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Hans Kung At FIU

Theologian offers a Golden Rule for world peace

By James D. Davis
Religion Editor

December 16, 2002

Peace on Earth in our lifetime? Just maybe.

Peace on Earth in Hans Kung's lifetime?

Well, the famed theologian will turn 75 in March. But no retirement for him. He acts as if he can achieve peace before he leaves the planet.

"I have to speed up," Kung says from his home in Germany, shortly before a scheduled talk in Miami on what he calls a "Global Ethic."

"I still hope to see peace, and not the terrible war mentality we have now," says Kung. "Maybe in heaven. But it would be better on Earth."

Kung, once known as a dissident Catholic theologian who questioned papal infallibility, has lately turned his efforts toward promoting a single standard of right and wrong that all faiths and nations can agree on. It's the only way to change the atmosphere of violence that seems to be stealing over nations, he believes.

"It is not enough to have more police," Kung says. "If the hearts of people change, the institutions will change."

Kung, who divides his time between his Global Ethic Foundation and the University of Tubingen, will speak at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Florida International University. His themes will then be discussed by a panel of area scholars and religious leaders.

The Swiss-born Kung's appearance will mark yet another coup for FIU, which has hosted several religious big names in recent years. The university heard from the Dalai Lama, then Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 1999.

It's all part of an effort to bring spiritual values to public discussions.

"A university is as much about values as skills," says Nathan Katz, FIU's chairman of religious studies, who will be one of the panelists. "We can't let political beliefs drive everything."

What they'll be discussing is a set of principles that Kung says lie at the heart of all religions: not to steal, lie, murder or abuse people sexually. Underlying those are a basic reverence for life and the Golden Rule.

He says a common moral ground is needed to halt the world's many crises -- not just the threats of war and poverty, but also spiritual maladies like fanaticism and xenophobia.

"If there are problems in the Middle East, it's because people murder," Kung says. "And if there are scandals on Wall Street, it's because people lie and steal. It should be made clear that there are standards on which everyone agrees. And that they are not new inventions, but part of our religious heritage."

First drawn up in 1990, his global ethic preaches the fundamental "dignity" of each human being, regardless of gender, race, social standing or other condition. It broadens basic commandments to broad modern concepts. "Thou Shalt Not Kill," for instance, translates into promoting a "culture of nonviolence" -- even toward plants and animals.

Since then, Kung's approach has seen a steady march of acceptance.

In 1993, he was asked to craft his statement for the wide-ranging Parliament of the World's Religions. The leaders re-endorsed it six years later at their millennial gathering.

In 1997, he got 30 former heads of state to endorse a "Declaration of Human Responsibilities." The list included Helmut Schmidt of Germany, Pierre Trudeau of Canada and former President Jimmy Carter.

And last year, after the Sept. 11 attacks, Kung was appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Anan to write a manifesto for dialogue among nations, called "Crossing the Divide."

Kung is currently organizing a traveling exhibit on a global ethic, based on one that has stood at U.N. headquarters. The 12 tableaus would show the world's major religions, plus the six ethical commandments.

"I'm surprised that the idea has made such progress in a dozen years," Kung says with elation.

He hopes other nations will follow the example of his homeland, where 120,000 pamphlets have been printed for school children. Also, a German-language series of TV films has been produced, highlighting the major religions, plus the six ethical commandments.

Kung has even persuaded Tubingen itself to sponsor lectures on global ethics: one by English prime minister Tony Blair, the other by Mary Robinson, a U.N. high commissioner. Secretary-general Anan is scheduled for next year.

Ironically, although his own church doesn't want to hear Kung, several of the FIU panelists will be Catholic educators: Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin of Barry University, Joseph Iannone of St. Thomas University and Father Patrick O'Neill of the Archdiocese of Miami.

Also taking part will be Rabbi Mitchell Chefitz of Miami's Temple Israel, FIU provost Mark Rosenberg and FIU religion professor Terry Rey.

Appealing as they may be, Kung's approach has its critics. Among them, surprisingly, is FIU's Katz.

Katz says the global ethic statement is laden with a liberal Western mind-set -- for instance, the talk of "a transformation of consciousness" and "a just economic order." He adds that the statement draws support from religious liberals, but not conservatives.

"The debate is not interfaith anymore," Katz says. "You've got to establish a dialogue with traditionalists in your own religion. That's the hardest thing."

Not that he thinks a global ethic is a bad idea. Just that it needs more work, with more minds.

"You don't have to agree with people; otherwise, what do you have to talk about? If they come away from the panel talk realizing that everyone is not an echo of themselves, that's great progress."

James D. Davis can be reached at

Copyright © 2002, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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