The Role of Religion in Constructing National Unity
January 19, 2004
THE headline for this editorial paraphrases part of the title of a case study in Namibia in which the author, a former President of Finland, assessed the importance Namibians attached to religion as a vehicle for welding the multiracial nation together.
Says the April 2000 study, for Global Voice by Martti Ahtisaari, of national unity itself:
"National unity is a prerequisite of success for every nation. It guarantees a sense of national belonging regardless of political, ethnic or religious background. Tending national unity is particularly important when great changes or conflicts are faced by the nation. Unity is needed for restoring a peaceful life after a violent conflict. The history of my own country, Finland, is a good example of this."
Of the role of religion in forging national unity, the study says: "In developing national unity, a nation's fundamental values need to be considered as well. Although modern nations aim for religious neutrality, the religious values embraced by the majority are central to the life of the entire society. People often find in religion the answers to essential questions regarding life, death, human value and the meaning of living together."
Religion can be a destructive factor as well...
"In the United Nation's Declaration of Human Rights, religious freedom is included as a fundamental right, to be tended and aided by each nation. Religious freedom includes the right to choose, change, proclaim and spread one's religion, as well as to practice it alone or in a community. Religious freedom therefore also includes the right to missionary work."
The Namibia study has implications for Guyana because Guyanese generally embrace religion as a conduit for shaping lives and using religious values to influence the shape of our society in different ways.
The Inter-Religious Organization (IRO) had just such an idea in mind when it hosted a day of togetherness at the Botanic Gardens yesterday.
As a national organization, the membership of the IRO encompasses the umbrella bodies of the country's major faiths - Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Baha'I. And yesterday's event aimed at forging greater religious pluralism, demonstrating that members of the country's diverse faiths can fellowship and play together and dwell among each other in a spirit of brotherhood/sisterhood under one God.
The hope is that this togetherness will translate into a model that civil society and the country's political leadership can emulate. For the IRO executive firmly believes that there is and can and should be a relationship between religion and the public life of Guyanese politicians.
Both religion and government understand and accept that Guyana is a secular society, so that church and state are separate.
Even so, we sense that government expects that religion will go beyond trying to increase its congregation of converts and cement their belief in heaven, hell and the afterlife to underscoring the need to instill in its membership moral values and a work ethic that tend to forge national unity and increase economic growth.
As in Namibia and elsewhere in the world, the work of religion should in a broad sense "strive to seek the best in people, not just by preaching the word of salvation but also by building the foundations of human dignity in their fields of activity."
President Jagdeo's disclosure at yesterday's Botanic Gardens service that the country's religious community will soon have access to an all-faith television station devoted to religion was warmly greeted.
Hopefully, that medium will be a central shaping force, supplementing efforts in other quarters to revive moral and spiritual values - and the work ethic that encourages us to "give unto Caesar the things that are Caesars" or, as human resource personnel would admonish, "give a full day's work for a full day's pay."