When Kofi Annan accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 2001, just three months after the dread 9/11, he cited the religious origins of our idea of interdependence—of the fact that we human beings are both individual and particular in our beliefs and practices and, at the same time, universal in our connections to each other, acknowledging that we are brothers and sisters or at least cousins in our humanity. Let’s think “both/and” rather than “either/or.”
Here is what Annan said:
“In every great faith and tradition one can find the values of tolerance and mutual understanding. The Qur’an, for example, tells us that “We created you from a single pair of male and female and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other.” Confucius urged his followers: “when the good way prevails in the state, speak boldly and act boldly. When the state has lost its way, act boldly and speak softly.” In the Jewish tradition, the injunction to “love thy neighbor as thyself,” is considered to be the very essence of the Torah.
This thought is reflected in the Christian Gospel, which also teaches us to love our enemies and pray for those who wish to persecute us. Hindus are taught that “truth is one, the sages give it various names.” And in the Buddhist tradition, individuals are urged to act with compassion in every facet of life.
Annan goes on to say: “Each of us has the right to take pride in our particular faith or heritage. But the notion that what is ours is necessarily in conflict with what is theirs is both false and dangerous. It has resulted in endless enmity and conflict, leading men to commit the greatest of crimes in the name of a high power.”
The establishment of Interdependence Day on September 12, 2003 was an effort to move beyond the legacy of doubt and fear—and, yes, hatred of “the other” that was one of the inevitable legacies of 9/11. We aimed to create a new commemorative occasion—a time to reflect on the reasons for the kind of discontent, disaffection and anger that led to the wanton murder of thousands of innocent people, and to commit ourselves as individuals and citizens to try to understand and address the problem that we human beings have with “others.” It is otherness that we must get over, in a sense. Though are differences are profound, so is our inescapable interdependence. So we must learn to live with each other. Whether this is a matter of faith and religious belief, of civic responsibility or just good old American pragmatism, it’s what we must teach and live in the 21st century. We have simply seen too much violence and savagery in our lifetime perpetrated in contempt for the other. Can we stop the useless, hapless murder which is sometimes committed in the name of religious as well as political differences?
You religious leaders have the golden opportunity to be carriers of the message of interdependence. You have a commitment, I think, to fostering peace and understanding among people, and you have constituents, congregations who gather to pray together and listen to your messages, mostly on a weekly basis. While I hope that you might be preaching tolerance and understanding every week, my proposal is a modest one: that you make interdependence the subject of at least one sermon in September, preferably the Sabbath closest to September 12. Or, if you are willing to go further, you might even devote the whole month of September to interdependence. For example, the first week you could give your own interdependence sermon, based on your own thoughts and beliefs, or inspired by a sermon of Dr. Martin Luther King, a text from Abraham Heschel or some other proponent of peace and justice on earth; the second week you might discuss with your congregation the Declaration of Interdependence; the third, you might invite a pastor of a different faith to your pulpit and on the fourth, conduct a culminating interfaith panel discussion.
In my view, preaching the moral implications of the realities of our interdependence is a sacred responsibility—as sacred. I would argue, as celebrating and continuing in your particularity. We humans are both independent and interdependent. We have the capacities for both and we must cultivate both. I urge you to use your pulpit for these dual and complementary ends.
When several colleagues and I decided to create an Interdependence Day, we discerned that it is only through institutions that a new acknowledgement of our interdependence as human beings should be the principle by which we live—leaving no one behind—no one excluded. This is at once easier than ever—as we are in touch through communication and information technologies with virtually (no pun intended) everyone in the world, and, at the same time, more difficult, since the closer encounters with nations and peoples that are very different from each other can also cause new fears that increase our xenophobic tendencies. It is through our institutions—civic, cultural, religious and educational—that we can learn the ways to live in the increasingly interconnected world of the 21st century. And among institutions, none, I would argue, is more suited to the task than religion.
In the past several years we have experienced a coarsening of our discourse in the political realm—demonizing the other instead of disagreeing civilly and attempting to arrive, through compromise, at consensus. I think we need to speak out against that. It is not the American way, and it is not the spiritual way to live together in democratic harmony.
We do have some tools that might be helpful in preparing for the interdependence mission. There is the Interdependence Handbook, which some of you might have in your possession already—and The Pluralist Paradigm, which was published in 2006, which I coedited with Patrice Brodeur, who is a professor of religious studies at the University of Montreal.
Meantime I’d like to have your views on interdependence and to ask whether or not the idea fits into your own world view and what you wish to impart to your congregants.