New book on religion as a force for peace

A collection of 10 essays examining religion as a force for peace and social cohesion was launched by the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) yesterday.

Titled Religions For Peace And Harmony, the book argues against exploiting religion to incite strife and violence around the world.

"Sadly, conflicts around the world have portrayed religions unfavourably. We hope that by reading the book, people can see that all the religions profess a common endeavour for harmonious coexistence," said Mr Tan Thiam Lye, who is president of the IRO and the Singapore Taoist Federation.

"We have made significant efforts to ensure that the book is an easy read for everyone, while at the same time, conveying the principles of peacemaking in world religions," he added.

The virtual book launch commemorated International Day of Peace that fell on Monday. The event was witnessed by 120 guests worldwide, including in Albania, Indonesia, Israel and the United States.

Also present was Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, who is the IRO's patron. "We are now in an age where many global forces are centrifugal; they pull us apart," he said. "The IRO must be a countervailing centripetal force to bring all of us closer together. The greater the threat of divisiveness, the more inclusive the IRO should be."

Mr Tan added that the IRO felt the need to publish a book that pursues a faith-based approach to social cohesion, as the world tackles the rise of extremism and hate crimes.

"Sadly, conflicts around the world have portrayed religions unfavourably. The younger generation sees religion on the flip side of social harmony and questions the role of religion in creating a united world," he said.

The IRO was formed in 1949 to promote peace and harmony among followers of the different religions. In it, 10 faiths are represented: the Baha'i faith, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism, Taoism and Zoroastrianism.

It has published various other books, including Religious Customs And Practices In Singapore.

Yesterday's book launch featured two guest speakers: Rabbi David Rosen, who is international director of inter-religious affairs at the American Jewish Committee, and Mr Alexander Charles Louis, president of the United Nations Association of Singapore.

 
 
 

Mr Louis spoke about the UN's role in shaping peace and fostering dialogue, while Rabbi Rosen stressed the importance of inter-faith collaboration.

"It is all about accepting differences and having the ability to listen to, recognise, respect and appreciate others," Mr Louis said, adding that the UN and its agencies are striving to provide people with the means to achieve peace.

Rabbi Rosen added that one of the key motivations for inter-religious engagement is the recognition that all religions share certain common values.

"We have an obligation to be greater than the sum of our different parts.

"We have a responsibility within all our religious traditions to work together with those who share those values, because if we don't do so, in a way, we are betraying those values," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 25, 2020, with the headline 'New book on religion as a force for peace'. Print Edition | Subscribe