A Proposal For The Implementation Of A Cross-Religious Broadcasting Project For Peace, Conflict Resolution And World-Wide Reconciliatoin. A paper presented in Ankara, Turkey, at a conference sponsored by Turkey's Ministry of Religious Affairs, 2004. By Hune Margulies, Ph.D., Director, The Martin Buber Center for Dialogical Ecology
Buberian insights into the encounter between religions and cultures could be manifold. I will try to set a Buberian tone by pointing at the distinction between a conversation and a dialogue. Institutions can converse, but only people can dialogue. Dialogue requires the immediacy of presence. I will use the term "god" even though, as Buber said, we know absolutely nothing about God. However, even though we cannot (or should not) say anything about him, we can still address him with the whole of our being. In a genuine dialogue, god is also addressing us, in some form that transcends both our reason and our intuitions. God is not a thing, God is no-thing, and in that sense, it is everything.
Buber was a religious anarchist, and I often refer to his philosophy by saying that dialogue is a teaching outside of scriptures and conventional religious practices, it is a practice pointing directly at the core of being. (of course, paraphrasing here Master Dogen's famous dictum about Zen). The self and god emerge only through dialogue, and dialogue is something we can do every day and every time. The practice of mindfulness as developed in many Zen traditions provides a life-guide into the practice of a life of dialogue.
Buber developed a secular spirituality, a religiosity outside of religion, a sacred space which will find itself limited and constrained within the walls of a temple. Dialogical religious language cannot be expressed through pre-set canonical liturgies.
Buber could be said to have argued for the existential concept of "being the dialogue", that is, dialogue is not something one does, it is something one "is". Dialogue is the encounter of one's whole being with the whole of being. At the moment of the dialogue, the I and the You create a space or a realm Buber called "the between". There, in that between, is where the dialogue takes place, not in the I and not in the You, but in the realm of the between. Whenever there is a genuine dialogue, the eternal You,(God?) emerges and is present in that between.
What characterizes an encounter that is done in Buberian terms? How do we define encounter or meeting in the sense that we are using the term here? Every time we refuse to approach the other as though it were an It, we are approaching it as a You. An It is something we use or manipulate in some form. A You is something we meet but we refuse to use or manipulate in some form. Is this applicable in day-to-day life or in order to live by this we will need to bring it into the confines of a canonized schedule for its practice? Zen and religious-socialism are Buber's answers.
With buber, we can say that If one loves God, one must love everything that God loves. Unless we attribute to God the emotion known as hatred, (a supernatural being who hates is what we call the devil), we must accept that God loves everyone and everything. That should lead us to accept that we must strive for a pact of radical sacred peace between all cultures and religions. Also, the same holy peace should apply to our relationship to the ecological environment. We are not renouncing the fight for just claims or erase our grievances, nor are we abandoning our struggles on behalf of the oppressed and the poor, only we must bring ourselves to accept that the struggle for peace will never be won unless peace is the means for that struggle.
One element that has contributed, albeit in a paradoxical way, to the seemingly endless eruptions of hatred and violence, is the lack of acceptance of each others religions as equally valid and equally legitimate in the eyes of God. For that reason, we have had many institutional conversations over the years, but hardly a genuine religious dialogue. That perhaps is the more the case with the classic Theistic religions. Believers will always believe in the exclusivity of their paths to heaven, and that is often translated as conversion activities leading often to religious strife. We should instead ask of each other to agree to let God, not our clergies, be the one who--through his infinite grace-- will decide if, how and when to open the heart of the unbelievers. Peace will be closer at hand if instead of seeing other religions as leading their believers down a path of no salvation, we will instead rejoice in the knowledge that God loves everyone and everything and wishes the destruction of none. We need a new liturgy for every person of every religion. If we chose to pray for compassion and peace for every other being, even for those who are of a different religion, and even more for those who are our "enemies", we will find it very hard to find a space within our hearts where hatred and violence will make a home. We should strive to have all religions and culture create a sacred space of between, a space that is holy and cannot be profaned with violence and hatred. In
that sacred space of the between, the new liturgy will "demand" of God that every being and the whole of being be given peace. Following some beautiful Buberian-Judaic insights, if we pray for the peace of the whole of being, but despite our prayers, we still see humans suffer, the proper assumption to make is not that God just doesn't care. Rather, we should take responsibility and accept the sad fact that the prayers we have personally lifted to God have found no favor in the eyes of God. God decided not to hear the prayers I have addressed to him. A broken hearth in a relationship with God, will only be mended through penance. It is called "Teshuva", a turning back to God, something akin to repentance. The only way to turn back to God is to love as he does, is to engage every human and every being in a dialogical embrace of peace and compassion.
My initial 7 minutes will work, more or less, around these themes..A Buberian pointing to a way of dialogue.
peace to all
All historic religions have always utilized broadcasting to spread out their messages. Obviously the term broadcasting is being used here in a very broad sense. Many of the major religions we know encourage their faithful to spread the word to all corners of the world. In its purest form, the spreading of the message is motivated by the sincere desire to disclose to humankind the one true path for redemption and salvation. While the relationship with God is one that each individual must undertake on his/her own, the sense of compassion overtakes individual bliss and motivates the believer to engage the world in a missionary project. For the faithful, it is God’s will to spread the good news, to send missions and evangelize all peoples. It is therefore the faithful’s duty to announce God’s love for all its creatures and insure that every soul finds the path to its ultimate salvation. In the case of most religions, God’s message was usually transmitted through a chosen individual endowed with particular grace, and through him, to a community of the chosen. Historic religions were broadcasted through the spoken and printed word. The personal contact between the anchor person (or people), the prophet, the holly teacher, and his community of listeners, was and remains the preferred method for spiritual encounter. The message of religion is of such nature that it best finds its way to the root of people’s hearts only when a personal dialogue ensues between messengers and listeners. There can be no substitute for the dialogue between an I and a Thou.
On the other hand, some of the critiques of institutionalized and organized religions argue that the motivating factor behind the broadcasting of the gospels is less about pure intent, as it is about colonialism. Under this view, missionizing stems from a cold interest by the ruling classes to preserve, tighten the grip and exert a solid colonial control over the minds, hearths and bodies of the unsuspecting masses. Financial scandals, the spread of messages of racial hate in the guise of religious teachings, well publicize sexual abuse cases, and other such misdeeds, have given a measure of popular credence to these critical views making the task of religious communications all the more difficult. And indeed, the good news and the bad news spread out quickly and widely, and it is less easy to hide misdeeds and moral failures. The public reacts and the teachers are exposed in a manner as was never the case in the past .
Since the advent of electronic medias, such as radio, TV and especially the internet, the method of broadcasting, though not its substance, has changed. The new technologies have created an enormous and portentous moment for religious dialogue. Many religious teachers use these new media with more skill than others, comprehending the relative ease with which one is able to reach out live to vast audiences spread out over the entire span of the world. Apart from geographic reach, it is of great consequence the incredible speed of diffusion. From a dialogical perspective, the possibility of a virtually mediated immediacy is a promise that must be explored to its fullest potential. If dialogue requires immediacy and spatial propinquity, virtual dialogue, not being the same, it is, when properly used, a legitimate form of approximation to the dialogical goal. Face to face teaching can, in a sense, be adapted to the virtuality of the medium and implemented without regard to space and time limitations. The potential is enormous and so is the challenge.
While communities located within delineated and circumscribed physical spaces (such as villages, towns, cities, etc.) are better able to materially help the leaders control the contents of the inter and outer flow of information and symbols, the internet is largely outside of the realm of control. In the smaller communities of the past, the attempt to create shining cities on the hills, cities where only the proper messages, symbols, images and sounds were permitted, where the minds and hearts of the young were protected from outside nefarious influences, was much more plausible. Today the issue of semiotic boundaries has all but almost collapsed. The reality of boundaries has completely broken down making any religious leader, preaching from anywhere in the world, a potential leader of masses in any foreign country. With that, also the entire concept of a national church has been eroded. The control to exposure has become very difficult in this globalized, virtualized world. At the same time, the conflict and competition between religious messages has become heightened and dangerously perilous.
Based on Martin Buber’s Dialogical philosophy, I want to explore how simultaneity and synchronicity (virtual face to face) in internet and other electronic broadcasting, if used in the proper way, can become a tool for the restoration and the advancement of enlightened, peace and conflict resolution dialogues between adversarial religious faiths. I want to describe some implications and applications of Martin Buber’s philosophy for issues related to religious broadcasting and communications. We believe that in a world of multiple conflicts, a Buberian methodology and content ought to be made part of the discourse concerning the nature and role of religious communicative practices. In order to ground our discussion on a concrete application of Buber’s philosophy, this paper will introduce some of the theoretical and practical foundations for an internet and media broadcasting project to be housed at the Martin Buber Center for Dialogical Ecology.
Principles of Dialogical Communications:
We are seeking to implement a broadcasting project on the basis of the operating principles of Dialogical Communications. The general purpose of our broadcasting project is to become a tool for the advancement of world wide dialogue for peace and reconciliation (is dialogue a means or the end). Dialogical Communications is not only a matter of the content of the broadcast but also of the method of broadcasting. Dialogue requires that we view the method of broadcasting as part of the content of what's being broadcasted, and that the content of the broadcast be reflected in the institutional method of broadcasting. Therefore we identify the following four as the operating principles for a dialogical broadcasting project.
1. Dialogical communications are to be approached as a form of relationship. A dialogical relationship is always open, direct, mutual and reciprocal.
2. Dialogical communications ought to be democratic, egalitarian, horizontal and participatory.
3. Dialogical communications ought to be tolerant of otherness, diverse, pluralistic and ecumenical.
4. Dialogical Communications must be non-dogmatic, inquisitive and exploratory.
The term Dialogue, as Martin Buber coined it, represents that realm in which an I encounters a Thou in an immediate and reciprocal basis. This encounter creates for the I and the Thou the new realm of the between. The between, by definition, can only emerge from within a genuine mutual and reciprocal I and Thou relationship. It is in Buber’s between where we can locate the foundations for all ecological and religious ethics. In the between there is no isolated I, there is only the relationship, the dialogue. In contrast to the relational category of I and Thou, Buber also posited the opposite category of the I-It relationship. If I-Thou is characterized by genuine mutuality and reciprocity, I-It is the relationship of utilitarianism, manipulation and commoditization (one sided, monological, even enlightened monologue, as is of particulr relevance to the subject of electronic speech) For Buber there is no I per se, only the I that speaks Thou or the I that speaks It, and in each of these two cases, the I is radically different. The I exists only as part of the dyadic pair of the I-thou or the I-it. For Buber, It relationships are a requirement for individual and societal life, however, the imperative is to endeavor to minimize the realm of the It so as to enable an increase the reach and scope of dialogical relationships.
In Buber’s terms, there are two basic attitudinal categories with regards to the encounter with the other: I-Thou and I-It. There are, for Buber, three different realms of otherness with whom man enters into relationships: the realm of Nature, the realm of Man and the realm of the Spiritual (art). One can related to each of these three realms in either one of the two relational modes, as an I-Thou or an I-It. Relating I-Thou to any one of these three categories of otherness transforms that relationship into a conduit for the insertion of the presence of what Buber calls the Eternal Thou, or God. Eternal Thou does not refer to an ontological category of infinite and everlasting divinity. Eternal Thou is that encounter in which the presence of the other never becomes an It, nor it ever speaks It to its Thou. It is a genuine and “holly” between. For Buber, every I-Thou relationship extends its lines of meeting reaching an encounter with the presence of the Eternal Thou. Encounter with God passes through every dialogical relationship with men, nature and the realm of the spirit. In other words, to approach God as a Thou, rather than an It, we must speak Thou to the world. Since God can never become an It, there can be no relationship with God outside of a dialogical relationship with the world as a whole. In Buber’ terms, an It is generally defined as an object serving a specified utilitarian role or a reified purpose of the user. An It, is an object for use, it is a commodity. In contrast, a Thou refers to a open, non-manipulative, and fully reciprocal relationship. Dialogue is the categorical opposite of relating to the world as a commodity. Speaking Thou is taking a stand against reification, manipulation or exploitation.
For Buber there is a distinction between being an individual and being a person. Personhood emerges only in the context of a genuine dialogical relationship. In the I-It, the I is that of an individual, in the I-Thou, the I is that of a person. According to Buber, both the isolated I and the massified We, are illusory categories of identity. There is only the I of either the I-Thou or the I-It pair. In Buber’s terms however, the I of the I-Thou continuum constitutes genuine personhood and the higher level of ethical relationship. By defining personal identity as emerging only within the context of a dialogical relationship, the nature and character of that relationship assumes a value that goes beyond the demands of the ethical.
The ethics of Buberian dialogue is the same as the ethics of Spinoza’s loving- knowledge of God-Nature. Spinoza’s “amore intellectualis Deus” is the expression or manifestation in the praxis of human existence of the path for a secularly sacred loving ecological relationship. In the same vein, the Psychiatrist Victor Frankl, has also argued that human realization can only be attained through the logos or purpose of self-transcendence. That is, to the extent that the self is oriented not inwards, but dialogically towards the other, it becomes possible for the I to attain true ontological identity. In Buddhism, the concept of compassion approximates this conception of dialogical self transcendence. For Buddhism, the human attitude should introspectively direct itself towards the core of selfhood that lies within, not inside and not outside, but within, and at the same time, from that point of selfhood, direct oneself toward the inter-personal compassionate attitude towards the other. In different terms also Levinas defined personhood in terms of the orientation towards the other. Some criticisms have been lodged against these general concepts of identity. Social Ecologists, like Murray Bookchin, have argued that self-realization, at least as argued by Arne Naess and his Deep Ecology, misses the point by emphasizing the self, a predicate which does not account for the fact that selves are constructions in the wider context of cultural practices. Critics also claim that this type of religious ethics seems to be working out of a Cartesian notion of autonomous selves. It is in this context that Buber's derivation of identity from within relational situations provides a fruitful ecological and religious model of identity. Buber does not work out of an isolated individual I, an I that is able to engage in “enlightened monologues” of self realization through ethical behavior. For Buber the self is a predicate of a relationship and that relationship must be of the I-Thou type. In general, we can say that the intellectual task for religious communications is to incorporate an ethics of self realization through dialogue. (Gabriel Marcel, Teilhard de Chardin, Jaspers, Heidegger, Gadamer, Habermas, Heidegger, M. Bakhtin, Paul Tilich, Reinold Neibhur, Karl Barth, etc.)
Buber attempted to discern the “political” conditions under which non-utilitarianist social relations will acquire a probability of becoming applicable. For that purpose, Buber argued in favor of a “religious socialist” society. Buber introduced social concepts drawn from Gustav Landauer’s libertarian communitarianism in order to exemplify a possible application of dialogical attitudes in the realm of society’s here and now. Not unlike the Mahatma Gandhi in India, Buber argued that the dialogical principle, when applied to the functioning of society as a whole, finds its application in the establishment of autonomous communal societies, themselves federated into larger autonomous cooperatives. For Buber, ecological ethics are grounded on the demand to establish a dialogical community, that is, on the claims that this type of dialogical community imposes on the relational behavior of its members towards each other. To structure a dialogical community it is first required to establish a context of ethical relationships towards the natural world. Ecology is a broader concept than environment, therefore, taking human society as a component of the ecological whole, the first principle of dialogical ecology is that the kind of personal and societal relationships we ought to adopt towards the environment, are, at prima facie, dictated or informed by the kind of inter human-relations that will need to be employed during the course of the operations of that given set of relationships towards the environment. Community precedes environment, but there is no community without environment. If community is the antecedent or a priory fact, then the subsequent fact of ecology follows as logical corollary. For dialogical ecology, our attitude towards nature is informed by the ensuing structure of social relations that it engenders. A Buberian dialogical ecological ethics therefore is predicated by its derivative social relationships. When asked how our relationship to nature ought to function, the answer is that it depends on the requirements or the claims imposed by that relationship on the structuring of relationships within the community. It follows that for the purpose of pursuing a dialogical society, we must first pursue a dialogical relationship to nature. The requirements or claims that the commodification of nature imposes on the relational structure of society, impedes the establishment of genuine dialogical relationships between the members of that society. Other ethical approaches to nature, such as Leopold’s land ethics, the intrinsic or embedded values ethics, Arne Naess’s deep ecology, the Buddhist-Zen sense of awe and respect towards the life of all sentient beings and the majesty of the inanimate natural world, all constitute legitimate approaches to environmental ethics. All are also part of dialogical ethics. However, instead of focusing its attention on the relationships between an individual person and his immediate environment, dialogical ecological ethics grounds its approach on the reciprocal existential dependency and relational interaction between society and nature.
When studying Buber, it is important to make an analytic distinction between different kinds of encounters. Some encounters are dialogical while others may not reach that level. Regardless of that distinction, according to Buber all real life is encounter. It is therefore the approximation to those kinds of encounters where dialogue is made possible that the relational orientation of man should be guided towards. Buber speaks of the narrow ridge through which man must find his way in daily existence. If we picture one shore of the ridge as the Thou and the other as the It, the goal and hope of man is, without fear, to walk through that hard and often disappointing path leading from the shore of the It to the opposite shore of the Thou. For Buber, the orientation towards the Thou is that which alone makes for a life with meaning. Most of the time man finds himself somewhere in between the two shores, this far from the It, and that close to the Thou. The purpose of humankind is to walk through the narrow ridge until reaching that point nearest the shore of the Thou. The increase in the space provided to the Thou means reducing the scope and reach of the realm of the It in all affairs of human life and society. Buber was convinced that a religious socialist society was the best embodiment of his dialogical community. Buber’s Religious Socialism found evidentiary examples in the formation throughout history of different kinds of intentional human associations. Intentional societies are not only face-to-face communities and communes, but also cooperatives of production and consumption as those advocated in the programmes of the so-called utopian socialism, and, more recently, in the model of the Kibbutz, a societal form that for Buber was close to the dialogical programme. A dialogical community is formed in the relation of each person with his fellow person and in the relationship of all persons together towards a living or vital center. Buber saw in the Hasidic community such as model of interconnectedness. I argue that a community’s dialogical ecological ethics, can also constitute that living center around which a dialogical community is able to emerge.
Buber’s dialogical ethics can also be found in Kant’s imperative to treat each individual always as an end, never as a means, or in Buber’s terms, as a Thou instead of on It. Buber spoke out from within the Jewish tradition and his work is steeped in the search for dialogue with other religious traditions.
The Broadcasting Project:
It is in the context of the dialogical imperative, that our broadcasting project was conceived. Our broadcasting project is primarily an internet based program. Our project provides for a threefold dialogical flow in which live simultaneous panels of religious teachers will dialogue amongst themselves, will dialogue with individual questioners, and the questioners will dialogue amongst themselves. The flow of information will be reciprocal and bipolar. The broadcast will operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, featuring an on-call live panel of diverse religious teachers from all major religions and from around the globe. The dialogue will always be focused on a particular subject or topic elicited by a given question posed to the panel. All questions will be simultaneously distributed to and answered by each religious teachers on the panel, affording the questioners a response stemming from all religious perspectives (version: questions posed to the pannel by a moderator and the debate than ensues with occassional questions from the audience). There will be no central location where the teachers will be gathered, but instead we will create a virtual Gathering Hall to which each teacher will be connected through a dedicated server. The teachers on the panel will be connected to each other and to the world outside.
As questions are posed to the sever, a search technology will help categorize, classify, filter and moderate the questions. Questions will pass through the search process according to algorithms that include key words, subjects, names and titles, and delivered simultaneously to each teacher in the panel. Each teacher will then post the answer on the server. All the questions and all the answers will be archived in perpetuity, and each questioner and teacher will be prompted to search previous communications. The site’s archive will become the largest repository of comparative religious dialogue in the world. Questioners will be able to ask questions on all topics of personal, communal, political and theological import. Questions concerning health issues, psychological and physical concerns, emotional states of mind, advice on relationships, guidance on business, spiritual quests, parental counseling, political activism, peace and war, all questions will be accepted and dealt with as each member of the panel gets the messages delivered to their respective screens. As questions arrive, answers will be provided at more or less the same time, offering thus a perspective that is both comparative and global and giving also the teachers on the panel a chance to have a focused conversation with each other. In this process it is hoped that more commonalities and mutual understandings will be found, more agreements rather than discrepancies.
When disagreements are found, we believe that given the nature of this proposed medium, the dialogue amongst the teachers insures the availability of the means for clarification and hopeful resolution. How disagreements are resolved through dialogue is one of the most important goals of this project. Of course, we’re aware of the fact that some issues will not and cannot be resolved. Nonetheless, one of the premises of this project is precisely the need to openly share and deal with disagreements. This project intends to demonstrate that an organized dialogical procedure can and will bring mutual tolerance. It is our belief that the combined effects of this worldwide global panels of dialogue will harness the power needed to prevail in the respect of otherness and in the formation of an attitude of respectful disagreement and peaceful tolerance of diversity. This, after all, is a poly-everything globalized and diverse world and there is no other hope for human and ecological survival than a dialogue in the name of humankind’s higher purposes. The ultimate goal of this project is to make a dialogical contribution to conflict resolution at the level of religious teachers based anywhere around the world. It is our belief that the application of Buberian principles to the broadcasting of religious teachings can serve as an important tool in the struggle to increase peace and conflict resolution in our increasingly globalized and conflicted religious world.
Our project will begin as internet based and will expend into a radio program on the Public Broadcasting System with a simulcast on the internet. The internet session will be on for 24 hours a day with shifts of religious panels changing every few hours. We will also broadcast via local access and cable TV stations. Transcripts of the sessions will be published in journal format and distributed to public libraries and to subscribers around the world.
The implementation of this project will progress in stages. The first stage is for us to embark in the identification and recruitment of recognized, able and willing religious teachers from all faiths, all cultural traditions and from around the world. Teachers must commit themselves to the principles of dialogical communications. In order to do begin the process of recruitment, we first need to identify a worldwide board of directors committed to the realization of a broadcasting project for the advancement of religious peace dialogue. To identify the proper board members and subsequently the proper teachers, we will conduct a world-wide search and engage in intensive research. We will call for nominations and interview candidates. We will actively solicit worldwide nominating referrals. We will also expect that board members will nominate teachers. In addition, we intend to also approach international bodies, institutions and prominent people. We will approach governments, universities, intellectuals, artists, authors, philosophers and NGOs. We will also encourage each religious teacher to nominate a colleague, hopefully, from a different religion with whom they’ve already maintained a sustained dialogue in the past. Our task will be to identify a sufficient number of qualified teachers to operate the site on demand, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Recognizing that teachers may have different levels of prominence within their communities, as well as varied levels of seniority status, we will endeavor to provide an equal match within the panels. As we identify the teachers, training will be provided in the intricacies of the technologies and in the requirements of the communicative principles of the project. We will hire very qualified webmasters and expert communications trainers. Throughout the lunching of the site, we will encourage religious seminars and schools around the world to train their students as potential dialogue teachers and to use our site as a resource for peace and dialogue within their own local communities, in every country of the world. For schools and seminars, the approach we hope to encourage is that of a ministry of dialogue to the world through our internet program. While this recruitment process is under way, we will act to procure the most advanced adequate technology necessary to operate the site. The required technology must be able to provide two separate functions: a search engine to classify and filter incoming questions, and a chat mode that permits for ease of open and public dialogue between the teachers, between teachers and the questioners, and between the questioners amongst themselves. Archival storage and file search technologies will be made available. A very important aspect of this project is to make it free of any charge to the users, and advertisement free. For that purpose we will need to identify sources of basic funding and support. We will hope to obtain funding from philanthropists, foundations, governments and from private memberships around the world. The site will operate strictly as a not-for-profit project devoted to the encouragement and implementation of a cross-religious dialogue for peace, conflict resolution and world-wide reconciliation.
In conclusion, it is our firm belief that a real time live and genuine dialogue, in contrast to the conventional model of time- lapsed debates, coupled with a focused simultaneous engagement with same subjects, one and the same at a time, in contrast with the more frozen conventional multi-thematic approach, holds the promise of creating real human encounters, the encounters that alone can lead to human realization and with it, to world wide peace and reconciliation. By implementing a dialogical communicative project we will be avoiding the many pitfalls of conventional broadcasting. Dialogical communications will provide a creative alternative to the non-democratic, one sided, top-down models of conventional broadcasting. The principles of democracy, mutuality, tolerance and pluralism will be tested in this project. The skills of the webmasters and the wisdom of the elders will make this site a beacon of light unto the nations.