Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Importance of Comparative Religion field; Aug. 2013 talks on Faith based community initiatives by USA Secretary of State, John Kerry & others

I came across this very interesting short speech by USA Secretary of State, John Kerry, at the launch of the (USA) Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives on Aug. 7th 2013, http://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2013/08/212781.htm

Here are some excerpts from his speech which I found to be very interesting, and some comments of mine:

As Secretary of State, and before that as a senator for 29 years, I have met with faith-based leaders all across the world, had the privilege, obviously, of running for President of the United States, met with many members of our faith-based community here in our country, and I have met with people of all religions and of all life philosophies and belief systems. And that experience has only reaffirmed my belief that there is much more that unites us, and should unite us, than divides us.

Gandhi called the world’s religions beautiful flowers from the same garden ... And there is common ground between the Abrahamic faiths, and, in fact, between the Abrahamic faiths and all religions and philosophies, whether you’re talking about Hindu or Confucianism or any other of the many of the world’s different approaches to our existence here on the planet and to our relationship with a supreme being.

All of these faiths are virtuous and they are in fact, most of them, tied together by the golden rule, as well as fundamental concerns about the human condition, about poverty, about relationships between people, our responsibilities each to each other. And they all come from the same human heart.

[Ravi: From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Rule

The Golden Rule or ethic of reciprocity is a maxim, ethical code or morality that essentially states either of the following:
* One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself. (Directive form.)
* One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated (Cautionary form, also known as the Silver Rule).

--- end wiki extract ---

Ravi: I am very happy to know that a powerful USA political leader has such a nice view of religions.]

...

So we need to recognize that in a world where people of all faiths are migrating and mingling like never before, where we are this global community, which we always talk about, we ignore the global impact of religion, in my judgment, at our peril. And I have talked at length with people like King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, or even King Abdullah, Prince Ghazi of Jordan, and others who are engaged in interfaith efforts, all of whom recognize that their religion, Islam, has to a large measure been hijacked by people who have no real depth with respect to what the faith in fact preaches, but who interpret it in ways that lead people to conflict and even to violence.

So it’s not really enough just to talk about a better dialogue. I think we have to stand up and deliver one. And that’s why I am very proud today to announce the creation of the Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives here at the State Department. Its mission is as clear as it is compelling: It is to engage more closely with faith communities around the world, with the belief that we need to partner with them to solve global challenges, and there is an enormous partnership, I believe, there for the asking.

[Ravi: Very interesting.]
...

Engagement – the engagement that I’m talking about is a two-way street. Our job at the State Department is not just to proclaim or to stand up and pontificate about the things that we want. We have to listen to people about the things that they want. And everybody here today has played a valuable role in promoting the development of countries or preventing conflict, advancing human dignity all across the globe. So we launch this office with a clear intent to keep our door open and to work as cooperatively as possible with all of you.

I am genuinely excited about the possibilities of this. Around the world, from Egypt to Ethiopia, from Peru to Pakistan, religious leaders every day are taking on some of the toughest challenges that we face. They’re healing communities. They’re providing counsel to families. They’re working in partnership with governments for the enduring health of our planet and its people.

...

... if I went back to college today, I think I would probably major in comparative religion, because that’s how integrated it is in everything that we are working on and deciding and thinking about in life today.

[Ravi: That is some recognition of the importance today of the academic field of comparative religion.]

...

And I want to emphasize this to everybody because I know the question will be out there: Is this sort of a departure from the norm? No. We approach this with the full recognition and understanding of – Thomas Jefferson’s understanding and admonition about the wall of separation between church and state. But what we are doing is guided by the conviction that we have to find ways to translate our faiths into efforts that unify for the greater good. That can be done without crossing any lines whatsoever.

One of my favorite passages from the Scripture sums up what Shaun and I think this effort is really all about. It’s a familiar Gospel of Mark in which Jesus says to his disciples, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for the many.”

[Ravi: I think the universally recognized sign of true spiritual men & women is that they serve and are not keen in being served. There is something truly noble, truly heart-melting about those who serve that is easily felt by sensitive people no matter what be their religion or even if they are atheists/agnostics.]

...

No one would sit here today, or anywhere else, and suggest that we’re doing such a good job everywhere that we don’t need to bring more people to the table. It is clear, with the numbers of failed states and failing states and growing youthful populations around the world who feel disenfranchised and disconnected and unable to find jobs or get the education they need, we have work to do together and we need everybody at the table. And that’s what this is about.

--- end extracts & comments of USA Secretary of State, John Kerry ---

This is followed by short speeches of two others. I have given below interesting extracts from their speeches too.

Extracts from Dr. Shaun Casey's speech:

Mr. Secretary, several years ago, you and I started a conversation about the rich, diverse, and complicated public implications of religious belief and practice. At that time, some were claiming that religion poisons everything, while others were saying that religion would save and solve everything. You knew, however, that the reality was somewhere in between.

I remember thinking at the time how unusual it was for a public figure to see the potential in and the power of religious groups tackling extreme poverty, convincing people to combat global climate change, fighting for global human rights, mitigating conflict and building peace, even at a time when others focused on those religious folk who committed acts of violent extremism, perversely claiming justice in the name of their own faith. From that day forward, I admired your willingness to defy the conventional wisdom that dictated religion was a purely private, personal choice, and thus communities bounded by faith must be entirely left outside of discussions of policy. That is why, today, engaging these communities in the context of policy has always struck me as being a matter of very great and deep importance.

...

Extracts from Ms. Melissa Rogers' speech:

For millions of people, here in the United States and in countries around the world, faith is a fundamental part of their identity. It shapes who they are and how they understand the world around them. It provides a sense of community and a network of support.

[Ravi: So well said. As somebody who became a man of faith after having been an agnostic for most of my adult youth (till around 30) I can testify to how fundamental faith is as part of one's identity for the faithful. Prior to me being blessed with faith in the divine it was quite a different life (not a bad life but certainly a different life).]

We have seen the power of religion throughout human history. In our own country, for example, we’ve seen religious leaders join with others in championing causes like abolition, civil rights, and the eradication of poverty. In so doing, these advocates have often led our nation to heed the better angels of its nature. Similarly, around the world, on issues ranging from health to education to conflict prevention, religious and other civil society leaders are tackling some of our most pressing challenges. They help create more peaceful and secure communities. Of course, as we know all too well, there are also times when religion is abused to promote violence and destabilize communities.

...

The second objective is advancing pluralism and human rights, including the protection of religious freedom. Our engagement with religious and other civil society leaders should strive to promote pluralism and respect for the human rights of all people, including members of minority or marginalized groups. Now, we understand that sometimes civil society leaders and institutions may disagree with our positions on certain issues, but we’re committed to having the conversation. Increasing our engagement with a diverse spectrum of religious as well as secular communities will help us to underscore the universality of these critical rights. And here, the new office, of course, will work closely with the Office of International Religious Freedom, among many other State Department offices.

[Ravi: I really like the "advancing pluralism and human rights, including the protection of religious freedom" part. From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_pluralism: "Religious pluralism is an attitude or policy regarding the diversity of religious belief systems co-existing in society. It can indicate one or more of the following:
As the name of the worldview according to which one's religion is not the sole and exclusive source of truth, and thus the acknowledgement that at least some truths and true values exist in other religions. ..."]

The third objective is preventing, mitigating, and resolving violent conflict to enhance local and regional stability and security. While it is critical to understand the ways in which religion can be manipulated to exacerbate conflict, religion is not an inherent source of conflict or violent extremism. Strategic engagement with religious leaders can help us to break cycles of violent conflict.

Now, as Shaun and Secretary Kerry have said, a guiding principle for all of this work will be that our actions must be consistent with the United States Constitution. Employees of our government can and should engage faith-based leaders and communities on US policy priorities just as they do other civil society leaders and communities. At the same time, our precious religious freedom guarantees of the First Amendment mean that we must observe some special rules when we engage religious actors and matters, such as ensuring governmental neutrality toward faith.

[Ravi: Interesting to note the care taken to avoid any issues related to US constitution. I guess it will be somewhat similar in India when it comes to government engaging religious groups.]

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