Religion and World Peace

Address at the World Peace Congress, Kolkata, 2005

Glen T. Martin

1)   Religion as curse or blessing?

Some of the military ideologues in power in the United States, believe that the planet Earth is in the midst of its final battle.   They believe the prophesies from the final book of the Christian Bible are taking place all around us.   They believe that once Israel has occupied the rest of the “biblical lands” given to it by God in the first books of the Bible, then legions of the “Anti-Christ” will attack it, triggering a final showdown in the valley of Armageddon.  

The Jews will have a final opportunity to convert to Christianity.  Those who do not will be thrown into the pit of hell.  True believers will literally ascend directly from their military uniforms to heaven at the right hand of God.  From there, they will watch all the heathens and slaves of the Anti-Christ suffer plagues of boils, sores, and other miseries for several years until the world is finally ended and the kingdom of God is all that remains.

These ideologues, who have thousands of nuclear weapons at their disposal, do not believe that we have to preserve the environment or create a better future for our children.  They think we are facing the end of days and the final battles that will destroy the entire Earth with God’s help.  One of these fundamentalist Christians is a General Boykin, who once led the hunt for Osama bin Laden.  General Boykin believes that God put George W. Bush in the White House to fight Islamic militants in the fight against Satan.  In one of his speeches about a conflict with an Islamic militant, the General said “Well, you know what I knew – that my God was bigger than his.  I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol.”  (Portside article, “Fighting for Intelligence” by Bob Herbert, 27 December 2005).

Similar things could be said about the beliefs of Islamic fundamentalists who see themselves in a “holy war” against the Great Satan of Western secularism, materialism, and false religion.  Similar things could be said about Hindu fundamentalists who want to throw Moslems out of India and base politics in India on religious purity.   In Japan, until the mid-20th century, the official religion of Shintoism deified the Emperor and led to a doctrine of the superiority of Japanese and their religion over other peoples, justifying conquest and domination.

Is religion a curse upon human life that is destined to destroy us and our precious planet Earth?   It is no wonder that many educated, intelligent and thoughtful people have repudiated religion throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries.   Yet religion is the ultimate human response to the highest, mysterious dimension of the universe that encompasses us, which is often called “God.”  As such, it provokes powerful energies in people, for good or for evil.

Religion deals in symbols, images, rituals, stories, myths, songs, and prayers.   These appeal to the emotions, to vague intuitions, to deep passions.   They are also open to a variety of interpretations and are notoriously adaptable to all sorts of evil passions and projects.  Religious symbols often adapt easily to war, hatred, conquest.

On the “blessing” side of religion, we have religions and religious thinkers who have understood religion has promoting universality, love, and brotherhood among human beings.   The Oomoto religion of Japan has created the Universal Love and Brotherhood Association with chapters today in many countries throughout the world.   The Bahai Religion, originating in Iran, has a worldwide membership advocating peace, tolerance, and love.  They believe that all religions derive from the same source and that all are valid paths to God.

The Islamic tradition has produced wonderful and profound expressions of universality, often associated with the Sufis. A contemporary expression of this is found in the Treatise on the Ideological Integration of East and West by Professor Moazziz ali Beg of Lucknow, which can be found on the web (at .

The Christian Catholic tradition gave us Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the great paleontologist and religious philosopher, who saw evolution as the integration of all human beings emerging through the cosmic process under the guidance of God.

The Hindu tradition gave us Sri Aurobindo, who drew upon its vast universality to create a religious philosophy of a world emerging under God into unity, world peace, and a higher human civilization, eventually leading to world government.    Sri Aurobindo drew on the inclusive nature of the Hindu Tradition.  In the Bhagavad Gita we are told there the many paths to God, among them  Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, and Karma Yoga.  Mahatma Gandhi drew the universality of his vision from the Bhagavad Gita and the Karma Yoga of non-attached action for the redemption of all humanity.

There is a wonderful story about the time when the first Christian missionaries came to India.  They spoke of the savior, Jesus Christ, the son of God, whom all people must worship.  The Hindu people responded positively and said, “Fine, we know about incarnations.”  They embraced Jesus Christ willingly and put him up there along with Rama, Krishna, and the other avatars.  The missionaries, horrified, said you must get rid of all the other gods and goddesses.   The Hindus said, “Why would we want to do that?”

The Buddhist tradition arose in India out of this universality.   At its best, the Buddhist tradition cultivates the spirit of the Bodhisattva, the spirit of great compassion for all suffering beings that refuses paradise until all have been redeemed. At its worst, the Buddhist tradition cultivates acceptance of social misery, lack of concern for civilizing the world, and passivity in the face of evil.

Is there an essential different between religion as a curse and religion as a blessing?  I believe there is, and I want to try to express this difference by first defining what I mean by “world peace” and its requirements.   From examining the characteristics of world peace we can then, I believe, better understand the differences between religion as curse and religion as blessing.

2)   What is world peace?

There cannot be local peace without world peace.  Our planet is integrated into a dynamic whole of unity in diversity.   Religiously, economically, politically, and culturally, human decisions and actions in one part of the world affect those on the other side of spaceship Earth.  What then is world peace?   World peace is the activation of the principle of unity in diversity on both the individual and the civilizational level. 

On the individual level, I call this “planetary maturity.”   We human beings need to take the steps that lead to real maturity.  We need to become world citizens and attain to planetary maturity.  Currently we are acting-out, like childish adolescents, violent, destructive, competitive, aggressive, full of hate and fear.  Real maturity mirrors the very structure of our universe as this was revealed by all the 20th century sciences: by ecology, quantum physics, Einstein’s relativity physics, as well as by the social sciences.   That structure of everything is unity in diversity, which is found everywhere from the whole of the universe down to the tiniest micro-particle.  

Our unity is that we are all human beings.  We share the same humanity, the same capacity for language, knowledge, culture, religion, love and hate.   We share the same “species-being” as Karl Marx expressed it.   But our diversity is that we are all unique individuals, and as individuals we participate in a tremendous diversity of languages, cultures, nations, religions, ideologies, and practices.   

The immature person fails to embrace the unity and is trapped in the fragmentation of irredeemable diversity.   Diversity without genuine unity is a curse.   It is the war of all against all, the war of my religion, nation, or group against yours.

Unity alone is also a curse.   For sheer unity without diversity is always totalitarian: the imposing upon the diversity of individuals some common ideology or set of beliefs.   The structure of reality and the structure of mature human thought is unity in diversity, both embraced without reservation.    When someone says he or she loves humanity, this love can only be practiced and expressed by loving each, each individual.  There is no abstract “humanity” outside of its embodiment in the diversity of each individual.

What then is world peace at the civilizational level?  I think it is clear that a peaceful world civilization would embody the principle of unity in diversity.   Civilization does not mean simply culture.  It means the institutions by which we organize our lives economically, politically, culturally, and religiously.

The principle of unity in diversity must be institutionalized both politically and economically.    This is the goal inherent in the human evolutionary project as Sri Aurobindo and others have repeatedly pointed out.   World fragmentation must be replaced by world unity.

This means that world peace can only be achieved by replacing the institutions that now promote human fragmentation, division, competition and conflict with institutions based on the principle of unity in diversity.   The central institutions now promoting conflict and fragmentation are not the religions, for we have seen that the religions are both a curse and a blessing.   The two institutions dominating the world order and freezing it into war, conflict, and fragmentation are the system of so-called “sovereign nation-states and global monopoly capitalism.   There cannot be world peace also long as these institutions structure our world order.  

The “sovereign” nations are like adolescents insisting that there be no law above themselves and insisting on their right to have military weapons or to develop weapons of mass destruction.  Global capitalism institutionalizes the system of exploitation and domination inherited from the European and American conquests of the world in the era of colonialism, slavery, and racism.   It is the neo-colonial principle by which the rich exploit the poor in order to make themselves ever- more rich and powerful.

Governments claim to be fighting terrorism, but terrorism is simply the reverse side of the terroristic world order that the governments created and are doing their best to protect.   Militarism is terrorism.   It is the systematic attempt to destroy an enemy outside of all law, democratic procedures, and civilized institutional structures.   War is terrorism; preparation for war is preparation for terrorism.    State terrorism is far more vicious and destructive than private terrorism.   This fragmented and terrorist world system must be replaced with a genuinely civilized set of institutions.

The only route to world peace is through a non-military democratic world government such as that embodied in the Constitution for the Federation of Earth and through a new economic order, also embodied in the Constitution, that promotes universal prosperity, economic cooperation, and the eradication of poverty worldwide.   The Preamble of the Constitution explicitly founds world government on the economic and political principle of unity in diversity.

These two aspects of world peace that I have identified – world civilization and planetary maturity – are reciprocally related to one another:  good institutions promote human maturity, bad institutions promote adolescent immaturity.   Mature people promote institutionalized forms of world peace; immature people promote childish institutions like the sovereign nation-state and global capitalism.

The nation-state and global capitalism promote immaturity: nationalism, religious intolerance, fanaticism, militarism, terrorism, and blind obedience to authority.   To change these institutions to ones based on unity in diversity is to promote human planetary maturity.  We need democratic world government with an economic system based on cooperation and prosperity for all.

We cannot wait for humanity to slowly evolve toward maturity.  There is immense suffering in the world and disasters happening all around us.  People of compassion must act to change the institutions that prevent maturity from happening.   Our most vital need, to promote both individual maturity and civilizational maturity, is to create democratic world government based on the principle of unity in diversity.

3)   The role of religion in the quest for world peace.

Religion can only be transformed from a curse to a blessing if it cultivates a spirituality of unity in diversity as was done by the Christian Teilhard de Chardin, the Hindu Mahatma Gandhi, the Moslem Moazziz ali Beg, or the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thick Nhat Hanh, and the co-founder of Oomoto, Onisaburo Deguchi.  What all of these religious thinkers have in common is that they took seriously the fruits of modern religious scholarship and modern science.

Scholarship and science of the past century have not only revealed the principle of unity in diversity to be the basic structure of our universe.  They have demonstrated that the traditional religious myths are products of ancient, pre-scientific cosmologies that were entirely ignorant of the true structure of our universe.   Religious scholarship has revealed the process of composition of the scripture of the world’s religions.  They were not handed to humanity already written by God.

To promote mature religion, we must work to make religious fundamentalism unacceptable.  It is ignorant fanaticism and childish self-assertion.   We cannot take the Vedas literally.   To take them literally leads to the horror of the caste system.  We cannot take the Bible literally.  To take it literally leads to the horror of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the slaughter of people in their insane version of Armageddon.   We cannot take the Koran literally.  To do so turns women into slaves, and the “law” into a form of repression destructive of human freedom and dignity.  We cannot take the Buddhist counsel of “non-attachment” literally.  To do so, turns us away from suffering humanity and makes us complicit with dictatorships, torture, exploitation, and domination.

Indian Born sage Jiddu Krishnamurti.refused to identify with any particular religion for this reason.  He saw that human spiritual maturity embraced the principle of unity and that any hard identification with a particular religion appears to break the unity, dividing oneself from all the “others” who are of a different religion, nation, skin color, or ideology.  He understood that modern scholarship has revealed the relativity of all these religious traditions.  He said that the person of awakened spirituality did not need religious beliefs.

Yet we need not necessarily follow Krishnamurti’s path of pure spirituality apart from all religious doctrines.   For if we embrace the principle of unity in diversity, then we see that the diversity of religions is wonderful and beautiful.   We begin to see religious doctrines as symbolic of our relationship with God, as symbols of transformation, awakening, universal redemption, love, brotherhood, and sisterhood. 

The fundamentalists reject science because they see it as leading to relativism, secularism, and materialism.  But authentic science is really the key to understanding religion rightly.  It is one of the keys to religion being able to contribute to human maturity.   The greatest religious thinkers and prophets have always promoted the principle of unity in diversity.

As scholars, thinkers, and leaders ourselves, we must show people that fundamentalism is a terrible perversion of mature religion.  We must also promote the unity in diversity of democratic world government, for once this is accomplished, it will help human beings grow to maturity rapidly.  The Constitution for the Federation of Earth embraces the principle of unity in diversity with regard to all religions, as well as nations, cultures, races, and groups.

We must actively promote religious maturity.   For religious maturity is connected with all other forms of maturity, personal, cultural, and civilizational.   All are based on the principle of unity in diversity. This is the key to world peace and the role of religion in the quest for world peace.  We must unite the world and all humankind, so that diversity may be protected and affirmed.   In this regard, authentic religion can and should help unify the world under non-military, democratic world government.