Violence is the main obstacle to human development. Since there is an intrinsic link between patriarchy and violence, mitigating violence requires overcoming the patriarchal mindset in both secular and religious institutions. The mission of this electronic newsletter is to provide a commented digest on current research and emerging issues related to human solidarity, ecological sustainability, and both secular and religious non-violence. Each section includes links to relevant "best of the web" content. The basic philosophy of the newsletter is Christian, but no source of wisdom is excluded. The U.N. "Millennium Development Goals" (MDGs) are used as a point of reference.
There are many definitions of culture. According to Wikipedia, "culture can be defined as all the ways of life including arts, beliefs and institutions of a population that are passed down from generation to generation. Culture has been called "the way of life for an entire society." As such, it includes codes of manners, dress, language, religion, rituals, norms of behavior such as law and morality, and systems of belief as well as the art.".
Globalization notwithstanding, it would seem premature to attempt a definition of "global culture." But there is certainly a geography of cultures at the local, national, and regional levels. It is closely correlated to the geography of religions, since religion has a decisive influence in shaping a culture. Wikipedia provides descriptions of cultures by country and
cultures by region.
This cultural diversity, now more observable than ever due to globalization and migration, is something to be treasured. There is no such thing as the "best culture" or the "worst culture." For Christians, the norm for a "good" culture is to be found in the Gospels. For Jews, it would be the Ten Commandments. For Muslims, it would be the Koran. For Buddhists, it would be the Five Precepts. No culture is self-sufficient. "No culture can live, if it attempts to be exclusive" (Gandhi). It is in this context of cultural diversity that sustainable development can blossom. The Declaration for Cultural Diversity (UNESCO, 2001) clearly explains why cultural diversity is required for sustainable development:
"ARTICLE 1 - Cultural diversity: the common heritage of humanity
Culture takes diverse forms across time and
space. This diversity is embodied in the uniqueness
and plurality of the identities of the groups
and societies making up humankind. As a source
of exchange, innovation and creativity, cultural
diversity is as necessary for humankind as biodiversity
is for nature. In this sense, it is the common
heritage of humanity and should be recognized
and affirmed for the benefit of present and future
"ARTICLE 2 - From cultural diversity to cultural pluralism
In our increasingly diverse societies, it is
essential to ensure harmonious interaction among
people and groups with plural, varied and dynamic
cultural identities as well as their willingness
to live together. Policies for the inclusion and
participation of all citizens are guarantees of social
cohesion, the vitality of civil society and peace.
Thus defined, cultural pluralism gives policy
expression to the reality of cultural diversity.
Indissociable from a democratic framework, cultural
pluralism is conducive to cultural exchange and
to the flourishing of creative capacities that sustain
"ARTICLE 3 - Cultural diversity as a factor in development
Cultural diversity widens the range of options
open to everyone; it is one of the roots of development,
understood not simply in terms of economic
growth, but also as a means to achieve a more satisfactory
intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual
"ARTICLE 4 - Human rights as guarantees of cultural diversity
The defence of cultural diversity is an ethical
imperative, inseparable from respect for human
dignity. It implies a commitment to human rights
and fundamental freedoms, in particular the rights
of persons belonging to minorities and those of
indigenous peoples. No one may invoke cultural
diversity to infringe upon human rights guaranteed
by international law, nor to limit their scope.
"ARTICLE 5 - Cultural rights as an enabling environment for cultural diversity
Cultural rights are an integral part of human
rights, which are universal, indivisible and interdependent.
The flourishing of creative diversity
requires the full implementation of cultural rights
as defined in Article 27 of the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights and in Articles 13 and 15 of
the International Covenant on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights. All persons have therefore the right
to express themselves and to create and disseminate
their work in the language of their choice, and particularly
in their mother tongue; all persons are
entitled to quality education and training that fully
respect their cultural identity; and all persons have
the right to participate in the cultural life of their
choice and conduct their own cultural practices, subject
to respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
"ARTICLE 6 - Towards access for all to cultural diversity
While ensuring the free flow of ideas by word
and image care should be exercised that all cultures
can express themselves and make themselves known.
Freedom of expression, media pluralism, multilingualism,
equal access to art and to scientific and
technological knowledge, including in digital form,
and the possibility for all cultures to have access to
the means of expression and dissemination are the
guarantees of cultural diversity.
"ARTICLE 7 - Cultural heritage as the wellspring of creativity
Creation draws on the roots of cultural tradition,
but flourishes in contact with other cultures.
For this reason, heritage in all its forms must be
preserved, enhanced and handed on to future
generations as a record of human experience and
aspirations, so as to foster creativity in all its
diversity and to inspire genuine dialogue among
"ARTICLE 8 - Cultural goods and services: commodities of a unique kind
In the face of present-day economic and technological
change, opening up vast prospects for
creation and innovation, particular attention must
be paid to the diversity of the supply of creative
work, to due recognition of the rights of authors and
artists and to the specificity of cultural goods and
services which, as vectors of identity, values and
meaning, must not be treated as mere commodities
or consumer goods.
"ARTICLE 9 - Cultural policies as catalysts of creativity
While ensuring the free circulation of ideas and
works, cultural policies must create conditions
conducive to the production and dissemination of
diversified cultural goods and services through cultural
industries that have the means to assert themselves
at the local and global level. It is for each
State, with due regard to its international obligations,
to define its cultural policy and to implement
it through the means it considers fit, whether by
operational support or appropriate regulations.
"ARTICLE 10 - Strengthening capacities for creation and dissemination worldwide
In the face of current imbalances in flows and
exchanges of cultural goods and services at the global
level, it is necessary to reinforce international cooperation
and solidarity aimed at enabling all countries,
especially developing countries and countries in
transition, to establish cultural industries that are viable
and competitive at national and international level.
"ARTICLE 11 - Building partnerships between the public sector, the private sector and civil society
Market forces alone cannot guarantee the preservation
and promotion of cultural diversity, which is
the key to sustainable human development. From
this perspective, the pre-eminence of public policy,
in partnership with the private sector and civil
society, must be reaffirmed."
In brief, cultural diversity is not unlike biological diversity. An ecological system is healthier and more resilient as long as biodiversity is high. If biodiversity decreases, the ecosystem becomes less resilient and more vulnerable to external perturbations. Likewise, human societies that encourage, or at least tolerate, cultural diversity are better able to remain stable in response to adversity. Sustainable development is required for the consolidation of both human rights and human development.
Selected references on culture and cultural diversity:
Granted that cultural diversity is instrumental for sustainable development, cultures can be diverse in many ways. One feature that all cultures seem to have in common is the perpetuation of some form of inequity. There are many forms of inequity (racial, ethnic, gender, etc.), and different cultures exhibit different inequities, but all cultures share the disgrace of hosting one or more forms of inequity. Needless to say, "inequity" is being used here in the sense of lack of equality due to factors beyond human control; such as gender inequity, whereby women are considered to be inferior to men regardless of personal accomplishments.
Such inequities are not ontologically intrinsic to the human condition. They are manufactured by human hands, not by God. The reason we can be certain about this is that social inequities inevitable lead to some form of violence and some form of social injustice; and this is not what God desires. According to chapters 1 and 2 of the Book of Genesis, both male and female human beings fully share the same human nature and the gift of being imago Dei. This is reiterated in Genesis 5:1-2: "This is the written account of Adam's line. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them "man." (note that "man" is used for both men and women, i.e., all human beings). Sexism, racism, elitism, and all other "isms" came later, and each of this "isms" is a cultural obstacle to sustainable development; for sustainable development can materialize if, and only if, all human gifts and talents work together as a teleological unity fueled by cultural diversity (see "unity in diversity").
"If development in the future is not sustainable development, there will be no significant development at all, no matter how badly needed; only frustrated attempts to square the circle, as in the last few decades, marked by ever more elusive "modernizing" theories and practices, condescendingly prescribed for the so-called Third World by the spokesmen of former colonial powers. The corollary to this is that the pursuit of sustainable development is inseparable from the progressive realization of substantive equality. It must also be stressed in this context that the obstacles to be overcome could hardly be greater. For up to our own days the culture of substantive inequality remains dominant, despite the usually half-hearted efforts to counter the damaging impact of social inequality by instituting some mechanism of strictly formal equality in the political sphere."
This concept is by no means academic, but one that is shared by all religious cultures of the world. Consider, for example, the Five Precepts of Buddhism:
1. I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking life.
2. I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking what is not given.
3. I undertake the training rule to abstain from sexual misconduct.
4. I undertake the training rule to abstain from false speech.
5. I undertake the training rule to abstain from drinks and drugs that cause heedlessness.
1. I undertake to abstain from taking life (both human and nonhuman).
2. I undertake to abstain from taking what is not given (stealing).
3. I undertake to abstain from all sexual activity.
4. I undertake to abstain from telling lies.
5. I undertake to abstain from using intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.
6. I undertake to abstain from eating at the wrong time (the right time is eating once, after sunrise, before noon).
7. I undertake to abstain from singing, dancing, playing music, attending entertainment performances, wearing perfume, and using cosmetics and garlands (decorative accessories).
8. I undertake to abstain from luxurious places for sitting or sleeping.
And the Ten Precepts are for those who seek self-discipline:
1. Refrain from killing living things.
2. Refrain from stealing.
3. Refrain from un-chastity (sensuality, sexuality, lust).
4. Refrain from lying.
5. Refrain from taking intoxicants.
6. Refrain from taking food at inappropriate times (after noon).
7. Refrain from singing, dancing, playing music or attending entertainment programs (performances).
8. Refrain from wearing perfume, cosmetics and garland (decorative accessories).
9. Refrain from sitting on high chairs and sleeping on luxurious, soft beds.
10. Refrain from accepting money.
The repeated use of words such as "abstain" and "refrain" is significant. The reader is invited to meditate on these precepts and compare them with the "instant gratification" mentality of consumerist societies. In particular, "refrain from killing living things" would seem to preclude killing humans, animals, trees, ecosystems, biomes, .... and, suddenly, sustainable development becomes feasible (indeed, desirable) for both humanity and the human habitat.
Selected references on cultures and sustainable development:
"I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.... Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man." (Gandhi).
So much for "Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs)." Granted that a nonviolent response to 9/11 may have been politically unfeasible, the unfolding of violent conflict in Iraq since the American invasion in 2003 confirms the wisdom of hidden in the "violence paradox": violence begets violence, nonviolence begets nonviolence.
It is important to understand the full meaning of the term violence:
"Violence is the exertion of force so as to injure or abuse. The word is used broadly to describe the destructive action of natural phenomena like storms and earthquakes. More frequently the word describes forceful and intentional injury to people, and verbal and emotional abuse towards others. Warfare is large-scale organized violence carried out by one state against another, although states attempt to control violent crime by the rule of law. The causes of violent attitudes and behavior are important topics of study in psychology and sociology."
There are so many forms of violence that they cannot be enumerated: domestic violence, gender violence, ethnic violence, racial violence, religious violence, physical violence, psychological violence, economic violence, political violence, terrorist violence, scapegoating violence, and son on, ad nauseam. The Gandhi maxims quoted at the beginning of this section apply to all of them, the amount of harm done being generally proportional to the intensity of the violence and the depth of the wounds induced. And violence, like sin, has tail, the length of the tail also being generally proportional to the intensity of the violence and the depth of the wounds induced.
It is appropriate to examine violence in the context of current events. Consider, for example, the current financial crisis in the USA. This is a case of crude financial violence. It is a circus of scapegoating that combines personal and corporate greed, government regulatory negligence, the addiction to excessive consumption made possible by easy credit beyond the borrowers' capacity to repay the debt, financial manipulations pursuant to make the very rich even richer, a national deficit inflated by the cost of an illegal war. To add insult to injury, the basic proposal of the Bush administration was to let the taxpayers pay. This at a time when the USA is giving only a small fraction of the 0.7% of GNP requested by the United Nations for the MDGs; and this at a time when the USA has refused to sign the Kyoto protocol and other global environmental protection agreements because doing so "would hurt the economy." The bottom line is that, no matter what "solution" is found, the poor will be asked (again!) to bail out the rich, in particular those who have already bailed out with "golden parachutes."
Another example worth considering is the recent statement at the United Nations, by a major Christian church, declaring that achieving the Millennium Development Goals is a 'crucial moral obligation':
"In these days we are witnessing a debate on an economic rescue aimed at resolving a crisis that risks disrupting the economy of the most developed countries and leaving thousands and thousands of families without work. This rescue of enormous proportions, which amounts to many times the whole of international aid, cannot but raise a pressing question. How are we able to find funds to save a broken financial system yet remain unable to find the resources necessary to invest in the development of all regions of the world, beginning with the most destitute? For this reason, the globalization of solidarity through the prompt achievement of the MDGs established by the Millennium Declaration is a crucial moral obligation of the international community."
And what about MDG3, the promotion of gender equality? The continued refusal to ordain women (thereby giving them access to roles of religious authority) is theologically baseless and contributes to perpetuate the old patterns of domestic violence, gender violence, educational discrimination against girls, and job discrimination against women. And what about the enormous wealth of that this institution of 1B+ people has all over the world? What financial contribution are they planning to make in order to mitigate the impact that the financial crisis will have on the poorest of the poor?
As usual, hypocrisy and greed seem to have the upper hand, and the net result is worldwide violence of all kinds. How can this pattern -- and its propensity to generate violence -- be reversed? How can it be reversed nonviolently?
Gender violence is the most pervasive kind of violence, with 50% of humanity abusing the other 50%. Gender violence goes both ways: men abuse women, and women abuse men, in different but equally harmful ways. But it is fair to say that the subordination of women to men has been the main behavior pattern since times immemorial (e.g., Genesis 3:16).
UNIFEM has just released (18 September 2008) a very informative report, Progress of the World's Women 2008/2009, with subtitle "Who Answers to Women? Gender and Accountability". It states that "governments and multilateral organizations must do a better job of answering to women for commitments made .... stronger accountability needed to move from commitments to results, including achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Women must be included in all oversight processes; gender equality must become standard against which public performance is assessed."
"Progress of the World's Women 2008-2009 shows that if commitments to promote gender equality and women's rights are to be achieved, women must be able to demand accountability from national governments, justice and law enforcement systems, employers and service providers as well as international institutions. Accountability from a women's rights perspective exists when women are able to get explanations from those in power for actions that affect them, and can set in motion corrective actions when those responsible fail to promote their rights." Inés Alberdi, Executive Director, UNIFEM
It is good to see that many secular institutions are beginning to accept women as equals. But it is lamentable that certain religious institutions continue their refusal to overcome patriarchy. Their exclusion of women from roles of religious authority has a nefarious influence on human affairs at all levels, starting with families and propagating out to international relations. But why keep beating a dead horse? Let bishops and ayatollahs cling to their phallagocentric mentality. The signs of the times are clear that this is not what God desires. Religious patriarchies will evolve, just as secular patriarchies are already evolving toward cross-gender solidarity in all dimensions of human life and, specifically, sustainable development.
The following graph depicts one of the factors that makes it possible to infect people with consumerism and the dubious financial manipulations to reinforce consumerism:
Source: Alan Heston, Robert Summers and Bettina Aten,
Penn World Table Version 6.2,
Center for International Comparisons of Production, Income and Prices
University of Pennsylvania, September 2006.
The New Road Map Foundation Dream has provided a very informative list of examples related to excessive consumption in the USA and other countries of the First World. This obsessive consumption behavior started in the 1950s (perhaps 1960s) and has been growing exponentially ever since. This growing consumption rate requires growing consumption rates of natural resources and leads to growing amounts of toxic wastes and air pollution, with nefarious environmental impacts such as global warming. The "financial crisis" currently underway in the USA (with worldwide ramifications) may be a warning sign that the party is over.
"Consumerism is the myth that the individual will be gratified and integrated by consuming. The public fetishistically substitutes consumer ideals for the lost acculturating experiences of art, religion and family. The consumer sublimates the desire for cultural fulfillment to the rewards of buying and owning commodities, and substitutes media-manipulated undulations in the public persona for spiritual rebirth. In the myth of consumerism, there is no rebirth or renewal. And there are no iconic symbols to evoke transcendent truths."
"Consumerism identifies a lifestyle in which a large number of individuals obtain more than is needed, more than is necessary for fulfillment, and more than God's Earth can sustain. Because consumerism intensifies pollution and resource depletion leading to an immense degradation of God's creation, this lifestyle is at the heart of what Christians are called to question and confront. As people of faith, we understand our responsibilities to protect the sacred gifts given by God and to be good stewards of these gifts. How we live our lives and make purchasing decisions have profound environmental and justice impacts on God's creation."
Excellent visualizations of consumerism are provided by, among others, Chris Jordan. Visit his photographic arts website, Intolerable Beauty - Portraits of American Mass Consumption. Make sure you go into the Intolerable Beauty gallery. There are 42 portraits in this gallery. Take time to look at them, one by one (clicking on the thumbnails brings up an enlarged image). These portraits add reality to the definitions by Cronk and Williams.
It should be kept in mind that the extravagant consumption behavior of the very rich is at the expense of the very poor. While billions are spent in trivialities, grim realities are shaping the future of humanity. Consider the following chart:
Clearly, fertility rate decreases as GDP per capita increases. Why? Because fertility rate decreases as education increases, and education increases as GDP per capita increases. The poverty trap that precludes raising the educational level of the population also precludes family planning to reduce fertility rate. Why? Because "the bed is the only consolation of the poor." It does not follow, however, that minimizing the fertility rate is always good. Lowering the fertility rate is one way to escape the poverty trap. But negative population growth becomes counterindicated for developed nations. After escaping the poverty trap, further development becomes unsustainable if there are no humans to keep going forward. Australia is giving financial incentives and other benefits to couples who bring children into the world. Europe and Japan may soon need to start advocating the need for more pregnancies. There is a time for the discipline of practicing abstinence (or using contraceptives for those who lack self-discipline) and there is a time to fully enjoy both the gift of love and the gift of life.
The current manner of financing the addiction to consumption in the developed countries is neither ethical nor sustainable. The resulting abuse of the human habitat is neither ethical nor sustainable. The social injustice made evident by the growing gap between developed and developing nations is neither ethical nor sustainable. Kudos to the U.S. Congress for resisting to approve legislation that would bailout the rich and transfer the burden to the American taxpayers and the poor all over the world. Those persons and institutions (both secular and religious) who want to be bailed out can bail out themselves by voluntarily lightening their pockets. The US should appoint a especial prosecutor to investigate the roots of this crisis and, if it is found that fraudulent practices were used, force the guilty persons and institutions (both secular and religious) to return any funds that may have been acquired by tricky financial manipulations. Too bad some European governments are falling into the trap of bailing out. Indeed, the party is over in America, and let's hope it will be over soon in all developed nations of the world.
Selected references on consumerism and unbridled capitalism:
"Globalization (or globalisation) in its literal sense is the process or transformation of local or regional phenomena into global ones. It can be described as a process by which the people of the world are unified into a single society and function together. This process is a combination of economic, technological, sociocultural and political forces. Globalization is often used to refer to economic globalization, that is, integration of national economies into the international economy through trade, foreign direct investment, capital flows, migration, and the spread of technology."
The following is the initial paragraph of a more comprehensive definition offered by Globalization 101 of the Levin Institute, State University of New York:
"Globalization is a process of interaction and integration among the people, companies, and governments of different nations, a process driven by international trade and investment and aided by information technology. This process has effects on the environment, on culture, on political systems, on economic development and prosperity, and on human physical well-being in societies around the world....." more ....
Globalization is a double-edged sword. In terms of sustainable development, it opens new vistas to collaboration opportunities that would have been unthinkable a generation ago. ICT enhances the channels of communication in all directions, and therefore enhances new opportunities for the exercise of human solidarity. The possibilities for education are endless. Migration is breaking down barriers of cultural diversity. On the other hand, the developing countries become vulnerable to the controlling power of huge multinational corporations seeking quick profits. Jobs are moved around to take advantage of cheap labor. Resource extraction is having detrimental impacts on priceless natural resources such as the Amazon rain forest. International business travel and transportation of cargo is bringing the nefarious effects of pollution and toxic wastes to the all corners of the planet.
But the process of globalization is irreversible. The need for some form of global sustainable development governance will continue to increase, and eventually will prevail no matter how much resistance is generated by those with a vested interest in quick fixes and quick profits. Due diligence then requires the identification of the most critical global issues. Joseph Stiglitz (Columbia University, Nobel laureate 2001) refers to global warming as the most global issue. Let us hope that global warming will serve as a catalyst for all nations -- developed and developing -- to start collaborating in reducing emissions. Significant initiatives in this regard have been proposed by the Coalition for Rainforest Nations: environmental sustainability,
reducing carbon emissions, and
Selected references on globalization, migration, and corporate cultures:
Thank God, it seems that 9/11 was an aberration, and most religious people in the world are aware that it was such. But there has been religious violence in human history, and it could come back; for religious intolerance entails some people believing that they have "the truth, all the truth, and nothing but the truth." It doesn't take much for such mentality to degenerate into a pathological anxiety to "convert" the entire world to the "one true religion." Statements such as "Christianity is the best religion" or "those who are not Muslims are infidels" are the echo of millennia of blood and tears. Sustainable development requires a radical renunciation of any form of religious absolutism and religious violence. This doesn't mean that believers should believe in either anything or nothing. It does mean that believers should be free to believe in their religious tradition, but without any attempt to make any particular religious tradition dominant. Religious freedom, and freedom of conscience, are the "ninth" MDG. Without religious freedom (and religious tolerance, and freedom of conscience, and friendly inter-religious dialogue) the kind of human solidarity that is required to attain sustainable development is impossible.
The Perpetuation of Religious Patriarchy
There is growing consensus that human solidarity as required for sustainable development must include cross-gender solidarity. The patriarchal party is over. MDG3 specifically refers to the promotion of women, and this must include gender balance in structures of religious authority. Some religious traditions and institutions are beginning (not without paying the price of internal resistance and dissension) to recognize the full humanity of women and the fact that they are, exactly to the same extent as men, imago Dei. Other traditions and institutions, notably some of the Christian churches and most Islamic communities, are adamant in their arrogant refusal to even consider the issue. The refusal to even consider the issue may be due to the lack of evidence that the perpetuation of religious patriarchies is what God desires. As long as they remain attached to this phallagocentric mindset, they are sending the wrong message to both men and women worldwide; and they remain an obstacle to the MDGs and any other transition path from domination to solidarity and sustainability. The perpetuation of religious patriarchy is, in fact, a new disguise for religious violence. It is the violence of exclusion: exclusion of women from official ministries, exclusion of lay people from participation in making decisions, exclusion of those who "do not belong" from sharing in worship.
The Consumerism of Religious Institutions
It is noteworthy, that the same religious institutions that are dragging their feet on the issue of gender equality are also dragging their feet regarding the issue of reversing consumerist behavior. Wealth accumulation in all forms is still a top priority. Prayers and money flow upward, indoctrination and rules flow downward. New church buildings keep going up in places where there are already one or two church buildings. Expensive Italian mosaics continue to be added to churches and cathedrals. The largest church building in the world was built recently in one of the poorest countries of Africa (Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast). The worldwide infrastructure of some religious institutions may be the strongest and best maintained in the world. There has been some lip service given recently to the MDGs (better late than never) but no concrete initiative to save fuel or otherwise reduce consumption of goods and services in churches and mosques. If the religious establishments are not willing to reduce consumption and pollution, why should the faithful be concerned about the damage being done to humanity and the human habitat?
The Global Need for Religious Freedom
This needs to be reiterated: religious freedom is a fundamental human right, and so is freedom of conscience. At a time when all credible data sources show that sustainable development requires a low fertility rate, we still hear pontifications about the bliss of having large families. Freedom of conscience has been recognized as a fundamental human right, but still people are being told that practicing any method of family planning other than abstention leads to eternal damnation. Indeed, abstention is the best and healthiest method of avoiding unwanted pregnancies either in marriage or out of marriage. It also requires more spiritual discipline than taking a pill or using a condom; and spiritual discipline is good for the soul. But insisting that only what is spiritually ideal is morally permissible is ludicrous and reveals that we are still pathetically ignorant about matters of human sexuality and human reproduction. It ignores, as stated above, the "the bed is the consolation of the poor." In the Islamic world, the sexual abuse of girls is a traditional practice going back to the legend about Muhammad's "child bride". In the Christian world, after the recent scandals of priests (or ministers) sexually abusing minors, and priests (or ministers) sexually abusing women (including nuns), plus evidence that this has been going on for God knows how many years under the protective cover of the highest religious authorities, who can blame young people and married couples for making their own decisions in conscience?
The ancient religious traditions have contributed much to human and social development in the past, especially when members of religious institutions are motivated by authentic spirituality. Nevertheless, at this turning point in human history, it is worrisome that many religious institutions seem to be more interested in perpetuating old practices (now recognized to be irrational) than finding how the old practices have to be renewed going forward. The root cause of this inordinate attachment to the past may be an unwillingness to forgive, as Richard Sidy has pointed out:
"Hope for the future can only be built upon a foundation of forgiveness. The world is in a seemingly endless cycle of hate and revenge because the past has such a tremendous hold upon humanity. People must renounce the age-long bitterness and hurt that is perpetuated by those who constantly inflate people's fears, suspicions, and insecurities with negative memories and hostility. Forgiveness is needed in order to release people from the deep-rooted grievances of heart and mind and to move on to a positive future. When people forgive, give up the desire for retaliation, and try to help others improve their conditions, then the misdeeds and injuries of the past will cease to have such a strong negative influence on international relations. Hope grows out of actions which build goodwill, forgiveness of past wrongs, trust and friendship." World Diplomacy, XI, "Hope for the Future," p. 166.
Selected references on the cultural influenced of organized religion:
The common practice of analyzing sustainable development in three dimensions (economic, social, environmental) is insufficient. These three dimensions are more readily observable, but human behavior is only partially explained at this superficial level. And, when situations require behavioral changes that must emerge from the renewal of old habits and mindsets, then unobservable inner factors are decisive. This is the reason we are researching first the things that really matter: human nature, the limitations of the human condition, horizontal human relations (patriarchy, solidarity), vertical human relations (religion, spirituality), and the ethical and cultural patterns rooted in the collective unconscious.
Let us reconsider the combined influence of spirituality and religion in human development and, therefore, sustainable development.
The behavior of institutionalized religion may or may not be for the glory of God and the good of souls. But spirituality should never be a private personal project. Spirituality must be embedded within a religious tradition in order to avoid the spiritual person becoming a victim of his/her own delusions. From a Christian perspective, Sandra M. Schneiders defines spirituality as
"the experience of conscious involvement in the project of life integration through self-transcendence toward the ultimate value one perceives." She unpacks this concise definition as follows:
"In its most basic or anthropological sense, spirituality, like personality, is a characteristic of the human being as such. It is the capacity of persons to transcend themselves through knowledge and love, that is, to reach beyond themselves in relationship to others and thus become more than self-enclosed material monads. In this sense, even the newborn child is spiritual while the most ancient rock is not. But we usually reserve the term “spirituality” for a somewhat developed relationality to self, others, the world, and the Transcendent, whether the last is called God or designated by some other term...."
Spirituality and religion are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they need each other. In his review of Schneiders' exposition, Bosco Peters provides an excellent summary of the relationship between religion and spirituality:
"Sister Sandra concludes that at best religion and spirituality are at their best in partnership. Religion provides the context that makes spirituality possible for the majority of people. “It makes it possible to initiate people into an authentic tradition of spirituality, gives them companions on the journey and tested wisdom by which to live, and supports them in times of suffering and personal instability.” She argues that both for the individual and the community, the quest for God is too complex and too important to be reduced to a private enterprise. Religion at its best provides the authentic rooted heritage, the healthy guidelines, the sacred texts and rites that nourish our spirituality in a profound way and provide deep communion with a whole faith community, past, present, and future."
So why is spirituality so important for sustainable development? The following answer is given from a Bahá'í's perspective, but a similar answer would emerge from any of the religious traditions:
"Development, in the Bahá'í view, is an organic process in which "the spiritual is expressed and carried out in the material." Meaningful development requires balancing the seemingly antithetical processes of individual progress and social advancement, of globalization and decentralization, and of promoting universal standards and fostering cultural diversity. In our increasingly interdependent world, development efforts must be animated by universal values and guided by a vision of world community."
Selected references on human development and spirituality:
Let's keep in mind that "prayer, study, and action" is not simply a phrase that connects three modes of human behavior which are otherwise independent of each other. On the contrary, prayer, study, and action become sustainable if, and only if, they reinforce each other along the path of life, day by day. In isolation from the others, any of these "dimensions of spirituality" will languish and cease to be a factor in the inner life; and this usually happens rather rapidly. A visualization of this process is as follows:
Some version of the prayer-study-action cycle can be found in most religious traditions. Needless to say, prayer and reflection should lead to nonviolent action. The colors indicate that there is a difference between prayer, study, and action. The feedback loop means that each dimension provides positive reinforcement to the others, and this is further emphasized by the positive signs in the arrows. Suggestion to the reader: get a pencil and a piece of paper and draw a similar diagram many times (perhaps as many as 100 times?) until the process becomes fully memorized; then start doing it, for it will never become internalized unless it is practiced day after day, one day at a time.
"Cursillo --- Spanish for "short course" --- is a lay Catholic movement that began among youth in Majorca, Spain, in the 1940s and spread globally. A Cursillo weekend retreat for men or women emphasizes prayer, study, Christian action and living out one's faith in daily life. Those who complete the weekend are called "Cursillistas." The movement has become popular among adults in the United States, with some 30,000 Cursillistas in Los Angeles."
Kazi Nazrul Islam
A Voice and Beacon of Global-Belonging
India & Bangladesh, 1899-1976
On the oneness of humanity:
"I sing the song
Where all status and class
The Rendezvous of Hindu, Buddhist,
Muslim or those of Christianity,
I sing the song
On gender equality:
"I sing the song
In my view gender difference
is essentially a triviality. ...
Not very far
is that cherished day,
when with homage to man,
to woman also homage, the world will pay."
The Little Flower
"Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love."
Vocation to Priesthood
"If I were a priest, how lovingly I would carry you in my hands when you came down from heaven at my call; how lovingly I would bestow you upon people’s souls. I want to enlighten people’s minds as the prophets and the doctors did. I feel the call of an Apostle. I would love to travel all over the world, making your name known and planting your cross on a heathen soil." (Story of a Soul)
The Genealogy of Violence: Reflections on Creation, Freedom, and Evil, Charles K. Bellinger, Oxford University Press, 2001
The Trinitarian Self: The Key to the Puzzle of Violence, Charles K. Bellinger, Princeton Theological Monographs, 2008
VADLO is a search engine for biologists. Currently a free beta service. Queries can be submitted for searching by keyword(s), protocols (methods, techniques, essays, procedures, reagent recipes, plasmid maps, etc.), tools (calculators, servers, prediction tools, sequence alignment and manipulation tools, primer design etc.), seminars (powerpoint presentations, lectures, and talks), databases (data repositories, taxonomies, compilations, lists etc.), and software (codes, scripts, algorithms, executables, downloadable programs). Search results include daily "life in research" cartoons. Biologists and other life scientists can submit their links for consideration (only http:// links at the moment).
The developer of this freeware is Glenn Scheper. The following abbreviated description is adapted from his web site:
Words Extended (WordsEx) is a powerful Internet text information discovery, retrieval, extraction, and display tool. It includes ranking heuristics that speed you to the choicest information. Minimal motion right hand operation, smooth scrolling and big fonts make it easy. This version is the first release on
Windows 2000, XP, or Vista users can try WordsEx immediately by clicking HERE. It comes with a concise but clearly written user's guide as well as some additional software documentation. The tool can be used to find, retrieve, and rank online information on any subject matter, but several sample analyses supported by WordsEx are provided in Glenn's page.
Given a paragraph or list of keywords, WORDLE generates a collage like the one shown below. The collage conveys a sense of relationships between the keywords. For instance, the input for the example below was a list of dimensions for sustainable development. The tool provides several options relative to layout, font, and color scheme, and a link that can be embedded in any web page. Click on the image to see a larger version.
RETHINKING EXTRACTIVE INDUSTRY Sponsored by the Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean (CERLAC). March 5-7, 2009, York University, Toronto. Sub-theme: "Regulation, Dispossession, and Emerging Claims." Organizing committee: CERLAC.
ENVIRONMENTAL LAW & ECONOMICS The inaugural meeting of the Society for Environmental Law and Economics will be held on March 27 and 28, 2009, at the University of British Columbia Faculty of Law in Vancouver, Canada. Points of contact: Shi-Ling Hsu and Brian Czech.
GLOBAL HEALTH Unite For Sight 6th Annual Global Health Conference. Theme: "Achieving Global Goals Through Innovation." Saturday, April 18 - Sunday, April 19, 2009, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA. Complete information is available in the conference website. Contact: Unite for Sight.
SUSTAINABILITY CONFERENCE Villanova University is hosting an international interdisciplinary conference on Sustainability, April 23-25, 2009. The conference aims to bring together scholars, activists, and government and corporate professionals from across the United States and around the world to learn from each other in exploring the multiple dimensions of Sustainability. Points of contact are Chaone Mallory and Paul Rosier.
HUMAN DIMENSION OF GLOBAL ENVIROMENTAL CHANGE The 7th Open Meeting on the Human Dimension of Global Environmental Change (IHDP), 26-30 April 2009, Bonn, Germany. The theme of this meeting, "Social Challenges of Global Change," responds to important changes in the perspective of the scientific community on the challenges that we are currently facing and outlines the new research agenda for IHDP’s second decade. Four major social challenges have been identified which are both paramount for future living conditions of human beings and good entry points to demonstrate IHDP’s preparedness to contribute to the new research perspectives: 1. How do we deal with demographic challenges? 2. How do we deal with limitations of resources and ecosystem services? 3. How do we establish social cohesion while increasing equity at various levels? 4. How do we adapt institutions to address global change? Points of contact: Ruben Sondervan, Jens Marson, and Prof. Oran R. Young (Chair, IHDP Scientific Committee).
MARINE CONSERVATION International Marine Conservation Congress (IMCC). May 20-24, 2009, Washington DC, USA. ISSR Conference, Santiago de Compostela, Spain, 27-31 July 2009. Theme: Making Marine Science Matter. For more information see the conference website or contact Ellen Hines, Chair, IMCC 2009.
CONSERVATION BIOLOGY The 23rd annual meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology, "Conservation: Harmony for Nature and Society," will be held from 11-16 July 2009 in Beijing, China. Complete instructions for submitting proposals are available at the meeting website or by contacting SCB 2009.
WORK & EMPLOYMENT An inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary conference on "Decent Work and Unemployment" will be hosted by the Center for Ethics and Poverty Research (University of Salzburg), Salzburg, May 26-29 2009. It seeks to examine and explore the connections of "decent work" and unemployment. Please send your paper together with a short CV to CEPR.
EXPERIENTIAL KNOWLEDGE EKSIG 2009: Experiential Knowledge, Method and Methodology International Conference. Theme: "Experiential Knowledge, Method and Methodology." Friday, 19 June 2009. Hosted by London Metropolitan University. For more information see the conference website. Contact: EKSIG 2009.
FEMINIST ETHICS & SOCIAL THEORY The Association for Feminist Ethics And Social Theory (FEAST) invites submissions for the Fall 2009 conference, 24-27 September 2009, Clearwater Beach, Florida. FEAST 2009 will also include two invited panels: "Environmental Feminism," with Chris Cuomo, Trish Glazebrook, and Chaone Mallory, and "Evolutionary Psychology," with Carla Fehr, Letitia Meynell, and Anya Plutynski. Questions may be directed to Lisa Schwartzman.
WORLD POPULATION The International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP) announces the XXVI International Population Conference, 27 September - 2 October 2009, Marrakech, Morocco. For the CFP and paper submissions visit the marrakech2009.
ISLAMIC THOUGHT The Second International Seminar on Islamic Thought (ISoIT2) will be held at the National University of Malaysia, Bangi, Selangor, Malaysia. The date for the event is 6-7 October 2009. For points of contact and other information, please visit the conference website conference website.
AFRICA GIS International Conference AfricaGIS2009, 26– 29 October 2009, Kampala, Uganda. Conference theme: "Geo-Spatial Information and Sustainable Development in Africa: Facing Challenges of Global Change." For further information please visit the AFRICAGIS2009 conference website. For general inquiries please contact AfricaGIS 2009.
RELIGION: A HUMAN PHENOMENON Sponsored by the International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR). The theme for the Congress has been chosen to encourage discussion of religions and religious phenomena across traditional geographical and temporal boundaries. August 15-21, 2010,
Toronto, Canada. See the conference website for further information. The conference director is Professor Donald Wiebe.
STUDY OF THE COMMONS The International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC) is still accepting preliminary proposals from individuals and organizations interested in HOSTING our 13th Biennial Conference, scheduled for the summer or autumn, 2010. For more information contact Jim Robson and visit the
The SSNV Knowledge Taxonomy has been updated. As of 20 May 2008, it provides links to 2131 web sites that contain evidentiary data and knowledge content that is relevant to global issues of human solidarity and nonviolence, environmental sustainability, and sustainable human development.
Each link is classified by the following categories:
Currently, the database is sorted by mega-disciplines, disciplines, and specialties. The sub-specialties field is temporarily being used for knowledge source (often using institutional or facility acronyms). Many resources are applicable to two or more of the MDGs. This is work in progress, and both the taxonomies and the links will continue to evolve, but the reader may find something useful by clicking HERE. For a more comprehensive map of knowledge, see Knowledge 2008, by Chaim Zins.
SSNV-MDG Knowledge Taxonomy and Links Directory
The SSNV-MDG knowledge taxonomy and links database can be downloaded as either an HTML web page or an EXCEL spreadsheet with embedded table-building HTML code that can be modified to fit the user needs.
They told me
Our life is no good
In the bundus,
In the villages,
In the deeps
Beyond the cities
Eating like my elders did
Living like my elders did
It took me a long time
To change the way I live.
But change - I did
To develop myself
And my children
To become civilized
They tilled their soil
waited for the moon
Listened to the birds
looked for signs
in the meadows
when to sow
and what to sow
No slave to money and machines,
They lived long and healthy
In the mountains and meadows
Valleys and creeks
With reverence to the sacred land
That nurtured their soul
That fed their body
My elders were called ignorant
Primitive and backward
So they sent me to school
To become modern and forward
To become civilized and developed
I changed my food
Eating food I no longer
know where from
Food Fed by poisons
Shaped by machines
Slick and smart
With artificial colorants and flavors
It no longer feeds my soul
Just bloats my stomach
Sluggish and sick
With no real energy
I became a bundle of ailments
My GP my medical-aid
Happy and smiling
Making a living
On perpetually sick living
Then came the day
When I was sent off to
Some big meetings
Full of experts and
By the time they finished,
I felt cheated and robbed
While pretending to be the experts
All they gave was
The story of my elders.
First they told my people
They were backward and primitive
Then they made my generation sick and lost
Then they stole the wisdom from my elders
And now they sell it back to me and my children
For a price
A big price
And call it
But they can't read
They don't follow the moon
Nor do they know
How to read weather
From the blossom’s on the meadows
Tell me how can they sustain
This thing called Sustainable development
When it has never been lived
By the experts.
Tell me how
Tell me how
Nirmala Nair, India
2 September 2004
Links to archived newsletters May 2005 - September 2008: