Politicians Need to Set an Example by George Wolfe

George Wolfe

George Wolfe

Politicians Need to Set an Example by George Wolfe (New revised version)

Three times a year I have the privilege of speaking to high school students from Africa who are visiting Ball State University as part of the Pan-African Youth Leadership Program. My presentation deals with strategies for promoting inter-religious dialog and understanding. Usually about half of the students are Muslim, with the other half coming from Christian backgrounds.

During my lecture, I ask them to share two or three proverbs or wisdom teachings they have learned from either their religious tradition or from an elder in their family or community. At my last presentation, one of the students offered the following saying which would serve as good advice to any politician or public figure.

“If you are going to be the captain of a ship, your behavior must set a good example for others to follow, lest you bring down the entire ship!”

When I heard this, I was reminded of a Chinese proverb attributed to Confucius that I read many years ago: “The virtue of the leaders is like the wind; the virtue of the people is like the grass. And the grass bends when the wind passes over it.”

People are influenced by, and tend to imitate, the words and behavior of their leaders and individuals they admire. We see it in the fashions people chose to wear, in the influence of professional athletes, and in attitudes inspired by politicians. If a nation’s leaders lack virtue, so will their followers. If politicians are corrupt, that corruption erodes the moral behavior of the citizens over which they govern.

Political commentators are quick to blame Russia and President Vladimir Putin for intervening in Ukraine and annexing Crimea. The root cause of the dispute, however, was years of political corruption and economic problems in Ukraine after the break up of the Soviet Union. Corruption had divided the country and weakened public confidence. This led to protests and to the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych, making the country vulnerable to Russian intervention.

During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, I have heard schoolteachers complain about how students have picked up on the hateful, insulting, dishonest, discriminatory and sexual rhetoric that has characterized the political discourse.  Many of the public figures in the United States that are capturing media attention are not setting a good example for our young people. They have brought the entire political ship down to a new low for American citizens and also, in the eyes of the entire world. They have revealed to us who we really are, a nation where many people are filled with repressed homophobic and ethnic bigotry.

Our political environment has been poisoned. What we desperately need is an antidote. And rather than blame the media for covering the protests, President-elect Trump should use his new-found influence to emphatically condemn the violence, harassment and racial graffiti that have been seen since the election.

Compare this to the atmosphere that pervaded America in 2015 when Pope Francis toured the United States. We saw him meet with victims of sexual abuse, identify with Latinos, participate in a multi-religious service that included Muslims at ground zero in New York City, and after addressing Congress, he personally spoke to John Boehner, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, asking him to “pray for me.” The Pope’s humility and compassion radiated an uplifting spirit of genuine caring and respect.

Pope Francis brought to the United States an inclusive message, one that our nation again needs to hear, a message that compels us to move beyond mere tolerance to embrace an attitude of non-judgmental acceptance and appreciation. It is a message that is born out of understanding and the willingness to hear the stories and struggles of others. Let us insist and pray that our new government leaders resist the corrupting influence of economic and political power.

George Wolfe is Professor Emeritus at Ball State University and former Director and Coordinator of Outreach Programs for the Ball State University Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. He also chairs the Muncie Interfaith Fellowship, is a trained mediator, and is the author of The Spiritual Power of Nonviolence: Interfaith Understanding for a Future Without War.

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Freedom of Conscience: A Core American Value

Freedom of Conscience: A Core American Value by George Wolfe

George Wolfe

George Wolfe

In August of 2015, Americans witnessed some highly effective activism at the University of Missouri that resulted in the resignation of university president Tim Wolfe. The activists focused on President Wolfe’s inept response to racial tensions on the Columbia, Missouri campus. They included members of the football team who refused to play in a highly publicized game, a boycott that would have cost the university over $1 million.

Recently, several African-American professional football players, inspired by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, have “taken a stand” against police shootings and brutality by kneeling for the pre-game National Anthem (rather than sitting as Kaepernick initially did). Their kneeling can’t help bring to mind the photos of activists praying during the civil rights demonstrations in the 1960’s.

Many people are offended by the NFL players’ activism. To place this in perspective however, we must remember the views of African-Americans, who fought in two world wars for the United States, only to find they were denied in their home country the very rights they were fighting for overseas.

There is an alternative composition written in 1899 by James Weldon Johnson and set to music in 1900 by John Rosamond Johnson called the “African-American National Anthem.” Entitled “Lift up your voice and sing,” it is sung annually at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Service held in Muncie during Unity Week. Speakers at President Barack Obama’s first inauguration ceremony quoted lines from this hymn. It also was performed by America’s Hometown Band under the direction of Roger McConnell during an April “Relay for Peace” event 3 years ago held at Central High School.

As a professor who was politically attacked for teaching a course at Ball State University on the history and philosophy of nonviolence, I am well aware of how activism stirs up controversy as it exposes social, political and economic injustice. We tend to support activism when we agree with its message, and we often despise it when it is contrary to our political or social views. The important point here, however, is the concept of freedom of conscience.

Back in colonial times, the Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony began persecuting and torturing members like Mary Dyer and Anne Hutchinson who believed following one’s personal “inner light” should supersede adherence to theological law. Dyer and Hutchinson took refuge in the neighboring colony of Rhode Island where Roger Williams and others, influenced by English Quaker leader George Fox, had immigrated.

Eventually this idea of following one’s “inner light” evolved into the principle of freedom of conscience. This freedom was guaranteed to all those who joined William Penn in the colony of Pennsylvania.

Freedom of conscience however, does not mean one can engage in demeaning behavior such as physical threats, name-calling or verbal abuse.  We are obligated to honor the freedom of conscience of others even though their personal convictions may be contrary to our own cherished beliefs.

The precept behind freedom of conscience is that personal conscience supersedes everything else.  If you don’t agree, then consider the alternative. Anyone of the activists I mentioned at the beginning of this article could have chosen the path of violence to vent their anger, as we saw in Dallas when a sniper killed five white police officers.

Clearly, fighting using nonviolent direct action or strategies of protest to provoke reform is much preferred to violence. We must remember that a world without war or violence is not a world without conflict. Rather it is a world where we have learned to mediate conflict and deal with it in nonviolent ways.

We are a diverse society and a nation that prides itself in freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right to assemble to express our views, no matter how controversial. America has a proud history of nonviolent activism that dates back to colonial times.

John F. Kennedy said “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.” Let’s respect and give recognition to forms of nonviolent direct action, even when we disagree with the message. Freedom of conscience has been, and must remain, a core American value.

George Wolfe is Professor Emeritus and former director of the Ball State University Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. He also chairs the Muncie Interfaith Fellowship, is a trained mediator, and the author of The Spiritual Power of Nonviolence: Interfaith Understanding for a Future Without War.

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Theme Park Undermines Science Education

Theme Park Undermines Science Education by George Wolfe

George Wolfe

George Wolfe

This past July, a theme park opened in Grant County, Kentucky which features a full-scale model of Noah’s Ark as described in the book of Genesis. The exhibit, entitled “Ark Encounter,” is an extension of the Creation Museum which promotes a biblical view of creation that undermines science education and the teaching of evolution.

Years ago, and as a result of my trips to India, I became intrigued with symbols and myths that are shared among cultures. The study of cross-cultural symbolism and mythology reveals how ancient cultures did not live in isolation, but rather, had considerable contact with one another as a result of migration, trade and military conquests. It also shows how myths became more developed and elaborate as they were initially passed on through oral tradition.

Ancient myths describing a great flood are an example of such development. One version of the flood myth is found in the Hindu Purana, where Vishnu, the god of preservation, incarnates as a giant fish to pull a boat containing Manu, the father of the human race, so he can survive the deluge.

In Greek mythology, at the end of the Bronze Age, Zeus decides to flood the world after realizing humanity was essentially wicked. He chooses Deucalion, the son of Prometheus, and his wife Pyrrha, to ride out the flood and afterwards, repopulate the world.

The Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh gives a description of the size and shape of the vessel, the dimensions of which describe a large cube. In this version, it rains for 6 days and seven nights.

When we compare these versions of the great flood myth with the account given in the Bible, one can easily see how the myth became more elaborate as it was shared between cultures. In the Genesis monotheistic version, the ark is given a more maritime size and shape even though it turns out to be well over the length of a football field, and the rain lasts 40 days and nights. In Jewish numerology, the number 40 represents transition, transformation and renewal. (Other examples include the Israelites wandering for 40 years in the wilderness, and Jesus fasting for 40 days in the desert).

The great flood myth helps us understand how ancient cultures perceived the world and passed on their worldview through storytelling. The variations of the myth that I have mentioned here are rooted in an ancient cosmology that viewed creation as arising from the formless primordial waters, a metaphor found in both the opening verses of Genesis and a creation poem in the Hindu Rig Veda. Or as its says in the Upanishads, creation arose “out of the infinite ocean of existence.”

According to this ancient cosmology, creation manifests in cycles or ages. At the end of its previous cycle, it underwent dissolution, “dissolving” back into its eternal source. A flood myth was no doubt the best way to depict creation returning to the primordial waters to begin a new creation cycle, while also symbolizing the “cleansing” of humanity.

It is unfortunate that the Ark Encounter theme park completely overlooks the symbolism contained in the flood myth. Furthermore, it ignores the contribution science has made to our modern-day cosmology of the expanding and evolving universe that is far more complex, mysterious and intriguing.

Ark Encounter promotes biblical literalism and the creationist’s fable, even to the absurd degree of claiming dinosaurs co-existed with humans!

It is vital we guard against confusing religious myth and science. We should instead be educating our children to appreciate the role myth can play in helping us better understand ourselves, the worldview of ancient cultures, and the enduring hope we subconsciously hold for humanity’s renewal.

George Wolfe is Professor Emeritus at Ball State University and former Director and Coordinator of Outreach Programs for the Ball State University Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. He also chairs the Muncie Interfaith Fellowship, is a trained mediator, and is the author of Meditations on Mystery: Science, Paradox and Contemplative Spirituality.

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A lesson from Lincoln by George Wolfe

A lesson from Lincoln
by George Wolfe

George Wolfe

George Wolfe

The Republican Party often refers to itself as the “party of Lincoln.” Today’s Tea Party conservatives within the “party of Lincoln” however, have become little more than obstructionists. Their recent battle cry, insisting they want “principles, not compromise,” is counter productive to the Republicans achieving success. They should revisit history to learn from our 16th president.

Abraham Lincoln was a man of principle, but he was also highly pragmatic. In his letter to Albert E. Hodges, Lincoln wrote, “If slavery isn’t wrong, nothing’s wrong.” Clearly, ending slavery was an objective Lincoln hoped to achieve. Yet, as an elected politician, Lincoln realized he had to deal with the political realities of the time to be successful as President.

Take, for example, his assertion that the war was justified “to preserve the union.” Publicly and politically, the preservation of the union, not the issue of slavery, became Lincoln’s foremost reason for advancing his policies. This is clearly evident in his letter responding to Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, dated August 22, 1862. In it Lincoln emphatically states, “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery.”

Had he publically justified the war to bring an end to slavery, he would have risked losing the border states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware where there were many slaveholders and where the populous was divided as to which side to support (West Virginia didn’t become a Border States until 1863 when it broke ties with Virginia). Had Lincoln lost the Border States to secession, he would have had little chance of succeeding.

Lincoln similarly acknowledged political realities when he issued his Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.  It was a proclamation, not an act of congress, and he issued it only after the Union achieved a major victory in the Battle of Antietam.

While it boldly gave hope to all who opposed slavery or who were enslaved, it only claimed to free slaves in the states hostile to the union. In so stating, Lincoln was asserting power over the Confederate States, a power that he really did not have, since those states did not consider themselves under his jurisdiction. And the Border States were exempt from his proclamation since they never seceded.

The pragmatic Lincoln shrewdly set aside his principles to operate within the political realities of his day, believing that in the end, his political and military success would provide him the opportunity to impose his principled position.  Had he publicly led with the moral agenda to end slavery, he could very well have lost his battles, both politically and militarily.

Lawmakers in today’s Republican Party, the “party of Lincoln,” should cease being obstructionists. They should rather take a lesson in politics and governing from the president whose name they like to invoke.


George Wolfe is Professor Emeritus at Ball State University and former Director and Coordinator of Outreach Programs for the Ball State University Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. He also chairs the Muncie Interfaith Fellowship, is a trained mediator, and is the author of The Spiritual Power of Nonviolence: Interfaith Understanding for a Future Without War.




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Tap into the Power of Meditation by George Wolfe

Tap into the Power of Meditation
by George Wolfe

George Wolfe

George Wolfe

Last January I was invited to speak about meditation to a stress management class at Ball State University. I began by explaining the health and wellness benefits of meditation which, since the 1970’s, have been well documented in scientific journals. I then led the class through a 10-minute meditation so the students could experience the mental and physical relaxation that occurs during the practice.

One of the students came up after class to show me an application she had on her I-phone that was synced to a wristband she was wearing. Unbeknownst to me and the course instructor, she had been using this application to monitor her heartbeat during a previous aerobic exercise class, and had left the device on during our stress management class. The I-phone data screen helped to verify the scientific studies I had explained earlier. We were able to compare her heart rate during her aerobic exercise class with her resting heart rate while sitting listening to my lecture, and then also while meditating. The data clearly showed that her pulse had slowed during meditation as compared to her resting heart rate.

Because of the heightened awareness and the physiological changes that occur during meditation, the Indian scripture known as the Upanishads refers to meditation as “Turiya” or the fourth state of consciousness, distinctly different from the three more familiar states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep.

People who ascribe to a particular religion often use chanting or prayer as a vehicle for turning the attention inward and settling the mind into the meditative state. There are however, secular approaches to entering meditation that can be practiced by nonbelievers, many of which utilize breathing exercises.

A contemplative approach to meditation enables a person to restore the mind to its natural condition of tranquility. The silence at the depths of the mind comes to the foreground of our experience while mental activity recedes into the background and can even subside altogether. Consistent practice awakens our faculties of insight and realization. We come to appreciate, and are more receptive to, that level of the mind within which epiphanies dawn.

Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh refers to this as vipasyana, meaning “insight” or “looking deeply.” Christian contemplative Thomas Merton calls it “interior prayer,” a process of reflection that involves “not only the mind but also the heart, and indeed our whole being.” It is a practice that enables a person to perceive and appreciate the world on more profound levels, enriching life with deeper levels of meaning.

Through meditation we come to recognize the interdependent relationships that lie beneath the superficial realms of experience, perceptions which, unlike classical science, bestow upon us interpretative wisdom rather than offer mere facts.

Action proceeds from thought and influential thought comes from insight. We gain greater access to our insights through meditation. The deeper our meditations the more profound our insights, the more powerful our thoughts and the more influential will be our actions.

This is why simply being a good person is not good enough. If our daily actions are not rooted in deep insight, what we perceive as good is little more rule-based morality. What we perceive as virtue remains tainted with ego.  It is insight that enables one to intuitively recognize the path of action that completely fulfills the needs of the present moment.

Anyone interested in learning meditation can contact the Lifeworks Center in Muncie at 765-286-8221.


George Wolfe is Professor Emeritus at Ball State University and former Director and Coordinator of Outreach Programs for the Ball State University Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. He also chairs the Muncie Interfaith Fellowship, is a trained mediator, and is the author of Meditations on Mystery: Science, Paradox and Contemplative Spirituality.

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Let’s Not Think Like Adolescents by George Wolfe

Let’s Not Think Like Adolescents
by George Wolfe

George Wolfe

George Wolfe

Much of the rhetoric today from political candidates from both parties is rife with simplistic sound bites. This makes for good stump speeches and presents us with neat, dualistic, either-or choices, but it fails to inform the public of the many issues involved when trying to solve complex modern-day problems.

“Repeal Obama Care;” but what will you replace it with to keep uninsured people from flooding hospital emergency rooms? “Bomb the hell out of ISIS;” but how will you avoid killing civilians, particularly innocent women and children? According to Donald Trump, “There is no drought [in California]”. . . . “We’re going to solve the water problem.” Really? By redirecting water from where? And at what expense?

Bernie Saunders proposes to make attending a university tuition free, but he shows little insight into the complexities of financing higher education. Older, well-established universities can have huge endowments which enable them to offset tuition through both merit and need-based scholarships, while other smaller universities don’t share that advantage. And Saunders neglects the strategy of many schools that impose extraneous fees to support tech labs, health care facilities and activities related to athletics and student affairs. In addition, the cost of housing while attending college well exceeds tuition.

A more realistic proposal might be to start by making the first year of college tuition free to encourage people to continue their education. Once students begin their college education, they may be more likely to remain in the system and complete either a two-year or four-year degree.

If we consider the pertinent issue of illegal immigration, the phrase “Round up and deport all illegal immigrants” is an effective one-liner when used in a political debate. But it neglects the human side of the issue. Should we do this even at the expense of separating children from their families and sending people back to neighborhoods ruled by violent drug lords? And who will then perform the vital yet often menial jobs that these immigrants are wiling to accept? And how can we pay for the treatment of American drug users who buy the drugs and are actually responsible for much of the economic success and power of the drug lords? How can our trade policies help alleviate the abject poverty in Central American countries that lures people into becoming the pawns of drug lords?

The problem with simplistic rhetoric is that it imprisons the mind and inhibits our ability to problem solve in nuanced and creative ways.

William G. Perry, a noted Harvard student development theorist, categorized traditional college students (that is, ages 18 to 22), as being predominately dualistic thinkers in their freshman year. As they mature, they become more able to accept multiple viewpoints and eventually become comfortable with what he called “commitment in relativism.” According to Perry’s model, a simplistic, dualistic thought process is the immature thinking of adolescents.

As an educated populace, we must not settle for simplistic sound bites from our politicians. Rather, we should demand thoughtful answers that take into account multiple viewpoints and that above all, are truthful.


George Wolfe is the Coordinator of Outreach Programs for the Ball State University Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. He also chairs the Muncie Interfaith Fellowship, is a trained mediator, and is the author of The Spiritual Power of Nonviolence: Interfaith Understanding for a Future Without War.

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Are we living in a Holoverse? by George Wolfe

Are we living in a Holoverse?
by George Wolfe

George Wolfe

George Wolfe

Recently I watched the You Tube video of the 17th annual Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate held at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Neil DeGrass Tyson, who is Director of the Hayden Planetarium and who served as host for the recent 13-week television series “Cosmos: a Space-time Odyssey,” moderated the event. The topic for this year’s debate was “Is the Universe a Computer Simulation?”

More and more, I see articles appearing by noted physicists investigating the possibility that the universe in which we live is some form of holographic illusion. Much of this hypothesis has immerged from research into quantum physics and the mysterious nature of black holes. And in a recent article published in The Business Insider, author Amanda Gefter quotes cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman as supporting the illusion hypothesis from the point of view of artificial intelligence and evolutionary game theory.

The physicist who first proposed using the hologram as a metaphor for understanding the universe was David Bohm, a quantum physicist who was an associate of Albert Einstein. Bohm referred to the cosmos as a “Holoverse.” Two physicists who have revived this idea, only approaching it very differently from what has been revealed through the study of black holes, are Stanford University physicist Leonard Susskind and Dutch physicist Gerald t’Hooft.

The thought behind this current “holographic principle” is the idea that black holes are actually two dimensional and that the laws of physics can be explained in a reality that is comprised of only two dimensions. Black holes may not have a third dimension of depth.  Rather, their structure or nature, as explained by science writer Bec Crew, might be more like water absorbing information, or like a basketball hoop whose net is tied up flat under the ring, but when the ball enters, it seems to disappear.

Susskind, in his book with the amusing title The Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics, even suggests that the we might be living in an “inside-out black hole.”

The computer simulation model is based on the idea that, if the universe can be explained entirely through mathematics, then the universe is essentially algorithmic and can be programmed. This algorithmic model provokes us into a discussion of intelligence since we refer to algorithmic code that enables computers to “learn” and adapt to changing input (such as occurs when your “smart phone” takes an “educated guess” at correcting the word you misspelled) as exhibiting “artificial intelligence.”

In listening to this year’s Isaac Asimov debate, I was amazed at how the discussion momentarily turned theological and to the subject of consciousness. For panel member James Gates, theoretical physicist at the Univ. of Maryland, the universe is “an Extraordinary Mystery.” David Chalmers, a professor of Philosophy at New York University, even suggested that, if the universe is a simulation, the programmer might be thought of as a “naturalistic God,” that is, an intelligence that creates this simulation but leaves our ethical decisions and ultimately our destiny as a human race collectively up to us.

In addition, Dr. Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist at the City College of New York (CUNY) and co-founder of  String Field Theory (who was not on the Asimov panel), states in an article published in the Geophilosophical Association of Anthropological and Cultural Studies that “I have concluded that we are in a world made by rules created by an intelligence.”

What fascinates me about such discussions is that these scientists, philosophers and mathematicians from schools like Harvard, MIT, and New York University do not see such topics as off limits to their disciplines. Perhaps we have at last reached the historical moment, described 2500 years ago by the Taoist Philosopher Chuang Tzu when he wrote: “Someday there will be a great awakening when we know that this is all a great dream.”

George Wolfe is Professor Emeritus at Ball State University and former Director and Coordinator of Outreach Programs for the Ball State University Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. He also chairs the Muncie Interfaith Fellowship, is a trained mediator, and is the author of Meditations on Mystery: Science, Paradox and Contemplative Spirituality.

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National Day of Prayer – Is it Constitutional? by George Wolfe

National Day of Prayer – Is it Constitutional? by George Wolfe

George Wolfe

George Wolfe

In 2003, the National Day of Prayer was surrounded by controversy in Muncie, Indiana. That was the year the Chicago Tribune ran an article on April 27th featuring Unitarian Universalist minister Thomas Perchlik and his effort to make the National Day of Prayer observance an inclusive event.

A local minister had organized a National Day of Prayer observance at City Hall each year. His efforts, however, had invited exclusively Christian participants. Rev. Perchlik wanted to open up the observance to include all faiths, including secular humanists who place primary emphasis on science and reason.

A National Day of Prayer was first observed in 1775 at the second Continental Congress. In February of 1982, President Ronald Reagan rekindled the holiday by declaring May 6 of that year a day on which Americans “join with me in giving thanks to Almighty God for the blessings He has bestowed on this land. . . .”

According to Reagan’s proclamation, 30 years prior, “a Joint Resolution of the Congress requested the President to proclaim a day each year, other than a Sunday, as a National Day of Prayer, on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation in places of worship, in groups, and as individuals. Eight Presidents since then have annually proclaimed a Day of Prayer to the nation, resuming the tradition started by the Continental Congress.” Since then, the first Thursday in May has been traditionally set aside as the American “National Day of Prayer.”

But the question inevitably arises, “Is the National Day of Prayer Constitutional? Does it violate the separation of church and state?” The issue is akin to controversies that have surfaced regarding displaying the Ten Commandments on government property.

In June of 2004, I met with Mayor Dan Canan, explaining that I had devised a way the Ten Commandments could be displayed on government property without violating the guidelines established by the United States Supreme Court.

The display presented five of the more prominent listings of ethical teachings derived from religion and secular humanism. Along side the Ten Commandments were documents representing Hindu philosophy, the Buddhist Eight-fold Path, the Seven Humanist Principles of Unitarian Universalism, and a shortened version of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

The reason why the Ten Commandments could be displayed on public property in this context without violating the separation of church and state is that the exhibit fulfills two requirements set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court, these being (1) that the display not favor one religion over another, and (2) that it not promote religion over humanism or non-religious viewpoints. Mayor Canan allowed my display to be exhibited in City Hall for a month after our meeting.

Taking the same approach to the National Day of Prayer can provide a means whereby open-minded people of different faiths and philosophical traditions come together in the spirit of cooperation for the good of our community and our nation. All that is necessary is that multiple wisdom traditions be represented in the expression of tributes given by humanists as well as by prominent religions leaders in our community.

My display of ethical teachings illustrated a particular way the great world religions and philosophical traditions have contributed to what I call the “collective wisdom of humanity.” It is our duty as educated world citizens to appreciate the contribution each of these traditions has made to the ethical and philosophical teachings that comprise this collective wisdom.

Rather than ridicule and belittle someone who values and has benefited from a tradition other than our own, let us join together on May 5th with open minds and hearts in an inclusive spirit. Let us broaden our understanding each other and derive deeper meaning from those great philosophers and spiritual teachers who have served as guiding lights in what otherwise appears to be a world plagued by darkness.

George Wolfe is Professor Emeritus and former director of the Ball State University Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. He also chairs the Muncie Interfaith Fellowship, is a trained mediator, and the author of The Spiritual Power of Nonviolence: Interfaith Understanding for a Future Without War.

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Extremism, not Islam, is the Enemy By George Wolfe

Extremism, not Islam, is the Enemy
By George Wolfe

George Wolfe

George Wolfe

On September 21, 2000, at Ball State University’s week long Chautauqua entitled “UniverCity,” renown Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel spoke to a standing room only crowd in Emens Auditorium. The Freshman Connections program at Ball State had chosen his book Night to be that year’s “freshman reader.” The primary focus of Wiesel’s lecture, which still stands out vividly in my mind, remains pertinent today: the greatest enemy that we must continually battle against is fanaticism.

Initially he was speaking of the fanaticism which gave birth to fascism and the anti-Semitism that possessed the consciousness of Nazi Germany. However, it was also evident in Wiesel’s speech that fanaticism in all its forms, whether it be political, ideological, religious, or a-religious, is humanity’s real enemy.

Today the most dangerous fanaticism we hear about is taking the form of religious extremism. But responding with comparable extremism is equally as dangerous. We should recognize that a long-term solution to our societal dilemmas must include resisting fanaticism is all its forms.

On the opposite end of the religious spectrum is atheistic extremism. While many people are quick to blame religious fanaticism for wars, they forget that it was Joseph Stalin who propagated the genocidal crimes of atheistic communism where millions were executed as “enemies of the people.” And how many killers have there been who, after committing mass murder, turn the gun on themselves out of the belief there will be nothing to hold them accountable for their actions after they die?

The various forms of extremist views, be they religious or secular, are rooted in fear and the inability to accept people who are different from ourselves. Extremist ideologies help us justify our fears. They are embraced by people who are prone to adolescent dualist thinking which proclaims that they are right and everyone else is wrong. The long-term remedy is to take an approach to education and parenting that questions absolute conclusions and recognizes the inherent limitations of competing viewpoints.

We also must come to understand the role poverty, desperation, and lack of equal opportunity play in giving rise to ideologies that create suicide bombers. At the 2015 Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City, it was an Islamic speaker who said that the most dangerous person in the world is someone who has nothing to live for. Out of that condition spawns the hatred and resentment toward the inequality and material excesses found in Western culture.

If we look at the areas of the world where terrorism first festered and grew, it was in countries plagued by abject poverty that were ignored by developed countries because they did not serve Western economic or strategic military interests.

The most effective weapons against terrorism are not military. Rather they are political, economic, and cultural. The way to advance our world and minimize the forces of fanaticism is through integration, fair trade, ethical globalization, interfaith understanding, and the enormous benefits of educational and cultural exchange.

George Wolfe is Professor Emeritus and former director of the Ball State University Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. He also chairs the Muncie Interfaith Fellowship, is a trained mediator, and the author of The Spiritual Power of Nonviolence: Interfaith Understanding for a Future Without War.

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Readership List

As of October, 2016, the Readership list has been deactivated.

The idea was to enlist a few organizations and that would set the stage for a take-off of the project. Pretty uniformly, tho, existing organizations are stretched to their limit and cannot spend real time on a project that is neither a sure thing nor safely under the control of the organization. It is amazing that we did get a dozen or so small groups to give it a go. Truth is, though, that participation was nominal.

The software continues to improve. We now can handle communities as well as geographic levels and breakout by gender and age.  Within the next two or three months participants will be able to build bottom up networks of communities. Now, instead of this or that organization, I will be looking on a global scale for people who consider themselves part of the global interfaith network, or the global peace network and so forth, very much including the global women’s movement and the global indigenous people’s movement. But they will be participating in these communities as individuals first and only secondarily as members of local organizations.

Now, instead of local-to-global, we are going to try a global-to-local approach. In the best case we will get something going that will be useful to and taken up by the U.N.

Listed organizations agreed to read a recent Voices of Humanity – Order Out of Chaos winner at local meetings. See the recent winning messages here: March 8, 2016. We are seeking to list at least 20 local groups for each of twelve targeted global categories by the end of summer, 2016.

The targeted categories are: Climate Change * Gender Equality * Disadvantaged Minorities * Human Rights * Indigenous people * Interfaith Cooperation * Nuclear Disarmament * Peace * Refugees * UN Goals * Veterans * Youth.

Make history with Voices of Humanity! It is easy to add *your* voice at voh.intermix.org. Just sign up and add a message in the forum there. If you are a member of a local group, ask the group to let you read one of the Voices of Humanity messages at a meeting. After you have read the message, then ask if we can list your group on this page. The author of the overall top rated Voices of Humanity – Order Out of Chaos message each month may designate any group listed in this Readership List to receive USD 200 as a donation.

List as of October, 2016 – thanks to all who joined!

Collective Communication, Inc. – #gender_equality, #peace
Hope in Life Foundation – #gender_equality, #interfaith
Muncie Interfaith Fellowship – #interfaith
UNA San Francisco Women’s Committee – #gender_equality
UNA-USA Midpeninsula Chapter – #UNA, #UNgoals, #gender_equality
UNA-USA Sacramento Chapter – #UNA, #UNgoals
UNA-USA Silicon Valley Chapter – #UNA, #UNgoals
Unitarian Universalist UN Office San Francisco – #UNgoals
Unity and Diversity World Council – #peace, #interfaith, #UN goals

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