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Discord to Concord?



     WAISer Sam Huntington foresees future wars as being clashes between religions. Events in East Timor and in the Caucasus bear out this forecast. However, many serious people want religions to promote not hatred but the positive values they all incorporate in different ways. A previous posting was dedicated to the Baha'i faith, which is based on this hope. The Baha'i movement seemed to have been in decline, but a new TV program has promoted it, with pictures of a mass meeting in New York in 1992.
     Islam is the source of most religious violence in the modern world, but Dartmouth College Professor Dale F. Eickelman expressed optimism in "The Coming Transformation of the Muslim World", the 1999 Templeton Lecture on Religion and World Affairs. He believes, I think rightly, that mass communications will open up the Muslim world.
     Christianity is caught between the fundamentalists who have been ridiculed for their recent activities in Kansas and the scientists who do not realize the limitations of the human intelligence. The Templeton Foundation is fighting on both fronts. It promotes the coordination of science and religion and issues a valuable newsletter entitled Progress in Theology. Scientists, for their part, should practice the "theology of humility." The Templeton Foundation supports the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences in Berkeley, CA.
     The 1999 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion was awarded to Ian Graeme Barbour of Carleton College. Both a physicist and a theologian, he is the author of Issues in Science and Religion (1966) and many other books. The award was made by Prince Philip in a private ceremony in Buckingham Palace, presumably because Barbour was in England. The public ceremony, held in Moscow, was hosted by the Russian Orthodox Church and held in the patriarchal chambers of the Kremlin. It was presided over by Yuri Osipov, president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and Metropolitan Kirill. Also present were Sir John Templeton, Metropolitan Sergei. and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. This was a gesture to the Orthodox Church, with which the Templeton Foundation seeks to promote relations.
     While the Templeton Foundation deserves our commendation, we question the prize itself, $1.24 million. This large sum was reportedly decided on to give the prize an even greater prestige than the Nobel Prize. However, it will simply convey the impression that religion is tied to money, a modern form of simony. Probably few winners of the Templeton or Nobel Prize need the money, which the laureates can spend on their whims, or leave to their heirs. There are many worthy causes which deserve help. The Nobel Peace Prize was given this year to Médicins sans Frontières, an excellent example. There may be conditions on the use of the Templeton Prize money, but I am unaware of them.
     The Templeton Foundation does in fact support a number of worthy organizations, such as the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, through its National Institute for Healthcare Research. The John Templeton Spiritual Awards support psychiatric residency programs. Man has a need for religion, and, notably in poverty-stricken Northeast Brazil, all kinds of unqualified and rapacious "healers" are preying upon the spiritual needs of poor people.
     Finally we should remember the United Religions Initiative, based in San Francisco, which promotes interfaith meetings as "unprecedented acts of peace among religions and spiritual communities". It has held important meetings at Stanford and elsewhere, and hopes to establish in San Francisco a United Religions, comparable to the United Nations, in the year 2000. Information about it is provided in URI Update (office@united-religions.org). It deserves to succeed. Can the Templeton Foundation help? They are certainly in touch.
     It is regrettable that the public knows so little about the organizations described in this posting. They are performing an immensely important task.

Ronald Hilton - 10/17/99


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