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Western society has reduced the Christian command to “love they neighbour” for secular tolerance, Czech priest and philosopher Fr Tomáš Halík warned last night as he was presented with the prestigious Templeton Prize.
“Tolerance is the secular translation of the Gospel injunction to love one’s enemies,” he said. “But when religious concepts are translated into secular language and concepts, something is usually lost. In order to tolerate an unpleasant neighbour I really don’t need to love him in any sense. It is enough for me to ignore him, since I don’t care about him,” he said.
This mentality led to ghettoisation and a culture in which different ethnic groups did not mix, he added.
Fr Halík was presented with the award, which is valued at £1.1 million, at a ceremony at the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields in London. Former recipients included Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama.
The prize honours a living person who has made exceptional contributions “to affirming life’s spiritual dimension”.
Fr Halík, who was studying English in Wales at the time of the Soviet invasion in 1968, was branded an “enemy of the regime” by Czechoslovakia’s communist Government on his return to the country in 1972. He spent nearly two decades building an underground network of academics and theologians to preserve the country’s spiritual life. A convert, he was secretly ordained a priest in 1978.
During his acceptance speech Fr Halík spoke about how Christianity could transform globalisation into “a culture of communication” and an environment of respect.