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Topic: A discussion on the role of religion and spirituality in cultivating a culture of peace
Posted: Sep. 22 2005,09:10 by Guest from -

The following notes come from a discussion on strategy for the Culture of Peace Decade held in Hartford, CT., USA on the International Day of Peace, September 21, 2005.

The initial discussion centered on religion and spirituality, launched by a participant who said, "our problem is the loss of belief in God."  Asked to clarify this, he said that even if people state that they believe in God, they don't practice religion and, increasingly, they don't participate in organized religion by going to church and supporting religious institutions.  He stressed that it was important to believe in a life-hereafter such as heaven. He made an exception for fundamentalists, because, as he said, fundamentalism contributes to the culture of war.  Later, responding to another discussion about African justice being superior to European because it was not based on "one God-one law", he said he was not sure if it was necessary to believe in one God rather than many.

Participants responded with a wide range of opinions about religion and a culture of peace.  Some preferred to speak about spirituality rather than religion.  Others preferred to speak about ethics, referring to the American Indian belief that all of our actions should take into account their effects on the next seven generations; we do not have the right to jeopardize the environment for future generations.  In this regard, it was said that we are often "too powerful," making changes in the world for our own gain without regard to the effects on others.  Some questioned the belief in an after-life, pointing out that this could be the key to the motivation for suicide-bombers as well as peace activists.

Participants spoke of the leadership provided by individuals such as Martin Luther King and Archbishop Desmond Tutu who drew their strength from religion.  

Others spoke of religious communities as a model, with the idea that peace could be developed from the bottom up on the basis of more and more such peaceful communities.   Utopian communities and other such communities have been tried for centuries now; have they had effect?  Or is it too early to tell?  The scientific data on the relation between war at the national level and violence at the family and community level suggest that the causal relation for violence is from the top down.  In other words, war by a nation leads to violence by its people, rather than vice versa (reference wase made to Dane Archer and Rosemary Gartner, Violence and Crime in Cross-National Perspective (Yale University Press, 1984, and Mel and Carol Ember, War, Socialization, and Interpersonal Violence: A Cross-Cultural Study, Journal of Conflict Resolution in 1994, volume 38, pages 620-646).

Even if "intentional communities" do not grow directly into a culture of peace, they provide a way for people to integrate the principles of a culture of peace into their community life.  This is important because, as one person said, you need consistency between your inner belief, your community practice and your public life.

Elise Boulding writing on religion and culture of peace at the request of UNESCO and later elaborated in her book Cultures of Peace: The Hidden Side of History (Syracuse University Press, 2000), showed how most religions contain both "holy war" and "peaceable garden" cultures.  Hence, an important task for the culture of peace is to bring together and strengthen the peaceful cultures in all of the organized religions.  Reference was made to the June 2005 conference at the United Nations devoted to Interfaith Cooperation for Peace (see http://www.interfaithconference.com/).

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Posted: Dec. 26 2005,18:55 by Hutter from Germany -

A Vision for Inter-Religious Peace leading to Peace Worldwide
How the quarrel over a tiny peace of land has plunged the world into turmoil
And a way to peace

In our enlightened secular way of thinking we hardly take religions into account as factors of peace. In fact we rather know the religions, and especially the Abrahamitic religions, to have been causes for conflicts, killings, and outright wars throughout the centuries.

Whereas before our time the religions had their areas staked out and conflicts only occurred at the borders – today the borders are everywhere. Consequently we have the conflict right in front of our doors. And there is no way to turn history back. The world has become one, whether we like it or not.

Therefore it has become a necessity for us to persuade the three Abrahamitic religions to take a new look at themselves, at each other – and at the places of conflicting interests.

They incessantly must be reminded: for them to be taken seriously in our time they will have to practice what they preach: the brotherhood of man. If there is only one god, and if this one god has been communicating with mankind throughout the times, as the Abrahamitic religions claim, there needs to be peace at least between these religions. But until now this is not the case.

Worldwide terror – the consequence of only one inter-religious conflict

In the center of interest of the worldwide Islamist movement is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And at the center of the Palestinian conflict we hardly can overlook the constant quarrels over one small piece of land in the middle of Jerusalem, the Temple Mount or Haram Ash-Sharif.

That place once harbored the ancient temples of the Jews. And even though many of the Jews living in Israel or elsewhere are denying that – the dream of a new temple is still alive in Judaism; and that dream shows the new temple again at exactly that spot. But that spot no longer is in Jewish possession. It now harbors the third most holy place of Islam, the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque.

So the acts of terror the world experiences today are the remote repercussions of a direct conflict of two religions over a tiny piece of land. This conflict is, at first sight, insolvable – yet its outcome is absolutely crucial, because losing in this conflict would be a devastating blow for the losing side.

Resistance against Israel from the beginnings up to Hamas and Al Qaeda

Exactly this conflict had an effect long before the state of Israel was established. It already loomed in the background as the first Zionist settlers appeared in the 19th century. Without ever being mentioned, this conflict made it impossible for the Arabic nations to accept the UN Plan of Partition of Palestine of November 1947; and no kind of provisions for the Palestinian population could have made it acceptable. This was in my view the main force behind the Arabic notion of that time to drive the Israelis into the sea, and consequently the cause of the united Arabic war against the establishment of the Israeli part of the partition, and also behind all other conflicts in the area since then – including the recently expressed desire of the Iranian president to wipe Israel off the map.

But that “kernel” of the matter always stayed in the background. It could not be talked about. For the enlightened Western states religious matters had to be kept out of politics, so they could not take that aspect of the conflict into account. Most of the Jews were secular in their views; the temple was out of question for them. They only wanted to have a safe haven after millennia of pogroms and after the experience of the Holocaust. The religious Jews could not talk about it, because talking about it might even have blocked the UN Plan of Partition, and in later stages it would have let the Jews appear as aggressors. The Arabs could not talk about it, because they didn’t want to put their sanctuaries at risk. So they only talked about general rights and borders, and every now and then they went to arms: the Arabs to prevent the Jews from establishing a secure homeland, and the Jews to reach their dream - the Promised Land, an Israel of biblical dimensions.

In spite of ever increasing violence, no one side could claim victory. Israel became ever more ineradicable. More and more Islamic states started to recognize the state of Israel, but a growing Islamist movement continued to see Israel as its main enemy.

Seeing that the Palestinian resistance did not endanger the existence of Israel and also seeing that poverty was increasing in the Islamic countries, the spearhead of the Islamist movement, Al Qaeda, decided to go against the main supporters of Israel and against prominent symbols of the secularist enlightened Western views of life, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. This way, they hoped to promote the glory of Islam, and simultaneously to contribute to the bringing down of Israel by striking at her main supporters.

Even though questions of justice and not of religion are the most pressing issues in the conflict, religion plays a completely underestimated role – in fact if it wasn’t for the question of the Temple Mount, peace would have been established long ago.

The four religious belief-systems of the Middle East conflict

As far as I can see, four religious beliefs are involved in the conflict between Israel and Palestine: The first one is Judaism which claims to have the original rights. The second one is Christianity; it hardly is involved in the conflict. But since most Christians in Israel and Palestine are Arabs, the local Christians tend to lean to the Palestinian side while Christians on the outside support the Jewish side. The Christians therefore have the potential to act as a mediating force. The third party are the Muslims, the majority of the Palestinians; they deny the Jewish claim of original rights and claim the sole ownership of Haram Ash-Sharif, as they call the Temple Mount. The fourth party are the secularists, who rule out any religious claims, but want to find a pragmatic solution. But since all parties negate some of the claims of the other sides, they can’t agree on a solution.

My personal experience taught me to appreciate all four sides: I have experienced Islam as a religion that certainly is able to guide people to an active and a reliable relation to their creator and to a good life. I have experienced Judaism as the ancient but still vigorously living religion of God’s own People. I have experienced Christianity as an unsurpassable way to relate to the creative source, the heavenly Father.

And I have experienced secularist enlightenment as a way to explore the laws of nature, to explore the laws of human communication, and to find solutions by freeing the mind from all preconceived ideas.

With this perspective, I looked at the problem and, to my own surprise, I could view a very simple image of peace:

An image of peace

If the space for the prophesized temple was already occupied, maybe the temple could be built a few stories up.

At first I thought this is all too simplistic, and I tried to dismiss the idea. But the image did not go away. And the more I thought about it the more logical it became. Increasingly all the details fit.

There is the Dome of the Rock. According to Jewish legend, the rock it harbors is the very rock on which Abraham bound his son Isaak, because god had demanded he sacrifice what was dearest to him. Even though most Muslims today believe the son to be sacrificed was not Isaak but Ismael and the location was not mount Moriah, but a location near Mecca, they believe mount Moriah was the place of the night journey of the prophet Mohammed, where he was raised to the heavens by archangel Gabriel to meet with all the prophets before him.

So that spot acquired a new significance for the people of Islam, and they built a sanctuary around it, the Dome of the Rock. And maybe the Jewish legend of that place has its importance in that too – because the prophet Mohammed named his religion “Islam”. Islam describes the peace that results from exactly that frame of mind Abraham showed in his willingness to sacrifice his son. For Mohammed, Abraham therefore was the archetype of a Muslim.

Abraham’s attitude of surrender already had laid the ground for the religion of Judaism; and the same attitude is found in Christianity – even more so, since Jesus was not only ready to sacrifice the dearest, he actually sacrificed himself to make his disciples see. And that’s why he was not only raised to the heavens, he was raised from the dead – according to the ones who had learned to see by his sacrifice. Therefore, Abraham’s surrender is the common ground and the basis for all three Abrahamitic religions.

The Dome of the Rock stands there as a witness to this. And why should the Jews not be able to appreciate that fact?

The Jewish Temple in the view of the Halacha

The Jewish temple on the other hand is not for human beings to design. It is a matter of the Messiah at his coming. But there are certain preconditions for his coming: Mainly there has to be peace. But how can there be peace – with an unsolvable conflict creating ever more trouble?

So, in spite of Halachic laws that decree “the third temple has to be built on the ground”, which is maintaining the conflict, couldn’t it be that the Messiah demanded of his people to free themselves of all preconceived ideas, as the first commandment already demands, before he gives them exactly what has been prophesized?

So I invite the people of the Halacha to an exercise of surrender, to a sacrifice of their dearest, of their idea that they already know what will be – just as any son of ours eventually will need our letting go of his life.  So please set your mind free to view an open future. Allow yourself to see a different temple, a temple not built on the ground but high up in the air.

In the old days they needed a mountain – like mount Moriah, if they wanted to build high up. With today’s architecture they can do it anywhere. It only needs to make sense. And this would make sense: Why should the temple of God’s chosen People not be in an elevated position, as god’s people themselves already are in an elevated position by the fact of being chosen?

And again, throughout history God’s chosen People always have brought forth outstanding achievements. So why should the new temple the Messiah is bringing not be outstanding in a literal sense? Especially if this would resolve the conflict that stands in the way of the Messiah’s coming? Because: as soon as the new temple does not need the ground, there is no conflict.

What the Muslims fear is the loss of their sanctuary, where their prophet Mohammed met with all the other prophets. And what they hope for is to be respected by God’s own People, to be respected as a people in the wake of Abraham.

Making peace would require to give them that respect, to respect their respect of Abraham, and to respect their expression of their respect.

The three levels of the image of peace

In this image of peace there is the ground, Haram Ash-Sharif, with the Dome of the Rock, and there is a new temple high above the ground, fitting the elevated position of God’s own People. And that way we already have an image of a common sanctuary for the Abrahamitic religions.

Only the Christians are missing so far.

The space for the Christians in the common sanctuary

As the Christians were second in time, in between Moses and Mohammed, they also will have to fit in the common sanctuary in between Jews and Muslims. This place fits them well in many ways:

Above the Dome of the Rock Mohammed’s ascension to the heavens is creating a vertical axis. In the same line Christ’s resurrection also is creating a vertical axis. For that axis Christ has been called “the axis of the world”. But what is the meaning of “Christ”?

Jesus preferred to call himself the “son of man”, the true human being. So the axis he represents is the axis of being human, the axis of humanity. It revolves around the question “what is the meaning of being human?” And so it is no surprise that the Christians throughout history have become most famous for their humanitarian institutions – just as the Jews are famous for bringing forth outstanding achievements and the Muslims are famous for being down to earth. With that of course I am not trying to say that any of these qualities are exclusive, but they are especially characteristic for these religions.

Taking the position in the middle necessitates a second platform below the temple of the Jews – that way architecturally creating a cross, the cross that has become the symbol of surrender in the Christian view of life.

To understand the differences between the religions
Viewing the complete sanctuary makes one thing clear: The three different religions, even though they have been deadly enemies, can live in peace. Their differences are not differences of right and wrong, they are differences of viewpoints or aspects. All three are united by their attitude of surrender towards their creator. But the path of their history has taken them on different courses – thereby also creating different narratives that in some points directly contradict the narratives of the others – as different viewpoints always render contradicting narratives.

Viewing the complete sanctuary will create a new basis for communication between the three. It will create understanding – even a better understanding of one’s own view.

Viewing the complete sanctuary will even create understanding in the religions for the secularist view, and in the secularist view for the religions.

This way the preconditions of peace are achieved and all obstacles for the coming of the Messiah are removed.
Moreover mutual respect will be there naturally, and any negotiations will be easy.

In this image, peace will be guaranteed, because all parties win.

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