Fraternity is a fruit of conscience, and is destroyed by corruption. The injustice vested on Tai Ji Men is an example of how corruption disrupts social harmony.

by Massimo Introvigne*

*A paper presented at the seminar “The Call to Fraternity and the Tai Ji Men Case,” co-organized by CESNUR and Human Rights Without Frontiers, Walnut, California, February 5, 2022.

An article already published in Bitter Winter on February 10th, 2022.

Pope Francis and Grand Imam el-Tayeb in Abu Dhabi, 2019. From Twitter.
Pope Francis and Grand Imam el-Tayeb in Abu Dhabi, 2019. From Twitter.

February 4 was the International Human Fraternity Day. It is one of the most recent days of observance of the United Nations, as the first was celebrated in 2021, and a rare case in which a date coming from one, or in this case two, specific religions has been adopted as universal by the international community. February 4 is the date when, in 2019, Pope Francis and Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, signed in Abu Dhabi the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together.” Sunni Islam has no clergy, and its highest authorities are the scholars. Traditionally, the imam of al-Azhar is regarded as the most authoritative scholar, hence the most authoritative figure, in Sunni Islam. Thus, the Abu Dhabi Declaration was signed by the highest leaders of the two largest religious bodies in the world, the Roman Catholic Church and Sunni Islam. On October 3, 2020, Pope Francis followed suit by signing the encyclical letter Fratelli tutti (All Brothers), whose title came from an expression of Francis of Assisi.

As a Roman Catholic, I am aware that for centuries Catholics regarded the word “fraternity” with suspicion. It was part of the motto of the French Revolution, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,” and was also used in Soviet Russia. Both the French revolutionaries and the Soviets killed thousands, including Christians and priests, while proclaiming “fraternity.” It was an ideological “fraternity” that excluded dissidents and opponents.

A 1793 French Revolution’s poster: “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity—or Death.” For the opponents, it was mostly death.
A 1793 French Revolution’s poster: “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity—or Death.” For the opponents, it was mostly death. Credits.

However, Pope Francis reminds us that “fraternity” is originally a Christian concept, which should not be discarded because of its later ideological corruption. For believers of religions where God is personal, we are all brothers and sisters because we have the same father, God. One concern of the Abu Dhabi Declaration was to warn against religion-based terrorism, by proclaiming that both Muslims and Christians should recognize each other as brothers. However, both the Declaration and the encyclical developed the notion of fraternity more in depth.

The encyclical is as long as a book, and cannot be summarized here. There are, however, three points I would like to mention here because of their relevance for the Tai Ji Men case. The first is Pope Francis’ indictment of the root cause of the lack of fraternity and social harmony that plagues our world, something we became painfully aware of during the COVID-19 crisis. This cause is, Francis wrote, a “desensitized human conscience.” Conscience is desensitized by materialism, but sometimes a “digital manipulation of consciences” by media that serve corrupt powers is also at work. The second is the role of religion and spiritual organizations to “keep alive the flame of collective conscience,” which is a pre-requisite for fraternity and peace. The third is that “corruption in its various forms,” including by “politicians” and “corrupt officials,” is one of the main obstacles that prevent our societies from being fraternal and peaceful.

Pope Francis signing the encyclical letter Fratelli Tutti in Assisi, on Francis of Assisi’s tomb. From Twitter.
Pope Francis signing the encyclical letter Fratelli Tutti in Assisi, on Francis of Assisi’s tomb. From Twitter.

For several years, I and other scholars have admired the work of Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, the leader of Tai Ji Men, in promoting tirelessly global peace through conscience by visiting dozens of countries. His work and the efforts of thousands of dizi (disciples) who support it are one of the best examples of how spiritual organizations may really contribute to promote love, i.e., fraternity, and peace by teaching that conscience should be restored to its true role as moral compass for every man and woman.

Dr. Hong’s testimony comes from direct experience. He and his dizi have seen how the efforts of a comparatively limited number of dedicated activists may make a difference in the international fora and organizations where they have brought their message of global fraternity and peace. They have also suffered personally the consequences of the “desensitization of conscience.” When conscience is no longer the compass, corruption prevails. Corruption destroys fraternity and peace, tries to manipulate the consciences through slander and fake news, and produces injustices.

Tai Ji Men protests in Taiwan.
Tai Ji Men protests in Taiwan.

Corrupted politicians and officials created the Tai Ji Men case with false accusations, fueled it by manipulating the media and spreading fake news against Dr. Hong and Tai Ji Men, and produced further corruption and persecution even after they had been declared innocent of all charges by the highest courts in Taiwan. This corruption, sustained by the immoral system of high bonuses given to officials who collect money from tax bills, eventually led to the seizure, unsuccessful auction, and confiscation of sacred land intended for a self-cultivation center of Tai Ji Men based on a tax bill that should never have existed in the first place.

This is one of these cases in which conscience is called to make a choice. Either accept injustice, and perpetuate the corruption, or protest and reject injustice, in the name of fraternity, peace, and freedom. The choice is ours.