Saturday, September 6, 2008On September 6, 2008, on page A5 of the New York edition of the New York Times this article (<-- click) "Conflict Tests Ties Between the Georgian and Russian Orthodox Churches," by Sophia Kishkovsky appeared. In it Kishkovsky explains the struggle and sorrow experienced by Orthodox leaders of the two respective Churches over the recent military aggression between the Russia and Georgia.
“Today, blood is being shed and people are perishing in South Ossetia, and my heart deeply grieves over it,” Patriarch Aleksy said in a statement on Aug. 8 as the fighting raged. “Orthodox Christians are among those who have raised their hands against each other. Orthodox peoples called by the Lord to live in fraternity and love are in conflict.”
This article and this development is important at least for two reasons:
We see potential signs that religion can serve as a harmonizing force across warring boundaries
We see signs that media analysis and reportage is maturing beyond debilitating bias of secular parochialism
The struggle and lamentation of both Georgian and Russian, Orthodox Church leaders demonstrates the potential for religion to serve as a unifying factor, a voice of conscience, and an impetus to move states and militaries away from nation state habit of killing people, harming nature, and destroying property.
In this particular case, the sensibility and concern happened to be because all victims and targets were from the same religion (Orthodoxy). But isn't it possible for us as a species to evolve beyond the archaic shackles of religious parochialism, so that this type of despair suffered and expressed by these Orthodox leaders, would equally arise in the hearts of all religious leaders any and every time any believer from any religion suffers from political and military actions? Or for that matter, couldn't religious leaders grow to feel the same sense of the unconscionable, not only when a co-religionist, or a even a believer suffers, but even when when human beings degenerate to the point of killing, harming, and destroying life, the earth, and property?
Perhaps the solidarity and lament seen this time in the confines of denominationalism, for believers who happen to be of just one sort can serve as an example and as an ideal for the emergence of a broader, greater, and more expansive spirituality that draws from the same basic impulse and sensibility.
If international diplomatic efforts had less of a tin ear for clues from the universe of religion and religious identity, one might have recognized an opportunity in this “cross-enemy” solidarity so rarely found in the midst of this sort of dangerous and horrible war. Could not this Christian (albeit denominational) high-mindedness be seen as a window through which higher, less divisive positions and provocations might have been seized by the United States?
GOP presidential nominee John McCain (perhaps feeling a campaign wedge in the offing) outpaced his own government to rattle US sabers against Russia. Soon thereafter reports came in of a a rare Dick Cheney sighting, this time as he surfaced in Georgia itself to threaten and further sour US-Russia relations.
Might not a more elegant and holistic foreign policy approach to such an intensely sensitive international breakdown, benefit by recognizing a rare and pre-established harmonizing force through these Orthodox leaders? Why not trade on the so-called “Christianness” of American identity and stand in solidarity with leaders from both countries who in unison are calling on conscience and community to rise above the geopolitical forces that led to this tragic and dangerous conflict? Could not “America” have stepped through this door, to engage the leaders on both sides of this dangerous conflict?
We must note and indeed celebrate in this article an occasion in which a writer from mainstream, liberal media has done a fine and impressive job making religious matters, and religious history clear and comprehensible for a popular readership.
Let us hope that the secular bias that has so harmed and diminished the fullness of analysis and human understanding is starting to turn the corner, and fair and solid reporting like this can become a more frequent staple in the news we consume daily.
Frank Kaufmann is the director of the Inter Religious Federation for World Peace. These opinions are his own.