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M. Lenaghan: Moving Toward Common Ground

Essay published in the journal Dialogue & Alliance, Winter 2010 issue

I am inspired by shared beliefs, uncommon goods that people offer each other, friends and strangers alike. I have worked, shared dreams, cultivated hope, and nurtured courage in many lands among diverse, good, and kind people. I am sure I may have caused inconvenience, suspicion, misunderstanding, and humorous episodes by my behavior, demeanor, or intentions because I was not always well informed, expert, or sensitive enough to be more resourceful, resilient, and resolute to help achieve a common aspiration.

However, I have always found among people of deep faith and profound belief a sense of community, unity, acceptance, and hospitality that comes from people who desire to make a positive impact with their lives, who seek to be trustworthy by being the best of what they believe and attempting to be the change they would seek in others.

There is a poetic statement reflects shared values, vision, and vitality at the core of many faithful. The author is not known. Perhaps the poem is humanity’s aspiration expressed in a non-denominational statement.

I Shall Not Pass This Way Again

Through this toilsome world, alas!

Once and only once I pass;

If a kindness I may show,

If a good deed I may do

To a suffering man,

Let me do it while I can.

No delay, for it is plain

I shall not pass this way again.

As a current witness to and participant in contemporary local and global history, I am most enthusiastic about the faithful, spiritual, cultural, theological, intellectual, social, environmental, ethical, and economic information, insights, and inspiration that may be made available to improve upon the prospects of social justice, shared prosperity, and sustainability of our planet from the organizations that represent my brothers and sisters of faith communities (religions). And I do firmly believe the United Nations is an appropriate, representative, operational, and effective intermediating institution through which to share multiple religious perspectives.

Diverse faith, beliefs, values, and visions enhance and enrich

Divine and distinct approaches to an Almighty and all-energizing source of information, insight, and inspiration are richly embedded in the beliefs, values, and visions among diverse families of faithful people. There are apparently universal truths inherent in each and every religious experience and aspiration.

I am heartened by the realization that I am enhanced, enriched, and energized by the probability that there are many pathways to comprehending and celebrating, valuing, and venerating the Divine that can be perceived and shared among members of the human race. I am only disheartened by the fact that there are sources of misinformation, deception, and intellectual dishonesty that occasionally undermine the positive implications of multiple pathways, journeys, and sources of jubilation in pursuit of knowing the Divine as manifested in the world and universes which we inhabit.

I think that the multiple dimensions of belief undergird—not necessarily undermine—the spectrum of human appreciation of a Divine presence among us in our numerous cultures, situations, and aspirations. Competitive, complementary, convergent, clashing, coordinating, cooperating, and collaborating relationships among some, all, or no faith communities over time are what helps specify, clarify, distinguish, and explain the uniqueness and universals of each and all communities of faith.

Under the pressures of immediate and impacting divergent approaches to grasp God among us, all faith communities need not negatively harden to the point of ugliness. Perhaps more like precious minerals, the pressure to define and determine faithful components of approaches to God may be converted into precious and treasured stones in a Tiffany setting of calm, caring, mutually cherished relationships instead of uncertainties of rusted tin. All types of communication, networks, consultations, negotiations, and celebrations might bring out the best from among all God’s children, unfettered, unhampered, undiminished by secular selfish manipulation, misrepresentation, and misappropriation.

My neighbor’s bumper sticker boldly proclaims his conviction that his faith and his church is the one arbiter of the will of God. Yet the simple slogan, “God Said It! I Believe It! That Settles It” must be seen as a starting point, not a “dead end.” That bald statement alone, even though intentionally humorous, is probably not the best reflection of the faith he intends to represent as he drives in our community each day. His orthodoxy does not trump mine, nor does my trivialization of his faithful plaint advance better understanding among our somewhat different readings, rituals, and service commitments and motivations in serving ultimately the same Divine source of motivation, being, and commitment in our lives. A common ground to meet, a common channel of communication, a trustworthy place for clarification, and a compelling reason to explore differences, congruities, and hopes candidly, constructively, and persuasively might deter ground tremors from becoming earthquakes from the shared planet of faithful peoples.

Deciding to pursue common ground rather than differences.

In our world, information is crucial. We need an Encyclopedia of the “Wonders of Faith and Faithful Communities,” and this needs to replace the glut of information aimed at dishonest and deceptive detractors of the meaning of faith and faithful communities. Best delineations of truths, best practices of rituals, best definitions of social justice, and best representations of exemplary authentic leaders, followers, innovators, and ethical social and economic entrepreneurs deserve a common ground, inter-mediator, and interlocutor that is continuously and immediately available and accessible for calm and contingency based clarification and verification of what different faiths and religions believe, stand for, and aspire to.

Respect is needed for the unique, distinct, comparable, and compatible cores that honor universal ethics, responsibilities, rights, and reasonable local and global working relationships. Within a global framework, facilitated by transparent, accountable intermediaries, institutionalized by shared universal sacred and secular values as articulated in a Human Rights Charter and administered in a universal global institution enabled by all nations, an imperfect yet perfectible organization such as the United Nations should be empowered, equipped, enabled, and encouraged to tap into authentic and legitimate faiths and communities of faithful to have access to the core representation of each faith to benefit from these centers of positive human advocacy and to access truthful understanding about what is sometimes claimed or asserted on behalf of religious people by sources misrepresenting the vast majority in a community of faith.

There are many avenues of sharing in the dissemination of information, insights, and inspirations from all communities of faith that may improve the human family’s relationships, competencies, living conditions, toleration, and maybe celebrations.

Common sources for uncommon insights

The embrace of the following human endeavors by and across communities of faith and their diverse universal truths and humanity building and assuring ethical directions will expedite progress in the human condition better than deleterious distractions of religious surrogates who manipulate the highest purpose and priorities of communities of faith through the regions of the world usually preying upon the insecurity, poverty, hunger, lack of education and training, and ignorance of the most vulnerable peoples on earth. Interreligious initiatives accessing resources and within the auspices of the United Nations might include the following topics:

__MCE_ITEM____MCE_ITEM__·      Education: primary, secondary, higher education, professional and technical training

__MCE_ITEM____MCE_ITEM__·      Community service: youth organizations, gender organizations, social and cultural

__MCE_ITEM____MCE_ITEM__·      Philanthropy: charity, nonprofit enterprises, distributive corporations

__MCE_ITEM____MCE_ITEM__·      Sustainable enterprise: agricultural, industrial, textile, cultural, electronic

__MCE_ITEM____MCE_ITEM__·      Information-based widened and deepened prosperity—relatively and absolutely

__MCE_ITEM____MCE_ITEM__·      Social and economic entrepreneurship and social networking organizations

__MCE_ITEM____MCE_ITEM__·      Micro-crediting and micro-financing initiatives

__MCE_ITEM____MCE_ITEM__·      Communication: publishing, broadcast, cyber-space, and infomatics via information sciences and social networking

__MCE_ITEM____MCE_ITEM__·      Disaster planning, training, preparedness, response, emergency allocations

__MCE_ITEM____MCE_ITEM__·      Reconstruction teams and long-term recovery cooperation among representatives of all communities of faith in a nation and region

__MCE_ITEM____MCE_ITEM__·      Use and abuse of faiths, faith-based organizations, and faith-based potential for a better world

There is too much to be gained and too much to be lost not to attend to, amend, and advance more effective linkages, communications, and potential cooperation among communities of faith, and not to avoid the engagements of dialog, discussion, dedication, and invention among people of good faith, good will, and high purpose. People of all faith communities and people of good faith have an inherent, essential, and exemplary reason to assure and affirm that their religion and its beliefs, ethics, and practices are honestly portrayed in any public, private, local, and global opportunities and disputes that touch upon the current and future of the human condition.

An intermediating (United Nations) institution may enable religions’ helpful insights, not abusive incites

The sociologist Peter Berger in his book Sacred Canopy described a purposeful, positive, progressive, and mutually sustaining role that a trustworthy, legitimate, and participatory organization may have among entities that may otherwise not perceive any advantage in communicating, relating, or cooperating with each other. He described this as an “inter-mediating” role performed by a mutually respected institution to which all parties might entrust an explanatory, delineating, definitional, and potentiality identifying relationship for the common, maybe uncommon, good of all parties to the process.

The demonization of the United Nations itself by discrete detractors may also be more accurately portrayed as reputable faith communities reflect upon and share their insights and inspiration about the United Nations from an authentic, continuous, and interactive relationship.[i]

Intermediating institutions

The World Congress on Religion that was implemented in 1893 in Chicago, Illinois, USA was related to a larger World’s Fair at the same time. While most notable for its recognition of Hindu among predominantly Western Christian religions by the accidental, perhaps providential, appearance of Swami Vivekananda and his enthusiastic representation of truths pertaining to the Hindu faith at the Congress and throughout America at the time, the subsequent meetings of the World Congress, most recently in Australia, provide primarily information, insights, and inspirations about the progress from within participating faith communities with the membership.

The World Council of Churches, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, has played a purposeful, precocious, precipitous, and progressive role among a wide cross section of Christian denominations and also interacted to seek positive relationships with Roman Catholicism and non-Christian religions (Islamic, Judaic, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Taoist, and Confucian among others) within a context that has embraced social justice priorities, beyond solely theological, ritualistic, social service, and educational priorities.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference inter-connects Muslim faith communities among Islamic majority states, allowing for Muslim denominations’ distinctions and distinct wants and needs to emerge and be mediated within member states and between member states and non-Islamic majority countries. One might conclude this is an intergovernmental organization more than a non-governmental organization that benefits from a secular intermediary within Islam.

The Vatican, as the world headquarters of Roman Catholicism and the smallest principality, is privileged to have a Permanent Observer of the Holy See accredited to the United Nations, accessing the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council and having membership options as a quasi member state in UN-related organizations and agencies. No other faith community has such a relationship at the United Nations.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference is a UN-related intergovernmental organization but does not enjoy the same status as the Holy See at the United Nations. This awkward yet beneficial status does not mutually benefit both.

The third major international affinity group in the international community is composed of multinational corporations. While an obvious affinity group, this configuration of wealth-generating entities has only recently been understood to be powerful, largely neglected, and potentially perilous despite its marvelous potential to generate prosperity, employment, and development in countries enjoying economic advancement. While often a source of generous philanthropy, often led by professional leaders who are devout in their faith and often linked in other ways to religions and religious organizations, multinational corporations are not historically perceived as intermediating institutions for interreligious or ecumenical purposes.

The United Nations offers a focal point, bridge, facilitator, mediator, and clarifier. Ultimately the United Nations mediates dangerous intersections of divergent groups most effectively, non-unilaterally, and inclusively. The United Nations may act as and provide a focal point, bridge, facilitator, clarifier, and mediator.

Anticipatory inclusion, communication, and consultation with religions may foster preemptive peace where religions are cited, used, and abused in the provocation of preemptive and reactionary warlike behaviors and parallel waste among nations and/or independent and state-sponsored terrorists. The United Nations exists, evolves, responds, reacts, and emerges as a flexible intermediary for conflict prevention, conflict resolution, peacemaking, and peacekeeping. Why not engage this instrument among faith communities to perfect the positive and constructive options that the UN can add to arising opportunities and conflicts obstacles among nations and states?

UN: perfectible through people of good will and good faith

In the earliest days of the United Nations, Joseph Stalin insisted that the exclusion of any formal association of the United Nations with religions was a precondition for USSR support for the creation of the United Nations. Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt accepted this pre-condition to advance what they perceived was the greater good that could be accomplished with all nations participating in and accepting the United Nations at its outset. Ironically, any association of the UN with “capitalist institutions such as corporations” was also rejected by Stalin.

The world has moved on since then. Nevertheless, the United Nations remains skeptical about the role of religion in bringing peace. In this the UN is not alone. Contemporary misperceptions of the meaning and intentions of faith communities require serious clarification and anticipate constructive corrections by the peoples of faith themselves and their representative leadership in a rationale, reliable, reasonable, and responsive framework with mutually acceptable established processes for explanation, exploration, clarification, and innovation. Such channels and vehicles could easily be invented, advanced, secured, and operated within the United Nations structure and under its auspices for specified purposes. Such channels could be the following:

Human Rights Council – advisory or ancillary body

A permanent or temporary consultative advisory body under the Human Rights Council could operate within the purview and purposes of the Human Rights Council. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the primary guiding document for that body. The right to freedom of religion is articulated therein.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

An advisory council on religions and communities of faith could be operated within UNESCO and implement investigations, research, and intermediating institutional model building within its rather rigorous protocols of academic and professional resources.

Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)

An advisory council on the relationships between and among religions and other enterprising and entrepreneurial determinants of the betterment of humanity could provide a positive resource relationship and a protection against defamatory attributions about the connection between religions and economic and social development.

Faith Communities Permanent Observers Commission

A UN Secretariat Advisory Council on Religions could be established under the auspices of the Secretary-General or appropriate Assistant-Secretary-General. It could provide access to leadership and legitimate documentation about religions to orient the General Assembly or Security Council in time of obstacles or opportunities pertinent to religious organizations.

In no way am I suggesting a reform of the UN as an institution by religions but rather recommending pivotal ways to make a relatively effective global inter-mediator better and more responsive to misrepresentations of religions and underestimations of the resourcefulness of religions.

The United Nations as the intermediary for a higher purpose

It appears obvious to me that the wretched of the earth are ill served by the righteous of the earth in a world in which the Divine operational inspiration, priorities, compassion, power, and glory of religions are not considered in the grand scheme of deliberations of nations who unanimously aspire to make and keep peace and advance the Millennium Development Goals to uplift, improve, and sustain the best prospects for humanity

The United Nations offers the widest, most immediate, and most effective intermediary for most timely, authentic, and accurate involvement of useful information, insights, and inspirations available through organized communities of faith, who can at a minimum enhance the condition and at an optimum counter the abuse by self-serving prophets and manipulation of advantage in a disadvantaged world. At a maximum there is always a “halo effect” for advancing any human progress with the widest possible goodwill, prayer, and respect for the spiritual dimensions of all human beings, believers and nonbelievers alike.

I believe that a UN Communities of Faith Advisory Council would be a worthy investment of the permanent representatives of the family of nations in consultation with all their communities of faith. From a new creation, not old political formulations, could come trustworthy advice on the beliefs, nature, organization, and membership of the neglected voices of faith communities.

The identification and designation of participants in whatever extraordinary advisory council is created should be from within the religions represented, not appointed by member states whose opportunity to use and abuse religions could further facilitate sectarianism. I can only reflect upon the convulsions such a process might inflict in my own country. Let the United Nations converse, consult, and create an advisory council in anticipation of a desirable future rather than a replication of the residual shortfalls and conflicts perpetrated by state-sponsored and sometimes state-surrogate religious appointees.

Obviously, permanent representatives of United Nations member nations would guide and facilitate the process to construct an advisory body representative of authentic religious representation that will come from the religious sources designated by the United Nations membership but not parsed and prejudiced by statistical determinants that are solely political rather than representatively religious. Why not proceed now?

[i] Berger, Peter L: Sacred Canopy: New York: Anchor Books, 1967