Archive Article: Sacred Rights. 30 Nov 01
January 4, 2009

Religion has made a comeback in world affairs – despite the predictions from some academics a few decades ago that religion was on the way out. Indeed, there is now probably more attention to religious issues in world affairs than for many decades.

It was fashionable among some sociologists, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, to predict that religion was going to fade away. They argued that humans were somehow moving to a different era, in which science would solve all the mysteries of life and consumerism would be the main focal point of interest of humankind.

Their predictions were welcomed by the communist countries, which were officially atheistic and so opposed to all forms of religion. Of course, even at the time the communist countries were not completely atheistic. There were more Christians on a per capita basis going to church in Moscow than in London; the Islamic territories in the southern Soviet Union had a flourishing religion (with Arabic, though officially banned, being kept alive by foreign broadcasts in readiness for the day that Moscovite rule was overthrown) – and even Lenin ended up carrying out a quasi-religious role in his embalmed form in Red Square as a form of ancestor worship. Now the Cold War is over; communism has gone from Eastern Europe and it is going from mainland China.

Meanwhile, religion is back in – because it had never gone. We should not judge the state of world religion by what we see in Australia, with some church having small numbers. Christianity is powering ahead around the world. Other religions are also increasing. The globe is undergoing an explosion of interest in religious experiences.

This level of interest means that it is important for the world to be kept safe for religion – and that religious labels are not used for political purposes. For example, religion has been used as a pretext to separate communities and encourage suspicion, if not violence, such as “ethnic cleansing”.

In August last year, for the first time in its history, the United Nations convened a summit of over 1,000 religious leaders from 110 countries, representing the world’s major religions and faiths. A key objective of this summit was to encourage religious leaders to exert greater influence on reconciliation, healing and forgiveness in areas of armed conflict and tension, and to foster an attitude of respect for the diversity of the human family.

One development from the summit conference has been the publication in New York of the inspiring book “Sacred Rights: Faith Leaders on Tolerance and Respect”. This is a collection of statements by religious leaders, providing a harmony of voices emerging from the world’s many faith traditions, in favour of tolerance and understanding. It was tabled at the United Nations World Conference Against Racism and it is now available to the general public.

The book contains many stimulating comments. For example, Rev Dr Konrad Raiser the Secretary General of the World Council of Churches states: “Together, we must seek ways to create a global culture of mutual respect which will provide a model to those who bear responsibility for governance at all levels of society, be it in the private, communal or public spheres”.

Thus, Dr Raiser challenges the religious organizations to provide a good example to the rest of society. When one looks at the state of the world today, that is a very important task.