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Now is the Time





Arcot Krishnaswami in his seminal 1960 study Discrimination in the Matter of Religious Rights and Practices said “Truly great religions and other beliefs are based upon ethical tenants such as duty to widen the bounds of good-neighbourliness and the obligation to meet human need in the broadest sense. He then went on in his first footnote to say “In view of the difficulty of defining “religion” the term “religion or belief” is used in this study to include, in addition to various theistic creeds, such other beliefs as agnosticism, free thought, atheism and rationalism.” Through Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) this is now embedded as international human rights law on freedom of religion or belief.

Link: 89 pages: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/religion/docs/Krishnaswami_1960.pdf

The Tandem Project applied this principle at a 1986 Conference on Tolerance for Diversity of Religion or Belief with an address on Atheism and the 1981 UN Declaration introduced by the Bishop of the American Lutheran Church:  http://www.tandemproject.com/tolerance.pdf

Cultural Perspectives respects the right to freedom of opinion and expression as inviolable to democracy and the need to balance security with human rights. The Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) Treaty Review Conference is being held from 3-28 May 2010. Consideration of a treaty on Freedom of Religion or Belief in the Preface should be considered to counter these weapons of mass destruction: http://www.un.org/en/conf/npt/2010

Preface – The First Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: 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.

Surely one of the best hopes for humankind is to embrace a culture in which religions and other beliefs accept one another, in which wars and violence are not tolerated in the name of an exclusive right to truth, in which children are raised to solve conflicts with mediation, compassion and understanding.

There is an increase in dialogue today between religions and other beliefs to embrace diversity, but few persons, less than one percent of any population, ever participate. This is a challenge. The value of such dialogues is proportionate to the level of participation. For civil society increased participation would create opportunities for education on inclusive and genuine approaches to human rights and freedom of religion or belief. 

 In 1968 the United Nations deferred passage of a legally-binding convention on religious intolerance saying it was too complicated and sensitive. Instead, they adopted a non-binding declaration on the elimination of all forms of intolerance and of discrimination based on religion or belief. While very worthwhile, the declaration does not carry the force and commitment of a legally-binding international human rights convention on freedom of religion or belief.

Religions and other beliefs historically have been used to justify wars and settle disputes. This is more dangerous today as the possible misuse of nuclear and biological weapons of mass destruction increases. Governments need to revisit whether religions and other beliefs trump human rights or human rights trump religions and other beliefs or neither trumps the other; whether culture trumps the universal or universal rights sensitively and with respect trumps culture in the face of this historical truth.





Issue:  Diverse Perspectives on Freedom of Religion or Belief   

For: United Nations, Governments, Religions or Beliefs, Academia, NGOs, Media, Civil Society
Review:  The Tandem Project periodically posts excerpts from leading thinkers in literature, both fiction and non-fiction, on the root causes if discrimination. In this review there are excerpts from: George Orwell’s 1984; Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov; Ernest Becker’s Escape from Evil, Sigmund Freud’s The Future of an Illusion, Robert Oppenheimer I have become death, the destroyer of worlds, Kingston Trio.

General Comment on Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: 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 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 reason, including the fact that they are newly established, or represent religious minorities that may be the subject of hostility on the part of a predominant religious community.

1981 U.N. Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief  

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

Sensitivity to labels is critically important for both religious and non-religious 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 to be described unfairly. Giving a label to matters relating to religion and other beliefs has always been a challenge to the United Nations and its Member States as it involves complex and sensitive definitional issues.

The Tandem Project measures organization, group and individual awareness, understanding and use of international human rights instruments on freedom of religion or belief at international, national and local levels. The 1981 UN Declaration article 2: “no one shall be subject to discrimination by any State, institution, group of persons or persons on grounds of religion or other beliefs.”  The Tandem Project uses a broad definition of “group” to include States, institutions, religions or other beliefs and smaller groups within those broad categories for an Exchange of Information as a follow-up to Universal Periodic Reviews.

Sigmund Freud, 1921

Group psychology is therefore concerned with the individual man as a member of a race, of a nation, of a caste, of a profession, of an institution, or as a component part of a crowd of people who have been organized into a group at some particular time for some definite purpose.

Sigmund Freud, 1933

I may now add that civilization is a process in the service of Eros, whose purpose is to combine single human individuals, and after that families, then races, peoples and nations, into one great unity, the unity of mankind. – Freud: Civilization and its Discontents.

Freud was a convinced, consistent, aggressive atheist. He was, and remained, as he told his Swiss friend, the pastor and psychologist Oskar Pfster, a “godless Jew.” In the manner of the eighteenth century philosophies, he argued that religion and science are mortal enemies and that every attempt at bridging the gap between them is bound to be futile. Science has given us evidence by its numerous and important successes that it is no illusion. Science has many enemies and many more secret ones, among those who cannot forgive her for having weakened religious faith and for threatening to overthrow it.

I had sent him my small book that treats religion as an illusion, and he answered that he entirely agreed with my judgment upon religion, but that he was sorry I had not properly appreciated the true source of religious sentiments. This, he says, consists in a peculiar feeling which he himself is never without, which he finds confirmed by many others, and which he may suppose is present in millions of people. It is a feeling as of something limitless, unbounded – as it were, ‘oceanic.’ This feeling, he adds, is a purely subjective fact, not an article of faith; it brings with it no assurance of personal immortality, but it is the source of the religious energy which is seized upon by the various Churches and religious systems, directed by them into particular channels, and doubtless also exhausted by them. One may, he thinks, rights call oneself religious on the ground of this oceanic feeling alone, even if one rejects every belief and every illusion. 

The views expressed by the friend whom I so much honor, and who himself once praised the magic of illusion in a poem, caused me no small difficulty. I cannot discover this ‘oceanic’ feeling in myself…From my own experience I could not convince myself of the primary nature of such a feeling. But this gives me no right to deny that it does in fact occur in other people. – Civilization and its Discontents, by Sigmund Freud.

Sigmund Freud, 1927

“What is characteristic of illusions is that they are derived from human wishes. Illusions need not be false – that is to say, unrealizable or in contradiction to reality. For instance, a middle-class girl may have the illusion that a prince will come and marry her. This is possible; and a few such cases have occurred. That the Messiah will come and found a golden age is much less likely. Whether one classifies this belief as an illusion or as something analogous to a delusion will depend on one’s personal attitude.”  

“I am become death, the destroyer of worlds”
Robert Oppenheimer, Trinity 1945

Robert Oppenheimer was the director of the laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and the scientific direct of the Manhattan project. Since some many talents were involved its somewhat misleading to call him “the father of the nuclear bomb”, but he undeniably made on of the major individual contributions.

In an interview from 1965, Oppenheimer describes the initial reactions as the fruit of their labors, the very first nuclear bomb (the Hiroshima bomb was the second one), detonated early in the morning of July 16, 1945: We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed…A few people cried…Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture the Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the prince that he should do his duty, and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form, and says, “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds,” I suppose we all thought that one way or another.

The quote is indeed from the Bhagavad Gita (“Song of the lord”). Some suggest it’s a misquote, which would explain the peculiar grammar; but “am become” is not an error but a (poetic) archaism, as in “I am become a name, for always roaming with a hungry heart” (Tennyson, Ulysses). Which in turn might be a trace of French; “je suis devenu las mort”.

Reviewers Note: “Since Oppenheimer was proficient in Sanskrit he read the original text, and the translation is his own; I haven’t found any other translation with “am become.” It certainly gives a certain something to the line, however, and it probably would have been less well known if it had been “I am death”.

Bhagavad Gita, chapter 11, verses 31-33.


American Folk song: from the 1960’s.

They’re rioting in Africa, They’re starving in Spain, There’s hurricanes in Florida, and Texas needs rain//The whole world is festering with unhappy souls, the French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles,  Italians hate Yugoslav’s, South Africans hate the Dutch, and I don’t like anybody very much// But we can be tranquil and thankful and proud, for man’s been endowed with a mushroom shaped cloud// And we can be certain that some lovely day, someone will set the spark off and we will all be blown away,// There rioting in Africa, There’s strife in Iran, what nature doesn’t do to us, will be done by our fellow man.

By George Orwell  

Afterword: by Erich Fromm on George Orwell’s “1984” Signet Classics, page 318.


George Orwell’s 1984 is the expression of a mood and it is a warning. The mood it expresses is that of near despair about the future of man, and the warning is that unless the course of history changes, men all over the world will lose their most human qualities, will become soulless automatons, and it will not even be aware of it.

The question is a philosophical, anthropological and psychological one, and perhaps also a religious one. It is: can human nature be changed in such a way that man will forget his longing for freedom, for dignity, for integrity, for love – that is to say, can man forget that he is human? Or does human nature have a dynamism which will react to the violation of these basic human needs by attempting to change an inhuman society into a human one?

Orwell wrote 1984 before the discovery of thermonuclear weapons and it is only a history footnote to say that in the fifties the very aim which was just mentioned had already been reached. The atomic bomb which was dropped on the Japanese cities seems small and ineffective when compared with the mass slaughter which can be achieved by thermonuclear weapons with the capacity to wipe out 90 per cent or 100 per cent of a country’s population within minutes.

The importance of Orwell’s concept of war lies in a number of very keen observations.

First of all, he shows the economic significance of continuous arms production, without which the economic system cannot function. Furthermore, he gives an impressive picture of how a society must develop which is constantly preparing for war, constantly afraid of being attacked, and preparing to find the means of complete annihilation of its opponents.

Orwell’s picture is so pertinent because it offers a telling argument against the popular idea that we can save freedom and democracy by continuing the arms race and finding a “stable” deterrent. This soothing picture ignores the fact that with increasing technical “progress” (which creates  entirely new weapons about every 5 years, and will soon permit the development of 100 or 1000 instead of 10 megaton bombs), the whole society will be forced to live underground, but that the destruction strength of thermonuclear bombs will always remain greater than the depth of the cave , that the military will become dominant (in fact, if not in law), that fright and hatred or a possible aggressor will destroy the basic attitudes of a democratic, humanistic society.

In other words, the continued arms race, even if it would not lead to the outbreak of a thermonuclear war, would lead to the destruction of any of those three qualities of our society which can be called “democratic,” “free,” or “in the American tradition.” Orwell demonstrates the illusion of the assumption that democracy can continue to exist in a world preparing for nuclear war and he does so imaginatively and brilliantly.

Another important aspect is Orwell’s description of the nature of truth, which on the surface is a picture of Stalin’s treatment of truth, especially in the thirties. But anyone who sees in Orwell’s description only another denunciation of Stalinism is missing an essential element of Orwell’s analysis. He is actually talking about a development which is taking place in the Western industrial countries also, only at a slower pace than it is taking place in Russia and China.

The basic question which Orwell raises is whether there is any such thing as “truth.” “Reality,” so the ruling party holds, “is not external. Reality exists in the human mind and nowhere else…whatever the Party holds to be truth is truth.” If this is so, then by controlling men’s minds the Party controls truth. In a dramatic conversation between the protagonist of the Party and the beaten rebel, a conversation which is a worthy analogy to Dostoyevsky’s conversation between the Inquisitor and Jesus, the basic principles of the Party are explained. In contrast to the Inquisitor, however, the leaders of the Party do not even pretend that their system is intended to make men happier, because men, being frail and cowardly creatures, want to escape freedom and are unable to face truth.

The leaders are aware of the fact that they themselves have only one aim, and that is power. To them “power is not a means; it is an end. And power means the capacity to inflict unlimited pain and suffering to another human being.” Power, then, for them creates reality, it creates truth. The position which Orwell attributes here to the power elite can be said to be an extreme form of philosophical idealism, but it is more to the point to recognize that the concept of truth and reality which exists in 1984 is an extreme form of pragmatism in which truth becomes subordinate to the Party.

Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Didst Thou forget that man prefers peace, and even death, to freedom of choice in the knowledge of good and evil? Nothing is more seductive for man than his freedom of conscience, but nothing is a greater cause of suffering. And behold, instead of giving a firm foundation for setting the conscience of man at rest for ever, Thou didst choose what was utterly beyond the strength of men, acting as though Thou didst not love them at all – Thou who didst come to give Thy life for them! Instead of taking possession of men’s freedom Thou didst increase it, and burdened the spiritual kingdom that he should follow Thee freely, enticed and taken captive by Thee. In place of the rigid ancient law, man must hereafter with free heart decide for him what is good and what is evil, having only Thy image before him as his guide. But didst Thou not know he would at last reject even Thy image and Thy truth, if he is weighed down with the fearful burden of free choice? 

Nothing is more seductive for man than his freedom of conscience, but nothing is a greater cause of suffering.

Instead of taking possession of men’s freedom Thou didst increase it, and burdened the spiritual kingdom that he should follow Thee freely, enticed and taken captive by Thee. But didst Thou not know he would at last reject even Thy image and Thy truth, if he is weighed down with the fearful burden of free choice?” 

 “This craving for community of worship is the chief misery of every man individually and of all humanity from the beginning of time. For the sake of common worship they’ve slain each other with the sword. They have set up gods and challenged one another, “Put away your gods and come worship ours, or we will kill you and your gods!” And so it will be to the end of the world, even when gods disappear from the earth; they will fall down before idols just the same. Thou didst know, Thou couldst not but have known, this fundamental secret of human nature, but Thou didst reject the one infallible banner which was offered Thee to make all men bow down before Thee alone – the banner of earthly bread; and Thou has rejected it for the sake of freedom and the bread of Heaven.”

When the Inquisitor ceased speaking he waited some time for his Prisoner to answer him. His silence weighed down upon him. He saw that the Prisoner had listened intently all the time, looking gently in his face and evidently not wishing to reply. The old man longed for Him to say something, however bitter and terrible. But He suddenly approached the old man in silence and softly kissed him on his bloodless aged lips. That was all his answer. The old man shuddered. His lips moved. He went to the door, opened it and said to him: ‘Go and come no more…Come not at all, never, never!’ And he let Him out into the dark alleys of the town. The Prisoner went away, “And the old man? The kiss glows in his heart, but the old man adheres to his idea.”


Ernest Becker, Escape from Evil -Chapter Ten –What is the Heroic Society?

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

This despair he avoids by building defenses; and these defenses allow him to feel a basic sense of self-worth, of meaningfulness, of power. They allow him to feel that he controls his life and his death, that he really does live and act as a willful and free individual, that he has a unique and self-fashioned identity, that he is somebody – not just a trembling accident germinated on a hothouse planet that Carlyle for all time called a “hall of doom.” We called one’s life style a vital lie, and now we can understand better why we said it was vital: it is a necessary and basic dishonesty about oneself and one’s whole situation. This revelation is what the Freudian revolution in thought really ends up in and is the basic reason that we still strain against Freud.

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.

We don’t want to admit that we are fundamentally dishonest about reality, that we do not really control our own lives. We don’t want to admit that we do not stand alone, that we always rely on something that transcends us, some system of ideas and powers in which we are embedded and which support us. This power is not always obvious. It need not be overtly a god or openly stronger person, but it can be the power of an all-absorbing activity, a passion, a dedication to a game, a way of life, that like a comfortable web keeps a person buoyed up and ignorant of himself, of the fact that he does not rest on his own center. All of us are driven to be supported in a self-forgetful way, ignorant of what energies we really draw on, of the kind of lie we have fashioned in order to live securely and serenely.

This means that men join together their individual pulsations in a gamble toward something transcendent. Life imagines its own significance and strains to justify its beliefs. It is as though the life force itself needed an illusion in order to further itself. Logically, then, the ideal creativity for man would strain toward the grandest illusion.


The Tandem Project is a non-governmental organization (NGO) 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 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.

Attachments: Freedom of Opinion and Expression; Nuclear Weapons – Security & Human Rights.