High ideals in a real world;Secondary;Reviews;Religious Education;Books

14th May 1999 at 01:00
TESTING THE GLOBAL ETHIC. Edited by Peggy Morgan and Marcus Braybrooke. International Interfaith Centre amp; World Congress of Faiths. pound;11.99 plus pound;1.60 pamp;p from 2 Market Street, Oxford OX1 3EF. Tel: 01865 202745.

A Zoroastrian, a Baha'i and a Rastafarian join with representatives of the six traditional world religions in this book to respond to a number of directives. These include commitments to a culture of non-violence, to solidarity and a just economic order, to tolerance and truthfulness and to a culture of equal gender rights. They are preceded by a section of responses on, "What does it mean to be human?" and followed by a section on "The Transformation of Life". The book concludes with a response from a non-religious point of view plus a useful section on resources.

The idea for the book emanated from the Declaration Toward a Global Ethic endorsed by the Parliament of the World Religions held in Chicago in 1993. It has been produced now in the context of the overall theme of the Millennium Exhibition, Time to Make a Difference.

There is much worthwhile material here. The book is, of course, an ambitious undertaking and the editors acknowledge that there were a number of tensions, not least arising from complaints that the basic concept was too westernised. This is certainly the case in the Kantian conclusion and surfaces explicitly in some of the Rastafarian and Hindu contributions.

It seemed to me that these latter responses strengthened rather than weakened the book. Particularly in the opening section it was the Hindu response which prevented the whole becoming merely platitudinous. Later sections are rather more robust, but I was still left with the impression that many contributors remained a bit thin on sin, with even the Christian respondent on transformation dwelling on acts of unexpected kindness rather than redemption through suffering and death.

This is a courageous attempt at an impossible task. Only the cynic will denigrate the attempt to reach for ideals, but in reading this book Paul's words constantly surfaced in my consciousness - "The good that I would I do not; the evil that I would not, that I do". Extracting the highest common factor is an admirable task but real religion remains brutally aware of the accompanying reality of the lowest common denominator. Is this the basic difference between personal social and moral education and RE?

Jack Priestley

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