The history of the past decade contains many examples of human suffering and conflict that may fairly be laid at the feet of certain religious people and their understanding of how religion plays a role in their lives. From the tragedy of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 in the United States (and similar attacks all over the world since then), to the sexual abuse scandals among clergy, to the initiation and maintenance of war between countries of historically religious character, the nature of the part played by religion in the search for peace and social justice if often viewed as at least ambiguous if not detrimental to many observers. This is nothing new, of course. The long history of religious wars, conquests, schisms and inquisitions has in fact been a scandalous and self-contradictory factor in the decision of many people to reject outright the message of hope held out by the religions or, at best, to only pay lip service to it. This kind of false witness to the power of religion is responsible in a large part for the recent spate of angry neo-atheist authors writing about the delusions of the religious world view. Apart from arguments being made from the basis of a positivistic appeal to a lack of empirical evidence for religious beliefs, many of these authors tend to excoriate religion with a long list of the evils religion has brought into the world (as for example Sam Harris' "Letter to a Christian Nation"). While it might be objected that such listings tend to overlook both the many positive impacts religion has had on human culture (hospitals, universal education, ending slavery and fighting for civil/human rights) and the incomparable history of oppression, torture and genocide that has occurred in many twentieth century experiments in officially atheistic statecraft (Nazism, Stalinism, etc.), none-the-less, religious history does not often leave room for boasting about a better way of being human or of creating better bonds of community.
And yet, religion can not be avoided in any attempts to pursue peace and social justice among the people of the earth. Religion has failed to disappear as predicted by Marx, Freud, Nietzsche or any of the other Enlightenment theorists who tended to view religion as a crutch that would be thrown away as scientific knowledge progressed. Between just the two major religions we are considering at this conference, more than two billion people continue to orient their lives (at varying degrees of depth and commitment) around the meaning they find in Christ or the Koran. It is precisely because these and other religions appeal to the heart (to the totality of the person in their lived human experience) as well as to the mind that they have such a great influence on how people will actually decide how to live their lives for good or ill. Any attempt to create a program for world peace that fails to recognize the fundamental influence of religion on the lives of those who will be asked to cooperate in such a peace will be missing the chance to integrate the spiritual power necessary to legitimate and sustain the change in consciousness required for true peace.
Hans Kung is a Catholic priest and theologian who has devoted the past thirty years of his very prolific and influential career to these questions about the place of religion and religions in the quest for world peace. In the early part of his career he served as a special advisor to the German cardinals at the second Vatican Council. He went on to become perhaps the most well known theologian of the last half of the twentieth century due to his in depth and best-selling explorations of Christian history and theology, the foundations and rationality for belief in God, the nature of the Church and many other key issues related to Christian belief presented in such a way as to be accessible to serious modern readers outside of the theological faculties. Eventually, the controversies some of his writings stirred up within the Roman Catholic hierarchy led to the withdrawal of Kung's license to teach as a "Catholic" theologian at the University of Tubigen in 1979. …