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Participants of the Second Christian-Taoist Colloquium held at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd. Photos: ArchProductions

Christopher Khoo

Why is Christian and Taoist dialogue important today? What do we hope to achieve through this dialogue?

These questions were posed by Bishop Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID), during the Second Christian-Taoist Colloquium held from Nov 5-7.

Speaking to 76 Christian and Taoist scholars and practitioners at an interreligious dialogue at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, Bishop Ayuso noted that many of the problems today such as terrorism, unemployment and food and water security, transcend national boundaries and cannot be resolved by any one country acting alone.

“We need a ‘global ethics’ that brings together the universal values and norms that for centuries have formed the patrimony of human experience,” he said in his keynote address at the event organised by PCID, the Archdiocese of Singapore, and the Taoist Federation of Singapore (TFS).

The theme of the colloquium was “Christian and Taoist Ethics in Dialogue”. Representatives of other religions
also attended the event.

Bishop Ayuso noted that both Christianity and Taoism share “a patrimony of moral values common to all human beings. The religious and philosophical wisdom of both traditions have contributed to shape civilizations and cultures.”

He urged the participants, who came from Singapore, Malaysia, China, South Korea, Taiwan, France, Switzerland, and the Vatican, to “work together to make our world a better place”.

A total of 36 local and international speakers shared their views on various aspects of the theme.

Bishop Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and Mr Tan Thiam Lye, Chairman of the Taoist Federation (Singapore).

Master Karine Martin, Chairman of the French Daoist Association, said that if religions such as Taoism and Christianity are to help solve society’s problems, they should share their spiritual teachings on calming the minds and hearts of people.

According to Taoism, man is born good, but society’s emphasis on over-consumption and competition, leads him down the path of fear and competitiveness, said Master Martin.

For people to be reconnected to their original “benevolent nature”, they must overcome their fear of lacking material sufficiency, which very often drives one to competition, lies and other undesirable acts, she said.

Master Li Ji, Deputy Secretary General of the Shanghai Taoist Association, concurred. Suffering results when “you desire things you cannot get”, he said. Much of the world’s crises such as the energy crisis and conflicts between countries are “caused by greed”.

Fr Henry Siew, a lecturer at the Catholic Theological Institute of Singapore and St Francis Xavier Seminary, noted that Jesus spoke of the “kingdom values” such as mercy, compassion, generosity and forgiveness.

“The ethical teaching of Jesus is not just for personal good, it has a natural overflow to society. A good person spontaneously would care for those around him and seek the common good of society,” said Fr Henry.

Msgr Philip Heng, the Archdiocese’s Vicar-General for Interreligious Relations, shared that in the context of today’s “morally relativistic, secular world”, Christians believe that what is needed for spiritual development and to live a meaningful and fulfilling life is to seek the will of God as revealed through Jesus.

At the end of the colloquium, a final statement was read out expressing participants’ desire for further collaboration (see story below).

Participants said they found the event enriching. Ms Helen Choo, a parishioner of the Church of the Holy Spirit, noted that both Christianity and Taoism “have a very strong element of service to the community” and collaboration can start from working for the good of society.

Master Han Xiao said she found the colloquium “really good” but suggested that future dialogues be held for the laypeople of both religions. “It’s very important for them,” she said.

The colloquium’s programme also included cultural and interreligious visits to the Taoist Kew Ong Yah Temple, the Catholic Church of the Transfiguration, and the Harmony in Diversity Gallery developed by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
The first such colloquium was held in Taipei in 2016.

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Collaboration for both to continue, says joint statement

The Second Christian-Taoist Colloquium has issued a seven-point statement which, among others, recognised that the present day’s crisis of ethics requires a rediscovery of universal values based on social justice, integral ecology, as well as the dignity of human life at every stage and circumstance.

It affirmed that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) “remains a shared fundamental expression of human conscience for our times and offers a solid basis for promoting a more just world”.

The other points in the joint statement acknowledged that the Colloquium has helped to strengthen their bonds of friendship and nurture their desire for further collaboration. Participants shared their concerns and hopes for the future.

They affirmed that because of the fundamental ethical teachings of the Christian and Taoist traditions to do good and avoid evil, that “no one can escape the moral responsibility of transforming unjust socio-economic, political, cultural, religious and legal structures”.

They also believe in the capacity of the two religious traditions to inspire a multi-faceted response to the current challenges. Therefore, together they identified the need to improve the methods of communication of their traditions and stories in a language that is easily understandable.

They also believe that families, educational institutions, and religious communities are places of spiritual and moral formation where today’s youth can learn to shape tomorrow’s world into a better place.

They noted that the interpersonal and scholarly exchanges have enabled them to work together to shape the ethical frameworks needed for the common good of this and future generations.