In praise of religious harmonyOn the occasion of Buddha’s Birthday yesterday, voices calling for religious harmony were heard across the country. Leaders of major religions - including the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK), the Catholic Church, and Won Buddhism - all gathered in an event organized by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism to celebrate the 2,555th anniversary of Buddha’s birth. The head of the Korea Muslim Federation also participated in the event for the first time since its foundation in 1964.
Considering such diversity and compatibility in the religious community, Korea can now be called a mature country in terms of religious reconciliation. One can hardly find other countries where Buddhists, Protestants, Won Buddhists and other people of other religions not only coexist peacefully, but also prosper. Lately, Islam is also taking root in Korea as the number of migrant workers increases. While the rest of the world suffers from religious conflict, Korea appears to have established a successful multi-religious society.
Yet we cannot rule out the possibility that latent religious strife could surface. Particularly after President Lee Myung-bak was inaugurated three years ago, friction between the Buddhist community and the Christian community has been deepening, as seen by the absence of leaders of the conservative Protestant Church - of which Lee is a member - at yesterday’s events.
The NCCK is a congregation of liberal and open-minded churches among the Protestant community.
Harmony and dialogue between religious organizations is intrinsically difficult. Religious organizations tend to take exclusive and absolutist approaches in their pursuit of “ultimate truths.” Instead, they should acknowledge their differences and embrace their counterparts.
Above all, religious leaders should maintain an open-minded attitude toward other religions. The day before Buddha’s Birthday, a documentary titled “The Chair of the late Venerable Beopjeong” was shown at Myeongdong Catholic Cathedral, in return for the Jogye Order’s screening of a film commemorating the passing of Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan.
That is the legacy of two respected religious leaders who devoted their lives to religious harmony. “Peace arrives when you admit your differences,” the secretary general of the Jogye Order said in his speech celebrating Buddha’s Birthday yesterday.
Religious leaders should keep his words in mind.