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  • Global Healing and Reconciliation:The Gift and Task of Religion, a Buddhist-Christian Perspective
  • Peter C. Phan

"No peace among nations without peace among the religions. No peace among the religions without dialogue between the religions. No dialogue between the religions without investigation of the foundation of the religions." Hans Küng's oft-quoted dictum proves even more apposite in the current international situation. Whether or not the September 11, 2001, tragedy and its aftermath can be accounted for in religious terms, there has been a widespread perception that they were part of the conflict between Islam and the West and that this "clash of civilizations" has deep roots in different religious worldviews.

Hindsight now shows us that "smart bombs" and armies do not and cannot resolve political problems in Afghanistan and Iraq or spread democracy in the world no matter how one judges the morality of these wars. The question then arises whether there are other ways and means to achieve world peace and reconciliation, to bring about healing among nations, and whether religions can be counted among these. More specifically, if religions can be harnessed to this task, which elements of the "foundation of the religions"—to use Hans Küng's words—need to be investigated in the dialogue among religions in order to bring about reconciliation among religions that in turns leads to reconciliation among nations?

This essay explores how Buddhists and Christians can together serve the cause of peace and reconciliation among nations. I will first reflect on the nature, strategies, and spirituality of reconciliation. Next, I consider how the Buddha's and Jesus' teachings on justice, forgiveness, and reconciliation can contribute to global healing. To show the transformative power of these teachings, I conclude with some reflections on how the followers of the Buddha and Jesus can work together for world peace and global healing.

Global Healing and Reconciliation: Strategies and Spirituality

At first sight it seems preposterous and hypocritical to speak of global healing and reconciliation as the gift and task of religion. A brief glance at the history of global [End Page 89] warfare will persuade us of the sad fact that, in the words of Charles Kimball, "more wars have been waged, more people killed, and these days more evil perpetrated in the name of religion than by any other institutional force in human history."1 One is reminded of Jesus' injunction that we must first take the log out of our own eyes before attempting to take the speck out of our neighbor's (Matthew 7:5). Yet, religion is arguably the most powerful and effective institutional force for peace and reconciliation. To see how religion can bring this gift of peace to the world and achieve this task of global healing, a brief consideration of the nature and process of reconciliation is helpful.

Etymologically, reconciliation means to cause two estranged persons or groups to meet each other again (re-, again + concilium, meeting). By extension, it means to resolve a dispute and to re-establish friendship and harmony, or, at a minimum, peaceful coexistence between opposed individuals or groups.2

Reconciliation is both a process and a state of affairs. As process, it sets into motion a complex of agencies and strategies that cannot be used as a universally applicable recipe but requires appropriate tailoring to diverse contexts.3 The process includes certain intermediate stages as conditions of possibility for achieving the desired result. As a personal and sociopolitical state of affairs, reconciliation is an ever-fragile and elusive reality. Ultimately, because of human propensities toward violence and domination, total reconciliation and perfect peace is not achievable by human efforts but is hoped and prayed for as an eschatological gift bestowed by God or as a transcendent blessing beyond this world. This fact does not of course diminish our responsibility to bring about global healing by means of all the resources available, religious and otherwise.

What Reconciliation Is Not

In our work for reconciliation it is essential to ascertain what it is not. In a helpful study on reconciliation Catholic theologian Robert Schreiter distinguishes three concepts that are allied to reconciliation but can distort its true sense. The first...


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pp. 89-108
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