We at GD like to fret about examples of badly joined-up global governance wherever we can find them. Climate change, security, trade… and now religion. The latest English-language edition of Internationale Politik (which happens to contain a small rant by GD’s Korski and Gowan on crisis management) includes an enjoyable piece about how the Pope isn’t using his global leverage. But at least, author Otto Kallscheuer points out, the pontiff formerly known as Ratzinger has global reach…
Even in today’s modern age, there is a strong argument to be made for the Holy See’s active presence in the international arena. Now that the power of the papacy has long since been reduced to a “minuscule and, as it were, symbolic temporal sovereignty,” as Pope Paul VI put it in 1965, the power politics in which earlier popes actively participated for centuries have been replaced by the papacy playing a metapolitical role. Such a presence in the emerging international public sphere could contribute to mediating religious conflicts—not only because the Vatican, in contrast to nation states, is an institution well suited to deal with the demands of globalization, but also because it possesses professional routines and knowledgeable actors trained in normative politics.
One question that must first be answered is whether there are international institutions of transnational “religious policy” other than the Catholic Church. In fact, there is nothing of the sort, in Christianity or in any other world religion. In the 1970s and 1980s, at the high point of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and the peace movement in Western Europe, the Protestant World Council of Churches was able to raise hopes around the world of a “Christian” means of overcoming conflicts. But even in these years, no theological understanding emerged between the Christian West and East—between more liberal Protestantism and the traditional spirituality of Greek, Russian, and Serbian Orthodoxy. In the face of the explosive worldwide growth of Pentecostalism outside the historical established churches, the Ecumenical Council remains rather powerless, outside of the mainline historical churches or denomination.
And outside of Christianity? Is the Dalai Lama a sort of “pope for Buddhists?” As doubtful as an analogy between the many forms of Buddhism and the Christian churches may be, the combined political and religious role of the Tibetan leader creates a parallel to the 19th century Catholic political crisis, when the pope was simultaneously the sovereign of the papal state in middle-Italy and the spiritual head of a world religion. So far, however, the fourteenth Dalai Lama has not clearly decoupled the spiritual authority of the reborn Buddha from his political role as the exiled leader of a nation and culture fighting for autonomy. Should this separation of religious authority and civil power actually occur, the Dalai Lama or his successor in exile could perhaps become the apostle of a global Buddhism.
No institution comparable to the papacy—a universal monarchy with purely spiritual authority but indirect political power—is found in the Islamic world, aside from the Ismailite Shia, an extreme minority of the “party of Ali,” whose world leader is the Aga Khan. The message of Islam, like the Gospel, is geared universally toward expansion, mission, and globalization. But a billion Muslims have no international form of organization that would offer a starting point to relativize their local conflicts and rationalize their political defeats and identity crises.
Come on non-Catholics, get your multilateral cooperation act together.