August 2022
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T. Hendricks: Commentary on the Proposal for an Interreligious Council at the UN

I’d like to reflect on why it has proven so difficult to establish a religious council at the UN. Let’s look at how the initiating NGO, the Universal Peace Federation, explains the proposal:

"This assembly or council would consist of respected spiritual leaders in fields such as religion, culture, and education. Of course, the members of this interreligious assembly will need to have demonstrated an ability to transcend the limited interests of individual nations and to speak for the concerns of the entire world and humanity at large."

It sounds as if it would a great benefit to humankind, something that should be put in place without hesitation. One wonders if anyone thought of it before Rev. Sun Myung Moon did. Such a religious council would do a great deal of good for humanitarian and social causes. So, why does one not exist?

Has this initiative encountered difficulties because the leaders of nations are irreligious? I think not. For the most part, governmental leaders reflect the religiosity of their constituencies and are as religious as the members of any other vocation. The problem is not a lack of religion, but is the disinterest people have in cooperating across religious lines using religion as a vehicle.

Why should we expect religions to cooperate? Cooperation with other religions is not in the DNA of religion. Each religion emerged identifying itself as God’s unique, unsurpassed, chosen voice. Each presents God’s holy words and reveals what one does when one worships truly.

No one could ever confuse the worship of any religion with the worship of another. And each of them calls its adherents to a complete devotion of mind, body, and soul; most adherents, for all intents and purposes, take their religion to be a complete revelation, with none other needed.

Religion is not like chocolate bars: one day we prefer one, one day another; you prefer one brand, I another. All chocolate bars advertise themselves as unsurpassed and all one needs by way of chocolate, but no one takes this seriously. Not so religion. The marketers of religion—the clergy—speak as do all marketers: my religion is unsurpassed and you need no other, and unlike with chocolate, their consumers take them with utmost seriousness. This is similar to the saying that a Catholic is someone who, when they don’t go to church, don’t go to a Catholic church.

As a result of all this, no religions present us leaders who can, in fact, speak for humanity at large. The problem can be approached from another angle: all religions claim to present leaders who can speak for humanity at large, but none can gain universal agreement with that claim. Their claims compete. Covertly or overtly, they struggle for ascendancy. They each make their own case.

I want to make one more point about the Universal Peace Federation’s call for respected spiritual leaders who can speak for the concerns of the entire world. What makes a person a respected spiritual leader who can speak for the concerns of the entire world? Obviously, the entire world would have to agree. Only if the entire world agrees will the claim of the respected spiritual leaders to represent them be legitimated.

But there is a tautology here. The problem the council is supposed to solve is to get everyone to agree. And once everyone agrees about who should rightfully compose the council, then you already have the seed of peace in the world. So such a representative council is a result of peace. It is not the cause of peace.

As a central point for information and coordination on a global scale, I see a religious council at the UN working harmoniously with the representatives of governments to share this vision, articulate it in the languages of the world’s religious traditions, and facilitate these events. At the same time governments would protect the rights of all to speak, publish, believe, and assemble freely by the dictates of their conscience within the rule of law.

People would praise the virtues of other religious traditions and creatively celebrate the varieties of worship, spiritual disciplines, and liturgical practices, enjoying the revelation of one ideal in the process, the ideal, rooted in the natural family, that we are all members of the global human family.

The will of the beneficent and merciful God, the action of the Holy Spirit, the perfect wisdom of the Buddha-mind, the life of all the sources of religious and virtuous thought and deed would harmonize, sustained by the power of love for others and the joy of God-infused marriage and family life.

Readers of this essay might respond with doubts about the action steps to achieve this vision. Life is tough, and religious visions that change history are radical, unconventional, and out of step with social norms. They are an offense, and no one likes to offend, much less get crucified.

In their very temple courts, Jesus told the chief priests and elders of his day, “the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.” (Matt. 21:31) Jesus announced that one they converted to their faith was “twice as much a son of hell” as they. (Matt. 23:15) Such statements make the interfaith community wince.

But it gets worse: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth.” Jesus announced.

I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (Matt. 20:34-37)

Rev. Moon’s vision for world peace presents a radical challenge. To extract his vision for a religious council at the UN from this radical, challenging, prophetic context is to miss its entire point.

Jesus, whom Rev. Moon credits as the one who called him to his mission, and whom he is serving every day, could not answer the “by what authority?” question except by reference to himself and God.

It is a radical challenge to recognize God, and God’s representative, much less love them more than anything else, and understand that as the way to peace.