As A Peace-Loving Global Citizen: Episode 49
As A Peace-Loving Global Citizen: An Autobiography by Rev. Sun Myung Moon
Chapter 6: Love Will Bring Unification
The Power of Religion to Turn People to Goodness, pg 172-176
CHAPTER 6 Love Will Bring Unification
The Power of Religion to Turn People to Goodness
On August 2, 1990, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, igniting the possibility of war in the Persian Gulf. This area has long been a tinderbox, and I could see the world was about to be swept up into war. I concluded that Christian and Muslim leaders must meet to prevent the conflict. I acted quickly to do all I could to stop a war in which innocent people were sure to die.
On October 2, I convened on short notice an emergency conference of the Council for the World’s Religions in Cairo, Egypt, to deliver my urgent message of peace to the highest spiritual authorities of the Middle East and the Muslim world. Many wondered why I, a person with no apparent ties to the Middle East, would convene such a meeting, but to me, it was simple. I believe every religion should contribute to world peace. A conflict between Christianity and Islam would be far worse than the conflict between democracy and communism. There is nothing more fearful than a religious war.
I sent a message imploring President George H.W. Bush, who already was trying to limit the conflict, to avoid war in the Arab world and instead work to bring about Saddam Hussein’s retreat through diplomatic means. President Bush may have thought he was going to war against Iraq only, but that is not how Muslims would think. For Muslims, religion is in a higher position than the nation-state. I was very concerned that, if Iraq were attacked, the Arab world would join in opposition to the United States and the Christian world.
Our emergency conference in Cairo involved top Muslim leaders and grand muftis from nine countries, including the grand muftis of Syria and Yemen. At the core of the meeting was my desperate appeal to the Arab and Muslim world not to support Saddam Hussein’s claim that this was a holy war. Whether the United States won or Iraq won, what good would it do? What value would it have if it meant that bombs rained down, destroying houses, schools, and precious innocent lives?
The Cairo conference was just one of our many peace activities. Every time a crisis arose in the Middle East, our members worked fearlessly, risking their lives at the scenes of danger. For years, during the violence and terror in Israel and Palestine, our members, traveling at a moment’s notice, collaborated with major organizations to work for peace.
I am always uneasy sending our members to places where their lives are at risk, but it is unavoidable when working for the cause of peace. I may be in Brazil tilling the soil under the blazing sun, or speaking far away in Africa, but my heart is constantly drawn to those members who insist on working in the dangerous environment of the Middle East. I pray that peace will come to the world quickly, so I no longer need to ask our members to go to such places of death.
On September 11, 2001, we all felt utter horror when the World Trade Center twin towers in New York City were destroyed by terrorists. Some people said this was the inevitable clash of civilizations between Islam and Christianity. But my view is different. In their purest form, Islam and Christianity are not religions of conflict and confrontation. They both place importance on peace. In my view, it is bigoted to brand all Islam as radical, just as it is bigoted to say that Islam and Christianity are fundamentally different. The essence of all religions is the same.
Immediately following the collapse of the towers, I organized religious leaders from New York and around the country to pray and minister to the victims and first responders at Ground Zero. Then, in October, I convened a major interfaith conference for peace in New York City. Ours was the first international gathering in New York after the tragedy.
These dramatic contributions to peace in times of war did not spring up from nothing. For decades prior, I had invested in promoting interreligious harmony. It is on the foundation of this investment that we have the trust of major faith leaders who would travel to Israel during the Intifada or to New York in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
In 1984, I brought together forty religious scholars, instructing them to compare the teachings that appear in the sacred texts of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and other major world religions. The book that resulted from their efforts was World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts, published in 1991. What they found was that the sacred texts of religions convey the same or similar teachings more than seventy percent of the time. The remaining thirty percent are teachings that represent unique points of each religion. This means that most of the teachings of the major world religions are the same at their core. The same is true of religious practice. On the surface, some believers wear turbans, some wear prayer beads around their necks, others wear a cross, but they all seek the fundamental truths of the universe and try to understand the will of the Divine One.
People often become friends even if all they have in common is the same particular hobby. When two strangers meet and discover they have the same hometown, they can immediately communicate as if they had known each other for decades. So it is truly tragic that religions, which share the same teachings more than seventy percent of the time, still struggle to understand each other and communicate happily. They could talk about the things they have in common and take each other by the hand. Instead, they emphasize their differences and criticize one another.
All religions in the world talk about peace and love. Yet, they fight each other over peace and love. Israel and Palestine talk of peace and justice, yet both practice violence until children are bleeding and dying. Judaism, the religion of Israel, is a religion of peace, and the same is true of Islam.
Our experience when compiling World Scripture leads us to believe that it is not the religions of the world that are in error but the ways the faiths are taught. Bad teaching of faith cultivates prejudice, and prejudice leads to conflict. Muslims were branded terrorists after the 9/11 attack. But the vast majority of these simple, believing families are peace-loving people, just like us.
The late Yasser Arafat led the Palestinians for a long time. Like all political leaders, he had hoped for peace, but he was also associated with strife in the region. As chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Arafat embodied the determination for the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to become an independent Palestinian state. Many argue he shifted from his past associations and began to deter the activities of extremist organizations after he was elected president of the Palestinian National Authority in 1996.
In the interest of seeking peace in the Middle East, I communicated with Arafat on twelve separate occasions. Of course, my words to him never wavered. God’s way is always the way of harmony, seeking for peace.
The road to Arafat’s office was literally a difficult one. Anyone approaching his office had to pass between heavily armed guards and submit to at least three body searches along the way. But when our members arrived, Arafat, wearing his keffiyeh (traditional headgear), would warmly welcome them.
These sorts of relationships cannot be built in a day or two. They come from years of pouring out our sincerity and devotion for the sake of Middle East peace. It was our arduous efforts and constant willingness to risk our lives in terror-ridden conflict areas that prepared the way for us to be welcomed into relationships with the religious and political leaders at these levels. It took large amounts of resources. Finally, we could gain the trust of both Arafat and top Israeli leaders, which allowed us to play a mediating role during outbreaks of conflict in the Middle East.
I first set foot in Jerusalem in 1965. This was before the Six-Day War, and Jerusalem was still under Jordan’s territorial control. I went to the Mount of Olives, where Jesus shed tears of blood in prayer just prior to being taken to the court of Pontius Pilate. I put my hands on a two-thousand-year-old olive tree that could have witnessed Jesus’ prayer that night. I drove three nails in that tree, one for Judaism, one for Christianity, and one for Islam. I prayed for the day when these three families of faith would become one. World peace cannot come unless Judaism, Christianity, and Islam embrace as one. Those three nails are still there.
Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are sharply divided against each other in today’s world, but they share a common root. The issue that keeps them divided is their understanding of Jesus. To address this problem, on May 19, 2003, I asked that Christians de-emphasize the cross in relations among the Abrahamic faiths. Thus, we enacted a ceremony of taking down the cross. We brought a cross from America, a predominantly Christian culture, and buried it in the Field of Blood in Israel. This is the field that was bought with the thirty pieces of silver that Judas Iscariot received for the betrayal of Jesus that ended in Jesus’ crucifixion.
Later that year, on December 23, some three thousand Ambassadors for Peace from all religions, and from around the world, joined with seventeen thousand Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem’s Independence Park to symbolically remove the crown of thorns from the head of Jesus and replace it with a crown of peace. They then marched for peace through Jerusalem. Local authorities granted permissions and protected our efforts, and Palestinian and Israeli families supported our march for peace by placing a light in front of their homes.
Through that march, which was broadcast live via the Internet to the entire world, I proclaimed that Jesus had his authority as King of Peace restored to him. After centuries of misunderstanding and division, an opportunity was created for Christianity, Judaism, and Islam to reconcile with one another.
Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest mosque in Islam after those in Mecca and Medina, is located in Jerusalem. It is the spot from which the Prophet Mohammad is said to have ascended to heaven. Ours was the only mixed religious group welcomed to all parts of this house of worship. The mosque leaders guided the Christian and Jewish leaders who had participated in the peace march to the sacred spaces of the mosque. We were able to open a door that had been closed tightly, and prepared the way for many Muslim leaders to communicate at a new level with their Christian and Jewish brothers and sisters.
Human beings like peace, but they also enjoy conflict. People will take the most gentle of animals and make them fight. They will have roosters fight and peck each other with their sharp beaks until pieces of soft flesh begin to fall away. Then, these same people will turn around and tell their own children, “Don’t fight with your friends. Play nice.”
The fundamental reason that wars occur is not religion or race. It is connected to what lies deep inside human beings. People like to attribute the causes of armed conflicts to such things as science or the economy, but the actual fundamental problem lies within human beings ourselves.
Religion’s role is to turn human beings toward goodness and eliminate their evil nature that finds enjoyment in fighting. Examine the major religions of the world. They all hold a peaceful world as their ideal. They all want to see a kingdom of heaven, utopia, or paradise. Religions have different names for this ideal, but they all seek such a world. There are numerous religions in the world, and virtually everyone is divided into countless factions and denominations. But the essential hope for all is the same: They want the Kingdom of Heaven and a world of peace. The human heart has been torn to shreds by the violence and enmity at our core. The kingdom of love will heal it.