Statement of Concern and Common Understanding
Statement of Concern and Common Understanding
Humanity stands in relation to the rest of creation differently from all other creatures and things. (Genesis 2:7) (Qur’an, 2:31; 17:70; 16:78; 55:3-4) Blessed and burdened by a contemplative intelligence embracing both mind and moral discernment, each human person has a destiny shaped by free will and intentional action. (Compendium 114, 131) (Qur’an, 6:161-164; 18:46; 33:71; 84:6; 103:3) Each individual is called to work and service in response to that which gives purpose. (Genesis 9:1; Laborem Exercens) (Qur’an, 2:30; 6:165; 11:61; 51:56-57) The good things that are and can be done in such service can serve as the basis for collaboration in seeking better lives for all human persons everywhere.
Humanity, by reason of its creation, serves a purpose. Human persons were endowed with stewardship capacities to live and die in the midst of an unfinished work started but not yet finished by the Creator of all the heavens and the earth and everything therein. (Genesis 9:1; Laborem Exercens, Centesimus Annus 32) (Qur’an, 2:30; 6: 165; 11: 61; 35: 39)
Human persons so share in the powers and hopes of the Creator, specially endowed to live by the loving gift of His spirit within them, that each human person has a profound association with dignity, an association that cannot be expunged or terminated. (Qur’an, 38: 82-83; 7:16-18; 4:117-120)
This dignity universally elevates the human person and gives moral direction to our lives. We are called to honor that dignity within ourselves and within others.
But pride in self, contumacious stubbornness, envy and fear, inhabit the human mind and heart as well, giving rise to thoughts and acts in derogation of our own dignity and that of others. (Centesimus Annus, 17) (Qur’an, 2:204-206; 10:75; 20:78-79; 26:18-29; 28:38-41 & 76-78; 97:6-13) In accepting these tendencies, we elevate the merely human over the divine and put ourselves at odds with the well-being of creation and the end to which we are called by our Creator, which is his service and not our own.
Embracing human dignity has consequences. The least among us is worthy and may claim rights and powers to act in accordance with reason and conscience. (Matthew 25; Compendium 186, 189; Centesimus Annus 13, 58) (Qur’an, 2:110, 177, 254, 261-262, 265-268, 273-278; 9:60, 57:7; 71; 24;55-56; 27:3; 58:12-13) We should act so that all in the boat will arrive safely in port. The dignity of others around us – both near and far – calls us to moral relationships of solidarity and justice with them. (Compendium 193) (Qur’an, 4:58, 127; 5:8; 6:152; 16:76, 90; 49:9; 60:8) Justice demands a role for them; they too may aspire to right action and a share in the service of the Creator. (Centesimus Annus 17) (Qur’an, 5:8; 6:152; 16:76, 90; 49:9; 60:8)
Since the source of our dignity is a mission of service, our talents, our wealth, our powers are held in trust for a larger good. (Compendium 174, 177) (Qur’an, 5:48; 33:72; 57:7) We are most correctly stewards in all that we do. (Compendium 177) (Qur’an, 6:165; 43:32) Our stewardship over self is most necessary to prevent unfaithful disruption of the moral sense. Especially our share of material wealth comes with responsibilities to those around us; we have benefited from those who have gone before and need to provide for those who will come after. (Centesimus Annus chapter 4) (Qur’an, 43:32; 24:33; 59:7)
Living in concert with the demands of human dignity is a work of dedication and service; it is neither idle play nor selfish indulgence. (Qur’an, 2:25, 82, 277; 3:57; 4:57, 122; 5:9; 7:42; 10:9; 13:29; 18:30, etc.) Work opens the path to experience of our own dignity and to our ability to honor the dignity of others. Work is relational and so deeply moral. Work challenges us to go beyond the comfortable and the accustomed; work is a struggle for meaning and the achievement of human dignity in the eyes of our Creator. (Laborem Exercens) (Qur’an, 9:205; 84:6; 90:4; 99:7-8) Work without faith, therefore, can be mean and selfish. Work with faith, however, brings us to our proper stewardship and is not disconnected from our salvation hopes and possibilities. (James 2:17) (Qur’an, 2:25, 82, 277; 3:57; 4:57, 122; 5:9 etc.)
Work expresses our free will and our choices as to the application of our dignified powers and thoughts. In using freedom, we open ourselves to the possibility of work.
Moreover, faith alone without works lacks substance and falls short of our stewardship responsibilities within creation.
Yet the dimension of faith – revealed in our understanding of morality, our capacity for ethics, our upholding of social standards – calls us to work as we apply ourselves to the challenges of living in the created world. (Laborem Exercens 6) (Qur’an, 2:25, 82, 277; 3:57; 4:57, 122; 5:9; 95:6; 103:1-3 etc.)
Our potential and capacity for work and for achievement of our proper dignity in the world come from our family. Family gave us life and family gave us identity and our first experiences of solidarity. The calling of men and women in family, the giving of life as our Creator gave life to us, sustains through time human hopes and human responsibilities to our Creator. (Compendium, chapter 5) (Qur’an, 4:1; 6:98; 7:189; 30:21)
The dignity of each human person, no matter to what degree realized by such person, ties us all in one inter-connected destiny within creation. The spark of dignity draws forth compassion, which embodies the loving kindness and mercy of the Creator who seeks a universal benefit, making no invidious and destructive distinctions within the human family which is one from the perspective of its role and purpose in the world. (Compendium chapter 3) (Qur’an, 2:213; 4:1; 10:19)
Human dignity drives out chauvinisms of all kinds. Where man is wolf to man, it is man’s doing and not our Creator’s responsibility or intent. No racism or other dream of sectarian or ethnic superiority can stand before the fact of universal human dignity. (Compendium, chapter 3) (Qur’an; 2:213; 4:1; 10:19)
And yet, we human persons, not fully possessed of Godlike mercy and justice, do each other harm in many ways. We stand in need of guidance and teaching. (Qur’an, 2:38; 3:3-4; 6:71 & 88-90; 7:100; 17:97; 39:37; 67:1-3; 96:1-3 etc.) All teachings that help us overcome our limitations of pride are a blessing to creation and fulfill the will of our Creator. (Compendium, chapter 2) (Qur’an, 79:37-41; 96:6-14)
Such beliefs and practices – such a binding to each other and to the transcendent, such a way of life – are to be admired and emulated. (Qur’an, 6:162-163; 8:24; 30:30) That which derogates from such a working out of faith in the world is as dangerous to our dignity as is a sickness compromising our health.
Teachings are most needed in a human community overcome by material concerns and secular suspicions of religion. (Laborem Exercens, 7; Centesimus Annus 36, 37, 41) (Qur’an, 3:14; 18:32-38; 30:41; 57:20; 102:1) Where religiosity, however, devours our capacity for having dignity of self and respecting the dignity of others, such conformity to sectarian biases turn us away from our highest and best nature. (Mathew 23:23; Compendium 144, 153) (Qur’an, 49:11-12)
We recognize that gratitude is due to our Creator as well as praise for the opportunity we have been given to serve and to enhance the meaning of our lives. Cultivating both the sense of service and acts of service within ourselves and among all peoples will bring together the human family in mutual respect, cooperation, with peace and justice in all the world.
Conveners of the Dialogue and Co-authors of the Above Statement:
Ibrahim Mohamed Zein, Dean of the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization, International Islamic University Malaysia
Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, former Archbishop of Washington, DC
Prof. Abdullah Al-Ahsan, International Islamic University Malaysia
Stephen B. Young, Global Executive Director, The Caux Round Table
John Paul II Encyclical: Laborem Exercens Encyclical: Centissimus Annus
Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace: Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana; Wash.: D.C.: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2004)