THE TANDEM PROJECT
UNITED NATIONS, HUMAN RIGHTS,
FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF
CULTURE & RELIGION OR BELIEF
Issue: Culture as Sacred: Perspective on the Relationship of Culture to Religion or Belief
For: United Nations, Governments, Religions or Beliefs, Academia, NGOs, Media, Civil Society
Review: Ernest Becker, Escape from Evil: A Division of Macmillan Publishing, 1975. Ernest Becker (1924-1974) won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction for “The Denial of Death.” He was a distinguished social theorist and a popular teacher of anthropology, sociology, and social psychology. Culture has been described as the total traits of a given people passed on from generation to generation. The major outcomes of the Alliance of Civilizations Madrid Forum (see Word Document attached) calls for cross-cultural dialogue between governments and inter-cultural and inter-faith dialogue between youth. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has called for constructive dialogue among individuals, among communities, among cultures, among and between nations.
So what can we add to understanding the meaning of culture in preparation for these important dialogues? Ernest Becker has said it is important “to be clear about this: culture itself is sacred, since it is the ‘religion’ that assures in some way the perpetuation of its members… Culture is in this sense ‘supernatural,’ and all systematizations of culture have in the end the same goal: to raise people above nature, to assure them that in some ways their lives count in the universe more than merely physical things count.” Excerpts from Becker’s book Escape from Evil may add a new dimension of the importance of culture on religion or belief; a dimension significant to the serious dialogues about to take place under the auspices of the Alliance of Civilizations.
Extracts from Escape from Evil are highlighted in bold on the second page
Objective: Build understanding and support for Article 18, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights –Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion - and the 1981 UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. Encourage the United Nations, Governments, Religions or Beliefs, Academia, NGOs, Media and Civil Society to use these international human rights standards as essential for long-term solutions to conflicts based on religion or belief.
Challenge: In 1968 the United Nations deferred work on an International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Religious Intolerance, because of its apparent complexity and sensitivity. In the twenty-first century, a dramatic increase of intolerance and discrimination on grounds of religion or belief is motivating a worldwide search to find solutions to these problems. This is a challenge calling for enhanced dialogue by States and others; including consideration of an International Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief for protection of and accountability by all religions or beliefs. The tensions in today’s world inspire a question such as:
Response: Is it the appropriate moment to
reinitiate the drafting of a legally binding international convention on
freedom of religion or belief? Law making of this nature requires a minimum
consensus and an environment that appeals to reason rather than emotions. At
the same time we are on a learning curve as the various dimensions of the
Declaration are being explored. Many academics have produced voluminous books
on these questions but more ground has to be prepared before setting up of a UN
working group on drafting a convention. In my opinion, we should not try to
rush the elaboration of a Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief,
especially not in times of high tensions and unpreparedness. - UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief,
Option: After forty years this may be the time, however complex and sensitive, to consider a new Working Group to draft a United Nations Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, at the UN backed Alliance of Civilizations Forum in January 2008 addressed the urgency of the moment; “Never in our lifetime has there been a more desperate need for constructive and committed dialogue, among individuals, among communities, among cultures, among and between nations.” This includes establishing genuine dialogue within and among all kinds of religion or belief, ranging from religious fundamentalism to secular dogmatism.
Concept: Separation of Religion or Belief and State – SOROBAS. The starting point for this dialogue is the First
Preamble to the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights; “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable
rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice
and peace in the world. It suggests
States recalling their history, culture and constitution adopt fair and equal
human rights protection for all religions or beliefs as described in General
Comment 22 on Article 18, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
UN Human Rights Committee,
Extracts: Extracts are presented under the Eight Articles of the 1981 U.N. Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. Examples of extracts are presented prior to an Issues Statement for each Review.
4. 1 All States shall take effective measures to prevent and eliminate discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief in the recognition, exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms in all fields of civil, economic, political, social and cultural life.
4.1.5: Cultural Life
*The Tandem Project has made the following excerpts in “Escape from Evil,” Gender neutral. Where Becker uses “mankind,” we use neutral phrases like “humanity” or “people.” It in no way detracts from the author’s intent to refer to culture as sacred.
“When Tolstoy came to face death, what he really experienced was anxiety about the meaning of his life. As he lamented in his Confession:
This is humanities age-old dilemma in the face of death: it is the meaning of the thing that is of paramount importance; what a person really fears is not so much extinction, but extinction with insignificance. People want to know that their life has somehow counted, if not for themselves, than at least in a larger scheme of things, that is has left a trace, a trace that has meaning. And in order for anything once alive to have meaning, its effects must remain alive in eternity in some way. Or, if there is to be a ‘final’ tally of the scurrying of people on earth – a ‘judgment day’- then this trace of one’s life must enter that tally and put on record who one was and that what one did was significant.
We can see that the self-perpetuation of organisms is the basic motive for what is most distinctive about people – namely, religion. As Otto Rank put it, all religion springs, in the last analysis, ‘not so much from…fear of natural death as of final destruction.’ But it is culture itself that embodies the transcendence of death in some form or other, whether it appears purely religious or not. It is very important for students of humanity to be clear about this: culture itself is sacred, since it is the ‘religion’ that assures in some way the perpetuation of its members. For a long time students of society liked to think in terms of ‘sacred’ versus ‘profane’ aspects of social life. But there has been continued dissatisfaction with this kind of simple dichotomy, and the reason is that there is really no basic distinction between sacred and profane in the symbolic affairs of people.
As soon as you have symbols you have artificial self-transcendence via culture. Everything cultural is fabricated and given meaning by the mind, a meaning that was not given by physical nature. Culture is in this sense ‘supernatural,’ and all systematizations of culture have in the end the same goal: to raise people above nature, to assure them that in some ways their lives count in the universe more than merely physical things count.
Now we can get to the point of this brief Introduction and see where it has all been leading. The reader has surely already seen the rub, and objected in their own mind that the symbolic denial of mortality is a figment of the imagination for flesh-and-blood organisms, that if persons seek to avoid evil and assure their eternal prosperity, they are living a fantasy for which there is no scientific evidence so far.
To which I would add that this would be alright if the fantasy were a harmless one. The fact is that self-transcendence via culture does not give people a simple straightforward solution to the problem of death; the terror of death still rumbles underneath the cultural repression (as I have argued in a previous book). What people have done is to shift the fear of death onto the higher level of cultural perpetuity; and this very triumph ushers in an ominous new problem. Since people must now hold for dear life onto the self-transcending meanings of society in which they live, onto the immortality symbols which guarantee them indefinite duration of some kind, a new kind of instability and anxiety are created.
And this anxiety is precisely what spills over into the affairs of people. In seeking to avoid evil, people are responsible for bringing more evil into the world than organisms could ever do merely by exercising their digestive tracts. It is people’s ingenuity, rather than their animal nature, that has given fellow creatures such a bitter earthly fate. This is the main argument of my book, and in the following chapters I want to show exactly how this comes about, how humanities impossible hopes and desires have heaped evil in the world.” - Introduction: The Human Condition; Between Appetite and Ingenuity, Ernest Becker, Escape from Evil.
“Persons have to keep from going mad by biting off small pieces of reality which they can get some command over and some satisfaction from. This means that their noblest passions are played out in the narrowest and most unreflective ways, and this is what undoes them. From this point of view the main problem for human beings has to be expressed in the following paradox; Men and women must have a fetish in order to survive and to have ‘normal mental health.’ But this shrinkage of vision that permits them to survive also at the same time prevents them from having the overall understanding they need to plan for and control the effects of their shrinkage of experience. A paradox this bitter sends a chill through all reflective people…Self-knowledge is the hardest human task because it risks revealing to persons how their self-esteem was built; on the powers of others in order to deny their own death…Life imagines its own significance and strains to justify its beliefs. It is as though the life force itself needed illusion in order to further itself. Logically, then, the ideal creativity for humans would strain toward the ‘grandest illusion.” - Ernest Becker, Escape from Evil -Chapter Ten – Retrospect and Conclusion: What is the Heroic Society?
ISSUE STATEMENT: This is a distinguished scholar’s unique perspective on the root causes of human evil for consideration by inter-cultural, inter-religious dialogue. Dialogue to be genuine is open to many perspectives and points of view on the root sources of conflict both cultural and religious. As faith-based religions have their own genesis on the causes of human conflicts, so the Enlightenment sciences have methods of inquiry in such disciplines as depth-psychology and evolutionary biology. Dialogue to be helpful must be tolerant of differing opinions, respectful and not defaming of others. As the UN Secretary General has said, never in his lifetime has there been a greater need for constructive and committed dialogue. Inter-religious-inter-belief dialogue should start by acknowledging the UN by law, under Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, protects against all forms of intolerance and discrimination for theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief.
Ernest Becker in his Conclusion to Escape from Evil said, “If I wanted to give in weakly to the most utopian fantasy I know, it would be one that pictures a world-scientific body composed of leading minds in all fields, working under an agreed general theory of human unhappiness.” Becker as a scholar approached the study of human evil from anthropology, sociology and social psychology, without understanding there is a world-human rights body. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not a utopian fantasy; it is a reality, a foundation of the highest ethical principles adopted by the United Nations, a deliberative body made up of the world’s great nations. With will and creativity, as Becker may have said to “strain toward the greatest illusion,” the United Nations will move forward with practical long-term solutions to conflicts based on culture and religion or belief.
Reply: The Tandem Project Country & Community Database collects information worldwide on United Nations Human Rights Bodies. The information is used for UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Reviews (UPR); UN Treaty-based Reports; UN Special Procedures, Special Rapporteur Reports. Click on the link below to open the Database. Read the Instructions & Table of Contents: scroll to an Article of your choice and click to reply.
The Tandem Project: a non-profit, non-governmental organization established in 1986 to build understanding and respect for diversity of religion or belief, and prevent discrimination in matters relating to freedom of religion or belief. The Tandem Project has sponsored multiple conferences, curricula, reference materials and programs on Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion - and the 1981 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.
The Tandem Project initiative was launched in 1986 as the result of a co-founder representing the World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA) at a 1984 United Nations Geneva Seminar, Encouragement of Understanding, Tolerance and Respect in Matters Relating to Freedom of Religion or Belief, called by the UN Secretariat on ways to implement the 1981 UN Declaration. In 1986, The Tandem Project organized the first NGO International Conference on the 1981 UN Declaration.
The Tandem Project Executive Director: Michael M. Roan, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Tandem Project is a UN NGO in Special Consultative Status with the
Economic and Social Council of the United Nations
WORD DOCUMENT ATTACHED