Bahai News - Baha'i International Community issues statement to the World Summit on Sustainable Development
Baha'i International Community issues statement to the World Summit on Sustainable Development
NEW YORK, 23 August 2002 (BWNS) -- The Baha'i International Community has issued a statement, entitled "Religion and
Development at the Crossroads: Convergence or Divergence?," to the World Summit on Sustainable Development, a United Nations
conference held in Johannesburg, South Africa, 26 August to 4 September 2002. The full text of the statement follows below:
Over the course of the 20th century, ethnic, racial and national prejudices have increasingly given way to the recognition that
humankind is a single family and the earth its common homeland. The United Nations (UN), which was created in response to this
dawning recognition, has worked tirelessly to bring about a world where all peoples and nations can live together in peace and
harmony. To help bring about this world, the UN has crafted a remarkable framework of international institutions, processes,
conventions and global action plans that have helped to prevent conflict and warfare, to protect human rights, to nurture
equality between women and men, and to uplift the material conditions of countless individuals and communities.
Despite these significant achievements, the United Nations has yet to grasp fully both the constructive role that religion can
play in creating a peaceful and prosperous global order, and the destructive impact that religious fanaticism can have on the
stability and progress of the world. This lack of attention to religion can be clearly seen in the development realm, where the
United Nations has, for the most part, viewed religious communities merely as channels for the delivery of goods and services,
and as mechanisms to carry out development policies and programs. Moreover, while the United Nations' human rights machinery has
been used to condemn religious intolerance and persecution, UN development policies and programs have hardly begun to address
religious bigotry as a major obstacle to peace and well-being.
Religion as the Basis of Civilization and Progress
It is becoming increasingly clear that passage to the culminating stage in the millennia long process of the organization of the
planet as one home for the entire human family cannot be accomplished in a spiritual vacuum. Religion, the Baha'i Scriptures
aver, "is the source of illumination, the cause of development and the animating impulse of all human advancement" and "has been
the basis of all civilization and progress in the history of mankind." It is the source of meaning and hope for the vast
majority of the planet's inhabitants, and it has a limitless power to inspire sacrifice, change and long-term commitment in its
followers. It is, therefore, inconceivable that a peaceful and prosperous global society -- a society which nourishes a
spectacular diversity of cultures and nations -- can be established and sustained without directly and substantively involving
the world's great religions in its design and support.
At the same time, it cannot be denied that the power of religion has also been perverted to turn neighbor against neighbor. The
Baha'i Scriptures state that "religion must be the source of fellowship, the cause of unity and the nearness of God to man. If
it rouses hatred and strife, it is evident that absence of religion is preferable and an irreligious man is better than one who
professes it." So long as religious animosities are allowed to destabilize the world, it will be impossible to foster a global
pattern of sustainable development: the central goal of this Summit.
Religion and the United Nations: Working Together for Peace and Justice
Given the record of religious fanaticism, it is understandable that the United Nations has been hesitant to invite religion into
its negotiations. However, the UN can no longer afford to ignore the immeasurable good that religions have done and continue to
do in the world, or the salubrious, far-reaching contributions that they can make to the establishment of a peaceful, prosperous
and sustainable global order. Indeed, the United Nations will only succeed in establishing such a global order to the extent
that it taps into the power and vision of religion. To do so will require accepting religion not merely as a vehicle for the
delivery and execution of development initiatives, but as an active partner in the conceptualization, design, implementation and
evaluation of global policies and programs. The historically justified wall separating the United Nations and religions must
fall to the imperatives of a world struggling toward unity and justice. The real onus, however, is on the religions themselves.
Religious followers and, more important, religious leaders must show that they are worthy partners in the great mission of
building a sustainable world civilization. To do so will require that religious leaders work conscientiously and untiringly to
exorcise religious bigotry and superstition from within their faith traditions. It will necessitate that they embrace freedom
of conscience for all people, including their own followers, and renounce claims to religious exclusivity and finality.
It should not be imagined that the acceptance of religion as a partner within the United Nations will be anything but gradual or
that religious hostilities will be eliminated any time soon. But the desperate needs of the human family make further delay in
addressing the role of religion unacceptable.
Religion and the United Nations: Possible Next Steps
For its part, the United Nations might begin the process of substantively involving religion in deliberations on humankind's
future by hosting an initial gathering of religious leaders convoked, perhaps, by the Secretary-General. As a first priority,
the leaders might call for a convention on freedom of religion and belief to be drafted and ratified, as expeditiously as
possible, by the governments of the world, with the assistance of religious communities. Such an action by the world's religious
leaders, which would signal their willingness to accept freedom of conscience for all peoples, would significantly reduce tensions
in the world. The gathering might also discuss the foundation within the United Nations System of a permanent religious forum,
patterned initially perhaps on the UN's recently founded Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The creation of this body would be
an important initial step toward fully integrating religion into the UN's work of establishing a peaceful world order.
For their part, religious leaders will need to show that they are worthy of participation in such a forum. Only those religious
leaders who make it clear to their followers that prejudice, bigotry and violence have no place in the life of a religious person
should be invited to participate in the work of this body.
The Promised Reign of Peace and Justice
It is evident that the longer the United Nations delays the meaningful involvement of religion in its work, the longer humanity
will suffer the ravages of injustice and disunity. It is equally clear that until the religions of the world renounce
fanaticism and work whole-heartedly to eliminate it from within their own ranks, peace and prosperity will prove chimerical.
Indeed, the responsibility for the plight of humanity rests, in large part, with the world's religious leaders. It is they who
must raise their voices to end the hatred, exclusivity, oppression of conscience, violations of human rights, denial of equality,
opposition to science, and glorification of materialism, violence and terrorism, which are perpetrated in the name of religious
truth. Moreover, it is the followers of all religions who must transform their own lives and take up the mantle of sacrifice for
and service to the well-being of others, and thus contribute to the realization of the long-promised reign of peace and justice
For a complete version of this statement, which includes extensive footnotes, go to: http://www.bic-un.bahai.org/02-0826.htm.
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