United Nations General Assembly High Level Conversation on Religions for Peace

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United Nations

6 May 2016

New York

I thank you, Mr. President.

Distinguished colleagues.

Fellow members of the international faith community who are with us here today in New York.

I congratulate you, Mr. President, on convening this High Level Conversation on Religions for Peace.

As I congratulate the High Representative of the Alliance of Civilizations, for the great work which his alliance continues to do.

As I congratulate the governments of Kazakhstan and Jordan, for their deep understanding of the profound relevance of religious faith to the great questions of peace and security, including those we confront today in violent extremism and terrorism, which represent a challenge to all our civilizational traditions.

Mr. President, it has become unfashionable across much of the collective West to speak in public forums about the relevance of religious faith and human spirituality to the great challenges of our age, including the great challenge of securing and preserving peace among our many peoples.

In part, this is because of the impact of scientific inquiry.

In part, it is because of historical reflection on the many acts of violence that have been done in the name of religion across the ages, of which the Christian crusades, the Inquisition and the Wars of Religion are but several of a legion of sorry examples.

And in part it’s because of the rise of secularism itself.

So we may well be asked why, in this secular assembly of states that we call the United Nations, are we engaged in a conversation such as this today.

There is a simple, although contested answer to this.

Three quarters of the human family today remain people of faith, and this number is increasing – it is not decreasing.

Religious faith, teaching and tradition continue to exercise a profound influence on the human values that are etched deeply in the minds and in the souls of the many civilizational traditions of the world today.

These values, in turn, influence our human behaviors as individuals, as societies and as states, either for good or for ill.

Yet despite the apparently profound differences in the externalities of these various religious and civilizational traditions, on closer inspection we begin to see that these traditions contain, both within them and between them, a profound commonality of values that can be harnessed for the common good of all humankind.

Values for the reverence of human life itself.

Reverence for all life and the stewardship of the wider creation.

The universality of human love.

The centrality of forgiveness.

The importance of reconciliation rather than revenge.

And the call to be peace-makers.

From my own tradition, Jesus of Nazareth says: “Blessed are the peace-makers, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

I have an unremarkable upbringing. I grew up as a Roman Catholic. My father was Protestant. I married an Anglican. My daughter is married to a Chinese man. My son is married to a Malaysian woman. And my youngest son, I’m not sure what he’s doing.

And we simply have brought our children up as Christians.
And we attend our local church here in New York.

As Prime Minister of Australia, a land of many ethnicities and very many religious traditions, it has been my privilege to visit many places of worship across my own country and around the world: the great Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox cathedrals of the world, the towering minarets of the great mosques of the Muslim world, synagogues both grand and small, Buddhist temples of two great Buddhist traditions, Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism, and the great temples of the Hindu faith in India, and many others as well.

What I see across these many sacred places are beliefs and values which in fact call us together, rather than tear us apart.

In my own country, I sought in a small way to reflect this approach when, in my first act as Prime Minister, I delivered a formal national apology in the Australian parliament to Australia’s Aboriginal peoples for the centuries of mistreatment they had suffered at the hands of white Australians.
Aboriginal Australians, after 50,000 years of continued occupancy, represent the oldest continuing culture on Earth. And we, as white settlers, had violated them.

The miracle of this apology was not that I happened to deliver it, but that it was in fact accepted by our Indigenous brothers and sisters.

I pray for the day when this might happen in this great land called America.

An act of national apology and reconciliation between white Americans and Native Americans.

An act of apology and reconciliation between white Americans and African-Americans for the obscenity that was slavery.

Peace-making can be a hard business.

But these are often necessary first steps to deal with apparently intractable problems between individuals, peoples and nations. And yes, even faiths.

The same principles apply to the challenge we face with countering violent extremism.

But I do believe that with leaders such as those gathered here in this room, and across the world today, we can make a profound difference both within and between our communities of faith.

That is why I support this high level conversation today.

That is why I support the work of the Alliance of Civilizations profoundly.

That is why I support the many inter-faith dialogues that are unfolding around the world today – and not just at the levels of religious elites, but at the local community level as well.

It is at that level that real courage is needed, to make a difference on the ground.

As good Pope Francis, who spoke at the United Nations not long ago, reminded us all: “Peace-making calls for courage, much more so that warfare.”

Together I believe we can make a profound difference in this troubled world of ours by calling forth the human, spiritual and civilizational values that are common to us all.

Mr. President, I thank you.