THE TANDEM PROJECT
UNITED NATIONS, HUMAN RIGHTS,
FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF
ALL CULTURE IS SACRED: PREP FOR
Issue: All Culture is Sacred in Symbolic Affairs of People: Preparation for Durban Review Conference
For: United Nations, Governments, Religions or Beliefs, Academia, NGOs, Media, Civil Society
Review: The United Nations Human Rights Council Preparatory
Committee for the United Nations Durban Review Conference in 2009 met in the
First Substantive Session 21 April to
Excerpts from Escape from Evil may add a cultural dimension to the Durban Review Conference in April 2009. 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.
Ernest Becker: “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.”
Direct Link to U.N. Preparatory
Escape from Evil Excerpts begin on the third page followed by an Issue Statement
Closing the Gap -International Standards for National and Local Applications *
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 consider the rule of law and 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:
Should the United Nations adopt an International Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief?
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, for the United Nations Human Rights Council to appoint an Open-ended Working Group to draft a United Nations Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief. The mandate of an Open-ended Working Group ought to assure nothing in a draft Convention will be construed as restricting or derogating from any right defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenants on Human Rights, and the 1981 UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. One writer has said; “Religion raises the stakes of human conflict much higher than tribalism, racism, or politics ever can…it casts the differences between people in terms of eternal rewards and punishments.”
Concept: Separation of Religion or
Belief and State – SOROBAS. The starting point for this concept 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,
Article 18: protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. The terms belief and religion are to be broadly construed. Article 18 is not limited in its application to traditional religions or to religions and beliefs with international characteristics or practices analogous to those of traditional religions. The Committee therefore views with concern any tendency to discriminate against any religion or belief for any reasons, including the fact that they are newly established, or represent religious minorities that may be the subject of hostility by a predominant religious community. Article 18: permits restrictions to manifest a religion or belief only if such limitations are prescribed by law and necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
Dialogue & Education
Dialogue: United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, at the Alliance of Civilizations Madrid Forum said; “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.” A writer in another setting has said, “The warning signs are clear: unless we establish genuine dialogue within and among all kinds of belief, ranging from religious fundamentalism to secular dogmatism, the conflicts of the future will probably be even more deadly.”
Norms and standards on human rights and freedom of religion or belief are essential as universal rules for peaceful cooperation, respectful competition and resolution of conflicts. International Standards on Human Rights and Freedom of Religion or Belief is a universal platform for inclusive and in-depth dialogue within and among nations, all religions and other beliefs.
The 1981 U.N. Declaration states; “Every child shall enjoy the right to have access to education in the matter of religion or belief in accordance with the wishes of his parents, and shall not be compelled to receive teaching on religion or belief against the wishes of his parents, the best interests of the child being the guiding principle.” The best interests of the child must take into account the International Covenant on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Given these parameters, early childhood education is the best time to begin to build tolerance, understanding and respect for freedom of religion or belief
Direct Link U.N. Human Rights
Council web cast Preparatory Committee for the Durban Review Conference First
Excerpts: Excerpts 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. They are presented prior to an Issues Statement for each Review.
3. 1 Discrimination between human beings on grounds of religion or belief constitutes an affront to human dignity and a disavowal of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and shall be condemned as a violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and enunciated in detail in the International Covenants on Human Rights, and as an obstacle to friendly and peaceful relations between nations.
3.1.1: UNESCO. Article 3 of the 1981 U.N. Declaration is a reference point for the principles of the United Nations Charter and a bridge to all entities within the United Nations system.
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,” neutral phrases are used like “humanity” or “people.” It in no way detracts from the author’s intent to refer to culture as sacred.
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.
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 it 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.
When Tolstoy came to face death, what he really experienced was anxiety about the meaning of his life. As he lamented in his Confession: “What will become of my whole life…Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?”
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.
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.
We can talk for a century about what causes human aggression; we can try to find the springs in animal instincts, or we can try to find them in bottled-up hatreds due to frustration or in some kind of miscarried experiences of early years, of poor child handling and training. All these would be true, but still trivial because men kill out of joy, in the experience of expansive transcendence over evil. This poses an immense problem for social theory, a problem that we have utterly failed to be clear about. If men kill out of heroic joy, in what direction do we program improvements in human nature? What are we going to improve if men work evil out of the impulse to righteousness and goodness?
ISSUE STATEMENT: Dialogue to be inclusive and in-depth must be open to perspectives and points of view on the root sources of conflict both cultural and religious that we may not agree with. As faith-based religions have their own genesis on the causes of human conflicts, so the Enlightenment sciences have methods of inquiry in disciplines as diverse as literature, depth-psychology and evolutionary biology. Dialogue to be constructive must be tolerant of differing opinions, respectful and not defaming of other points of view.
Addressing culture as sacred in literature is common. Moby-Dick, the struggle of Captain Ahab with the White Whale, known in the novel as the deity, is illustrative of the novel as a record in symbolic imagery of an intense inner experience. Edward E. Edinger, Jungian psychotherapist and author of Melville’s Moby-Dick, an American Nekyia, called Moby-Dick an American Faust. “Melville pitted the powers of his own creative imagination against the ultimate mystery of human existence. Taken as a whole, Faust provides the closest parallel of all to Moby-Dick. Ishmael and Ahab are primordial images that lie deep in the American soul. This makes the study of Moby-Dick, for an American particularly, more than an intellectual exercise. A collision against the impenetrable mystery of being may bring personal trauma or tragedy, but collectively, given the image-making genius, it produces a new symbolic image to be added to the collective cultural consciousness.”
* Preface Closing the Gap – International Standards for National and Local Applications, considers the question of a Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief followed by a Response from the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief and an Option. The Concept includes a program for human rights-based Dialogue & Education.
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, email@example.com.
The Tandem Project is a UN NGO in Special Consultative Status with the
Economic and Social Council of the United Nations