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Workshop on a cross-cultural dialogue on freedom of religion, 17-18 Oct. 2013, Trento, Italy


 Peter ZHAO Jianmin


At first point, please allow me to express my true thanks to organizers of this workshop for inviting me to be among with you. Your invitation provided me an opportunity, not only of listening such finely constructed concept paper which is standing on a very highly elevated altitude, but also of seeing the historically magnificent place of Trento which, due to its significant ecumenical council in the Sixteenth century, has already had impact on the concept that we are debating in today's workshop. Many thanks to organizers of the workshop and Prof. Silvio Ferrari and Prof. Fabio Petito.

The first point is not for giving thanks alone. It can also bring us to a concept of 'multi-religion' or ideas of 'pre-secular' . Trento Council experienced a division of the Church and re-intermingling of relations of State and Religions. I believe that, in the eyes of Western society, the Catholic Church and the other Christian denominations are not considered as different religions. Nevertheless, that is not in the eyes of Chinese society. China has five legally recognized religions, be aware, it is five religions, which is Buddhist, Taoism, Catholic Church, Protestant Christianity and Muslim. That is the reason that in the eyes of Chinese society we can consider the Sixteenth century started a concept of 'multi-religion', implicitly or explicitly. I do think there is no need for explanation of reorganizing of relations of State and Religions upon we understood the concept of religions in the eyes of Chinese society. Taking this context in consideration, comparable with the ideas of so-called 'postsecular', can we not have the ideas of saying that the Sixteenth century begins 'pre-secular' in the sense of social transformation and together with political crisis at that time?

It is true that, as the concept paper has described, the Western approach of the notion of freedom of religion and belief much more focused on 'conscience and belief', which is expressed by the paper as 'an inner and private dimension'. However, religion and belief as well as its freedom cannot be simply and lazily put in the field of 'conscience and belief' or 'on an inner and private dimension. There must be more. The distinction of the concept of 'private' and 'public', or forum internum and forum externum, mainly is the dualist approach which almost has no foundation in the Chinese philosophical mentality. The basic mentality of Chinese philosophy begins from the point of 'unity of heaven and humanity'(Tian Ren He Yi, ˺һ). This concept could be seen as an ideal dream as well as an reality of relations of human nature and divine nature. In this context, one needs to remember that the notion of 'heaven' in Chinese philosophical concept has both harmonized meaning of nature and divine. Therefore, if the word 'religiosity' concerning human nature be approached, one can never drive religion and belief as well as its freedom to a simple area of 'inner and private dimension' or of 'conscience and belief' from the totality of human life. This totality of human life cannot be divided just like a black and white. Life has full of splendid colors! As essence of human nature, religiosity requires not only the 'private' human life, but also even particularly for the 'public' human life. Of course, how religiosity as actions and behaviors could be manifested or in which manner could be practiced in a public human life, it is indeed need to be studied within local as well as global context. This would follow the steps stipulated and presented in the concept paper of this workshop.

It is true that modern concept of freedom of religion and belief has its focus on conscience and belief. However, if 'religiosity' would be considered as an essence of human nature, there would have much more to study besides the concept of conscience. It is evident that conscience should be respected and kept as inner and private dimension of human life. Nevertheless, 'religiosity', which concerned with human nature, should therefore connect with human dignity which lies its authentic foundation on the concept of imago Dei, because without God, human dignity would be simply declined to a group of atoms. If human beings are leaning on this line to imago atomi, not vice versa to the line of imago Dei, there will be no freedom of religion and belief at all since religious freedom is grounded not only on the human conscience and belief but also on the human dignity, which profoundly rooted in the concept of imago Dei. One may say the 'varieties of secularism', nevertheless leaning to the concept of imago atomi in a modern society could be the core of that secularism. Therefore, at the final line of the concept of imago atomi, normativity, either religious one or secular one, in Western society or in Asian society, can emerge only as limitation for religious freedom, even for conscience. The reason is that normativity has to be enacted in some principle values. Then, the question could be the following. Can we truly build a set of 'secular' principles listed by the concept paper as 'liberty, equality, tolerance, democracy' without the fruit of the Spirit which is listed by St Paul in his letter to Galatians as 'love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness' (5:22)?

This may lead to the three different patterns listed in the concept paper regard to State-Religion relations. If I may provide certain principles for conceiving and structuring normativity for State-Religion relations, I would follow the fruit of the Spirit listed by St Paul to say: One needs to love, to be faithful and to enjoy the traditions one is living, although one may not be so delightful with some of its elements. Without that traditions one could not be the present person as he or she is existing now. At same time, one must try to be kind, to be peaceful, to be patient and to be generous to both traditions that one is living in present and that one may face or has encountered. As a Chinese catholic, who truly accepts and loves both traditions of Chinese cultural and Catholic belief, I put 'love' in the front of the principles instead of 'equality'. Of course, that does not mean we should not seek equality, but it does mean the phrase of Caritas in veritate. Therefore, whatever different patterns regard to State-Religion relations could be, its basic principle for conceiving and structuring normativity should be Caritas in veritate, not others, even not its contrariety of 'truth in love'. The difference between the principles of Caritas in veritate and 'truth in love' is significant. We need to be careful of them.

Last but not the least, many thanks to your kindness, patience and generosity on providing me this opportunity to be with you and to be in Trento.