The Parliament Blog

Archive for the ‘violence’ tag

Vivekananda speaks to Norway

by William Lesher

The hearts and prayers of people of goodwill everywhere go out to the people of Norway and to the families of those killed and wounded in the recent bombing and senseless slaying of young people.  It is especially painful when such tragic acts are in any way associated with misguided religious overtones.

The poignant words of Swami Vivekananda in his opening speech at the first Parliament in 1893 come readily to mind:

“Sectarian bigotry and its horrible descendent fanaticism have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair.”

How relevant this 118 year old statement is to this current situation.  Vivekananda ends by declaring, “ But their time has come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolls this morning may be the death knell of all fanaticism…”

Given the aura of contentiousness, conflict and confusion that hangs over the global social order today, it is doubtful that violent acts against people and property can be prevented.  It is, nevertheless, Vivekananda’s fervent hope that still motivates the Parliament of the World’s Religions and all expressions of the interreligious movement.

At the Barcelona Parliament in 2004, hundreds of participants attended workshops on “Religiously Motivated Violence” and made commitments to stand with people of other faiths whenever lives are threatened or property is defaced or destroyed.  Currently the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions encourages religious and spiritual communities everywhere to adopt a “Solidarity Pledge” as a minimal expression of their harmony, support and respect for people of other faiths.  In the greater Los Angeles area where I live, a group has recently formed called “Interfaith Witnesses for Peace,” pledged to gather on short notice, as a silent testimony to peace, wherever a religious community is threatened.

The tragedy in Norway is another occasion for us all to reassess our personal commitment and that of our religious communities, to active expressions of peace-building.  Are we building bridges to other faith communities?  Are we teaching and preaching respect for other religions, providing opportunities to learn what others believe and how to best share our beliefs with them?  Are we exploring ways to work together for the common good?  Are we mobilized to act, as a powerful presence of solidarity and love when tragedy strikes.

It is our engagement in interreligious actions like these that keep Vivekananda’s fervent hope alive.

An Interfaith Generation Unwilling to Wait

By Frank Fredericks
Executive Director, World Faith

When religious tension between Muslims and Christians rocked northern Nigeria on January 8th of this year, the refrain of religiously fueled violence sounded so much like it had before. The ‘other’ was at fault for the problems of a region, country, and world. But when the tensions boiled over and violence broke out, resulting in burning down of churches and mosques and the death over 100 people, the response was profoundly different.

This time, young volunteers from World Faith Nigeria took action. Responding to a distress call, they rescued seventy-two passengers from a bus that was set on fire by young attackers.  On both sides were young adults taking action. But this time one set of young adults was responding to save lives and, ideally, prevent future violence.

Nigeria, like many countries around the world, hosts interfaith dialogues marked by the convening of religious leaders to counter acts of violence.  While this work is groundbreaking and necessary, it alone is not enough to turn the trends of religious violence. Violence perpetrated by youth can best be countered by equally motivated youth working toward the greater good.

World Faith helps answer the challenge of engaging young people internationally who have the potential to either cause or resolve inter-religious tensions.  Mobilizing religiously diverse youth to engage in community service projects in conflict-prone regions, World Faith enables local youth leaders to address the local needs of their communities and resolve underlying sources of strife — which are often economic or social rather than religious. World Faith has chapters in nine countries and is continuing to rapidly expand.

Not convinced that youth are the answer?  The Arab Spring stands as the greatest example of what happens when young people take action.  Movements for democratic reform have been led by the youth, who organize, mobilize, and remain endlessly resilient. Egypt stands out as a defining example of this, with Tahrir Square becoming the epicenter for Millennials with a mission.

I have spent a good amount of time in Egypt, developing World Faith’s Cairo Chapter.  As I watched the events unfold, I realized that Tahrir Square not only represented a historic moment for the power of the youth, but also stood as the greatest example of pluralism in our generation.  Most of these young people have little interest in theology, ideology, or religious separatism.  Rather than trumping secularism, they embraced pluralism.  While Muslim protesters prayed, the Christian protesters stood guard.  In short, youth worked together, took action, and transcended religious boundaries that their parents could not.

World Faith is utilizing the social entrepreneurship capacity of young people across the world.  In particular, those from the marginalized communities have stepped forward to develop and lead projects in their communities.  These projects are in direct competition with the allure of violence.  Violence, after all, is often the act of last resort — when youth feel they have no other way of being heard and have little stake in their communities.

The world is no longer the same as it was before the Arab Spring. Young people have demonstrated their potential to initiate change and profoundly impact world politics — beginning at the local level. The interfaith movement must adapt and catch up, and not only engage religiously diverse youth, but let them take the lead. We must empower the youth, a generation unwilling to wait.

Celebrating A Death

by Paul Raushenbush
Religion Editor, Huffington Post

It is a strange and conflicting emotion to celebrate a death. My professed beliefs include the redemption of evil and the potential good in all humanity. Yet I felt a sense of exhilaration when I read the headline ‘DEAD’ about Osama Bin Laden.

For the last ten years Osama Bin Laden has exemplified the absolute worst of religion. He was a fundamentalist and a zealot in his own belief and willing to kill those who believed differently; he recruited young people into his ranks by preying on their despair; and he carried out violence in the name of God. Through actions and belief, Osama Bin Laden profaned the name of God and denigrated all people of faith.

Click here to read the entire ariticle

May 2nd, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Averting Your Eyes: The Devastating Consequences of Ignoring Women’s Rights

From State of Formation

I was walking down the crowded, cobblestoned streets of Jerusalem’s Old City when a bearded man with narrow eyes reached out his hand and tried to grab my breast.  I did not know him.  I had not made eye contact.  I was not acting provocatively—in fact, despite a heat wave that added insult to the already injurious desert summer, I was burning up in the long-sleeved shirt and ankle-length skirt that’s customary for the region.  In response, the man with whom I was traveling reached out and struck the stranger’s hand, causing him to trip sideways into the crowd.

Many other women who visit the Holy Land have a story like mine.

Click here to read the entire article.

April 6th, 2011 at 3:28 pm

WikiLeaks and the Sacrality of American National Security

State of Formationby Michael J. Altman

from State of Formation

It seems like everyday a new story emerges from the hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables recently released by WikiLeaks. In the wake of Cablegate, WikiLeaks has found its site shutdown, its services from Amazon and Paypal refused, and its founder arrested. On one level this is to be expected. If you go around poking governmental bee hives you will get stung by very large angry governmental bees. But there seems to be something more going on here, at least to me. Every criticism and act of suppression against WikiLeaks always contains the same phrase: national security. The leaks are a threat to national security. But what do we talk about when we talk about National Security?

National Security is a religious cult in the United States. It’s a cult in the anthropological sense—a combination of rituals and beliefs that a society holds sacred. It encompasses everything from war to legislation to surveillance to rhetoric. It relates to matters of life and death. It is sacred because it is a cult shared across our society and a cult that reflects America back to Americans. It is a force that binds American society together. We maintain National Security because we are American and we are American because we maintain National Security. It is woven into our national and social identity. Like religious cults from other cultures, National Security relies on secrecy, violence, mythology and morality for its sacred power. Through its online revelations, WikiLeaks poses a risk to all four of these sacred characteristics.

Secrecy has been a property of the sacred across times and cultures. Whether it is aboriginal rites of passage, Mormon endowment ceremonies, the rituals of the Freemasons, or the knowledge of esoteric communities, sacred things are often secret things.

The same holds true for the modern nation state. The cult of National Security is founded upon secret gnosis. We must keep our secrets and find out everyone else’s. In comes WikiLeaks and its rampant profanation of National Security through the revelation of secrets. Carrying the banner of “transparency,” WikiLeaks has begun to pull back the curtain and reveal the priest craft and the rituals of National Security. In its latest release, Cablegate, WikiLeaks released 250,000 diplomatic cables–a trove of National Security secrets pushed into the profane public sphere. But secrecy goes both ways. WikiLeaks itself is clothed by shadows. Its founder, Jullian Assange, moves about in secrecy and no one really knows who works for WikiLeaks and what it is they do. In unveiling the cult of National Security, WikiLeaks has had to maintain itself as a secret society.

Click here to read the entire article

Does Geography Limit Compassion?

From The Huffington Post

A Census Bureau report released recently released found the percentage of Americans now living in poverty rose to 14.3 percent in 2009, the highest in decades.

For many of us, this was a huge shock. News like this sends a shudder through our collective spine. And for every family that finds itself now living in poverty, it isn’t a headline at all; it is a personal tragedy.

But as we come to grips with this most recent statistic, we have a dual set of challenges. On one hand, we need to do all in our power to help those struggling here at home. But we also have the challenge of viewing poverty with “global bifocals.” With one portion of the lens we see and attack needs close to home. With the other portion of the lens we focus on the realities of global poverty that may seem far away.

Click here to read the entire article.

The Dangers of Religious Zealotry

From The Huffington Post

The things we do for God, or imagine that we do for God, or do for an imagined God — it doesn’t matter which, since it’s largely the same thing — range from the very best things in the world to the very worst. In study after study, we learn that people of faith are more likely to donate their time and money than their non-believer counterparts, and that when they do, the amount donated is more likely to be a larger portion of the whole. And in just as many studies, we learn that individuals who identify strongly with a particular faith are more likely to fear and mistrust those who are not like them.

Like any powerful tool, faith can help us to build our world or destroy it. The issue is not whether we have faith, but how we use whatever faith we possess. And the most effective remedies to the excesses and damage done in the name of God are found within the traditions themselves. If they cannot be found from within, then it’s time for that tradition to go.

Perhaps it’s because of where we are in the cycle of weekly Torah readings, or perhaps it’s because a day doesn’t go by without stories of religious zealotry making the news. More than likely, for me at least, it’s the combination of the two. The biblical story of Pinchas challenges us to recognize the seduction of religious zeal, reminding us that there are limits when it comes to acting on what we think of as God’s behalf.

And it’s the things we do for God that are the most dangerously seductive. When we act out of whatever we consider to be base impulses — hate, greed, ego, etc. — we eventually either satisfy the urge or feel sufficiently guilty to stop. But when “God wills it,” it’s amazing how easy it is to justify pressing on with even the most ugly behavior. After all, the underlying logic goes: we are not acting for ourselves, but for God. Enter Pinchas.

The Israelites, according to Numbers 25, were camped at Shittim when the people began “profaning themselves” by having illicit sex with the local Moabites. One of the men, Zimri, appears to have made a public spectacle of himself with a Moabite woman named Kozbi. A priest named Pinchas, grandson of the first High Priest Aaron, and grand-nephew of Moses, took a spear and impaled them on the spot. Result? God blesses Pinchas.

What at first appears to be a happy ending to the story turns out to be a cautionary tale about the dangers of religious zeal. Pinchas is indeed blessed by God, but the blessing reflects both what’s missing in Pinchas and the fact that zealots such as he should spend their time removed from the daily life of normal people.

Pinchas is blessed with divine peace, clearly something which neither he nor any religious zealot possess, no matter how much they may say otherwise. Pinchas is filled with rage, and the fact that he believes it to be sacred doesn’t make it any less problematic to God (often rage-filled Himself), who confers a corrective blessing which would diminish it.

In addition to the blessing of divine peace, Pinchas and his descendants are guaranteed that they will be priests — people who serve in the ideal and disconnected world of the Tabernacle and later, the Temple. While that ideal may be beautiful — a place of soft music, gentle prayer and sweet incense, no illness, human suffering or death (animal sacrifice too, but 2,000 years ago that would have been experienced positively, by the people, if not the animals) — the Temple was also a place of rigid rules and the total domination of the ideal over the real. In other words, a zealot’s dream come true, in which no violations were acceptable and any that occurred, required and swift and automatic ritual corrective.

The Temple was to reality what Disneyland is to six-year-olds: a place where their most deeply-held wishes and dreams were fulfilled, if only for a while. And just as Disneyland, and places like it, play an important role in nurturing children’s sense of possibility, the Temple did the same for the Israelites.

But anyone who needs to spend their whole life at either Disneyland or the Temple has a problem. The problem? Not distinguishing between the real and the ideal, not accepting that life is about maintaining a healthy tension between the two. That is the problem of all zealots, Pinchas included, and why he was assigned to Tabernacle/Temple service for the rest of his life.

Click here to read the full article.

July 6th, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Religion, Violence and the Future of Torture

Dr. George Hunsinger, a Presbyterian minister and Professor of Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, discusses the nature of violence and it’s “refuge in falsehood” in the context of torture.  Hunsinger is the founder of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, an interreligious organization opposing torture in the United States.

This presentation from the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions is presented in its entirety by SlowTV.