TEHRAN - Former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami has said the essence and nature of religions are the same and minor differences should not prevent friendly relations between members of different religious groups.
Religious leaders should patiently learn the way to reach agreements and invite all the world to peace, security, and coexistence, Khatami said at the Religion in the Modern World conference in Tehran on Monday which has brought together many dignitaries including former EU commissioner Romani Prodi, and former UN chief Kofi Annan.
The conference was held to review the relationships between religion and globalization, modernity, democracy, peace, and justice.
To assess the place of religion in the modern world, two questions must be answered, namely: "What do we mean by contemporary world? And what is religion?" Khatami observed.
The contemporary world can be regarded as the "modern world in which Western people have lived for centuries and which has affected non-Western people," he added.
Some people believe that the West has passed through modernism and entered postmodernism, but "the fact is that although postmodernism has made devastating critiques of modernism, it has not been able to create a new world," Khatami said.
"What is conspicuous in the modern world is man's focus on his autonomous wisdom, which, with no metaphysical assistance, is regarded as the sole source of cognition and the wisdom of life."
He pointed to the claims made by Westerners over the centuries, especially in the 1700s and 1800s, about the superiority of modernism, adding, "Today, at the beginning of the third millennium, centuries after the advent of modernism, not only has that conceit and optimism faded away, but has also made the modern world face many uncertainties and threats. As a result, we (now) see few signs of that self-confidence and optimism."
When God is removed from the minds and lives of human beings, even if they make great achievements, their lives will not be satisfying or peaceful, Khatami noted.
"If this situation continues, it will lead to nihilism or will promote and intensify the current nihilism. As a result, the foundation of the life of human beings will collapse in the devastating storm of nihilism... and all vestiges of modern civilization will also disappear."
He defined religion as "what God has sent down to guide man and make his life meaningful in this world and to open paths to eternal and transcendent felicity," adding, "The essence and content of all divine religions are the same."
Khatami, who is also the director of the Dialogue Among Civilizations Center, said perhaps God sent so many messengers in order to rid religions of impurities.
Religion can help humanity at critical moments in history without ruining the positive achievements of human civilization, he added.
"What is catastrophic today is the lack of... the very common essence of religions. (Different) ceremonies, which are respectable in their own right, are signs of the superficial differences among civilizations which should not hinder genuine unity and friendship among the followers of various religions."
Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan and former Norwegian prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik also attended the conference.
Annan said the current global problem is not the Bible or the Quran, but rather how certain circles are misinterpreting them and using violence to attain their political aims.
Bondevik praised the organizers of the conference for their effort to bring various religions and cultures closer together.
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