THE TANDEM PROJECT
UNITED NATIONS, HUMAN RIGHTS,
FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF
RELIGION & SCIENCE IN TANDEM WITH HUMAN RIGHTS
Michael M. Roan
Issue: Religious and scientific core beliefs held in tandem with human rights
For: United Nations, Governments, Religions or Beliefs, Academia, NGOs, Media, Civil Society
Review: Religion & Science in Tandem with Human Rights. Religious and scientific core beliefs held in tandem with human rights: I. United Nations History: II. Human Rights Education: III. Religion & Science: IV Method of Inquiry: V. Cooperation, Competition and Conflicts.
The Tandem Project International Conference in 1986; Tolerance for Diversity of Religion or Belief, included 27 Community Strategies on International Human Rights Standards and Freedom of Religion or Belief for Local Applications (attached PDF word document).
The conference included speakers on Religion and the 1981 U.N. Declaration, and Atheism and the 1981 U.N. Declaration. The Presiding Bishop of the American Lutheran Church introduced the speaker on Atheism; a professor at the Polish Academy of Sciences and Minister of Church Affairs for the Peoples Republic of Poland, who later became Chair of the U.N. Working Group for the 1993 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The Agenda with 27 Community Strategies were models on
how to apply International Human Rights Standards on Freedom of Religion or
Belief to local programs in Education, Law, Development and Analysis.
Afterwards, implementing the local strategies
was a challenge. International Human Rights Standards on Freedom of Religion or
Belief in the
The success of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review process will be determined by the National and Local follow-up over four years to U.N. Human Rights Council Working Group Reports. Implementing these measures on international human rights Conventions, Declarations and other instruments will determine the success of the Universal Periodic Review process.
Excerpts: Preamble to the 1981 UN Declaration on the Elimination
of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.
Proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations on
Reflections on the complexity, sensitivity, difficulty and challenge to achieve these excerpts from the preamble to the 1981 U.N. Declaration on Freedom of Religion or Belief:
Considering that religion or belief, for anyone who professes either, is one of the fundamental elements in his conception of life and that freedom of religion or belief should be fully respected and guaranteed,
Considering that it is essential to promote understanding, tolerance and respect in matters relating to freedom of religion or belief and to ensure that the use of religion or belief for ends inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations, other relevant instruments of the United Nations and the purposes and principles of the present Declaration is inadmissible,
I. United Nations History
The United Nations was founded in
In 1948, the UN appointed Eleanor Roosevelt of the
In 1961 the U.N. Sub-Commission to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights began to draft a Convention on Religious Intolerance. Deliberations on a legally-binding Convention were deferred in 1968 because of the apparent complexity and sensitivity of a legally-binding human rights Convention on religious intolerance. Instead, the Sub-Commission of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights was mandated to draft a U.N. Declaration on religion or belief.
In 1981 the U.N. General Assembly passed the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. It is an adjunct to Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Together, they are international law and Human Rights Standards on Freedom of Religion or Belief.
U.N. Member States of both religious and non-religious
persuasions issued reservations after approval of the 1981 U.N. Declaration.
In March 1982 the Central Committee of the Chinese
Communist party issued Document 19: The Basic Viewpoint on the Religious
Question during our Country’s Socialist Period. The policy declares the country
is atheist, but calls for limited freedom of religion in the People’s Republic
II. Human Rights Education
The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares, “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.” This core principle is enshrined in international law by Article 18, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights –Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief - and the 1981 UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.
The United Nations on
Religions or beliefs explain the ultimate meaning of life and how to live accordingly and often are a mixture of cooperating and competing principles. As competition, they have their own creeds, dogmas and values described as truth claims. The Roman Catholic Catechism, for example, has similarities and differences with the Augsburg Confession, the Lutheran doctrine formulated by Martin Luther. Most Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, indigenous and new religions hold in common universal principles of peace and cooperation as well as claims in competition with each other.
There is a difference between monotheistic religions looking outward for a messiah, or the revealed word of God through His Prophet; and religions in search of the Universal Mind, commonly described as a non-theistic belief often belief in reincarnation. Charvaka, the ancient Indian philosophical system of materialism, traceable to the Rig Veda in 600 B.C., is different from T’ien, the impersonal secular standard of justice of Confucius (551-479 B.C.). Both are different from the 1848 Communist Manifesto rejecting supernatural beliefs.
Bahiyyih G. Tahzib stressed the importance of definitions
in her commentary, Freedom of Religion or Belief: Ensuring Effective International Legal
Protection; “Sensitivity to labels is critically important for
religious and nonreligious people when trying to reduce intolerance and
discrimination based on religion or belief. Passionate anger can quickly arise
if people perceive their deeply-held beliefs being described unfairly. Giving a
label to matters of religion and other beliefs has always been a challenge to
the United Nations and its
Scholars and theologians debate terms like “religion.”
One Latin term religare means “to bind fast
together” The agnostic Stephen Jay Gould, former professor of Zoology at
Harvard, found this acceptable in his book Rocks of Ages: Science and
Religion in the Fullness of Life, “if used to construe as
fundamentally religious, literally, binding together, all moral discourse on
principles that might activate the ideal of universal fellowship among people.”
(5). Can a person who is Muslim choose a religion other than Islam? When
Sigmund Freud in his book, Civilization and Its Discontents, described the meaning of religion told to him by a religious friend as “an oceanic feeling, a sensation of eternity and one may, he thinks, rightly call oneself religious on the ground of this oceanic feeling alone, even if one rejects every belief and every illusion.” Freud commented by saying, “I cannot discover this ‘oceanic’ feeling in myself, but this gives me no right to deny that it does in fact occur in other people.” (6)
Humanism has different definitions depending on the values of a person or the organization. According to one definition, Humanism with a capital H “is not theistic, and does not accept supernatural views of reality.” (7) This is a non-theistic statement of humanism, as distinct from other terms persons like Richard Dawkins use when describing “New Atheists,” or as “Christian humanism” coined during the Renaissance and used to describe Erasmus (1467-1536) the famous Dutch theologian.
III. Religion & Science
In the introduction to Sigmund Freud’s The Future of an Illusion, Freud was quoted as saying, “science and religion are mortal enemies and that every attempt at bridging the gap between them is bound to be futile.” (8) Contrary to this position Stephen Jay Gould said science and religion each have their own realms, separate from the other. Science does comment on the ultimate meaning of life and religion is not science by most definitions. Polls taken on the metaphysical beliefs of scientists divide roughly as follows; 40% define themselves as theists, 40% as atheists and 20% take no position. Non-scientific followers of religions or beliefs vary widely some accepting science as confirming their beliefs and others as a threat to their beliefs.
The view of science by members of a religion or belief
varies from country to country and individual to individual. According to Niall
Ferguson, a recent Gallup Millennium Survey of religious attitudes reports that
in the Netherlands, Britain, Germany, Sweden and Denmark, less than 10 percent
of the population now attend church at least once a month. Only in Catholic
Science in the twenty-first century is making rapid discoveries such as mapping the human genome and stem cell research that seems to be challenging traditional beliefs. In 2003, The Harvard Divinity School Ingersoll Lectures, a series on immortality, held every year since 1896, debated “The Desire for Eternal Life: Scientific Versus Religious Visions.” The debate was on the moral and ethical value of greatly extending life, something possible by science in the future, vs. the mortality argument that life is extended only by God in another realm after death. (10)
The U.N. debate continues on international treaty law
for therapeutic and human cloning. A New York Times editorial, five years ago
on November 5, 2003, reported a day before a preliminary vote that three
positions were being proposed; a ban on all forms of human cloning, a ban on
human cloning, with an exemption for therapeutic cloning for the use of
embryonic stem cells in experiments to search for clues to a wide range of
diseases, and a proposal to postpone the vote for two years. The
The United Nations put off the vote for a legal
convention on human cloning. Led by a deferral motion introduced by
IV. Method of Inquiry
Core scientific beliefs are not religion or belief; they are a method of inquiry. Human rights are not religion or belief either; they are metaphysically and philosophically neutral, protecting theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. T.H. Huxley (1825-1895) an English biologist, philosopher and educator, in 1869, in response to repeated questions from the London Metaphysical Society as a result of Darwin’s publication On the Origin of Species asked if he believed in God or not originated the term ‘agnostic.’(12) Lexicographers call agnosticism the third rail on the God-idea, distinct from theism and atheism.
T.H. Huxley explained it this way, “Agnostics have no
creed but a method, the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a
single principle. That principle is of great antiquity; it is as old as
Socrates, it is the axiom that every man and woman should be able to give a
reason for the faith that is in them; it is the principle of Descartes; it is
the fundamental axiom of modern science. The only obligation is to have the
mind always open to conviction.” (13) This became the definition of
agnosticism; suspended belief open to conviction. T.H. Huxley, “
Faith, by one definition is holding a religion or belief without certifiable proof. Soren Kirkegaard (1823-1855) stated a Christian must take a “leap of faith”-either/or. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) said transcendentalism presumed a “special knowledge” derived from intuition. Blaise Pascal, a French philosopher (1623-1662) said intuition was the key to God, “the heart has reasons that reason knows nothing about.” Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) agreeing with Islamic neo-platonic philosophy said “divine law revealed by God” complemented philosophy.
Atheism or “not-theism” does not believe in a supernatural reality. Richard Dawkins described by some as a “New Atheist” in his book “a devil’s chaplain admits, “Science has no way to disprove the existence of a supreme being, this is strictly true.” (15) Charles Darwin, describing himself as an agnostic after agreeing with the term coined by his colleague T.H. Huxley, was quoted as saying; “one might as well try to illuminate the sky with a candle as throw the light of reason on metaphysics.” Yet atheism, in support of reason and physics, cannot disprove theism. The mystery remains.
Consciousness is has been said, exists by a separation of opposites, by acquiring unilateral vision at birth. This may or may not be innate or inborn for individuals, groups, organizations, nations or religions as they both cooperate and compete against each other. Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) describes the underlying condition of human existence as “a war of every man against every man and self-interest is the universal rule.” For Hobbes, natural law is the law of the jungle that calls for a civil law compact with a benevolent monarch in order not to destroy each other. There are numerous examples of religious and non-religious altruism and self-sacrifice for others but unilateral vision, “splitting” into polar opposites seems to be a feature of human nature.
Ernest Becker (1924-1974) winner of the Pulitzer Prize in General Non-fiction for The Denial of Death, said: “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’ and ‘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. According to Becker, for individuals “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.” 16.
In Eastern philosophy the principle of Yin and Yang approaches the problem of opposites by embracing both simultaneously, in a paradoxical union that transcends and reconciles them; theist and atheist, black and white, good and evil, right and wrong, male and female, height and depth, courage and cowardice, love and hate, destiny and free will, calm and turbulence, universal and particular, constructive and destructive, light and dark, war and peace. Yin and Yang in Jungian terms are used to understand and transcend our shadow – which is the opposite of what seems most different from us, what we fear the most.
Herman Melville, author of the great American novel, Moby Dick, speaks of opposites when contemplating the eyes of the Sperm Whale that sees out of both sides of its head, “how is it, then, with the whale? True, both of his eyes in themselves must simultaneously act; but is his brain so much more comprehensive, combing, and subtle than man’s, that he can at the same moment of time attentively examine two distinct prospects, one on one side of him, and the other in an exactly opposite direction?” (17)
V. Cooperation, Competition and Conflicts
Norms and standards on human rights and freedom of religion or belief are international law and codes of conduct for peaceful cooperation, respectful competition and resolution of conflicts.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, at an 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 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.”
The Tandem Project Objectives: (1) Use International Human Rights Standards on Freedom of Religion or Belief as a platform for genuine dialogue on core principles and values within and among nations, all religions and other beliefs. (2) Adapt these human rights standards to early childhood education, teaching children, from the very beginning, that their own religion is one out of many and that it is a personal choice for everyone to adhere to the religion or belief by which he or she feels most inspired, or to adhere to no religion or belief at all.1
The universality of human rights has been clearly established and recognized in international law. – Published by the United Nations Department of Public Information DPI/1627/HR – March 1995. Principle: A basic truth, law or assumption; a rule or standard of personal conduct; moral or ethical standard; rule.
1.) The U.N. Human Rights Committee, General Comment 22 on Article 18 defines the protection of religion or belief as follows: “Article 18 protects theistic non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief.” The term, ‘not to profess any religion or belief,’ may be closest to the neutral position postulated by this paper. The General Comment goes on to say, “The terms religion or belief are to be broadly construed. Article 18 is not limited in its application to traditional religions or to religions and beliefs with institutional 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.”
2.) Bahiyyih G. Tahzib, “Freedom of Religion or
Belief: Ensuring Effective International Legal Protection,” Kluwer Publishing,
4.) The U.N. Commission on Human Rights focus is on eliminating discrimination based on religion or belief, which includes sensitivity to labels, definitions and the evolution of the phrase “religion or belief.”
5) Gould, Stephen Jay, “Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, Random House, Inc., 1999, p. 62.
6.) Freud Sigmund, “Civilization and its Discontents,” 1929, Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud in 24 Volumes, p. 12.
7.) The IHEU Minimum Statement on Humanism. For a more complete explanation of Humanism with a capital H read the Amsterdam Declaration for 2002 on their website: http://www.iheu.org.
8.) Freud Sigmund, “The Future of an Illusion,” 1927: The Standard Edition, W.W. Norton & Company, p. xiii. Peter Gay.
10.) Daniel Callahan, “The Desire for Eternal Life: Scientific Versus Religious Visions,” Harvard Divinity School Bulletin, Volume 31, Number 2, spring 2003.
11.) New York Times Editorial, “A Fight at the U.N.
12.) Adrian Desmond & James Moore, “
13.) T.H. Huxley, Agnostic Annual, 1892
14.) Julian Huxley, “Religion without Revelation,”
15.) Richard Dawkins, “a devil’s chaplain”, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003, p. 149. This quote is from a chapter called “The Great Convergence.” In the sentence prior to the quote Dawkins belittles agnostic conciliation by saying it is “the decent liberal bending over backwards to concede as much as possible to anybody who shouts loudly enough, reaches ludicrous lengths in the following common piece of sloppy thinking. It goes roughly like this. You can’t prove a negative (so far so good). Science has no way to disprove the existence of a supreme being (this is strictly true). Therefore belief (or disbelief) in a supreme being is a matter of pure individual inclination, and they are therefore both equally deserving of respectful attention!” This was said as a matter of ridicule.
T.H. Huxley, who coined the term agnostic, would not
agree with his description of agnosticism as “the decent liberal bending over
backwards to concede as much as possible to anybody who shouts loudly enough.”
To Huxley agnosticism meant a rigorous scientific inquiry, always open to
conviction. In a
Dawkins implies Stephen Jay Gould was an atheist, “The ‘separate magisteria’ thesis was promoted by S.J. Gould, an atheist bending over backwards far beyond the call of duty or common sense.” S.J. Gould, in his own book, Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, defines himself as an agnostic “I am not a believer. I am an agnostic in the wise sense of T.H. Huxley, who coined the word in identifying such open-minded skepticism as the only rational position because, truly, one cannot know.”
16.). Ernest Becker (1924-1974) won the Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction for “The Denial of Death.” He was a distinguished social theorist and a popular teacher of anthropology, sociology, and social psychology. Also, Ernest Becker, Escape from Evil: The Nature of Social Evil; Retrospect and Conclusion, page 153; Free Press, A Division of Macmillan Publishing, 1975:
“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.”
17.) Edward F. Edinger, Melville’s Moby-Dick, an
American Nekyia, Inner City Books,
The Tandem Project: a non-governmental organization founded in 1986 to build understanding, tolerance and respect for diversity, and to prevent discrimination in matters relating to freedom of religion or belief. The Tandem Project, a non-profit NGO, 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 1981 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.
The Tandem Project initiative is the result of a co-founder representing the World Federation of United Nations Associations at the United Nations Geneva Seminar, Encouragement of Understanding, Tolerance and Respect in Matters Relating to Freedom of Religion or Belief, called by the UN Secretariat in 1984 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 is: 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