Santa Clara University

SCU Today
Trying to create a global ethic


By: Robin Evans

San Jose Mercury News

April 9, 2005


Although the world's religious leaders may never agree on birth control, euthanasia, homosexuality or other matters of doctrine, they could be a powerful force for world peace if they could agree on humanitarian principles, according to a noted theologian who's on a mission to create a global ethic.


The ethical principles of the world's religions are basically the same, said Swiss theologian Hans Kung, president of the Global Ethics Foundation of Germany. Kung's Declaration Toward a Global Ethic has been adopted by the Parliament of the World's Religions, one of the world's largest interfaith gatherings, and is the subject of an exhibit on display for the next three months at Santa Clara University's Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. It has already been shown at United Nations Plaza, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.


"There is no possible future for the globe without global ethics,'' Kung said at the opening of the exhibit in Santa Clara last week. "A global economy produces global problems, with air, water, the economy, international crime and international conflicts. So we need a global system of ethics, not a specific system but an inner moral conviction and attitude.''


The exhibit, a series of panels that describe the core principles for living found in the world's main religions, opened last week with a lecture by Kung and a panel discussion with area religious leaders.


"The panels compel us to get beyond our own little corner and see what else is valuable,'' said Andrew Kille, a Baptist minister and director of Interfaith Space, a South Bay interfaith group. "There are so many faces to religion; we tend to focus on cultural boundaries and have gotten away from our actual ideals,'' said Amina Ansair of the Silicon Valley chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.


The Declaration Toward a Global Ethic and a companion declaration of global responsibilities envision world religious leaders endorsing and acting on behalf of the principle that every human being should be treated humanely. It is spelled out in four commitments: to non-violence and respect for life; to solidarity and a just economic order; to tolerance and a life of truthfulness; and to equal rights and partnership between men and women. These are the principles he found at the heart of the main streams of religion.


"You don't have to reinvent ethics, but look to ancient tradition,'' he said. "The golden rule, a 3,000-year-old Chinese ethic, predates Christian, Jewish and Muslim traditions.'' Kung, who studied in Rome and taught at the Catholic University of Tübingen in Germany, was appointed as a consultant to Vatican II. But he became alienated from the church because of its retreat from further reforms, such as allowing birth control or the ordination of women. He has written dozens of books about Catholicism and Christianity and comparisons with other religions. Over the past two decades, his focus has shifted from pure theology to religion and ethics.


Religious leaders have fumbled several opportunities to have an impact on the course of humanity, he said. The end of World War I, which barred defeated countries from participating in a peace treaty, saw the rise of fascism, Nazism and Japanese militarism. It led to World War II, which strengthened Soviet communism, he said. The war on terrorism offers another opportunity, he said, to create a new paradigm, "a new mindset.''


"We can have reconciliation, understanding and cooperation instead of politics, self-interest, and military confrontation and revenge,'' he said. "But it can't be based on anything goes and anything is allowed. It presupposes basic rights, a cooperative mutual interest. Not everyone may be happy, but everyone ultimately wins.''


Printer-friendly format