Creating a "Faith-Based" United Nations

Creating a "Faith-Based" United Nations<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

 
Note: This article is a few years old, and as such has been slightly updated for better flow. The information, however, is as relevant today as it was yesterday – maybe even more.
 
By Carl Teichrib (www.forcingchange.org)
 
   When wrong suppositions are employed, wrong results are guaranteed.
 
   It has been famously stated that our world is undergoing a "clash of civilizations,"[1] and in some respects this may be true.[2] Religion, which is viewed by many as the primary cause of warfare and general unrest, situated in the middle of this equation.[3]
 
   Under this scenario, the obvious alternative to the "clash of religions" is to unite faith communities around common denominators – thus overcoming the divisions that drive humanity to war. Today's global interfaith movement takes this approach, as does Ken Wilber of BeliefNet.com. 
 
   Postulating this idea of religious unity in light of religion's historical war burden, Wilber explains,
 
"If humanity is ever to cease its swarming hostilities and be united in one family, without squashing the significant and important differences among us, then something like an integral approach seems the only way. Until that time, religions will continue to brutally divide humanity, as they have throughout history, and not unite, as they must if they are to be a help, not a hindrance, to tomorrow's existence."[4]
 
   So what does it mean to be religiously "united in one family" and engaging in some type of "integral approach"?
 
   Marcus Braybrooke, president of the World Congress of Faiths, explores this theme in his book, Faith and Interfaith in a Global Age,
 
"My hope – though certainly not the hope of all in the interfaith movement – remains that dialogue will eventually bring convergence or, at least, that theology will become an inter-religious discipline or 'global theology'."[5]
 
   The German Catholic theologian Hans Küng describes a similar pan-spiritual unification in his Preface to Oxtoby's book The Meaning of Other Faiths, "after intra-Protestant and intra-Christian ecumenism we have irrevocably reached the third ecumenical dimension, ecumenism of the world religions!"[6] And John Davis and Naomi Rice, both connected to Coptic Fellowship International, tells us that "the ultimate objective is a fellowship of religions, and the gradual appearance of a world-faith, which in its broader concept will be able to encompass all humanity."[7]
 
   The unification of religions, or the creation of some type of integrated "World Faith" system, is by no means a new concept. Back in 1893 this line of reasoning was embraced during the first World's Parliament of Religions,[8] and it has since become a central pillar in the modern interfaith movement.
 
   For example: On June 22, 2005, the United Nations hosted a groundbreaking one-day inter-religious event titled the Conference on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace. Even though the conference was small by UN standards, it officially drew significant international players into the global interfaith agenda, including government reps from sixteen countries. Some of the participating leaders from the United Nations, World Bank, religious groups, and prominent non-governmental organizations (NGOs) included,
 
-         Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General (represented at the event by Robert Orr, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Planning).
-         Jean Ping, President of the UN General Assembly.
-         Munir Akram, President of the UN Economic and Social Council.
-         Koichiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO (invited but unable to personally attend, he still sent a special message of solidarity).
-         Sarah Titchen, UNESCO Programme Specialist for Culture in New York.
-         Ramu Damodaran, Chief of the Civil Society Service Outreach Division, United Nations Department of Public Information.
-         Adnan Amin, Director of Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, United Nations Environment Programme.
-         Katherine Marshall, Director and Counsellor to the President of the World Bank.
-         Pauline Muchina, Representative of the Anglican Consultative Council (with a message from the Archbishop of Canterbury)
-         Andrea Bartoli, Director at the Center for International Conflict Resolution at Columbia University and representing the Holy See.
-         Laurence Bropleh, Permanent Representative to the UN, Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, World Council of Churches.
-         Bani Dugal, Representative of the Baha'i International Community to the UN.
-         William Vendley, General Secretary of the World Conference of Religions for Peace.
-         Hiro Sakurai, President of the Committee of Religious NGOs at the UN.[9]
 
   Why bother listing the primary players of this UN interfaith event? Because of the scope of propagation this list represents – the interfaith bridging of three distinct groups: governments, United Nations agencies, and NGOs.
 
   The purpose of this conference, which is visible in its title, was to propel the world peace/interfaith agenda to a more substantial level. By its nature this is a political move. As Jean Ping, President of the UN General Assembly explained,
 
   "If religions have contributed to the peace of the world, we have also to recognize that they have been used to create division and fuel hostilities. Fanaticism and adherence to exclusive ideologies, both religious and secular, have challenged religious communities, governments and international relations for centuries.
It is important that in building our civilizations, we enhance interfaith cooperation among governments, civil society, and the United Nations system…
The quest for peace and justice, and the need to overcome violence, binds religions, governments and the UN together."[10]
 
   Reporting on the event, the Bahá'í International Community hit the target in terms of the larger idea; "The key to interfaith harmony and co-operation is to focus on the essential oneness of all religions."[11] Why? Because the quest for "world peace" irrevocably links politics and religion into a new global framework.
 
   Towards this interfaith-political quest for global unity, Ambassador Munir Akram, President of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), told conference attendees, "Faith is also a powerful instrument for social – and political mobilization – to achieve collective goals."[12]
 
   Taking all of this in context, a disturbing picture comes into view: The creation of an international "Faith-based initiative," á la United Nations' style. This was further emphasized in the outcome of the Conference on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace when it was announced that a new UN organization would be created: the Tripartite Forum on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace.
 
   Formed as a Troika, the organization is steered by a tripartite group composed of national government ties, the United Nations system, and select NGOs. The role of the Tripartite Forum and its Troika is to build on the existing interfaith momentum and help solidify this inter-religious agenda within the global community.
 
   Speaking at the first anniversary of the Tripartite Forum on March 23, 2007, Mr. Hilario G. Davide (Jr.), Permanent Representative of the Philippines, reviewed the scope and importance of this work,
 
   "In a very real sense, we celebrate the first birthday anniversary of a unique child, a special gift to the world: a child born out of a universal love for justice and passion for peace and from global interfaith, intercultural and intercivilizational dialogue, understanding and cooperation…
 
   …New challenges to peace, development and the promotion of human dignity seem to elude many traditional ways of addressing them. The Tripartite Forum represents one of the creative approaches to deal with these modern day challenges, by addressing these challenges through a multi-pronged fashion that seeks to mobilize the involvement of all stakeholders, in particular the faith communities.
 
   The Conference on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace, held in New York on 22 June 2005 gave birth to the Tripartite Forum. I must at this point acknowledge with deep appreciation the collective efforts of the original group of governments that convened the Conference and nurtured the blossoming of our initiative, namely, Argentina, Bangladesh, Ecuador, The Gambia, Germany, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Morocco, Pakistan, Philippines, Senegal, Spain, Thailand and Tunisia, in cooperation with three UN bodies, UNESCO, UNDESA and the World Bank, and with the 110 religious NGOs at the UN.
 
Interfaith dialogue has gained growing interest world-wide and is recognized by the Group of 77 and China, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Asia-Europe Meeting and the ASEAN Regional Forum. It is currently the flagship project of UNESCO for the biennium 2006-2007; it was noted in the 2005 World Summit Outcome; and served as one of the premises in the creation of the Human Rights Council. More importantly, it gave impetus to the unanimous adoption by the UN General Assembly at its 62nd session of the resolution entitled "Promotion of Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, Understanding and Cooperation" introduced by Pakistan and the Philippines and co-sponsored by over 50 countries.
 
Several UN agencies have been cooperating with faith communities in the discharge of their mandates – UNESCO, UNICEF, UNFPA, UNEP, the World Bank, among others. Civil society has been active in the promotion of interfaith dialogue and cooperation, notably, the World Conference on Religions for Peace, the Temple of Understanding, United Religions Initiative and a host of other important organizations….
 
…May I conclude by inviting you all to consider enriching the open-ended activities of the Tripartite Forum, in keeping with one of the conclusions of the High Level Conference on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace, that "interfaith dialogue and cooperation for peace is no longer an option but a must." [13] [italics in original]
 
   On September 21, 2006, the Tripartite Forum held a second round of its high level meetings on the global interfaith agenda. Thirty-three official government representatives were in attendance, along with leaders from major inter-religious organizations such as the United Religions Initiative.
 
   Commenting at this conference, Dr. John Grayzel, of the Baha'i Chair for World Peace at the University of Maryland, told attendees that,
 
"If the religious organizations of the world were to unite they could initiate a new global response group on ready alert to step forward at the first appearance of contention, conflict, or misunderstanding. This group could bring to the conscience of all, regardless of any disagreements and apparent divergence of interest, a level of reflection that recognizes humanity's common origin and, fundamentally, common faith."[14]
 
   Alberto Romulo, Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines and Chairman of the Forum, expressively placed the burden of war-guilt on religions, emphasizing the motivation for religions unity. "Some of the atrocities, violence and problems which the world encounters rest squarely at the doors of proponents of varied religious orientations."[15]
 
   So is the creation of a UN styled "Faith-based initiative" a stretch? Not at all: already the United Nations and the larger world community have put in place a whole series of important inter-religious stepping stones leading the world down that path.
 
   Consider these developments,
 
–       Each of the successive Parliament of the World's Religions (1993, 1999, 2004 and 2009) have thrust the interfaith agenda still deeper into society's spotlight. During the 2004 Parliament, commitments were made to impact global political decision-making via a unified interfaith lobbying influence. In fact, the Parliament has gained so much in terms of actual impact that cities around the world now bid against each other in the hopes of hosting this prestigious "Olympics" of religions.[16]
 
–       The United Religions Initiative, a worldwide interfaith organization working at the grassroots level and within the international community, was modeled around United Nations lines with UN approval.[17] Today, the URI plays a role in advancing global interfaith-political concepts. 
 
–       During the United Nations Millennium World Peace Summit, hundreds of religious leaders from around the globe converged at the UN in the hopes of finding an interfaith answer to the problem of "world peace." The outcome of this Summit: creation of The World Council of Religious Leaders. According to the WCRL Charter, the aim of this body is to "serve as a model and guide for the creation of a community of world religions." The WCRL also acts as a spiritual resource to assist the United Nations towards a united human community and "just world society."[18]
 

   Remember, much of the push towards interfaith political work is drawn from the thinking that religion and war are deeply entwined – which explains the continued call for "world peace" and a "just world society" so often heard at interfaith events.

 

   Describing this spiritual/political convergence in light of the religion-war-interfaith loop, Frank Kaufmann, Executive Director of the Inter-Religious Federation for World Peace (an organization founded by Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon), suggested in 1998 the creation of an empowered global body that "sits above religions at an international or interreligious level."[19]

 

   Kaufmann explained,

 

"…this organization would have the community of religions operate in such a way that they would want to expose, bring censure, and put pressure on religions that are acting contrary to the cooperative nature of the body."

 

   Does the creation of an internationally coercive religious-political body sound like a benevolent approach to world peace?

 

   Even if looked at superficially, the appearance of a centralist approach to "religious order" cannot be missed. One cannot help note that a globally centralized, politically involved "Faith-Based Community" has the real potential to become much more than just overly bureaucratic – it holds the seeds of a new form of religious collectivism; an international faith-based "Soviet."

 

   It would be the global "management" of belief.  

 

Wrong Assumptions, Wrong Peace

 

   When wrong suppositions are employed, wrong results are guaranteed. Consider the following erroneous assumptions in the interfaith-political matrix. 

 

1. That religion is fundamentally to blame for the worst atrocities and conflicts in human history.

 

   As already demonstrated in the Forcing Change essay, "Under War's Bloody Banner" [find it at www.forcingchange.org/under_war%27s_bloody_banner], this assumption is devastatingly misleading and factually incorrect. While religions today and historically have been culpable (Islam is a prime example in both modern and ancient contexts[20]), religion has not been the prime cause in every instance of war and strife, nor even in the most extraordinary cases of the 20th century. Remember, the greatest butchers and blood shed of the last one hundred years occurred under the communist regimes of Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, and Pol Pot (who killed a quarter to a third of his own countrymen), and through the horrendous actions of national socialist, Adolf Hitler.

 

   Embracing this war-religion-interfaith-peace circuit as fact, the quest for world harmony already finds itself building on a shaky foundation. 

 

2. A system of global governance, which marries the interfaith movement within the international political community, will achieve world peace.

 

   This assumption takes two forms: An outright political/religious "management" regime, as suggested by Kaufmann. Or an organized international "pressure system" that lobbies for policy changes at the national, regional, and global level. Either way it's the infusion of power in a centralist fashion – and centralist political systems have an atrocious track record when it comes to peace.[21] 

 

   No matter if this governance system is couched as "global democracy," and the religious side as a new "global ethic," the bottom line is that a hybrid political/religious arrangement comes into play. Blend these two and you have a faith-based international order – the legitimizing and empowerment of global governance, and the enforcing of peace in the name of tolerance.

 

   And peace enforced is no peace at all. 

 

3. That all religions are equally valid and hold to the same essential truths, and that spirituality can operate under a common set of planetary norms.

 

   The above assumption lies at the heart of the larger interfaith movement. Yet this postulation flies in the face of anthropology, sociology, history, and theology. The belief sets of Hinduism and Christianity are fundamentally at odds, as are the theological/philosophical standings of Islam verses Buddhism, Animism verses Judaism, etc. The idea that all religions are "equally valid" is logically inconsistent.

 

   A number of years ago while on a fact-finding assignment, I attended a global interfaith event in St. Petersburg, Florida. During an afternoon coffee break the discussion on religious "equality and validity" suddenly came to a stop when one of the advocating participants attempted to apply logic to the interfaith principle.

 

   "What are we going to do," he asked, "about cults-of-death and Satanism?"

 

   The discussion ground to a halt: Everyone looked sheepish. No doubt, each person understood intuitively that the interfaith position of equality and religious validity just ran into a brick wall. It doesn't work logically because it attempts to contravene the first principle of logic: The Law of Contradiction.

 

   In an ironic twist, none of these interfaith supporters could tolerate the idea that cults of death had equal standing. Regardless of all the talk of spiritual validity, these individuals also found it difficult to stomach "socially deviant faiths." For example, Satanism, as advocated by the Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey, which preaches a religion of self-indulgence and self-gratification. The Satanic Bible, authored by LaVey, proudly boasts "I am mine own redeemer."[22]

 

   Such ego-theism leaves little room for social compassion. As The Satanic Bible says,

 

"Blessed are the strong, for they shall possess the earth – Cursed are the weak, for they shall inherit the yoke! Blessed are the powerful, for they shall be reverenced among men – Cursed are the feeble, for they shall be blotted out!…Blessed are the iron-handed, for the unfit shall flee before them – Cursed are the poor in spirit, for they shall be spat upon!…Blessed are those that believe in what is best for them…Cursed are the 'lambs of God,' for they shall be bled whiter than snow!" [23]

  

   Contrast this with Biblical Christianity that teaches to love our neighbours and our enemies,[24] and to care for the sick and weak,[25] and we see that the differences couldn't be more vivid. Furthermore, as opposed to self-redemption, Christianity recognizes the sinful nature of Man[26] and that salvation is only attained through the finished work of Jesus Christ.[27]

 
   The dissimilarities between these two religions couldn't be more stark. Fundamental differences exist not only between the "cult of self" and Christianity, but between all religions. Yet, during the 2005 UN interfaith peace conference, the President of ECOSOC outright stated, "The basic tenets of all faiths and cultures are fundamentally similar…"[28]
 

   Not only is this an incorrect assumption, it's an assertion that builds upon the politically charged global governance concept. As quoted earlier by ECOSOC President Munir Akram, "Faith is also a powerful instrument for social – and political mobilization – to achieve collective goals."[29]

 

   Taken together, these erroneous political/religious ideals can only lead to an erroneous conclusion. World peace cannot be built upon political centralization, which by its nature requires an amassing, holding, and wielding of power – an historically provable antithesis to peace and liberty. Nor can a World Faith/UN "Faith-Based" platform be the answer, unless it too becomes ultimately coercive and debasing.

 

   The hand of man cannot achieve world peace. This fact doesn't give license to war mongering or hopelessness, it simply points to the reality of our Human situation, and to the dangers of enforcing utopian dreams.

 

   So what would happen if a global political/faith-based arrangement came into existence, putting into play an internationally recognized and enforced interfaith system?

 

   Contemplating such a scenario reminds me of an old Communist maxim. "Peace is the destruction of all opposition."  --

 

Carl Teichrib is the editor of Forcing Change.

 

 
Endnotes:


[1] Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations: Remaking of World Order (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 1996/97). Huntington proposed that the conflicts arising in the post-Cold War world would be primarily fuelled by cultural and religious concepts. In 1928, Leonard Woolf wrote a short volume titled Imperialism and Civilization, which also outlines the idea of a "clash of civilizations." Woolf fingers imperialism as the chief player in this clash; "Though racial and religious conflicts seem on the surface to be the vital factors, they really only disguise the much more fundamental problem of the clash of civilizations. They are not the causes, but symptoms of a disease which is afflicting humanity in so many parts of the world. It is not race, religion, or nationalism, but the collision and maladjustment of different civilizations under the impulse of imperialism…" (p.22)

[2] Tony Blankley's book, The West's Last Chance: Will We Win the Clash of Civilization? (Regnery, 2005), outlines the clash between Islam and Western ideals. Other books, such as Dave Hunt's Judgment Day: Islam, Israel and the Nations (Berean Call, 2005), also detail the rise of Islam and it's antagonistic approach to Christianity, Israel, and Western philosophical concepts of liberty.

[3] See the article, "Under War's Bloody Banner" in the Forcing Change free article section for a review of this religion-war cyclic argument.

[4] Ken Wilber, "Why Do Religions Teach Love and Yet Cause So Much War,"  www.beliefnet.com/story/147/story_14762.html. BeliefNet column. Accessed November 17, 2005.

[5] Marcus Braybrooke, Faith and Interfaith in a Global Age (CoNexus, 1998), pp.15-16.

[6] Hans Küng, Preface to Willard G. Oxtoby's, The Meaning of Other Faiths (The Westminster Press, 1983), p.10.

[7] John Davis and Naomi Rice, Messiah and the Second Coming (Coptic Press, 1982), p.111.

[8] See The Dawn of Religious Pluralism: Voices from the World's Parliament of Religions, 1893 (Open Court, 1993).

[9] United Nations Conference on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace, June 22, 2005, Conference Room #4 at the United Nations Headquarters, Conference Program (on file).

[10] Statement of H.E. Mr. Jean Ping, President of the 59th Session of the UN General Assembly at the Conference on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace, June 22, 2005. Speech on file.

[11] Bahá'í International Community, "At the UN, governments and religious NGOs convene a peace conference," One Country, April-June 2005, p.14.

[12] Ambassador Munir Akram, President of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), speaking at the United Nations Conference on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace, June 22, 2005. Speech on file.

[13] Message of H.E. Mr. Hilario G Davide, Jr. Permanent Representative of the Philippines on the occasion of the First Anniversary of the Tripartite Forum on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace, 23 March 2007, www.tripartiteinterfaithforum.org/statements%202007/davide.htm.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Carl Teichrib, "An Inside Look at the Global Interfaith Agenda," Hope For The World Update, Spring 2001, p.4-6. See also "Re-Creating Eden" at www.gracesite.net/Articles.htm.

[18] The World Council of Religious Leaders, WCRL Charter, chapter two, www.millenniumpeacesummit.com/chapter2.html. (Accessed November 21, 2005).

[19] Frank Kaufmann (Inter-Religious Federation for World Peace), "Religious Wars and World Peace," a

speech delivered at the International Coalition for Religious Freedom Conference on Religious Freedom and the New Millennium, Washington DC, April 17-19, 1998. Kaufmann's speech can be read at www.religiousfreedom.com/Conference/Dc/kaufmann.htm.

[20] See Dave Hunt, Judgement Day: Islam, Israel and the Nations (The Berean Call, 2005) and Dore Gold, Hatred's Kingdom (Regnery Publishing, 2003).

[21] See R.J. Rummel, Death By Government (Transaction Publishers, 1994).

[22] Anton Szandor LaVey, The Satanic Bible (Avon, 1969), p.33.

[23] Ibid., p.34.

[24] Matthew 5:43-44 and Matthew 19:19.

[25] Matthew 25:31-40.

[26] Romans 3:23.

[27] See John 14:6, Romans 3:21-26, Acts 4:8-13, etc.

[28] Ambassador Munir Akram, President of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), speaking at the United Nations Conference on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace, June 22, 2005. Speech on file.

[29] Ibid.

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