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Now is the Time






The Tandem Project is a UN NGO in Special Consultative Status with the
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Separation of Religion or Belief and State

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.

Resolution A/RES/66/147 adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 19 December 2011.
United Nations Resolution – a Culture of Tolerance & Peace Based  on Religion or Belief

Recognizes that the open public debate of ideas, as well as interfaith and intercultural dialogue at the local, national and international levels can be among the best protections against religious intolerance, and can play a positive role in strengthening democracy and combating religious hatred, and convinced that a continuing dialogue on these issues can help overcome existing misperceptions.



Paragraphs selected from Becker’s Escape From Evil are a synthesis of his thoughts, presented for reflection and dialogue. They are not meant to defame any one or any religion or belief. They are presented with high respect for the dignity and rights of followers of all religions or beliefs, by a serious scholar attempting to convey his thoughts on the depth of conflicts based on religion or belief.

Ernest Becker (1924-1974) won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction for “The Denial of Death”. In his book, “Escape From Evil,” published posthumously, Becker proposes that the natural and inevitable urge to deny mortality and achieve a heroic self-image is the root cause of human evil. Becker was a teacher of anthropology, sociology and contemporary psychological thought at Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, Canada.


“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.”

“My previous writings did not take sufficient account of truly vicious human behavior. This is a dilemma that I have been caught in, along with many others who have been trying to keep alive the Enlightenment tradition of a science of man: how to reflect the empirical data on man, the data that show what a horribly destructive creature he has been throughout his history, and yet still have a science that is not manipulative or cynical. If man is as bad as he seems, then either we have to behaviorally coerce him into the good life or else we have to abandon the hope of a science of man entirely. This is how the alternatives have appeared. Obviously it is an enormous problem: to show that man is truly evil-causing in much of his motivation, and yet to move beyond this to the possibilities of sane, renewing action, some kind of third alternative beyond bureaucratic science and despair.”

“And so religion overcomes the specific problems of fear-stricken animals, while at the same time showing them what empirical reality really is. If we were not fear-stricken animals who repressed awareness of ourselves and our world, then we would live in peace and unafraid of death, trusting to the Creator God and celebrating His creation. The ideal of religious sainthood, like that of psychoanalysis, is thus the opening up of perception: this is where religion and science meet.”

“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 ?”

“Every conflict over truth is in the last analysis just the same old struggle over…immortality. If anyone doubts this, let him try to explain in any other way the life-and-death viciousness of all ideological disputes. Each person nourishes his immortality in the ideology of self-perpetuation to which he gives his allegiance; this gives his life the only abiding significance it can have. No wonder men go into a rage over fine points of belief; if your adversary wins the argument about truth, you die. Your immortality system has been shown to be fallible, your life becomes fallible. History, then, can be understood as the succession of ideologies that console for death. Or, more momentously, all cultural forms are in essence sacred because they seek the perpetuation and redemption of the individual life.”

“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.”

“Men’s fears are buried deeply by repression, which gives to everyday life its tranquil façade; only occasionally does the desperation show through, and only for some people. It is repression, then, that great discovery of psychoanalysis that explains how well men can hide their basic motivations even from themselves. But men also live in a dimension of care freeness, trust, hope, and joy which gives them buoyancy beyond that which repression alone could give. This, as we saw with Rank, is achieved by the symbolic engineering of culture, which everywhere serves men as an antidote to terror by giving them a new and durable life beyond that of the body.”

“It is very important for students of man 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 men. 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 men above nature, to assure them that in some ways their lives count in the universe more than merely physical things count.”

“The Marxists have said, with Rousseau, that human nature is a blank slate, neutral, even good; evil exists because of social classes and the hate, envy, competition, degradation, and scapegoating that stem from them; change society and man’s natural goodness will flower. Not so, say the conservatives, and they point for proof at those revolutionary societies which have abolished social class but which continue to express personal and social evil; evil, then must be in the heart of the creature; the best that social institutions can do is to keep it blunted; and social institutions that already effectively do this without excessive repression and within legal safeguards for individual rights – why such social institutions should not be changed. So argue the conservatives.”

“This question has been the central one of the science of man, and as such the knottiest in its whole career; thus it is logical that it is the last problem to be solved. I myself have been coming back to it again and again for a dozen years now, and each time I thought there was a clear solution I later discovered that vital things had been left unsaid.”

“No wonder it has taken us so long to pull all the fragmentary insights together, to join the views of both sides on the nature of man. The greatest cause of evil included all human motives in one giant paradox. Good and bad were so inextricably mixed that we couldn’t make them out: bad seemed to lead to good and good motives led to bad. The paradox is that evil comes from man’s urge to heroic victory over evil. The evil that troubles man most is his vulnerability; he seems impotent to guarantee the absolute meaning of his life, its significance in the cosmos. He assures a plenitude of evil, then, by trying to make closure on his cosmic heroism.”

“Finally, if we know that we ourselves hate because of the same needs and urges to heroic victory over evil as those we hate, there is perhaps no better way to begin to introduce milder justice into the affairs of men. This is the great moral that Albert Camus drew from our demonic times, when he expressed the moving hope that a day would come when each person would proclaim in his own fashion the superiority of being wrong without killing others than being right in the quiet of the charnel house.

“Fortunately, no one mind can pose as an authority on the future; the manifold of events is so complex that it is fraud for the intellectual to want to be taken seriously as a prophet, either in his fantasies or in his realities. One of the last thoughts of the great William James [Varieties of Religious Experience] was that when all is said and done there is no advice to be given. And if a man of Freud’s stature shrank back before prophecy, I surely am not going to peep any note of it at all…thinkers who have understood human nature and could take in the largest picture of history and tragedy have always shrunk back and shook their heads.

“We have no way of knowing what gain will come out of Freudian thought when it is finally assimilated in its tragic and true meanings. Perhaps it will introduce just that minute measure of reason to balance destruction.”

Melville’s Moby Dick – an American Nekyia, by Edward F. Edinger, M.D. (1922-1998). Edinger was a devotee of European psychologist Carl Gustav Jung. Edinger describes how symbolically the stormy process of spiritual transition by Herman Melville, the author of Moby Dick, led to his focus on the paradox of opposites; acceptance/rejection, Isaac/Ishmael. God preserved Ishmael, who, according to tradition, fathered the Muslim peoples. Thus, at the very outset, the seed of Abraham was split into two streams, into a pair of opposites.


“There can be no doubt that the white whale symbolizes the deity. A definite effort is made to assimilate the god-images of many of the world’s mythologies to Moby-Dick.”

“Modern depth psychology is laying the foundations for a reliable science of images. The human imagination is now in the process of being studied by the same empirical attitude previously applied to anatomy and physiology. Until recently, the eternal images of the soul have been contained in the prevailing symbol-systems of organized religion. There can be no scientific approach to the depths of the psyche as long as the contents of these depths are projected into an external system, such as a religious or philosophic creed.”

“Many people consider Moby-Dick to be the greatest American novel. It is awesome in the intensity of the depths it reveals. Perhaps this is why it was largely misunderstood during Melville’s lifetime. Moby-Dick could be called the American Faust. 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.”

“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, combining, 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?”

“The whale can relate to opposites simultaneously and thus transcend or reconcile them. This is one of the features of the Self which distinguishes it most clearly from that lesser center of personality, the conscious ego. Consciousness by its very nature exists by the separation of opposites, by acquiring unilateral vision. The Self, the supra-personal center of the personality, has bilateral vision – it incorporates both sides of a pair of opposites in the total view and hence conveys wholeness.”

“For Melville, the white whale Moby Dick poses the archetypal problem of opposites. The Chinese T’ai-chi-t’u, combining Yin and Yang symbolizes the reciprocal relationship between two opposing principles. The white fish is Yang, the masculine principle of light, heaven, spirit, action. The black fish is Yin, the feminine principle of darkness, earth, matter, receptivity. According to the Chinese notion, these two primal modes of being are in an alternating relation to one another, each containing the seed of its opposite.”

“Moby Dick is both black and white. It is white so far as its color is concerned. But it is symbolically black in its essential nature. Hence, it is a union of opposites. It is both Yang and Yin. It symbolizes paradoxically both the masculine principle of the father archetype and the feminine principle of the mother archetype.”

“Melville relates the whiteness of the whale to spirituality when he says that whiteness is “the most meaning symbol of spiritual things, nay, and the very veil of the Christian’s Deity” (p.212, chap.42). The awfulness of the infinite, indefinite, disembodied masculine spirit which is unrelated to the earthy, material, particularities of the Yin principle or mother archetype is described in the following passage on the horror of the color white.”

“Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the Milky Way? Or is it, that as an essence whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color, and at the same time the concrete of all colors; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning in a wide landscape of snows – a colorless all-color of atheism from which we shrink?”

“Nekyia…the title of the eleventh book of the Odyssey, is the sacrifice to the dead for conjuring up the departed from Hades. Nekyia is therefore an apt designation for the “journey to Hades,” the descent into the land of the dead…Typical examples are the Divine Comedy, the classical Walpurgisnacht in Faust, the apocryphal accounts of Christ’s descent into hell, etc.”

“Moby Dick is called a ‘Job’s whale’ referring to Leviathan in the Book of Job, one of the manifestations of Yahweh. The whale is remarked to be one of the incarnations of Vishnu in the Matse Avatar . The mad sailor, Gabriel, pronounced the white whale to be the Shaker God incarnated, and prophesied ‘speedy doom to the sacrilegious assailants of his divinity’. When Moby Dick is first sighted, he is associated with Jupiter. Later, Moby Dick is called a ‘grand god’: “warningly waving his bannered flukes in the air, the grand god revealed himself, sounded and went out of sight”

“Much earlier, Ahab had described Moby Dick as representing the transcendental reality behind the appearance of things. And such transcendental reality is another name for God. Jung has demonstrated that the various representations of the god-image are expressions of the central archetype of the psyche, what he terms the Self. We must thus conclude that Moby Dick is a symbol of the Self (described by Jungian psychologists as “the archetype of wholeness and the regulating center of the psyche. It is commonly symbolized by a mandala or a paradoxical union of opposites). This theme appears in the discussion of the whale’s vision. It is stated that the eyes of a whale are located in the sides of his head, and hence they look in opposite directions (pp. 360-61, hap.74)”

“Resentment – in its various manifestations – is perhaps the central problem of psychological development and psychotherapy. Resentment and lust for vengeance are symptoms of the wound. The anguished realization of one’s wounded condition is actually the first step toward recovery of the lost wholeness. Resentment of injury can contain the seeds of a future religious attitude. Hatred of God at least grants His existence. It assumes a responsible trans-personal agency to whom one can bring his grievances, or even against whom one may retaliate. The crucial feature is the ego’s awareness of the ‘other,’ the basic requirement for dialogue.”

“Ahab’s mad pursuit of the whale is a kind of primitive, negative dialogue with the Self. His persistence, like Job’s, leads him eventually to the corrective experience which teaches the ego, decisively, the difference between it and the Self. As Jung says, “The experience of the self is always a defeat for the ego. This is the message of Job, and this is the lesson of Moby-Dick.”


The Tandem Project

The First Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads: 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 use of nuclear and biological weapons of mass destruction increases. Governments need to consider whether religions and other beliefs trump human rights or human rights trump religions and other beliefs or neither trumps the other. Can international human rights law help to stop the advance and use of such weapons in the face of this historic truth?

  • QUESTION: Weapons of mass destruction as history teaches are often legitimized for national security and justified by cultural, ethnic, religious or political ideology. The U.N. Review Conference on the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and studies on biological and cyber weapons demonstrate advances in science and technology is being used to increase their potential for mass destruction. The question is whether an International Convention on Human Rights and Freedom of Religion or Belief, elevated and supported equally by the U.N. Human Rights Council and U.N. Security Council, would help offset the risk of weapons of mass destruction. Recognition of the need for synergy to balance rights and security is a foundation for solving this issue.

“I am become death, the destroyer of worlds”

- Robert Oppenheimer, quote from the Bhagavad Gita after exploding the first atomic bomb, Trinity 1945.

The Tandem Project believes until a core legally-binding human rights Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief is adopted international human rights law will be incomplete. It may be time to begin to consider reinstating the 1968 Working Group to bring all matters relating to freedom of religion or belief under one banner, a core international human rights legally-binding treaty.

The Tandem Project a non-governmental organization (NGO) founded in 1986 to build understanding, tolerance, and respect for diversity of religion or belief, and to prevent discrimination in matters relating to freedom of religion or belief. The Tandem Project has sponsored multiple conferences, curricula, reference material 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.

Document Attached: Rights & Beliefs