With the rise in religious conflict around the world, from the cities and towns of Syria, to the streets of Ukraine and the continued escalation of acts of terrorism, all in the name of religion, many skeptics wonder whether God has a place in the 21st century.
People of faith, however, have no such doubts. They believe that God is the only solution to the issues that plague the world today. Backing their convictions, religious leaders, from a broad spectrum of faith groups, all agreed that belief in God is a crucial step in bringing about peace in society at the Conference of World Religions, held earlier this year in London.
“The urgent and critical need of the world today is to establish peace and faith in God. If the world understood this reality then all countries, whether large or small, would not, in the name of defence-spending, allocate millions and billions of dollars to expand their military capabilities. Rather, they would spend that wealth to feed the hungry, to provide universal education and to improve the living standards of the developing world,” said Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmadaba, the worldwide head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and keynote speaker at the event.
He went on to say that God is still living and the world is in desperate need to turn to God. His speech unified the sentiments of speakers representing other faiths at the conference, organised by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the UK as part of its centenary celebrations. The conference was attended by 500 delegates from all walks of life and of diverse faiths.
But religious leaders face other challenges as they work to communicate their message that belief in God is essential for peace and progress. For a growing number of people in the world today, the role of God has become insignificant in their lives according to Dr. Gary Laderman, professor of religious studies at Emory University.
“What I find most interesting is that I think there is a diminish of interest for many people about the question of what role God has. We just saw recently that globally the fastest growing segment of the religious world is those who claim no religion. For a growing number of people it is a secondary question, they are not focused on it,” Laderman said.
A 2010 Pew Survey revealed that the number of people who classify themselves unaffiliated with any religion is on the rise. It has become the third largest ‘religious group’ across the world. Understanding why people are moving away from religion is a question that even academics are trying to solve according to Laderman. Rabbi Professor Daniel Sperber, a speaker at the conference and representing the oldest Abrahamic faith, Judaism, stressed the importance of returning back to faith.
“We live in a world riven with political and religious strife and turmoil. The name of God and His messages are trampled underfoot in the name of rationalism and political convenience. Let us return to simple unsophisticated faith in the sanctity of God, man and His nature, and seek cures for the ills that plague our society: help, mutual respect and the legitimacy of pluralistic faith, thus ushering in a new vision of peace and harmony among all peoples,” said Sperber.
In a report published earlier this year, the Pew Research Centre found that religious conflict was at an all-time high in 2012. Laderman believes that religions can try to find a way to coexist.‘That’s our only hope that they [religions] do and they have in the past, in different places at different times. It is certainly proven that religions can coexist,’ said Laderman.
Many speakers at the conference highlighted the need for the world to unite under the banner of humanity including Archbishop Kevin McDonald, representing the Catholic Church. McDonald not only mentioned the need for people to return to faith, but also the need for people to live in harmony.
“We must be in solidarity, not in conflict, and the terrible events we watch unfolding in Syria and elsewhere should act as a stimulus for taking this forward. To me, one of the most shocking and discouraging things in our world today is to see people of religion at odds with one another,” said McDonald.
Geshi Tashir Tsering, a representative of the Buddhist faith, shared with the audience a similar message from the Dalai Lama, the spiritual head of Buddhists around the world.
“Today, our inter-dependent world requires us to accept the oneness of humanity. Many of our world’s problems and conflicts arise because we have lost sight of the basic humanity that binds us together as a human family. We forget that despite the superficial differences within us, people are same in their basic wish for peace and happiness. Conflict in the name of religion occurs when people fail to grasp the true intent of their respective faith,” the Dalai Lama said in a message read by Geshi Tashir Tsering.
Other leaders present at the conference included Sheikh Moafaq Tarif, the Spiritual Leader of the Druze Community in Israel and Umesh Chander Sharma, Chairman of the Hindu Council in the UK.
“The pure objective of all religions here is reformation, creation of peace, love and understanding, and all the ways and methods in implementing it. Unfortunately, we observe that some people attempt to misinterpret and misquote anything related to religion which transforms a merciful religion into a merciless religion of intolerance,” said Tarif.
Sharma drew from the Hindu scripture, Bhagavad Gita, to establish the importance of humanity returning back to religion in the modern day. Sharma stressed that returning back to faith means accepting it in entirety.
“So, I think this is the time when we have to come back to our faiths and when I say ‘faith’, faith is to believe 100 percent, we cannot choose part of what our Messiah said, what our books are saying, we have to follow them 100 percent,” said Sharma.
The conference concluded with a silent prayer that all delegates performed in their own way, providing an example of religions coexisting in harmony.