven—especially through my work with the United Nations, the InterAction Council, the World Economic Forum, and other international organizations—to concentrate more on the community of nations. I hope for a real community of nations. And, so, I think I should also say something about that before coming to the problems of the global ethic.

In my research, I found out first that the dialogue with other religions is, of course, not a purely academic affair. I observed very early that this has tremendous political implications. I study this, especially in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also in other respects. In the very early phase, I was convinced that the dialogue of religions is an answer to the present problems. And, in this I formulated the axioms, so to speak, the slogans which I've been repeating many times: There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions. There will be no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions.

This was a program which was just the opposite of what Samuel Huntington published about the clash of civilizations. Personally, I like Professor Huntington; he is a nice man. But he didn't understand very much about religions, I must say. Everybody who knows the religions, who knows the civilizations, knows that they are not blocks, with one beside the other. There are interdependencies, there are influences, there are convergences. It's a much more complicated life than if you just mark this on a road map and you say, "See the green part is Islam," giving the impressions that they are already conquering Europe from both sides, so to speak. No, I really believe the clash of civilizations may prove to be, so to speak, a self-fulfilling prophecy. That was my first insight—that the dialogue has its political side which is of tremendous importance.

The second insight was that even if we disagree on many dogmas, on our faith, there is, nevertheless, great consensus in ethics. That was at the origin of my idea of the global ethic, which is, of course, not a reinvention, not the work of a scholar, but just a discovery of what you have already in the different traditions of humanity.

In the presence of so many competent scholars and statesmen from the InterAction Council, I should say something about the political aspects of the religions and especially about what some of us worked out for a new paradigm of international relations or new world order. I think it should be a warning for the 21st Century that we had in the 20th Century, three opportunities for a new world order, a new paradigm, and we missed more or less all three.

The first opportunity was in 1918. The First World War—supported, unfortunately, on both sides by the Christian churches—ended with a net result of around 10 million dead. The collapse of the German Empire, the Hapsburg Empire, the Ottoman Empire; the Chinese Empire had collapsed earlier. There were, for the first time, American troops on European soil, and on the other side the Soviet Empire was in the making. This marked the beginning of the end of the Eurocentric imperialistic paradigm of modernity and the dawning of a new paradigm. That new paradigm had not yet been defined, but had been foreseen by many farsighted and enlightened thinkers, and was first set forth in the arena of international relations by the United States of America. With his Fourteen Points, President Woodrow Wilson wanted to achieve a just peace and the self-determination of nations, without the annexations and demand for reparations, which some in Congress and in Europe wanted. The Versailles Treaty prevented the immediate realization of the new paradigm. Instead of a just peace, there emerged a dictated peace, in which undefeated nations took no part. The consequences of this approach are well known: Fascism and Nazism backed up in the Far East by Japanese militarism not sufficiently opposed by the Christian churches. All these were catastrophic results, reactionary errors, which two decades later led to the Second World War, which was far worse than any previous war in history.

Second opportunity: 1945. 1945 saw the end of the Second World War with a net result of around 50 million dead and many more million exiled. Fascism and Nazism had been defeated, but Soviet Communism appeared stronger and more formidable than ever to the international community even though, internally, it was already experiencing a political, economic, and social crisis because of Stalin's policy.

Again, the initiative for the new paradigm came from the United States. In 1945, the United Nations was founded, in San Francisco. The World Bank and the Monetary Fund were founded, which was really a new paradigm. In 1948, came the Universal Declaration of Human Rights along with the American economic aid. The Marshall Plan forced a rebuilding of Europe and its incorporation into a free trade system. Most people in Europe still remember very well what the United States has done in the 50 years after World War II; there is no anti-Americanism in principle, I think in the European peoples. (They have a great many hesitancies, of course, with the politics of the present administration, but that is another subject.) The result of the second opportunity was that Stalinism blocked the new paradigm for its sphere of influence, which led to the division of the world into East and West.

Now, we have the third opportunity to overcome this division: In 1989, we had the successful, peaceful revolution in Eastern Europe and the collapse of the Soviet Communism. Here, I must say, the Christian churches played a rather positive role. It was not only the Church of Poland, which was very strong in its opposition to Communism, it was also the Evangelical Church in Germany. All these people who made the revolution with candles—that was also a new paradigm, not with arms but with candles—were able to provoke the collapse of Communism, which was of course, internally already rotten.

So, after the first Gulf War it was again an American president who announced a new paradigm, a new world order and found enthusiastic acceptance all over the world with his slogan. But, in contrast to his predecessor Woodrow Wilson, President George Bush Sr. felt embarrassed when he had to explain what his "vision thing" for the international order should look like. As a matter of fact, if you think about Bin Laden and things that happened after September 11, these would not have happened if we had gotten the new world order in 1989 or 1990. But there was no change in Iraq, no democracy in Kuwait, no resolution for the Israeli-Palestine Conflict, no democratic change in other Arab states.

In the present moment, doubts in the Unites States have increased that the so-called "war against terrorism or on terror" can be our vision for the future. Should we go on now, making one war after the other, in order to kill all this who are against us?

So, today the question arises, have we again lost the opportunity for a new world order, a new paradigm? I believe we should not give up hope and especially commit the Christians, Jews, and Muslims and members of the other religions to work for the new paradigm. After all despite the wars, despite the massacres, and the refugees in the 20th Century, despite the Holocaust, the most inhuman crime in the history of humanity, the atomic bomb—despite all that, we must not overlook some major changes for the better.

After 1945, not only has humanity seen numerous, grand ethical and technological achievements, but also many ideas that had already been set forth in 1918 after World War I, that had been pressing for a new post-modern and overall global conciliation, were now after World War II able to better salvage themselves.

The Peace Movement, the Women's Rights Movement, the Environmental Movement and the Ecumenical Movement all began to make considerable progress. There emerged a new attitude, therefore, to war and peace, to the relationship between economy and ecology, to the understanding among the Christian churches and world religions, and to the partnership between men and women. You see, despite all the monstrous defects and conflicts that plagued these international communities, this new paradigm is, in principle, post-imperialistic and post-colonial, with the ideals of an equal social market economy and the United Nations at their core.

Despite the terrors of the 20th Century, there is still perhaps something like hesitant historical progress. As a matter of fact, the second half of the 20th Century was much better than the first half, much more peaceful. In the second half of the 20th Century, we've seen a powerful movement tending toward a new political model of regional cooperation and integration, and the attempt to peacefully overcome centuries of confrontation.

The big miracle of World War II is certainly the reconciliation of Germany and France. I always say if it was possible to have reconciliation between these enemies, which were at the origin of two world wars and more wars before, it must also be possible, for instance, to finally have a solution for the Israeli-Palestine conflict and other conflicts in the world. But, of course here, a new paradigm arose that was not just a new organization, that was not just a new politics; it was also a new mentality.

We can have a great deal of criticism of the European Union, and I share this criticism about many things. Nevertheless, it is an epoch-making event. What happened in this process of unification of Europe, which as a matter of fact, is much larger than just Europe, I think we have all to see. Here again, under the leadership of United States—which, as a matter of fact, also made the European Union possible—under the leadership of the United States, we have the whole area of the OECD, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, founded also in 1948, including all the Western industrialized countries, the European countries, the U.S.A., Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. In this area of the OECD, we have half a century of peace. Half a century of peace! That is a real indication of a paradigm change, and even if there is a lot of opposition, a lot of failures and deficiencies, nobody can imagine a new war between, not only Germany and France, but also between the United States and Japan. All this is an indication that we are moving into a new paradigm.

On the basis of the experiences in the European Union and in the OECD, there has been a new political conciliation, and here, already, ethical categories cannot be avoided. In principle, the new paradigm means policies of regional reconciliation, understanding, and cooperation, instead of a modern national politics of self-interest, power and prestige. Exercise of political action now calls for reciprocal economic cultural cooperation, compromise, and integration instead of the former military confrontation, aggression, and revenge.

This new overall political conciliation manifestly presupposes not only a change of politics, but also a change of mentality; it's a new mindset. Today, national differences, ethnic and religious differences must no longer be misunderstood in principle as a threat but must be seen as a possible source of enrichment. Where as the old paradigm always presupposes an enemy, the new paradigm no longer envisions or needs such an enemy. Rather, it sees partners, rivals, economic competitors, opponents for economic competition instead of military confrontation. It uses soft power in dramatic influence, political preservation, cultural influence and prestige, instead of hard military power.

This is so because it has been proven that in the long run, national prosperity is not furthered by war but only be peace, not in a positional confrontation, but in cooperation. Because the different interests that exist are satisfied in collaboration, a policy is possible which is no longer a zero-sum game where one wins at the expense of the other, but a positive-sum game in which all win. I think that is what happened in the European Union, where you have often a compromise and nobody's very happy, but everybody ultimately wins.

And, of course, politics remains the art of the possible. It is not easier in this context, but if it is to be able to function, it cannot be based on random, post-modernist pluralism where anything goes and anything is allowed. Rather, it presupposes a social consensus on particular basic values, basic rights and basic responsibilities.

If we are discussing a problem of common values, we have to affirm the common values of diverse civilizations, like democracy, human rights, and tolerance. But that's not enough because, democracy proposed by military aggression might not be the right democracy and freedom proclaimed with a lot of lies also might not be the right freedom. Democracy presupposes a whole set of moral values and moral standards. Every democratic system does presuppose many of these attitudes. Without them, it is not possible to have a real democracy.

And so I come to my second point about the global ethic. You see, this has a very intimate connection with all these political problems. If you don't have another attitude, you will not achieve the new paradigm. It is, I think, in the discovery of a global ethic that we can find the standards for living. We don't have to reinvent our ethic; we can just look in our old traditions of humanity.

We find the golden rule in the Chinese traditions 500 years before Christ: Don't do to others what you do not want to have them do to you. We have it in the Jewish tradition 20 years before Christ in the teaching of Rabbi Hillel. It's also important to mention the Muslim tradition, the Hadith. What you do not wish done to yourself, do not do to others is pronounced with the words, " No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself." Add to that the few very basic directives you find everywhere in humanity: not to murder, not to steal, not to lie, not to abuse sexuality. This is the concept of a global ethic that I want to explain a little.

Let me mention first an example which can explain very well the problems of the different ethical standards. You know, in the natural world, there are innumerable crystals—crystals with countless different forms and colors—but all the crystals in the world can be derived from 32 classes of crystal. And because of their own symmetrical structure, each of these 32 classes is based on seven simple forms of crystal. Only seven simple forms are the basis of all the crystals of the world, structurally.

In a similar way, you can find in our cultures, countless models and religious forms and norms. But, if you are looking at ethical standards, you will also find a few great traditions, which are in our Exhibition, practically the background. We have the religions of Eastern origin, of Semitic origin, whose great figure is the prophet, prophetical religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all in the common history. We have in the middle, the religions of Indian origin, the old Indian religion, Hinduism, Buddhism, Chinesism growing on Buddhism over China to Japan. And we have the religions of Chinese origin, which are again very different, which don't have the prophet or the guru as the main, the leading figure, but the wise man: Confucius, Lao Tsu, Confucianism, Taoism.

It is a very hopeful sign for us to discover that despite the profound differences we have in these religions, the ethical standards are basically the same. What you find in the Hebrew Bible, in the Decalogue, the ten commandments, especially the second part, which we have taken over to the New Testament; what you have also in the Koran; you find very similar commandments in the Indian and in the Chinese tradition. Already the Patanjali, the founder of Yoga, has the saying, "Don't kill, don't steal, don't abuse sexuality." These you find also in the Buddhist canon; these are the present position for every Buddhist in order to enter the way, the path of the Buddha. And you find it in the Chinese tradition. You already had commandments of this kind in Hammurabi's book. You find it in the traditions of the Aborigines of Australia.

So, you see, the global ethic is global also in the sense of a long, long history; it would be absurd to think that we have to reinvent it. We don't want to replace what we have already. It would be a complete misunderstanding if we would imagine that we have to replace the teaching of the Buddha with the global ethic or the New Testament, the Sermon on the Mount, or the Torah. We have only to see that all these great sources of humanity, the religions of humanity, have the same ethical standards. In a time where there are widespread complaints that there is a vacuum in ethical orientation, especially in the younger generation, it is of greatest importance that we have some common ethical standards known, which are valuable for everybody.

I think conservative Christians should be happy to see that what they have in the Bible can also be in other documents, religious documents of this world, and can even be shared by non-believers. The global ethic is for everybody. You cannot exclude those who are skeptics, who are agnostics, who are atheists, or those who just do not know. Everybody has to live in the same society, and the ethical standards are also valuable there.

We had a big discussion, as you have certainly read, about the Constitution of the European Union, and the majority of the European Parliament didn't want to have the name of "Father" mentioned in the Constitution. I would have preferred to have mentioned it, as Nazi crimes are in the German Constitution: You have the responsibility before God and to humanity. You have it in the German Constitution as a symbol that this should not be repeated. But, in Europe, in the year 2000, it was not the same situation, and it was not possible to use the name of God. What was even worse to a certain extent, it was not even possible to mention Christianity, which I really find absurd. We would also have to mention of course, the indictment of Christianity in the history of Europe, but, the history of Europe without Christianity cannot be understood. I have to confess that, of course, the policy of Christian churches, especially the Catholic Church, on certain sexual issues with regard to the pill, with regard to abortion, with regard to euthanasia—all this was counterproductive for the mentioning of Christianity in the Constitution. That is an indication that no church and no religion should be exclusivist and try to impose on other people, other religions, and all the non-believers, certain ethical standards they would like to assert themselves.

It is of great importance and I was happy that my advice was followed in the Parliament of the World's Religions that we omitted four questions on which there is no unity among the religions. There is not even unity within one religion or in one church about these four topics, which have to be avoided in a global ethic. Everybody can have and must have his own conviction. But, there is no consensus on the question of anti-conception, abortion, homosexuality, and euthanasia. I think the religions have the task of working for a consensus and not accentuating polarizations. What we just observed in this case of this poor woman, Terri Schiavo, who could not die—I think a lot of things would have happened in a different way if religious people had not antagonized the opposition. I think we have to work for a consensus. But, there is, as a matter of fact, no consensus on these four matters. We have to see where the consensus is and here we have enough that is basic and should be mentioned all the time.

The first principle we have is the principle of humanity, which is very simple, which seems to be, so to speak, self evident, but which is precisely not self evident—that every human being should be treated in a human way, in a humane way. You will say, of course, "But you have to mention then what that means." Every human being means man or woman, white or colored, rich or poor, old or young, American or Iraqi, Israeli or Palestinian. Every human being has to be treated in a truly human way. That is a great humanistic tradition which is supported by all people: Christians, Jews, Muslims, the other religions and by Agnostics and Atheists. Every human being should be treated in a truly human way.

I've already mentioned the second basic rule, which is an extension of the golden rule, which is not only a rule between individuals but also between nations, between social groups, ethnic groups, religions. Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you. I think a lot of things would not have happened in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict if they would have observed this rule. I mention this just as an example; nobody is exempt.

From these two basic rules, we have four directives, which, as I said, we find in all the different traditions. The first is the age-old directive not to kill, not to murder, not to torture, to torment, to wound. In positive terms, it is to have respect for life—what Albert Schweitzer had as a type for his own ethic, reverence for life. That's the first, the responsibility for a culture of non-violence and reverence for all life.

And the second: Do not steal, exploit, bribe, corrupt or, put in a positive way, deal honestly and fairly. A responsibility for a culture of solidarity and a just economic order. Particularly in the age of globalization, after all the scandals we have seen on Wall Street and in Europe, I think this is particularly important.

The third, which is especially important for politicians, is not to lie, not to deceive, to forge, to manipulate, or in a positive way, to speak and act truthfully. That means a responsibility for a culture of tolerance and a life lived responsibly.

The fourth: not to abuse sexuality, not to cheat, to humiliate, to dishonor. Formulated in a positive way, this is respect and love for one another. I think it is especially important, in a time when taboos are being abolished in an unprecedented way, to see that use and abuse of sexuality are different things. That means a responsibility for a culture of equal rights and partnership between men and women.

Of course, I am often asked, "Do you really think that this can finally come to pass?" Well, I am well aware of the fact that this is a long, long process. And if you think what the situation was in America and in Europe and in most parts of the world just 30 years ago, you see that, nevertheless, progress is possible. I think nobody in this hall thinks the same way on war and peace and disarmament as 30 years ago. Nobody thinks the same way about the economy and ecology as 30 years ago. And nobody thinks the same way about the partnership of men and women as 30 years ago. There is a progress in humanity despite all the failures we know and despite all the imperfections.

And so, we have just to work for non-violence and respect for life, for justice and solidarity, for truthfulness and tolerance, and for partnership and mutual respect and love.

I think precisely in a time of globalization, more and more people realize, also in the economic world, and I am sure also in the Silicon Valley that the globalization of the economy of technology, of communication produces, of course, also a globalization of problem—-from the problems of air and water pollution, and all the problems of ecology to the problems of international crime, drugs, and other international conflicts. And so, we need because of that—the globalization of the economy, of technology and communication—we also need a globalization of ethics.

I don't mean ethics in the sense of a system. We do not need a specific ethical system, neither that of Aristotle, or Thomas Aquinas, or Immanuel Kant, or a new one. We do need an ethic in the sense of an inner moral conviction and a moral attitude. We need some ethical standard like the six we have in the Exhibition on the World's Religions. People realize that this is important for the younger generation to learn in time if we do not want to have more crime, more corruption, more unpleasant things. In this sense, this is a message of hope.

I think everybody will subscribe to what Mahatma Gandhi finds as the seven social sins of humanity, which can be overcome on the basis of a global ethic. The seven social sins of humanity are: politics without principles; wealth without work; enjoyment without conscience; knowledge without character; business without morality; science without humanity; and religion without sacrifice.

You understand now, dear friends, what I said in the beginning about the new paradigm of international relations. I can summarize in the phrases I quoted already: "There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions. There will be no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions, and there will be no serious dialogue among the religions without common ethical standards." I am even convinced there will be no survival of this globe in freedom, in justice, and in peace without global ethical standards, without a global ethic.
Thank you.

This talk, one in the William P. Laughlin Lecture Series, was co-sponsored by the Commonwealth Club, the Greater Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of San Jose, the SCU Religious Studies Department, the Bannan Center for Jesuit Education, and the Interfaith Center at the Presidio.