No. 1 2010
sek · feps
The Magazine of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches
Open Forum Davos 2010 Special Edition 4 SWITZERLAND AND ITS BANKS
Interview on tax evasion and bank secrecy
A recommendation for a basic consensus among religions
RELIGIOUS CLAIMS TO TRUTH
“YES WE CAN!”
AFTER THE FINANCIAL CRISIS
Ideas for a new economic model
Is ageing just a matter of planning?
The Gospel of Barack Obama
Eco-activist Vandana Shiva fights against global players
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Welcome to the 2010 Open Forum Davos Dear readers and dear guests,
IMPRINT © The Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches FSPC P.O. Box CH-3000 Berne 23 Phone +41 (0)31 370 25 01 Fax +41 (0)31 370 25 80 email@example.com, www.sek.ch Frequency of publication: 4 times a year Print run: 6500 German, 1200 French, 500 English Head of Communications: Simon Weber Administration: Nicole Freimüller-Hoffmann Editing: Maja Peter Translation from German: David Dichelle, Leipzig Correction: ManRey Design/Production: Meier Media Design Silvan Meier Print: Schläfli & Maurer AG Cover: Open Forum Davos 2009 Alessandro della Valle / Keystone
The FSPC Bulletin has taken on a new look for the new year, taking our readers’ changing aesthetics and reading habits into account. It is also important to us to put a little more colour into a world that is much too often presented to us in terms of black and white. Climate change, the financial crisis, interreligious contention, the ageing of our Western societies and all the challenges that this entails: So much bad news can already begin to ruin our day early in the morning, and the answers provided are often mired in a black-and-white mode of thinking, simple and without nuance. Our environment is becoming more and more complex, just as the vocabulary that we use to express this complexity shrinks. This can prove irritating since simple solutions and one-dimensional thinking do nothing to solve our complex problems in the long run. As the French physicist and philosopher Marc Halévy wrote: “Complexity demands that we raise ourselves to meet it, and complexity does not exhibit any goodwill in the process.” The Open Forum Davos, jointly presented by the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches (FSPC) and the World Economic Forum, serves as a platform, in the midst of our complex and tempestuous world, for political, economic, scientific, and religious figures to meet in public debate. The participants can present their suggestions and reflect on those topics that are most important to our times. The Open Forum Davos, in short, can inspire us all to think for ourselves. You too, dear guests, are invited to pick up the ball and join the debate, and to refuse to be satisfied with simple solutions and black-andwhite answers. The Protestant Church will of course participate in this discourse as well. In the pages to follow, church leaders, theologians, and ethicists have presented their thoughts on the topics discussed at the Open Forum. They have provided new insight into ageing, a different view on the financial crisis, and a theological reflection on the Gospel of Barack Obama. I hope you find reading this report stimulating and edifying. Rev. Simon Weber FSPC Head of Communications
Panel 1 Misfit Switzerland
AFTER THE FINANCIAL CRISIS
Can morally responsible action prevent a crisis? By
Beat Kappeler and Denis Müller
“We all profit from the financial industry’s business.” Interview with
Thomas Wipf towards a basic consensus among religions. By Thomas Wipf
Panel 7 Nuclear Weapons
Nuclear weapons: What happens next?
Photo by Shigeo Hayashi
Panel 5 Ageing
“Those who destroy nature destroy their own basis for life.”
Business ethicist Christoph Weber-Berg by Maja Peter Panel 2
AFTER THE FINANCIAL CRISIS
The churches and climate policy By Otto Schäfer and Hella Hoppe
Everything under control? By Ivana Bendik “Yes we can”
Ideas for a new economic model
By Hella Hoppe and Otto Schäfer
The Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches at the Open Forum Davos
Panel 4 Religion’s claim to truth
“Truth is God.”
By Rajmohan Gandhi
When is a religion a religion? By Christopher Caldwell
By Stephanie Riedi
39 Final Point
Our ageing society: a challenge and opportunity for the church. By Helen Gucker-Vontobel
The Gospel of Barack Obama. By Matthias
By Theo Schaad
bulletin Open Forum Davos 2010 Special Edition
The Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches and the World Economic Forum have joined together to host the Open Forum Davos for the eighth time. This edition of the FSPC bulletin features themes of relevance to the Open Forum programme. For more information on the Open Forum’s individual panels and guests, please consult www.openforumdavos.ch
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Panel 1 –
“We all profit from the financial industry’s business.” In this interview, Dr. Christoph Weber-Berg, a theologian and ethicist specializing in economic concerns, explains his understanding for certain aspects of bank secrecy and how profits and ethics can reinforce each other, and puts forward his vision of a corporate model for the future. by Maja Peter *
r. Weber, what is your view of bank secrecy from an ethical perspective? On the one hand, I think that individuals need to be protected. Private information requires protection from an ethical point of view. On the other hand, it is of course a problem when bank secrecy is abused, and when this abuse is practically enabled by the regulations themselves. Bank secrecy should not be misused to escape from one’s responsibility to society. Bank secrecy laws differentiate between tax evasion and tax fraud. Is this approach ethically tenable? From the understanding of Swiss law, it is indeed ethically tenable, but Switzerland is not an island unto itself. When the differentiation between administrative and criminal offences provides foreigners with an avenue for abuse, it loses its legitimacy.
What end does this differentiation serve? It keeps you from being stamped as a criminal if you do not fill out your tax returns correctly and do not declare the piggybank that you inherit from your grandmother. You might of course be punished, and possibly even harshly so, depending on the case. But you would not be charged as a criminal in the legal sense. There have, however, also been a few Swiss who have transferred their grandmothers’ piggybanks
to accounts in Liechtenstein that are protected by bank secrecy, and who have conveniently “forgotten” about them. A lot has been changing in Liechtenstein as well. And actively avoiding one’s taxes does indeed constitute tax fraud. While I do not wish to glorify bank secrecy, there are aspects of it that I can in fact understand. We cannot, however, support bank secrecy when it invites people from abroad to engage in its abuse. It was not always bank secrecy alone that invited foreigners to abuse the system, but Swiss bank employees have themselves invested considerable criminal energy to get customers to do so, as records from the UBS case in the United States and Switzerland have shown. I do not blame the foreigners. Business models are illegitimate if they lead their foreign customers to violate the laws of their own countries. It therefore comes as no surprise that certain Swiss bank employees are now afraid to travel abroad. Is it ethical for the Swiss Federal Office of Justice to help bankers to figure out whether they need to fear arrest? The state has, until now, generally assumed that the banks have been working on this basis. The bankers have thus been right to expect protection. We can therefore say that the state does in fact owe them this.
Business ethicist and university instructor Christoph Weber-Berg points out that inefficiency is not only economically “wrong” but also ethically “bad”.
ture of many people that they do not like to change things when they work well. The negotiations on the interest taxation agreement of 2002-2004 were the last opportunity that could have been used to maintain bank secrecy in the future. The negotiators, however, only played for time, and many of those involved did not seize the moment to prepare their businesses for a future without bank “Too many people have secrecy. Churches, developmental aid benefited from bank Their desperate clinging to providers, and politicians of the secrecy for too long.” bank secrecy might also have left have been criticizing bank something to do with the way it secrecy for a long time. Even has been criticized. Church leadHans J. Bär, the doyen at the ers, left-wing politicians, and developmental organizaJulius Bär Bank, wrote years ago that one should tions have all criticized the institution at a fundamenand could do away with bank secrecy. So why has it tal level. And the reaction to this criticism was equally taken so long until the system actually broke down? fundamental: Both sides were not willing or able to Too many people have benefited from it for too view the situation from a more nuanced point of view. long, both in Switzerland and abroad. It is in the naI do, however, oppose any general suspicion of everyone who has handled the personal banking of foreign customers. I know numerous decision-makers at Swiss banks who did not make use of the situation, even to their own detriment. Their banks’ ethics and reputations were more important to them. But even they have now become anxious.
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Your critique of bank secrecy is rather reserved. In my view, bank secrecy, in the narrow sense, is not the central matter of concern, but instead the question of tax justice. Let us take Germany as an example. Some Germans were able to attain great wealth through the country’s “economic miracle” years, which were indeed made possible by state policy. Some of them are now leaving the country in a huff, however, and view it as unethical for the state to demand high tax rates. This seems absurd to me. They have a responsibility to the society in which they became rich. And moving their wealth out of the country means evading this responsibility. This is unjust and impermissible. Bank secrecy must not support this type of behaviour.
tax collector. The tax collector subsequently undid his acts of fraud and gave half of his wealth to the poor. The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard is also of relevance in this regard: The workers begin their toil at different times, but each receives the same denarius in return. While this is not an ethics lesson but a parable concerning the Kingdom of Heaven, I still think that Jesus did not choose his metaphor by chance. He is saying something about a wage that covers what one needs to survive.
And how do you interpret the account of Jesus and the moneychangers, which we discussed before? It is not a demonization of all business, but is addressed at using faith for business purposes. From a theological perspective, the question “What does monTop officials at UBS have created a similar situation ey do with people?” is more relevant than the question by earning large amounts of money through high“What do people do with their money?” There is the risk actions, and then allowing the state to save their example of the rich man who asked Jesus what he had bank without contributing anything of their own. to do to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus asked him This is a systemic problem. We must not privatize in return what he had done previously to achieve this. profits while socializing losses. We must, however, ask He responded that he had followed all of the Jewish whether the profits were in fact only privatized. Estilaws. Jesus then demanded that he give all his money to mates have shown that 16 percent of tax receipts in the poor and follow him instead, upon which the man Switzerland emanate from the financial industry. The went away, saddened. His disciples pension funds also account for 8 then asked him who would in fact to 10 percent of the capitalization be able to enter into heaven. This is of the Swiss stock market, which an important message for me. It is means that they too profit from “We have yet to pay the about one’s attitude toward money, rises in the share prices of major price of the crisis.” about the “attitude of the heart”, as corporations. This affects life init is expressed in the rabbinical trasurance policies as well. Therefore, dition. not only bank officials have been filling their pockets. We all profit Joe Ackermann, head of Deutsche Bank, has said from the business of the financial industry, whether that the banking business is only about making a directly or indirectly. profit. Do ethical and moral considerations have no place in economic matters? As Hans Geiger, professor emeritus at the UniverOf course they do. Morals have a role to play sity of Zurich, wrote in May 2009, bankers have whenever people are involved with other people. The been accused of greed from time immemorial; economy is an important area of human activity, and Jesus himself chased away the moneychangers. we cannot remove ethics from it. Ethics and business Geiger thus comes to the conclusion that these are not irreconcilable. [He sketches a diagram.] There objections are pointless and that “the bankers were is a dimension to the economy in which things can be already greedy a long time ago without it leading “wrong” or “right” and there is a dimension to ethics to this type of crisis”. What did Jesus actually say in which things can be “good” or “bad”. Every ecoabout dealing with money? nomic action can be placed on one of the four resultThere is no ethics of money in the New Testaing quadrants. If social concerns lead to economic inment, but there is criticism of wealth when the needs efficiency, we are doing something wrong from an of the poor and other social commitments are not takethical perspective as well. en into account. In my opinion, Jesus reacted in accordance with the different situations that arose. He How is that so? said, for example, that one should give unto Caesar the If you run a social institution inefficiently, it is money he deserved, which is to say taxes. In another economically “wrong” and ethically “bad”. You can of account, Jesus was criticized for sitting at a table with a
course do much more for people in need when you work efficiently. Ethically legitimate solutions tend to be morally “good” and economically “right”, or put another way: they tend to be sustainable. Is maximizing profits therefore ethically good? I differentiate between the maximization of profits and what is economically right. When maximizing profits, one can adopt solutions that are morally bad. That is unethical. Years ago, you were a loan officer for Credit Suisse. What was the job like for you? Was there room for ethical concerns? My work at Credit Suisse did in fact propel me towards my future career path. I was on assignment at the department for foreign corporate customers and put together information for the evaluation of risk in terms of countries and companies. When it came to national risk, numerous criteria reflected ethical and normative characteristics such as the human rights situation in the respective countries. This was not done systematically enough in my opinion, however, and I was originally planning to write my doctoral dissertation on which ethical criteria are taken into account in loan decisions. How can concerned employees apply ethical values without incurring professional disadvantages? I tell the students that they should not give up in face of the major problems that they cannot solve themselves, but should work to solve those problems that are within their sphere of influence. I conduct exercises to sensitize them to the ethical scope of action that they will have. At the managerial level, a majority still prioritizes the maximization of profits. The incentives are wrong. While most companies have an ethical code that employees need to sign, their financial incentives completely ignore the code. This can often even result in those employees who hold fast to the code of conduct receiving smaller bonuses. I was able to observe this back in my days at Credit Suisse. What needs to be changed? Josef Wieland, professor for business ethics at the University of Konstanz, Germany, describes companies as cooperative projects. Many corporate leaders, especially in the financial industry, organize their companies, in contrast, in terms of a competitive freefor-all. Financial incentives only serve to drive this
Panel 1: Misfit Switzerland
process onward. Wieland shows that, beginning at a certain point, internal competition can no longer be desirable whether seen from an ethical or financial point of view. Large salaries and bonuses are transaction costs that often do not pay off for companies. People actually have to be encouraged to improve their cooperation together, and to react less to individual financial incentives. For me, this is the model for the future. Cooperative companies work more along these lines. The Swiss banks seem to have survived the crisis rather well. And they are already doing everything they can to avoid requirements such as a higher capital ratio, increased supervision, and stricter regulations. Will everything just remain the same? On bad days, I would say yes. On good days, I hope that something will change. Every day, I think that we have yet to pay the price of the crisis. <
* Dr. Christoph Weber-Berg is a theologian and ethicist
specializing in economic concerns. He has run the Center for Corporate Social Responsibility of the University of Applied Sciences in Business Administration Zurich since April 2009, where he teaches and conducts research. Maja Peter is the editor of The Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches FSPC
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NICHOLAS ROBERTS / Getty Images
The Lehman Brothers bankruptcy in September 2008 drove home the need for new rules in the financial industry.
Panel 2 –
Panel 2: After the financial crisis
After the financial crisis
Ideas for a new economic model The financial and economic crisis is a challenge that involves the reorganization of global economic structures. The churches have focused on the values involved in the global economy and the international financial system. Social market economies must be expanded to address concerns regarding ecology and globalization. A “Global Green New Deal” will play a crucial role to this end.
By Hella Hoppe and Otto Schäfer *
he current financial and economic crisis has left its mark on countless people around the world, just as it remains inexplicable how this could happen. There has also been a growing sense of helplessness regarding how the situation will continue to develop. What do we need to do in order to avoid financial crises in the future? Does the main problem lie with the individual representatives of particular areas of the economy? Are the capital markets to blame in their great lack of transparency? Has our political system failed or does the crisis indicate fundamental deficits in our economic system? The questions all tell us that the causes of the crisis can only be understood if we look into all the various facets of the international financial and economic system. This applies equally to the question of responsibility and thus the ethical side of the equation. Must we look for individual culprits to blame such as Bernard Madoff, the American financial advisor who was sentenced to 150 years in prison for billions of dollars in investment fraud, or Jérôme Kerviel, a French trader accused of speculation that resulted in some 4.9 billion euros in losses for the bank Société
Générale? From this individual-ethical standpoint, the financial crisis was triggered by greed, the desire to make fast money, and immoral behaviour on the part of speculators, bankers, and investors all vying to earn as much as possible. While this view is not entirely wrong, it is one-sided in its scope.
It all comes down to corporate culture
Whether as representatives of their professions or as corporate employees, individuals are always part of a collective group in their working conditions, habits, and interests, and in their pressure to conform. There is little room for divergent views. In his book “Nach der Krise” (“After the Crisis”), Swiss publicist Roger de Weck quotes Jens-Peter Neumann, the former capital market officer at Dresdner Bank, as saying: “Do you know what would have happened if I had said that these investments were dangerous back in the good old days? They would have thrown me out.” Corporate cultures can promote this sort of tunnel vision – or, alternatively, an open and fearless atmosphere in which criticism is valued and honoured. Ethical codes, like those that apply to doctors and en-
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rights of each player. The formation and examination gineers, could serve to strengthen the conscience of of these rules promote ethical reflection. This is also a individuals in other professional organizations as task for the churches as a service to the common good. well. This level of professional and corporate ethics In Arthur Rich’s approach to Protestant social does not indeed apply only to bankers and traders ethics, Christian churches are committed to both an but to economists as well. The crisis also revealed accurate and humane approach to social and political how strongly the prevailing anti-regulatory and neoissues. This ethical approach is accurate in its evalualiberal currents have marginalized any voices of tion of the problems at hand, and humane in its advowarning over the past several years, impeding the decacy for conditions in which people can prosper and velopment of a productive diversity of opinion in the are respected as individuals, and which promote both field. human community and the community of all earthly In the end, it was the state support for major creation. banks that was (temporarily) able to stabilize and alleviate the financial crisis so that the global recession (if all goes well) is likely to lead to a 1 to 3 percent fall An accurate evaluation in growth rather than 20 to 30 percent (as in 1929). The recent global financial crisis was triggered Global structures, molded both by economic “global by the real-estate bubble in the United States. The fiplayers” and by national governments, are thus of crunancial crisis was, however, not the result of one sincial importance in this process. Even as many futurists gle event, but in fact followed in the wake of a latent have predicted the demise of the often maligned naeconomic crisis. The countries of the West have actutional states, the individual states have indeed proven ally enjoyed only minor growth in real terms since to be vital in this process, particularly with regard to the end of the 1970s – in contrast with the emerging their ability to even out international imbalances. At economies in Asia and petroleum-producing counthe same time, national states have tries. This is reflected in the major begun to reach their limits, espeglobal economic imbalances that cially in connection with the we currently face – and the imThe high yield of financial strong rise in debt. The strengthbalance between China and the products (seemingly) ening of structures that are bindUnited States in particular. The ing in international law, for examhigh yield of financial products serves to compensate for ple global governance, is urgently (seemingly) serves to compensate the stagnation of the needed to promote a working glofor the stagnation of the real real economy. bal financial system. In the words economy in Western countries, of French political consultant just as the national financial marJacques Attali, the “globalization kets become increasingly open, of the markets without the globalization of the rule of leading to overblown global markets with a high level law will lead to a financial system that does whatever it of liquidity. Less than five percent of the available wants”. Attali calls for a “global state of law”. This realm funds indeed suffice to finance the global trade volof Ordnungsethik, ethics focused on the overarching ume and direct foreign investment. Pension reform order, is thus to be seen as superordinate to the indihas played a role in this process as well, with funds vidual and professional-corporate ethical domains, being transferred over the past several years to syswhich focus respectively on individuals acting in their tems with capital coverage. This has led to a considerown responsibility and on collective action. able increase in the demand for long-term investment opportunities on the capital markets. People in numerous developing countries with The latent economic crisis before no responsibility for causing the financial crisis will be the financial crisis hit by the serious economic repercussions of the crisis, All around the world, Christian churches have and will be involved in an immense game of chance in spoken out time and again on matters of economic which they have more at stake than the players themethics. The terms economic and ecumenical are in fact selves. The human right to development, for example, closely connected, both containing the Greek root has been limited in numerous developing countries by oikos (“house”) as both address the “global household” the consequences of the crisis. This is reflected in a in different ways. The economy is thus to be underdownturn in the sales of raw materials along with a stood as the pursuit of an upstanding household in a drop in demand for processed goods for export, all of house with particular house rules. If one is to play in which has led to a massive drop in production for exthe house, one must respect rules that protect the
port and to a rise in unemployment. The income crisis has also intensified as migrants working abroad transfer less money back to their home countries as well. Developing countries are also being hit particularly hard in terms of their debt, with the crisis also threatening their right to food. The financial crisis in Asia, moreover, has increased the suffering of women and girls in particular.
A humane framework
A humane and ethical viewpoint focuses on the degree to which a social system – in this case the international financial and economic system – serves the people. What values must it take into consideration in order to promote a human existence in dignity and meaning? These values are founded in certain preconditions. This includes trust, which is needed to even ensure social cohesion in the first place, and which makes reliable relationships of exchange possible. The financial crisis is, at its core, a crisis of trust (trust in the value of investments and the reliability of banks, but also in debtors and even entire states). National governments have indeed provided financial support, in part, in order to restore trust in the financial system and certain major banks as an important part of the system. The public trust in the international financial markets is, however, still far from being restored in full. Another important precondition is the appreciation of work and thus the real economy. Work is a means of human development, one which fills life with meaning and substance. The significance of trust and work has two consequences: – Both trustworthiness and the ability to trust are irreplaceable factors in building up the capital of the financial system, which translates into considerable profits even if these profits cannot themselves be computed in terms of absolute figures. – The meaning and justification of the financial economy is to serve the real economy. Both of these points demonstrate the need to anchor finance in working social relationships and cultural systems, and in tying the economy into preconditions such as trust, which it itself cannot guarantee. It is also remarkable that both preconditions have a Christian, theological component. From a biblical point of view, trust is the underlying factor that allows human life to flourish, and work is a calling – and one which includes manual labour in stark contrast with the intellectualism of the Greek philosophers. The idea sounds more impressive than it actually is. In reality,
Panel 2: After the financial crisis
the theological view calls for letting people be people, in that they are not God, but stand in a relation to God. People and all that is human are creations, and are indeed to be respected, but not to be idolized. This also applies to the social systems that are invented and created by people. Money must remain a dispassionate matter and must not be idolized as a type of Mammon, to which we would dedicate and sacrifice our lives. Church statements, particularly from the ecumenical world, have raised their voices in protest against any form of idolizing money. As he wrote in 1921, the philosopher Walter Benjamin saw capitalism as a religion. Speaking of God then entails protesting against this confusion of the creator with his creatures, and objecting to a system that creates its own world and subjugates everything else to it. Polarizing economic debates fuelled by strong ideologies have attracted a new following during the financial and economic crisis. This can, however, only lead to a greater lack in the broad social support that is necessary for the implementation of the reform processes that are now required at the national and international political levels. We therefore need deideologized, secular, and socially committed strategies to bring about a social, humane globalization process.
A “Global Green New Deal”
One thing remains clear: The financial crisis must not be solved at the expense of the climate, but must be viewed as an opportunity to move to a sustainable economy. A look at the real world (for now) still reveals a different story. A study carried out by HSBC Global Research in February 2009 reported that only around 15 percent of stimulus funds around the world (over 2 trillion euros) are currently dedicated to ecologically sustainable and climate-friendly projects. There are, however, remarkable exceptions to this trend, including the European Union (59 percent), South Korea (80 percent), and perhaps surprisingly China (38 percent). The Global Green New Deal supported by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has, however, already become an emerging political reality. Further developments should continue to follow this trend. At an interreligious conference, Ban Ki-moon, General Secretary of the United Nations, flattered the representatives of the Baha’i, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Shinto, and Taoist communities in that they were the leaders of the world with the broadest and deepest influence. That would of course be wonderful news. But even if the churches are only able to contribute modestly to this goal, they can at
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least do so with conviction. They remain true to their aims as they proclaim, in a most crucial area, the gospel that frees us to live. < This text is a summary of the study on the financial and economic crisis that is to be published by the FSPC in 2010.
* Dr. Hella Hoppe is an economist and serves as the FSPC senior economic affairs officer.
Otto Schäfer is a theologian, pastor, and doctor
of biology (plant ecology). He is in charge of ethics and theology at the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches (FSPC).
THE PROTESTANT CHURCH CALLS FOr
Ethical business The basic values of freedom and responsibility, justice, solidarity, participation, and sustainability constitute the source of a human ethical approach. We can derive practical norms from these basic values. This includes the human rights to development, food, and protection from discrimination. Practical norms can be phrased as principles (A. Rich’s “maxims”), without being linked to binding texts such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We can postulate three general ethical principles: – Deregulated and non-transparent financial markets geared toward making “fast money” endanger the efficiency of national economies and are incompatible with making the real economy a higher priority than finance. – Ownership entails social obligations (just as all civil rights and liberties are generally linked to responsibility). – There needs to be binding international laws, principles, and corresponding structures to support the development of trade relations in a globalized world. Specific ethical principles derived from this include: – Subsistence economy and the public supply of goods essential to life are to be particularly promoted and respected as aspects of primary importance to the real economy. – A precautionary principle is to be promoted in financial policy as an analogue to the environmental precautionary principle. This should prevent the financial system from collapse through necessary measures (e.g. raising the equity ratio of banks, and the clear separation of control bodies and rating institutions). – Just distribution is a precondition for social peace and hence for a prosperous economy. (This also applies to the payment of bonuses and the like.) – Tax justice must also be obtained at the global level (and tax havens must therefore be eliminated). – The tried and tested social market economy model must be expanded to take into account ecological and global concerns. – Outmoded growth indicators such as the gross domestic product (GDP) need to be replaced by officially recognized indicators of qualitative growth. – The regulation of the international financial system must be carried out in a subsidiary, transparent, and efficient manner. – Financial support packages for poor countries must not be set off against each other when they are to be used for different purposes (e.g. compensation for damages and for the overuse of global goods such as the climate, oceans, and biodiversity; and economic and social solidarity).
Open Forum Davos
– The Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches at the Open Forum Davos The Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches and the World Economic Forum have joined together to host the Open Forum Davos for the eighth
time. This is an important part of the social commitment of the Protestant churches.
witzerland’s 24 Reformed cantonal churches, the Evangelical Methodist Church in Switzerland, and the Église évangélique libre de Genève joined together in 1920 to form the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches (FSPC), as a platform for them to discuss their mission as churches and as a means of external representation. The FSPC has been a recognized partner for the Swiss federal authorities, ecumenical organizations, and partner churches abroad ever since. The Federation is involved with matters of social policy, and is active in the consultation process for new legislative proposals, as well as religious and church policy at both the national and international levels. The FSPC also publishes its bulletin four times a year, and maintains a website that provides access to all of its studies and statements in addition to information on topics of current interest.
The FSPC issues statements
The FSPC Assembly of Delegates, the organization’s legislative body, founded the Institute for Social Ethics (ISE) in 1971. This was quite a trailblazing effort at the time; during the period of post-war economic prosperity, ethical discourses had been left primarily to theology and philosophy departments. The FSPC, however, quickly began issuing statements on political and economic matters. The Open Forum Davos would later be founded in this tradition, and was hosted this year for the eighth time by the FSPC and the World Economic Forum. The FSPC’s 2005 study, “Globalance – Christian perspectives on a humane globalization” also addresses issues of economic globalization.
The Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches has now returned to connecting social ethics more closely with theological argumentation. The institute – now known as the Institute for Theology and Ethics (ITE) – has consequently joined the central church office as a new department. The department conducts studies on the foundations of ethical and theological issues, and has prepared texts over the past several years that address both church-internal and ecumenical dialogue on baptism, the eucharist, and church ministry. The department has published material on social ethics and the basic values of life in society, including issues such as religious freedom, energy ethics, and life’s beginning and end, from stem-cell research to assisted suicide.
Swiss Council of Religions
Statements on federal consultations and referendums are important contributions to social discourse in Switzerland, including the recent major efforts made in opposition to the referendum initiative to ban the construction of minarets. The results of the vote have, however, shown that the churches need to continue to pursue a dialogue on the visibility of religion in the public arena. This has come about in part through the cooperation of Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the Swiss Council of Religions, which was co-founded by the FSPC. The FSPC migration desk, which has focused on immigration-related matters for many years, has been particularly active in this regard. The FSPC is currently working on a revision of its constitution. This will equip the Federation even better for its
future work in proclaiming the Christian message all throughout Switzerland. < Theo Schaad
Open Forum Davos
The Open Forum Davos highlights current issues in the critical debate about globalization and its consequences. From 2003 on, this platform for dialogue has been hosted in tandem with the World Economic Forum. Like every year, there is an open microphone: after an initial panel discussion, the audience is called upon to challenge the panellists with controversial questions and positions. www.openforumdavos.ch
The Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches in brief
The Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches (FSPC) consists of 26 churches with a total of over 2 million members. The FSPC Assembly of Delegates serves as its legislative body with 70 delegates in total. The FSPC Council serves as the organization’s executive with a full-time president and seven other members. The FSPC headquarters in Bern is staffed by 35 employees working at a total of 27 full positions. The church office consists of the FSPC’s Department of Ecumenical Relations, Institute for Theology and Ethics, Communications Department, and its Central Services Department. FSPC publications can all be downloaded at www.sek.ch
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– One question – two responses
Can morally responsible action cause was the paper money itself with which national states have been filling their people’s pockets ever since the dollar went off the gold standard in 1971. Paper money has no real backing, and most of it is produced by banks transforming short-term reserves into longterm debt. A crisis of trust in the system, and indeed the financial crisis itself, would thus ensue in September 2008. The political remedies on offer can only be considered to be immoral, as they refused to admit that free houses and the creation of paper money by banks actually involve promises that are hollow to the core. Politicians have instead reverted to their favourite topics such as bonuses, currency exchange taxes, and increased regulation. Any solution would instead necessitate the obligation on the part of bank bond holders to convert their bonds into bank shares in a crisis. Money would then become expensive even during periods of normalcy, while banks would be able to inhe 2008 financial crisis could have in fact crease their capital in a crisis without having to resort been avoided through moral action, albeit to taxpayer money. Paper money on the part of unexpectshould, moreover, only be issued ed actors. by the appropriate central banks. What originally triggered the The political remedies crisis? The American authorities on offer can only be consi- And banks should directly reinvest their customers’ money in producprovided incentives for the coundered to be immoral. tive assets, just as asset managetry’s two government-associated ment banks do today. The banks giants of the mortgage industry to would then no longer be overburlend around 2 trillion dollars to dened by loans. Financial markets are technically households that had no means of repayment. State complex, as are indeed all markets, and given the right funds in Asia and the Arab world then purchased this framework, they could keep greed at bay. The political dollar debt, all while lowering the interest rates over a system should be responsible for this – and nothing period of years. The temptation thus grew to join in more. < the great gamble and incur debt, whether as households, companies, and individuals. Two political players can thus be seen to have been at the source of this disaster. Without this political cover, investment bank* Beat Kappler is an author and a columnist for ers, high-level managers with all their bonuses, hedge fund operators and the like would not have been able the Sunday edition of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, and is the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the to go as far as they did. The third politically driven
Beat Kappeler *
University of Basel. His latest book, “Sozial, sozialer, am unsozialsten”, was published by the NZZ Verlag in 2007.
Panel 2: After the financial crisis
prevent a crisis?
thics never entails the ambition or naïveté to believe that ethics can be translated into reality in all areas of society and life at the same time and to a complete degree. It is framing the ideals and goals that are to be pursued. This applies even more so to Christian ethics, which is seen as part of God’s kingdom – or in other words, as part of the ultimate reality towards which all penultimate realities are to transform themselves. In the name of an ethics of such a radical and uncompromising nature, we are called upon to speak out on the economic, financial, and political realities. This is, however, not about solving all current problems with the wave of a magic wand, but instead a matter of decrying the blatant injustice and short-sightedness that have emerged from the current financial crisis. Arthur Rich’s two-volume work on economic ethics appeared between 1984 and 1990. Although it was conceived at a time in which the Communist reborne out in the financial crisis: Liberal democracies gimes served as one “model” among others, Rich asneed to renew themselves even as change remains a tutely foresaw the collapse of their far-reaching and painful process. economies (while also honouring Switzerland is currently receiving their ideals of solidarity and justhe full brunt of this process, and is Switzerland is tice). The author wrote that only a paying a high price for its lack of paying a high price for its fundamentally democratic and lucidity, vision, and courage. The lack of lucidity, vision, liberal economy would be able to country has plunged into its curand courage. renew itself, and spoke out in suprent negative state of affairs due to port of a “social market economy” the errors (cf. Swissair and UBS) that can overcome the dead ends of certain financial and economic of unconstrained liberalism. Rich’s theologically inleaders, as well as to parts of its political establishformed social ethics are exemplary and substantive in ment. this regard as well, and his ethical intuitions have been Ethics is meant to both inspire and regulate liberal democracy, the market, and the financial world. To deny ethics this crucial role, one would have to be irresponsibly cynical or prone to a delusive pragmatism. <
Denis Müller *
* Denis Müller is a theologian and professor of ethics at the Universities of Geneva and Lausanne.
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Sammlung Gesellschaft für ökologische Forschung
Panel 3 –
The churches and climate policy The Protestant churches have been advocating for climate justice beginning back in the 1980s. The Roman Catholic Church, and the past two popes in particular, have also set an excellent example for society. Any improvement in the state of the world’s climate must be anchored in five underlying ethical principles.
Panel 3: Climate change
Global warming is threatening Switzerland’s biodiversity: The Trift Glacier in Canton Bern has been shrinking rapidly. Its melted waters have formed a new lake that has in turn accelerated the melting process. by Otto Schäfer and Hella Hoppe *
he churches number among the forces of civil society, present throughout the world, that have been working to bring about climate justice since the 1980s. The first European Ecumenical Assembly met in Basel, Switzerland, during the 1989 Pentecost holiday. Even at that first meeting, climate change was already being treated as a serious challenge and discussed in depth together with the European Physical Society and others. The Assembly’s final statement stated that the rich countries of
the North would have to change their consumption habits, as the greenhouse effect and damage to the ozone layer demanded urgent and coordinated international measures. A year later, Pope John Paul II, in his well-received World Peace Day message entitled “Peace with God the Creator, Peace with All Creation”, emphasized the need to limit the artificial greenhouse effect, and for rich countries to follow a controlled and moderate lifestyle. Switzerland’s churches thus act as part of a
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– International Justice Principle Affluent countries are obliged to undertake financial and technological efforts for the benefit of weaker countries. – Polluter Pays Principle Polluters are liable for damages, in this case climatic damage, even if the damage occurs far away from the source of the damaging effects (greenhouse gas emissions). This liability also applies to damages caused in the past. The year 1990 is usually used as a pragmatic cutoff, however, as it is of little use to address damages caused before the emergence of a broad environmental awareness and of a scientific understanding of climate change. – Principle of Avoidance and Precautionary Principle Our obligation to act sustainably is more important than deliberating over the uses and hazards of fossil fuels in the past. Any damage needs to be avoided that is likely to result under prevailing conditions The Swiss churches advocate (Principle of Avoidance). Particularly severe forms for climate justice of damage must not be viewed as acceptable either It is, in any event, plain to see that a climate– even if they are not especially likely to occur, or if friendly society cannot be brought about through their likelihood is difficult to detechnology alone, and a resourcetermine (Precautionary Princifriendly society even less so. Beple). Precautions include both reyond climate change itself, we will be faced with challenges such as A globally binding interna- ducing greenhouse gas emissions and limiting the expected conseresource scarcity, reduced bioditional climate policy canquences of climate change to as versity, and global pollution with not evolve without ethical tolerable a level as possible. The plastic waste products, not to Swiss populace is not always aware mention atomic energy. As has offoundations or without of how much climate-related adten been said, and correctly so, a climate justice. aptation measures will be of relerevolution in efficiency alone will vance to the Alps with regard to only lead to a displacement and matters such as flooding, landreinforcement of demand – if it is slides, and rock avalanches. not combined with a revolution in sufficiency and a move toward a new frugality. We should take our cue from the seemingly paradoxical, but indeed particuThe cynical protection of the interests larly apt concept of progress toward moderation, as of the privileged postulated by the economist and father of ecological The most dramatic impact of climate change will, tax reform, Hans-Christoph Binswanger. Sufficiency however, affect the Global South, where it is precisely and moderation would indeed be necessary to meet those who did little or nothing to cause climate change the requirements of a 2000-Watt Society as advocated who will suffer the most, in part because they do not by the FSPC in its 2008 study on energy ethics. have the financial or technical means to adapt. Up to 200 billion euros a year would, however, be needed by developing countries to protect against drought, water The five principles of climate justice shortages and floods, to limit deforestation, and to inA globally binding international climate policy troduce climate-friendly energy sources. If these cannot evolve without ethical foundations or without countries are not supported financially, many will be climate justice. The following five principles are related forced to flee from places such as Bangladesh, which to such an ethical perspective on climate justice: could lose up to a tenth of its surface area to the rising – Equality Principle sea. In anticipation, India has in fact begun to build a The right to use resources that are essential for life profence, 3 metres high and 4000 kilometres in length, to ceeds from the right all of people to live and develop.
greater tradition in their advocacy for climate justice, while they focus in particular on the ethical issues connected to energy policy. Upon the initiative of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches (FSPC), the three main Swiss churches collaborated in October 2009 on a letter to the Swiss Parliament and the Swiss delegation to the World Climate Conference (COP15) in Copenhagen. In the letter, the churches called for a 40-percent reduction in greenhouse gases in Switzerland from 1990 to 2020. The churches, moreover, called upon Switzerland to follow with a contribution of similar magnitude to reduction and adaptation measures abroad, arguing that Switzerland would itself benefit indirectly from such a programme. This benefit would be reflected both in terms of climate justice and in terms of the development of climatefriendly state-of-the-art technology (génie climatique) with considerable export potential.
protect itself against waves of Bangladeshi climate refugees, and Myanmar, Bangladesh’s other neighbor, has plans to do the same. This is unacceptable from an ethical point of view. The Principle of Avoidance and the Precautionary Principle would lead only to the cynical protection of the interests of the privileged without thorough adherence to the Polluter Pays Principle and the Principles of Equality and International Justice. Even from today’s perspective, this has to be about the future generations of our one global humanity. Immediate financial support for these countries is therefore of existential importance.
Self-enforcement and coordinated monitoring
No world government or police force would ever be able to overcome any major resistance to the enforcement of international climate agreements and their control mechanisms. It is therefore important that these mechanisms are able to enforce themselves as much as possible. The emissions trade constitutes one step in this direction. As attractive this idea may be, however, when it comes to matters of detail, the system is still lacking in many ways. The climate policy and diplomacy of individual countries is indeed often neither transparent nor credible, especially with regard to data and figures. No progress would thus be possible without a coordinated and enhanced international control system. Extensive self-enforcement needs to be combined with the necessary controls.
Solar panels on the roofs of the Vatican
It is one thing to introduce international regulations; implementing them is, however, an entirely different matter. Have the churches set a good example in their construction work and management, in their congregational life, and in the offices of their institutions? Yes and no. The ambitious climate-protection goals that the Evangelical Church in Germany set for itself in 2008 are, however, quite remarkable, as is the way in which the German regional churches employ environmental officers and church energy consultants. The church’s “Green Rooster” environmental label has become so well known and widespread that it has since been emulated in Switzerland as well. The Vatican has now even set itself the goal of becoming the world’s first climate-neutral state. Around a year ago, for example, solar panels were installed on the roof of the audience hall, while 7000 trees were planted in Hungary on the Vatican’s behalf. We should also mention the stunning Baptist Church in Brande, Denmark, built in 1972 of recycled materials including bricks and fieldstones. The church
Panel 3: Climate change
remains a dignified example of humility to this day. And perhaps this Christian virtue expresses best what we most urgently need today, globally, socially, and ecologically. <
* Dr. Hella Hoppe is an economist and serves as the FSPC senior economic affairs officer.
Otto Schäfer is a theologian, pastor, and doctor of biology (plant ecology). He is in charge of ethics and theology at the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches (FSPC). His study “Energy Ethics” appeared in 2008 and can be accessed at www.sek.ch
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Panel 4 –
Religion’s claim to truth
“Truth is God.” Twenty years before he was assassinated, my grandfather Gandhi said he preferred the phrase “Truth is God” to the phrase “God is Truth” because although many people had been killed in the name of God, nobody had been killed in the name of truth.
By Rajmohan Gandhi *
andhi was the target of religious extremists, once on 20 January 1948 when an unsuccessful attempt was made on his life by a Hindu who took exception to his friendly overtures to Muslims. Yet, after this violent incident Gandhi said: “You should not have any kind of hate against the person who was responsible for this. He took it for granted that I was an enemy of Hinduism.” He successfully contested the advocates of hate and violence (whether against the British or between Hindus and Muslims) and sidelined them for over 60 years. Yet he was assassinated by one of those very extremists whom he had been trying to win over to the paths of peace and understanding.
Gandhi would caution the world
Today the problem of violent extremists remains a large reality in the world. But there are other realities too: economic misery, Aids and other diseases, the ravages of climate change and environmental degradation, war and oppression. But there are also many signs of hope and renewed dialogue across critical global divides. This is especially important in the case of the divide between the so-called Western world and the so-called Islamic world. If Gandhi were alive today, I think he would caution the world against falling into the temptation of believing that one faith commu-
nity out of all is uniquely fallen, uniquely infected, uniquely dangerous to the rest. In our era of an apparent clash of civilizations, many in the democratic world see the populations of Muslim lands as flawed, even while good relations are maintained in many cases with their rulers, who are viewed as people with whom business can be done. Many influential people in the USA and Europe equate terrorism with Islam and believe that terrorism and Islam are strongly interrelated. Such thinking in parts of the West has its counterpart in much of the Islamic world, which has seen persistent negative propaganda about Christians and the crusades, Jews and Zionism, and Americans and Europeans.
How enemies became allies
The hostilities of 1914–18 and 1935–45 were called world wars, but any “Islam versus the rest” war today would be a world war in a much more comprehensive and diffuse sense. And it will be a peopleagainst-people, civilian-against-civilian war. When, as often happens, I hear the argument about the flawed nature of Islam, I recall the faces and lives of Muslims I have known. I recall images of Muslims kneeling in prayer or raising their arms in supplication to God, or carrying their dead or wounded on cold earthquakehit slopes, and ask myself if I could truly believe that
Panel 4: Religion’s claim to truth
rism as much as anybody else in the world, and perhaps even more, for more Muslims have been killed in terrorist acts than non-Muslims.
Hulton Archive / Getty Images
Violence has no religion
Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948), leader of the Indian independence movement, at a constitutional conference in London in 1931.
Islam so practised was particularly and peculiarly flawed. I cannot believe it is. When I hear such an argument I also at times recall the recording of a radio broadcast that I first heard as a boy. The voice was that of Winston Churchill, speaking nearly three quarters of a century ago in June 1941, when Hitler attacked the Soviet Union and made Russia Britain’s ally against Nazism. Having spent several previous years warning people about the dangers of Russian Communism, Churchill now had to gather support for an alliance with those same Russians and Communists.
In Rwanda in 1994, some massacres actually took place in churches. Does that make the Rwanda killings a Christian crime? When in the 1970s, Buddhist Cambodia was the venue for the killing fields, did the massacres reflect an innate Buddhist flaw? When a few years ago, almost all members of the royal family of Nepal were shot dead, and later a large number of peasants and security men were killed in shootings, was some Hindu teaching to blame? Indeed, were the two Great Wars of the 20th century a result of Christianity? That religion is an element in the complex stories of modern violence is only too true; but we should be careful before saying with finality that it is religion in general and one religion in particular that fills a heart with hate and the desperate desire to destroy others and oneself. We should recognize that the clash in the world today is not between civilizations, cultures, religions or nations, but rather between forces inside each heart, between fear and faith, between fear (or hate) and acceptance. <
* Rajmohan Gandhi is a politician, author, and professor of history at the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies of the University of Illinois in the United States. Gandhi was twelve years old when his grandfather Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated. In 2006, he published a biography of his grandfather.
Muslim children also play
The man whose eloquence rose to every challenge again found the right words. In his speech in June 1941, which included the famous line about fighting Hitler “by land, by sea and in the air”, Churchill also said, referring to Russians threatened by Hitler: “I see the 10,000 villages of Russia, where the means of existence was wrung so hardly from the soil, but where there are still primordial human joys, where maidens laugh and children play.” Well, Muslim maidens laugh too, and Muslim children also play, and all Muslims, Sunni or Shia are grateful for primordial human joys. They hate terro-
Rajmohan Gandhi: Mohandas A True Story of a Man, His People and an Empire, Penguin Books: New Delhi – New York 2006, 745 pages.
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Panel 4 –
Religion’s claim to truth
When is a religion a religion? Religious freedom excludes the state from getting involved in religious affairs. And yet, judges are time and again faced with the decision of what is a part of religious practice and what is not.
By Christopher Caldwell *
ast summer, during his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, President Barack Obama took America’s harshest rhetorical shot at France since Donald Rumsfeld dismissed it as “old Europe” when he was defence secretary in the run-up to the Iraq war. Alluding to western countries that try to “dictate what clothes a Muslim woman should wear” – as France did when it banned headscarves in schools five years ago – Mr Obama said: “We can’t disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.” This was bound to confuse his fellow Americans, even the Francophobes among them. They are taught not to be judgmental about customs and rituals that differ widely from their own. And now they are being enjoined to cut no slack to the democratic republic whose political tradition, of all the political traditions on the planet, most resembles theirs.
Is taking vitamins a spiritual practice?
France aggressively polices the borders between church and state. It rules on questions that other western countries permit to slide. This week, a court in Paris convicted two offices of the Church of Scientol-
ogy – its “celebrity centre” and an affiliated bookshop – of fraud. It levied a €600,000 ($884,000, £537,000) fine against the group and gave a two-year suspended sentence to the man it described as the French church’s de facto leader, fining him and three others. (In June, prosecutors had called for the sect to be banned, although legal reforms passed the month before rendered that impossible.) At issue was the church’s sale of courses and products to aid the spiritual “purification” of its adherents. It sold vitamins and an “electrometre” device meant to measure users’ spiritual condition. The electrometre retails for more than € 3,500. The judgment arose from the claims of two women who alleged they had been bilked of their life’s savings – about € 20,000 each – at a time when they were vulnerable. The basic intellectual question about Scientology concerns whether it is a “real” religion – or at least whether practices such as electrometry and vitamin dosing are religious. The basic legal question concerns who has the right to decide that. In this sense, the discussion of electrometres resembles the discussion in US courts of Indian religions that use peyote, a banned drug. Generally, federal courts have ruled that states
can bar its use if they wish. In practice, most have allowed exceptions.
Economic and religious practices are sometimes inseparable
The French ruling attempts to step out of this thicket. On top of the fraud charges, the court fined two Scientologists for illegally practising pharmacy. The mark-ups on the electrometre and on the vitamins were high and the court declared the church’s personality tests “without scientific value”. It separated the “business side” of the church from the “religious side” and based its judgments on the former. This shifts the grounds of debate from freedom of religion to consumer protection. Thus far, we are not too far from the regulation of the beer sold by Belgian Trappists or the home-made jams sold by the Amish in Pennsylvania. There are two differences, though. First, economic and religious practices are sometimes inseparable. Scientology’s retailing may be part of the religion itself, as charitable obligations (zakat) are in Islam. Second, it is easier to arrive at a “just price” for beer and jam than for purification. To put a value on that requires making a judgment about whether the religion’s claims are legitimate.
Which religions can be practised fully?
In recent decades, western elites have been allergic to such judgments. In her majority opinion in the Planned Parenthood v Casey abortion case of 1992, US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the state.” But if everything is transcendent, then nothing is transcendent. Why should the state protect a vulnerable person from paying to be “purified” by an electrometre, if it is not going to protect a vulnerable person from going to the shopping centre and spending thousands of euros on clothes she does not need? The Age of Casey, though, appears to be drawing to a close. Authorities are growing more comfortable drawing lines on what religious conduct they consider acceptable. Maybe the growing influence of Islamism in the west, or at least the growing fear of it, is to blame. Consider the initiative about the ban of minarets in Switzerland. While it does not declare Switzerland’s religious identity to be anything specific, it establishes, by exclusion, which religions can be practised fully. This approach has also come up in the Netherlands. There, the anti-Islam party of Geert Wilders denies Is-
Panel 4: Religion’s claim to truth
lam is a religion at all. This allows it to sidestep the constitutional headwinds his proposals (such as banning the Koran) would otherwise encounter. The French decision trips up Scientology without having to prove it is not a religion. Yet the verdict is seen as a landmark because, as Georges Fenech, president of France’s interministerial body on cults, said: “The very structure of the Church of Scientology has been convicted.” Although it is the business structure that was convicted, not the belief structure, the two are so intertwined that the case strikes the latter at its heart. The case indicates that western authorities are less content than before to leave actions done under colour of religion undisturbed. <
* Christopher Caldwell is a senior editor at
The Weekly Standard. This article has been published in October 2009 in Financial Times. The part about minarets in Switzerland is actualized.
Copyright 2009 The Financial Times Ltd. All rights reserved. Please do not cut and paste FT articles and redistribute by email or post to the web.
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Panel 4 –
Thomas Wipf towards a basic consensus among religions Diversity continues to grow in Switzerland with people coming from all over the world to settle in Switzerland. There is a new urgency to the question of what holds a society together. Even well before the referendum to ban the construction of new mosque minarets, we were able to observe that the integration of Islam into our society, with its Christian background, will require great efforts on the part of all those involved. The churches of Switzerland have long been engaged in dialogue with other religions. This dialogue will, however, require a new depth to it. Reverend Thomas Wipf suggests that the religions come together to design and sign a basic consensus on what we need to live together in society.
by Reverend Thomas Wipf
President of FSPC Council
ur society is currently undergoing a comprehensive process of inner searching. What will Switzerland be like in the future? What are its main characteristics? And what are its values and spiritual foundations? How do we wish to live together in the future? While the question of what keeps a society together is not a new one, it is being asked again today with greater urgency than before. It has become clear that our secular, democratic state of law, and our free, multicultural society require a new framework that goes beyond security, economic, and social policy. Switzerland is also a humane place, and a place of human coexistence. As Christian churches, we know that this also touches on faith and ethical orientation, aspects central to the identity of a human society. The churches and religious communities now play a crucial role in this societal process of searching.
But what does it now mean for this process when other religions, and Muslim communities in particular, join Christian churches along this path? People of Muslim faith have long been part of Switzerland. They are residents of the country and a large number of them are now Swiss citizens. Islam is indeed not only part of our economic world, but a part of our social and religious lives as well. People of Muslim faith now inquire of us concerning our willingness to share our Swiss living space with them.
When is trust possible, when opposition necessary?
The FSPC member churches and the FSPC itself have now long been active in interreligious dialogue, and in dialogue with Muslims in particular. Since 2006, national representatives of Jews, Christians, and Muslims have also been meeting in dialogue within the context of the Swiss Council of Religions. The churches have responded to the concept of a clash of cultures with their own concept of religious dialogue. We are happy to answer the questions of Muslims, just as we, too, confront them in dialogue: The emergence of certain groups and individuals – and not only outside of Switzerland – has led to irritation and even opposition. Many people have a hard time understanding the Muslim faith. When are trust and agreement possible? And when are distance and opposition necessary? We are only just beginning to truly understand the magnitude of the task of integration.
Multiculturalism and religious pluralism are challenging social concepts. It means that we can deal constructively with the tensions inherent in conserving that which is ours, while remaining open for that which is strange to us. Key issues include the role of religions in the secular state of law, the relationship between Islam and democracy, the freedom to profess and also to change one’s religion, gender equality, religiously legitimized violence, and human rights in general. Dialogue among religions in Switzerland needs to reach a new stage in its development. A basic consensus among religions has now become necessary in order to continue to move forward, especially with regard to the dialogue with Islam. This basic consensus should not, however, involve details of faith. The religions are indeed all different, and these differences will always continue to exist as they constitute the richness of each individual faith. It is our task today to take the basic differences among the religions seriously so that they do not become a cause of conflict but a spark to strengthen social cohesion. We must have a basic consensus of religious communities on the exigencies of coexistence. This needs to be determined together, to be set down in a document, and established in a binding form.
A basic consensus as a requirement for coexistence from a Protestant standpoint: 1. Consensus on truth Religion is anchored in God’s revelation. In its orientation toward God’s revelation, religion also remains an historical reality on a continual basis, and one which is fraught with human weakness. Religion must therefore not become absolutist, but must always listen anew to God’s revelation, questioning itself from this perspective. Religions should not oppose each other and persist in an absolute claim to truth, nor should they make claims to power and seek to wield it over others. Religion must instead serve God and the people for the good of all. 2. Consensus on religious freedom The freedom to pursue one’s faith both as an individual and in community is a basic civil right. This applies in particular to religions such as Christianity and Islam for which the call to mission is an integral part of their identity. A consensus on religious freedom would mean that all religions active in Switzerland would advocate for this right everywhere. This includes the rights to change one’s religion or even to have no religion at all.
Panel 4: Religion’s claim to truth
3. Consensus on religious pluralism Switzerland is a country with a Christian background. The churches expect other religions to be sensitive to this heritage. Pluralism is, however, also part of the reality of today’s Switzerland. The diversity of languages, cultures, and confessions is founded in the history of the country, and is a sign of its strength, not of its weakness. We must treat this diversity with care. 4. Consensus on human rights Human rights are an achievement, and we need to bear responsibility for their being observed. Every religious community in Switzerland should recognize and reaffirm the European Convention on Human Rights of 1950. Through this affirmation of human rights, all the religions active in Switzerland would be committing themselves to working on ensuring the future of this particular achievement. 5. Consensus on the rule of law The religions should recognize that the Swiss state is anchored in secular law and not on the profession of any particular religion. The state law applies equally to all. Legal pluralism – such as the application of religious precepts in certain areas of civil law (e.g. family law, inheritance laws) or the use of religious courts – is not compatible with the idea of a state founded in the rule of law. 6. Consensus on the maintenance of peace Every religion yearns for and has a potential for peace. The religions in Switzerland need to commit themselves to maintaining religious peace in the country through their actions, and to strengthening the society’s cohesion. From a Protestant standpoint, a basic consensus should be sought along these lines among the religious communities of Switzerland. People require a minimum of certainty in times of fundamental changes. By subscribing to such a basic consensus, the religions could make an important contribution toward laying the foundations for coexistence. <
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Panel 5 –
Everything under control?
The beauty industry, advanced medicine, and adverts for preventive medicine centres all would have us believe that “good ageing” is something that can be planned. Are we really able to take full responsibility for our own good health, fitness, and happiness in our old age? The following looks at this topic from a theological point of view.
by Ivana Bendik *
sea of colourful lights illuminates the disco ceiling as youthfully dressed women and men, all of retirement age, jump and hop to the rhythms of pop music, arms and legs all in motion. It is a television commercial as depicted in the 1990 film Tie me Up! Tie me Down! (Átame) by Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar. The narrator asked: “Why do German retirees get to sunbathe in Benidorm while...” The scene then cuts from the German retirees’ nighttime revelry to the reality of Spanish life by day. We see an old woman with grey hair and black clothing standing in a large open square, holding out the palm of her hand to passers-by. The speaker continues: “...while poor Spanish retirees need to beg at Metro entrances?” Two more provocative scene cuts follow that reveal the answer to this question: A young German couple in Nazi uniforms carefully plan out their future in detail, while Spanish couples succumb to the joys of flirting and tango. “Gerobank pension fund, so that you may continue to dance”, the speaker concludes. Inspired by the mes-
sage, Marina, a young former porn actress and the film’s main protagonist, asks her 23-year-old friend Ricky, who was released a few days earlier from a psychiatric institution: “So what are your plans for the future?”
Ageing well depends on finance
The very point that Almodóvar makes through his sharp artistic eye and overstated imagery does indeed touch on important matters in the current discourse on ageing. There would in fact seem to be different ways of growing old. How one ages depends to a great degree on one’s financial resources. In the Swiss context this translates into the difference, for example, between a single scientist in a leading position at Novartis and a single mother employed in shift work at the same company. This is also reflected in the differences between North and South, particular with regard to wealth, as well as an East-West divide – ever since the expansion of the European Union (EU) to Eastern European countries at the latest. There are ma-
Zac Macaulay / Getty Images
Only very few are able to stay young to the very end.
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jor differences within the EU that relate to financial matters and connected social and health concerns. This inequitable distribution of financial means is often met by the attitude that people should be responsible for their own welfare (even) at an advanced age. This attitude derives from the predominantly Western/Central European social perspective in which economic and medical progress are seen as greatly responsible for one’s welfare and physical health, and thus places our lives and our “ageing well” in the hands of each individual. This, in turn, implies that those who age more rapidly and are thus not as well-equipped financially not only have themselves to blame but indeed place an unfair burden on society.
the age of 65, with men over 70 at greatest risk, according to the Sunday edition of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung on October 22, 2006. This is compounded by the fact that a decreasing number of children are being born, leading to the society ageing as a whole, with consequences for the economic system and for state pension guarantees. Even the advertising slogan for private pension plans in Almodóvar’s film seems particularly relevant in this context; and the question “What are your plans for the future?” can indeed become particularly daunting. Are only a former porn actress and someone who grew up in a psychiatric clinic able to escape from the constraints of what is apparently normal?
Old, with only themselves to blame
Limited by God, not by death
So what exactly does “ageing well” mean – and to Christian theology has focused, from its earliest what degree are people responsible for this thembeginnings, on peace and justice, and not on happiselves? A worldview that extols eternal youth, as can ness, and may therefore come across as somewhat dry. be seen to a great degree in our society and media, enIts strength, however, lies in being able to look at the tails remaining good and indeed youthful consumers reality of ageing and the suffering that it involves, withall through one’s life. Advertising also employs a virtuout giving up on everything, because it its anchored in ally limitless number of ways of making life vital and the ultimate truth that is God. The Christian faith is sexy until a ripe old age. As one slogan would have it, rooted in the understanding that all being is founded “you’re as old as you feel”. The inherent message is that in God and must therefore be understood in this light. those who look and feel old are themselves to blame People see themselves from this perspective as God’s for doing too little for themselves, their fitness, and creatures and view their lives as a gift granted, and their physical and mental well-being. If we follow this thus as a good limited by God. As simple as that may line of reasoning, we can conclude that, at least in sound, the consequences of this basic understanding Central Europe, it is now possible for many people to are in fact quite far-reaching. The very understanding extend their youth for a good number of years, thanks that it is God, and not death, who sets our limits, opens to medical progress, improved hygiene, humane workup new horizons for us. The view of life as a gift also ing conditions, and legally reguhas far-reaching ramifications, as lated pension plans. people consequently no longer Medical progress does, howbear the responsibility for life, a We not only stay young ever, also have a flipside: In conresponsibility that we are indeed longer, but we stay trast with our ancestors, we not incapable of bearing. Even if this old longer as well. only stay young longer, but we stay message may at first seem disconold longer as well. In other words, certing, it does reflect back on the burdens of the ageing process our experience of injustice and are extended as well. This is the phase in which the touches on the question “Why me?” that we all ask biologically determined reduction in organ performourselves at certain times in our lives. ance, connected to a reduction in physical and mental ability, have clear consequences on individual wellEvery phase of life is unique being and appearance. More ailments also affect people Life has both passive and receptive qualities as during this period that do not (immediately) lead to seen in relation to God. This in no way means, howdeath but which still reduce one’s quality of life considever, that people should remain inactive. On the conerably. The most typical of these ailments include Partrary, it is precisely through the temporal limits on life kinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, diabethat women and men become aware of what it is: a tes, and incontinence. “Ageing well” viewed in terms of precious good that we do not have forever. We must “remaining youthful to the end” has developed into a make something of this life, forming it within the limchallenge that only few can really master. A third of all ited time we have, and thus improving on its quality. suicides in Switzerland are committed by people over The limited amount of time also, however, means that
each phase of life is unique and will never return in its particular form. People are children, adults, and elderly only once, and are embedded in their own historical periods within the world’s overall timeframe, from which they must make decisions that affect the further path of their lives. Recognizing and accepting this place within our lives, and opening ourselves up to this understanding, are all passive matters – passive because people must then open themselves up to be receptive in lives that are otherwise geared toward action. In theological terms, this is known as grace; God’s word is received as his acceptance of us, just as it is understood and followed as his command as well. The theologian Karl Barth expressed it in this way: “The command of God summons him to be wholly and exclusively the man he can be in this place and this place alone. It thus lifts him out of the stalls and sets him, not behind the stage, but on it, to appear at once and well or badly to say his little piece as appointed. For now, in his present time, he has the unique opportunity, and since he does not know how long it will last he must seize and use it.” People are thus called upon to take up their tasks in accordance with their age and life situations.
Youth as a commitment
What does this mean as applied to “ageing well” and to the degree to which we are responsible for ourselves? If youth also means committing oneself fully to something without asking whether it is youthful, then people do indeed have the opportunity to remain youthful to the end. Only the objects of their commitment will change from one phase of their life histories to another. From the viewpoint of Christian faith, in the words of Karl Barth: “The command of God accompanies man upon his way in the changing conditions of life. But it is not bound by what man knows about these changing conditions. On the contrary, what man can and must always know of them is bound by the revelation of God and his recognition of the command from which it follows.” This means that we, from the viewpoint of Christian faith, cannot, ahead of time, determine what our tasks will be in the various stages of life. That is instead a matter between God and each individual in his or her particular place in life history. Women and men are thus responsible – in a Christian sense – for their own “ageing well” in that they could easily ignore this call and allow themselves to be led by external everyday worries, events, and injustices, and could thus become spectators instead of actors in the lives into which they were called by God. This means that the elderly can now be closer than in their youth to the
Panel 5: Ageing
basic Christian understanding that all life exists thanks to God’s merciful grace. Only now can they place all that is painful or unfinished in God’s hands and subscribe to Hölderlin’s words: “A man must examine everything, say the heavenly ones, so that he, well fed, may give thanks for all that he learns, and may understand the freedom to go wherever he would wish.” <
Further reading on this subject: Karl Barth, Die kirchliche Dogmatik, volume III/4 §§55–56, Zürich 1993 and Friedrich Hölderlin, Lebenslauf; in: Sämtliche Werke, volume 2, Stuttgart 1953, p. 22.
* Dr. Ivana Bendik is a former hospital chaplain and has been the Senior Theological Affairs Officer at the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches (FSPC) since September 2009.
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“yes we can”
Panel 6 –
The Gospel of Barack Obama Ever since Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, the simple phrase “yes we can!” has been heard all around the world. What once sounded like a mere pop song lyric, these three words have since taken on a religiously charged promise that can be applied to just about anything: ice cream, the fight against poverty, American history. Does this reframing of the words “yes we can!” in fact reflect a “religious renaissance”?
Charles Ommanney / Getty Images
Panel 6: “yes we can”
The slogan reached its definitive zenith at Obama’s victory speech on November 5, 2008.
by Matthias D. Wüthrich *
t is late on December 23, 2008, and Carmen Nebel’s Christmas Show is on ZDF television, Germany’s Channel 2. The spotlights are dimmed, and the outline of a large Gothic church appears in the soft red background – a clear attempt at creating the illusion of being inside a cathedral. A pianist begins to play and Howard Carpendale, a South African singer popular in Germany, begins to sing. His voice is soft, somewhat sonorous, a bit breathy, and his face and gestures convey a serious and emotional tone. His entire stage presence seems geared toward saying that he has something important to proclaim. Carpendale’s hymn turns out in fact to be about Barack Obama and the “night of nights” of his electoral victory, and how the singer himself would have loved to shout up to heaven “yes we can!” A gospel choir picks up on these last three words, repeating them in a kind of swing rhythm from the interior of the “church” in the background. This “yes we can!” refrain then blends more and more into Carpendale’s German words, along the lines of: “Yes we can move toward a better future together / running our hearts against the wall / we can turn the wind once again.” On
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stage, Carpendale stands in the middle of a choir of dancing black gospel singers in church garb. This is followed by a roaring round of applause from an audience that would indeed seem to have taken on board the joyous Christmas message. In the meantime, catholicexchange.com features a satirical article based on the biblical gospels entitled “The Beginning of the Gospel of Barack Obama, the Son of God”. The piece even rewrites the Sermon on the Mount: “And seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: Blessed are those who Believe. For they shall say, ‘Yes We Can!’ Blessed are those who say, ‘Yes We Can!’, for they shall audaciously hope.”
How did this all take on a religious charge?
We could easily find many further examples for this phenomenon, such as new gospel songs on the German music market entitled “yes we can”. The question then remains: How can the simple phrase “yes we can!” take on a quasi-religious or even Christian-religious meaning? How can these three words suddenly attain a Protestant aura? This is particularly astonishing for what is actually a banal, areligious phrase with its origins in entirely profane contexts. A Spanish version of the three words, “¡Sí Se Puede!”, for example, could be heard as a union slogan introduced in 1972 by the agricultural leaders César Chávez and Dolores Huerta in the US state of Arizona. We are also reminded of the Pointer Sisters’ 1973 song “yes we can can”: Now’s the time for all good men to get together with one another. … We got to make this land a better land Than the world in which we live. … I know we can make it. I know we darn well can work it out. Oh yes we can, I know we can can. … It is quite difficult to find examples of a religious use of the phrase. So where does this Protestant connotation in fact come from? Its origins can indeed be traced back to Barack Obama himself, in a succession of politically and religiously mixed election campaigns so typical for the United States. Obama in fact used this slogan as early as April 11, 2005 in a speech that he held in Washington D.C.
In the address, he evoked a sense of a common American hope, stressing that one could put an end to social problems if one were to work together. This concise slogan would of course later grow into a main theme of his presidential campaign. As American researchers have now postulated, in may in fact have been the Pointer Sisters song, after all, that influenced Obama and his rhetoric, at least at a subconscious level.
More skilled than the best of televangelists
The development of the slogan “yes we can!” came to an initial head with Barack Obama’s speech in New Hampshire. In his address, the phrase turned into a testimony to the spirit of the American nation (“A simple creed that sums up the spirit of the people: yes we can”). Obama raised it to a statement of hope, which has always been viewed as the hidden engine of US history, connected with the Christian connotations of a “way to the promised land”. Obama, however, does not only anchor this statement of hope in the roots of the American pioneer spirit, but also ties it to the country’s future as well, to the creation of a common new chapter in US history: “With three words that will ring from coast to coast, from sea to shining sea: Yes we can.” Soon after the speech, the singer will.i.am worked together with 37 other celebrities to include a collage of quotes from the speech in his song, also entitled “Yes We Can”, which was viewed countless times on the Internet. The slogan would reach its definitive zenith at Obama’s victory speech on November 5, 2008. The newly triumphant president-elect ended his speech with an electrifying climax in which he called out “Yes We Can!” seven times, six times as part of a rhythmic refrain. Not even the most skilled of televangelists could improve on Obama’s rhetorical performance! It is at this point that the phrase “yes we can!” begins to separate from its original context, taking on its own life and functioning in a performative manner similar to the way churchgoers call out “Amen” in the middle of Evangelical sermons. In this speech, Obama once again identified “yes we can!” as a timeless expression of the nation’s spirit. The speech also contained an implicit allusion to Martin Luther King (“a preacher from Atlanta” who told a people We Shall Overcome. Yes we can.), and concluded with Obama’s blessings (“God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America”). Is “yes we can!” in fact the Gospel of Barack Obama? It would not be accurate to say that Obama refit the expression with explicitly Christian-religious clothing. It would also be difficult to prove that this was his tacit intention. One can, on the other hand,
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
Panel 6: “yes we can”
Obama repeated the words “yes we can” seven times during his victory speech. With his own messianic charisma and a dash of patriotism, the slogan took on an evangelical aura.
hardly argue with the fact that his use of the slogan has led to a semantic recoding of the words, as “yes we can!” has increasingly taken on its own meaning – whether intentional or not – and has shifted closer to a new pattern of meaning with virtually religious connotations. The general public reception of the phrase, moreover, has only reinforced the emergence of this new meaning. Bolstered by a good measure of patriotism and the messianic charisma of the new president, the slogan has become increasingly steeped in the Protestant aura in “God’s own country”, as was indeed reflected in Carpendale’s production as well.
A yearning for religiosity
The fading of the traditional language of faith and the migration of words with a Christian-religious background into our everyday language has become the norm and thus virtually imperceptible. It is therefore all the more remarkable when just the opposite occurs and an expression emerges in a new religious context. Are we to view this as the manifestation of the oft discussed “renaissance of religion”? It is likely more appropriate to speak of a return to a diffuse yearning for religiosity, at least as far as post-secular Europe is concerned, in which the meanings and certainties of religions play a little role. This can also be seen in the phrase “yes we can!” Throughout the entire complex process of recoding the phrase – for which we can only provide a rough sketch here – the expression has remained diffuse and unclear. What is it exactly that we can do? How can we do it? Who does the pronoun “we” actually refer to? And what gives us the ability to do what we can do? This does not, however, mean that
this type of yearning should not be taken seriously and examined from a theological point of view – on the contrary. Nor should one disparage any yearnings of an entirely secular nature. The new ice cream flavour created to honour Obama, “Yes, Pecan” is in fact not bad at all ... < Sources: http://catholicexchange.com/2008/05/21/112550/ Wolfgang Mieder, “Yes We Can”. Barack Obama’s Proverbial Rhetoric, New York 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/08/us/ politics/08text-obama.html http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/0,1518,588507-2,00.html
* Dr. Matthias D. Wüthrich is an assistant
professor for systematic theology and dogmatics at the Theological Faculty of the University of Basel, Switzerland.
Panel 7 â€“
Nuclear weapons: What happens next? The atomic powers, the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, and France, hope to prevent nuclear weapons from falling into the wrong hands. But which hands are the wrong ones?
September 1945: Hiroshimaâ€™s Nagarekawa Church and Main Station after the American atomic attack. Photo by Shigeo Hayashi from the collection of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museums.
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“Those who destroy nature destroy their own basis for life.” Vandana Shiva, a doctor of physics and environmental activist, advocates against the global exploitation and degradation of nature. Her efforts have been rewarded with the Alternative Nobel Prize – and numerous enemies. By Stephanie Riedi *
he wine-red bindi on Vandana Shiva’s forehead is both a religious symbol and a political statement. The thumb-sized dot represents the third eye in Hinduism, and is expected to provide insight into the world soul. It also symbolizes Shakti, the primordial feminine force. Both serve the renowned environmental activist in her work against the exploitation and degradation of nature. Vandana Shiva uses her internal radar to root out ecological problems and their causes, which she tackles with sufficient energy to put fear into the hearts of “cowboy capitalists” and “biopirates”. Vandana Shiva is doubtless a tiger at heart, even if she at first would seem meek as a lamb or perhaps a cuddly Buddha with her silk sari and hair up in a bun. But she knows no compromise when it comes to global actors without a conscience. She has been recognized for this several times, including the Alternative Nobel Prize in 1993 and the Golden Plant Award in 1997. Vandana Shiva, who is now 57, has published over 20 books on ecology, is a member of the Club of Rome, and vice president of the international organization Slow Food. The founder and current director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, based in New Delhi, she is also active as a consultant for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Inspired by and following in the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi, Vandana Shiva is a strong supporter of the weak, and calls for non-violent civil disobedience. Her appeals are full of incontrovertible facts, all with the aim of bringing about a radical paradigmatic shift towards greater global food security and a culture of work in dignity. One is reminded of a tiger readying
itself to pounce as she explains: “The industrialization of food and agriculture has sent the human race down the wrong track, indeed to the end of the road. Either we manage to find a new way to confront the economic and ecological crisis in a creative way, or we will perish.” Vandana Shiva has been vocal about the necessity for a universal awareness in the form of a broader and more profound “earth democracy”. This would not primarily focus on politics and economics but on the responsibility of each individual for the welfare of all of our planet’s life forms. As Vandana Shiva said: “Those who hide behind partisan differences in times of dramatic climate change and resource scarcity act just as Nero did when he played the lyre while Rome burned.”
Vandana Shiva forces RiceTec to back down
In her new polemic work “Soil not Oil”, Shiva calls for an economic from below against the crisis from above. She explains that it is the earth and not oil that needs to be adopted as a framework for us to transform the impending ecological disaster and human degradation into an opportunity for us to regain our humanity and our future. And Vandana Shiva knows what she is talking about. The daughter of academics and freethinkers from the Dehradun Valley at the base of the Himalayas has been fighting on behalf of the earth, which she respectfully refers to as “Gaia”, for nearly 40 years. The name Gaia represented the mother god in Greek mythology and, as Vandana Shiva explains, therefore stands for biodiversity, democracy, justice, sustainabil-
Matthias W채ckerlin /NZZ
The headstrong environmental activist has even been hit by cow dung patties. What her assailants did not know, however, was that cow dung is a symbol of fertility in India.
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ity, and indeed peace. As she explains, “Gaia is a living organism”, whose welfare we must rigorously defend. She herself has worked to this end in her fieldwork, studies, participation in world congresses, and organization of protest marches, which she always leads from the front line. In 2001, for example, Vandana Shiva led a demonstration with 100,000 participants to protest an agreement between the Indian government and RiceTec, a US seed producer, which had registered a patent on the local basmati rice. Shiva described the agreement as “food fascism” – and was successful with her opposition to it: RiceTec, in the end, was forced to relinquish over 20 of its patents. More recently, she achieved a similar victory in Europe when, thanks to her advocacy, a ban was introduced on genetically modified strain of maize (MON 810) produced by the US-based multinational Monsanto Corporation.
She dreamt of studying atomic physics
In 1991, Vandana Shiva founded the Navdanya cooperative to protect farmer independence and stop corporations from aggressively “poaching” patents in India. Seeds should instead be stored in self-administered depots and provided to farmers at no cost. This launched a unique and expansive project, with Navdanya now comprising 55 seed banks including 500 robust types of seed with the potential to stand up to climate change. Half a million farmers have benefited from the project. With a scholarship for gifted students, Vandana Shiva was able to attend classes at Harvard, and dreamt at first of studying atomic physics. Her career plans would change abruptly, however, when her sister, a doctor, warned her of the effects of radioactivity. “She opened my eyes”, Vandana Shiva recalls, who until then had only come to know the sunny side of science. This led to her changing course and completing her doctorate in quantum theory instead, while, at the same time, working to support India’s Chipko women, who clung to trees to prevent them from being cut down. Vandana Shiva learned from the women tilling her country’s land that the disappearance of the forests could also entail the disappearance of the water and good soil. As she says today, those who destroy nature destroy their own basis for life. The Chipko women inspired Vandana Shiva to dedicate herself to support her fellow women, who, as she explains, suffer most from environmental destruction. “When miners destroyed local water sources, it was always the women who were forced to walk further to fetch fresh water”, she said. This contributed to her theory of ecofeminism, anchored in the view that there is a connection between feminist and ecological
goals, and reflecting back upon an inequitable and sexist division of labour. In her words, we now urgently need female skills such as caregiving, and people who can use their positions of power to care for society and the environment. These words may indeed seem to verge on blasphemy within the context of the patriarchal power constellations that have hitherto played the dominant role on “Gaia”. Vandana Shiva has indeed made just as many opponents as she has allies. At the 2003 Johannesburg UN summit, she was in fact repaid for all her great efforts with two dried cow dung patties. The “gift” was the work of supporters of genetic technology, who were trying to tell her what they thought of her work. She took this in stride, however, accepting it as an honour, as cow dung is seen in India as a “source of renewal of soil fertility and hence the sustainability of human society”. As she “accepted their ‘award’ as a tribute to organic farming and sustainable agriculture” one could make out the glint of the primordial Shakti force in her eyes. <
* Stephanie Riedi is an independent journalist and editor.
Books from Vandana Shiva, edited by South End Press:
2008, Soil Not Oil, Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis 2007, Manifestos on the Future of Food and Seed 2005, Earth Democracy; Justice, Sustainability, and Peace
By Helen Gucker-Vontobel
Member of the FSPC Council and the Church Council of Canton Zurich
– Final Point
Our ageing society: a challenge and opportunity for the church
e all know that the ageing and elderly now make up an increasingly large portion of the population, with the number of the very old rising with particular speed. This coincides with a shift in the demographic figures of those under 20, adults through the age of 65, and people of retirement age. As a result, the numbers have been falling of those gainfully employed per retiree, while the need for housing has risen in line with the increase in the number of total households. These trends – in addition to the increasing fragility of people as they reach particularly old ages – have led to a need for a wide variety of ser vices, including nursing and medical care, and hence to soaring medical and other costs. This development has presented a particular challenge to society. The isolation of many and the neediness of some, not to mention the risk of poverty that affects a number of elderly, are all issues that we wish to – and indeed need to – work on. The question remains as to what
the church can do. It will of course not be able to solve the financial problems of the health system. But the church can in fact contribute in many other ways. The church is open, present, and welcoming: open in that it listens; present in its support for people in difficult situations; and welcoming in that it invites people to reflect, to engage in dialogues, and to attend musical and cultural events.
Strength to work toward new goals
Recent retirees, however, continue to have great potential, and want to put their abilities to good use, often coupled with a thirst for new educational opportunities. They remain vigorous with strength to work toward new goals. The church has much to offer them, including adult education programmes in new fields that go beyond their old professions, which can serve to keep them mentally fit. The church can also put the abilities of these young retirees to use in new activities. Proactive seniors who want to
get involved in public life are perfectly capable of becoming active in new fields of endeavour. People who wish to take on new responsibilities and duties may, for example, be well suited for administrative work. When people retire, the church does not cast them aside and forget about them but offers them new opportunities to share their experience with others and to remain involved in society for years to come. <
In this issue
“The desperate clinging to bank secrecy might have something to do with the way it has been criticized.”
“The climate policy and diplomacy of individual countries is indeed often neither transparent nor credible.” Page 19 “Twenty years before he was assassinated, my grandfather Gandhi said he preferred the phrase ‘Truth is God’ to the phrase ‘God is Truth’ . ” “So what exactly does “ageing well” mean – and to what degree are people responsible for this themselves?”
sek · feps The Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches
Published on Jan 29, 2010
Published on Jan 29, 2010
No. 1 / 2010 9 4 The Magazine of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches Is ageing just a matter of planning? Interview on tax evasion a...