By Rene Wadlow
We are here that we may elucidate the divine elements in the human spirit.
The first week of February is a United Nations-designated World Interfaith Harmony Week first celebrated at the UN in 2012. The Week arose from a resolution proposed by Jordan and adopted unanimously on 20 October 2010. The resolution recalls the UN efforts promoting a culture of peace and nonviolence and the importance of the “Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.” As the then Deputy Secretary-General Aska-Rose Migino said at the first celebration “Although faith is the glue that often bonds communities and cultures around the world, it is too often used as an excuse to emphasize differences and deepen divisions. Only by finding common cause in mutual respect for shared spiritual and moral values can we hope for harmony among nations and peoples.”
There has always been a hope that understanding among leaders of different religious communities would lead to peace and cooperation. One of the early efforts was planned and convened by Akbar, the Mogul emperor of India. In 1578, he built the ‘Tarda-Khana’ (House of Discussion) and on Thursday evenings in the winter months he presided over meetings at which were gathered representatives of the religions of India.
Closer to our time, the first session of the World’s Parliament of Religions was held in Chicago for 17 days in September 1893 and ended with the 4,000 participants chanting “Peace on earth, good-will to men.” Vivekananda in his address saw an end to “sectarianism, bigotry and its horrible descendant, fanaticism…I fervently hope that the bell that toiled this morning in honor of this convention, be the death-knell to all fanaticism, to all persecution with the sword or the pen, and to all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal”.
After all the destruction of the First World War and the creation of the League of Nations, the Church Peace Union founded by Andrew Carnegie held a 1928 multi-faith congress in Geneva with representatives of religions and secretariat staff of the League
“to devise means by which men of all religious faiths may work together to remove existing obstacles to peace; to stimulate international cooperation for peace and the triumph of right; to secure international justice, to increase goodwill, and thus to bring about in all the world a fuller realization of the brotherhood of man.”
The Chinese Confucian delegate Dr Chen Huang-Chang stressed that “There are divisions of territories, but not of peoples as all people belong to one family. Therefore, peoples of the world, irrespective of their nationalities, should migrate freely, and should not be excluded by any nation. This is a fundamental means of unifying the whole world.” He stressed that Chinese culture could play an important role in the creation of a harmonious world culture. In an earlier period, the Sung dynasty (960-1279) there was a conscious effort to bring together into a harmonious framework currents of thought that existed in China but often as separate and sometimes hostile schools of thought: Confucianism, Buddhism, philosophical Taoism and religious Taoism. These efforts were called Tao hsuch, the study of Tao – an effort later called by Western scholars as “Neo-Confucianism.”
The representative of the Religious Association of Japan, Professor T. Tomoeda, presented a resolution from a 1928 Japanese Religious Congress which stated “International peace is the fundamental condition for the welfare of mankind. The League of Nations is the most effective machinery to bring about this condition. The Congress considers that all Governments should endeavor to settle international problems by international cooperation based upon a diplomacy animated by the principles and spirit of the Covenant of the League of Nations.”
It has been said that courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying ‘I will try again tomorrow’. The process of making peace requires a spirit of reconciliation, a genuine intention to search for a common ground. Religious organizations, as governments, businesses, and non-governmental organizations, are often deadlocked in a ‘dialogue of the deaf’ unless we advance our means of communication so as to respect the fears and needs of others.
Today, we are faced with the challenge of creating a global world community based on a sense, in a large number of people, of an identification as citizens of the world. In the past, tribal membership, national affiliation, racial affinity, and religious community have all shown themselves capable of creating a sense of identity which enables individuals to move beyond individual ego-centrism. However, often these identities have been built by stressing an “us-together” against a “them-over there” mentality. My tribe excludes others by definition of what my tribe is. Today, we also see a religious ‘tribal-nationalism’ which strengths a ‘us/them’ division. It will not be easy to move beyond these confrontations. The World Interfaith Harmony Week provides us with the opportunity for a realistic look at the steps to be taken. It is an opportunity to open new paths to unify the aspirations of humanity. We hold that peace can be achieved through opening our hearts and minds to a broader perspective. We are one human race, and we inhabit one world.
- Minot J. Savage The World’s Congress of Religions (Boston: Arena Publishing Co. 1893)
- The Church Peace Union. The World’s Religions Against War (New York: Church Peace Union, 1928)