Four words

In his autobiography, Edy Korthals Altes, a former diplomat, calls out for a collaborative effort, in Europe and elsewhere, to move towards an economic model that is tenable at a global scale. Pointing away from the ego culture, we are guided towards the issues that really matter, such as peace, justice and compassion. According to the Christian gospel, every human being is a child of God. This is the deepest base for human dignity. Religion does not solve the problems of the world, but it points out in the direction of a more just and liveable world. Yet, we must not just stand still in reverence, but engage ourselves towards a more peaceful and solidary global community. We need to be in active solidarity with our suffering fellow human beings. We can substantively contribute to the reorientation of a diseased culture that has lost its equilibrium of matter and spirit. We live in a culture of overstretched individualism and materialism. In the critical situation that we find ourselves, we, Christians, are not caught up in doom and gloom, but carried by a spirit of hope. Life-giving is the expectation of a future where peace and justice will prevail. A fruitful dialogue and cooperation with other religions and well-founded world views can continue to advance peace, justice, and the preservation of creation and nature.

Edy Korthals Altes, after his career as a Dutch diplomat, has been active in many forums on interreligious dialogue and peace. A common creative approach to tackling the core problems in our world, according to Altes, requires a solid basis. This can be found in an experience of reality that can be shared by all, disregarding our different philosophies of life and beliefs. Whether a humanist, agnostic or a religious person, we all live in a threatened world. Each of us bears a responsibility for our fellow human beings and nature. Together we have to find a new course. According to Altes, the foundation for this shared quest can be found in four key words that are recognizable to all of us. These are:

  • Interconnectedness
  • Vulnerability
  • Urge to live
  • Awe

The first two are based on hard facts. The latter, Urge to live, is vital to every person. The fourth word, Awe, addresses a fundamental attitude that, though under pressure in our culture, potentially has a presence in every person. Naturally, the rooting of these words will be different for a humanist or agnostic than for a person of religious faith. But the values that can be deduced from them are the same to everyone. Some of these are: responsibility, respect or reverence for life, peace, justice, solidarity, and moderation.

The realization of the interrelatedness of the four key words is necessary for the dynamic impulse in the cultural transformation that is needed. The words determine the condition humaine. Each of the four words points us in the right direction. However, the impulse of the cultural transformation comes from a clear perception of the interrelationship of the words. This provides a foundation for collective thinking about a humane and sustainable world.

The necessary reorientation of our culture could be strengthened by cooperation. This could also be the case for science and religion. That they both need each other has been strongly stated by Einstein: ‘Religion without science is blind, but science without religion is lame’. Both aim for the betterment of human wellbeing. Religion calls for ‘turning around from the wrong pathways’. Science provides analysis and alternatives for these paths.

Excerpt from: Korthals Altes, Edy, Van havik tot vredesduif, Diplomaat tijdens de Koude Oorlog (ASPEKT, 2017).

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