By Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay
18 September 2015
Your Excellency my Brother Bishop Rabbat,
Reverend Monsignor, Fathers and Sisters,
A special welcome to our Muslim and Druz friends,
In the Old Testament, Job addressed the Lord saying: “You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit.” I am humbled to think that God has shown His providence not only to me, but to the little flock he has entrusted to my care, because the production of this book at this time owes as much and even more to His special care and kindness than it does to any plan of my own.
I have dedicated this modest volume to the Blessed Virgin Mary, to the Church and to my religious family, the Lebanese Maronite Order of Monks, and to my parents and siblings, because this book was not going to see the light without their prayers and support.
The Church is concerned to promote and defend the culture of life against the cult of death that we are witnessing in today’s society, not only with Islamic fundamentalism (ISIL), but also in the medical profession when practising abortion and euthanasia. It is therefore right to remember and invoke Our Lady, the mother of Jesus and my mother, for it is through her intercession, that we can defend life and promote values.
It is an especially humbling matter to meditate on the fact that I am the first Maronite Bishop of Australia to have published a book in the English language. This is a sign that there is a real and present need for the Maronite Bishop in this country to be addressing the new generation of Maronites in this way.
Bioethics at the Crossroad of Religions is a new open-door treating bioethical issues in a coherent and comprehensive manner, explaining and expounding the teaching of the Church, and relating it to contemporary realities. That being the need, it does seem to me that the Lord saw that it would be fulfilled in his own good time, making use of his instruments. Therefore, of course, my only achievement is to have walked through the doors which the Lord has opened, and to offer my mind, my hand and my tongue to think the thoughts, write the lines and utter the teachings of the Holy Church.
I had not intended to delay the publication of this book until now, but the pressure of monastic, pastoral and episcopal duties have not allowed me to do so in the past years. I had intended from the beginning that the volume should be made available in English, especially as more Maronites today read English more than any other language, not excluding Arabic, especially those in the Expansion, who now outnumber the Maronites in Lebanon.
I originally prepared my thesis in French while studying in Rome. Then came my providential posting here, where I was able to work with people who could assist me in the translation, and to finesse the text. In this respect, too, it is right to mention the care taken by Connor Court, the publishers of this volume.
This modest book is intended to open a doorway for a respectful and informed dialogue about bioethics between Christianity and Islam.
The recent agitation concerning Same-Sex Marriage has some echoes in this book showing how much Christianity and Islam have in common especially when it comes to marriage between man and woman and the right of children to be born from marriage between man and woman only.
In the past we would speak about a war of religions, but today we witness a war against all religions. At a time when ethical principles are challenged and questioned, there is a need for such a work to appear. This book is an invitation to Christianity and Islam to collaborate more on bioethical matters for the benefit and respect of human beings and humanity.
This book addresses the religious and philosophical foundations of ethics and morality, especially bioethics. If we do not address the foundations of our teaching, if we cannot articulate the grounds of our doctrines, we will lack faith in our own ethical positions, be unable to explain the wisdom of our moral doctrines to others, and be unable to make persuasive statements in defence of our faith.
This book helps to see that both Christianity and Islam have some common ethical principles, but it also highlights some differences, where these two religions diverge in their ethical teachings.
I will now offer some examples of these points of similarity and of difference:
In the coming years, as my duties allow, I intend to issue a second volume, building on this foundation to tackle specific topics such as abortion, IVF, euthanasia and organ transplant in Christianity and Islam.
While Fr Peter Joseph described to you earlier the contents of the volume, it remains to me to say a few words about its spirit. As the subtitle suggests, it records my thoughts on the anthropological foundation of bioethics in the two largest world religions. It is what is in French termed an essai, which more than the English word essay, means a writing which has been designed to explore rather than to definitively settle and giving final answers to an important question such as this.
From that perspective, this book is intended to inform, promote and stimulate pondering and discussing these vital issues. It is one of the tragedies of our day that, too often, matters which should be the subject of serious study and debate, are disposed of on the basis of prejudice, superficial and even sentimental treatments in a mass media which is more attuned to commerce and social promotion than it is to the search for truth. It is an important part of the New Evangelisation that we try and reach people, and call to them to realise that their true good is found and fulfilled in the Word of God.
This volume also deals specifically with anthropology in these two faiths. “Anthropology” is simply the study of human life, by reference to human nature and considerations. Because Christianity and Islam are religions, even their anthropology (in so far as they have one) is derived from their theology. If anthropology is the study of humanity, and theology the study of God, bioethics is a blend of both, for it asks, how should human life sciences and health care be ordered so that humanity’s spiritual end may be realised through our lives here on earth?
I chose Catholicism to represent Christianity not so much because I am myself a son of the Church, but more because it has the most fully developed theology, anthropology and bioethics of any Christian grouping, and is by far the largest and most influential of all the Christian Churches. I selected Islam because we Maronites, and now Christians all over the world, have more to do with this religion than we do with any other. Once there were few Muslims in Australia, Europe and the USA. Today Islam already is, or appears likely to soon become, the second largest religion in those areas.
It remains now only to thank those who have helped organise this book launch: the Australian Catholic University, and especially Professor Greg Craven and Professor Marea Nicholson present with us tonight, who so generously offered the venue; the Maronite Catholic Society, and its president Mr Tony Khattar, who have supported this event. My gratitude also goes to Ms Naomi Tsvirko, our MC, and to our small team at the Chancery for their role in preparing the book for printing and then tonight’s event: Fr Yuhanna Azize, Pauline Dib, Ray Chahine, and Elise Gharrach. I thank every person who made it possible for this book to come to the attention of the community.
I reserve my final thanks, over and above those mentioned in the dedication, to George Cardinal Pell, who wrote the foreword. Truly, he has always been a loyal servant of the Church, and a friend to the Maronite Church and to myself personally.
Finally, dear friends, the subject addressed in this book is too vast to be explored in one study. This study is only a stepping stone in this journey. My ultimate aim in publishing this study is to reiterate that human being and human reality cannot and should not at any time be treated as a means, but rather as an end, because every human being, without exception, is lovingly made in the image of God.
Book launch of Bioethics at the Crossroads of Religions – Thoughts on the Foundations of Bioethics in Christianity and Islam by Bishop Antoine Tarabay (Connor Court, 2015)
Talk by Fr. Peter Joseph