Bangkok, February 12, 1994
Ladies and gentlemen,
A few days ago in India I reiterated an opinion I have often expressed, that after the collapse of colonialism, and later of communism which shared some of the characteristics of colonialism the world has embarked on a new era, an era that is multicultural and multipolar. In all other such epochs in the past, when many different cultures and civilizations existed simultaneously, none of them alone could influence the fate of our planet. The era we are entering today, however, is marked by the profound interrelatedness of all its cultures, because they all exist within the framework of a single global civilization.
Any conflict between these cultures can therefore as could never have happened in times past have a fundamental impact on the fate of humanity as a whole. The great task we face now is finding a way of coexistence among the different cultures and powers of the world that will not threaten the future of the earth. In other words, the challenge facing our time is to create a multicultural and multipolar environment within a single global civilization.
This, however, is easier said than done.
With your permission, I would like to use this occasion, when you have done me the great honor of conferring on me an honorary doctorate from the Chulalongkorn University, to make several observations on that theme.
It cannot be hoped that the mere invention and improvement of mechanisms, technologies, systems, and forms of worldwide cooperation will be enough to save the world from all the dangers threatening it today from conflicts between cultures, ethnic or religious groups, the deepening gulf between the prosperous and the so-called developing countries, the population explosion, to the wide spectrum of ecological dangers we face. Yes, the creation of such systemic means of change is extremely important, but this approach can only be effective if it expresses a new type of thinking, if it is permeated with a new spirit, if it reflects a new ethos. Thought, as we know, always precedes action. This new spirit must grow out of a deep understanding of the broader interconnectedness of human activity, from the awareness of how everything in this world is related to everything else, from the knowledge that whatever anyone does anywhere has consequences, direct or indirect, for everyone. For the first time in its history, humanity finds itself in a situation where it can be demonstrated, in quite specific ways, that human actions have a universal impact.
We may observe, for instance, that although all religions are in essence universalistic, and their God is understood to be the God of everyone, conflicts still arise from religious differences. Many people apparently think that if their God is everyone's God, then those who believe in a different God must be infidels and wrongdoers. Religious universalism, however, must now be understood ecumenically. What must be sought out and emphasized is what is common to all religions. There is much common ground, and that ground must be built on together, while fully respecting everything that makes religions different from one another, because that is a natural consequence of the plurality of the human world. Religious cultures are not better or worse than one another; there are only different cultures, because people are different.
What I say here about religion applies, in another form, to everything else: to diversities of national characteristics, historical and cultural traditions, manners of thinking, ideology, even to the traditional ways in which societies organize themselves. In all of this, a social minimum must be found that is acceptable to everyone and evidently good. Then, through peaceful dialogue, this minimum must be cultivated while fully respecting the differences as well as the equality of all those who belong to those diverse cultures. The time has come for a new global universalism, one that is more modest, but with a greater chance of success than those which have expansively presented themselves as the norm whether to general delight or antipathy for all. …