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Freedom to believe must be at heart of society: President

By Sarah Mac Donald - 05 April, 2014

Higgins warns of a return to appalling racism in parts of Europe.

Professor Rabbi Daniel Sperber, Jerusalem; Dr Jane Clements, UK; the Revd Canon Dr Toby Howarth, UK, Secretary for Inter Religious Affairs to the Archbishop of Canterbury; Bishop Suheil Dawani, Jerusalem; Mr Oded Wiener, Director General of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel; the Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Revd Dr Michael Jackson, co-chair of the Anglican Jewish Commission; President Michael D Higgins; Rabbi Rasson Arousi, Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Ono and Acting co-Chair of the Anglican-Jewish Commission; Rabbi David Rosen, Jerusalem (a former Chief Rabbi of Ireland); Dr Clare Amos, Geneva/UK; and Professor Avraham Steinberg, Jerusalem.

Professor Rabbi Daniel Sperber, Jerusalem; Dr Jane Clements, UK; the Revd Canon Dr Toby Howarth, UK, Secretary for Inter Religious Affairs to the Archbishop of Canterbury; Bishop Suheil Dawani, Jerusalem; Mr Oded Wiener, Director General of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel; the Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Revd Dr Michael Jackson, co-chair of the Anglican Jewish Commission; President Michael D Higgins; Rabbi Rasson Arousi, Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Ono and Acting co-Chair of the Anglican-Jewish Commission; Rabbi David Rosen, Jerusalem (a former Chief Rabbi of Ireland); Dr Clare Amos, Geneva/UK; and Professor Avraham Steinberg, Jerusalem.

 

It is very important to recognise the realm of the spiritual and vindicate the fundamental right to religious freedom and belief, President Michael D Higgins has said.

He made his comments in an address to members of the Anglican Jewish Commission of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury who were meeting in Dublin earlier this week for the first time since the Commission’s foundation.

Recalling a recent meeting with the philosopher, Dr Richard Kearney, the President said, “Freedom to believe must lie at the heart of any functioning society.”

He said that in many of his speeches in recent times, he had spoken about the importance of the transcendental.

Elsewhere in his address, he recalled the genocide in Rwanda and then noted that the appalling Genocide in Europe was within the living memory of families belonging to the Jewish community in Ireland.

“We have to remind ourselves that we are witnessing, at the present time, a return in parts of Europe to an appalling racism which we must address,” he warned.

The President added, “In no part of the world, in fact, are there grounds for complacency about the capacity of hatred to occur once people fail to recognise and respect the common vulnerable humanity that binds us to each other and the fragility of the rights that are conferred by belief systems.”

“We have throughout history seen so many stories unfold when different groups of fellow humans allow a destructive and devastating bigotry to be unleashed,” the President said.

His comments were made as the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland expressed its “revulsion and abhorrence” at the delivery of anti-Semitic material to the home and department of Minister for Justice Alan Shatter this week.

The chair of the Council, Maurice Cohen, told the Irish Times that it was ironic this incident should occur on the day following a reception held in Áras an Uachtaráin by President Michael D Higgins to honour the occasion of the eighth meeting of the Anglican Jewish Commission of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury in Dublin.

Elsewhere in his address, President Higgins noted, “we have moved from a time of trading and threatening each other with certainties in matters spiritual to suggesting that we are all at the mercy of a single version of economics.”

Referring to the work of the Anglican Jewish Commission of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, he described the work of the commission as of “great value and particularly in contemporary conditions where so many regions are blighted by conflict and conflict which is often defended through the abuse or invocation of belief system.”

He praised their coming together as members of the different religious traditions in a spirit of sharing, equality and respect and “Recognising the shared humanity which is the heart of spiritual belief.”

“Reflecting on the common ground they share, forms a strong foundation and gives leadership to the development of tolerance, respect and understanding between those who practice or subscribe to the different faiths and belief systems and those who people our fragile planet,” the President said.

“In our interconnected world, it is ever more important that those of different cultures, traditions and religious beliefs come to understand each other.”

He added, “We are very much aware of the terrible consequences that can emerge and that can flow from hatred prejudice and intolerance – the terrible human exclusions that can arise when a secular society considers itself in essence superior to those they regard as the other.”

“We are all challenged at the present time to consider how we define the other. I think the suggestion that we have been born into a race, religion or ethnicity confers any superiority or worse still defines the other as inferior is something we have to bend.”

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