We stand today on the threshold of the third millennium of the common era — a time span so immense that it reduces the 100 years of our passing century to little more than a page in the unfolding story of humankind.
But what a page! A page written in blood, especially the blood of millions of my people. But also a page written in gold, the gold which symbolises the achievement of which all people are capable.
Sir John Templeton, in his perceptive and moving book, Is Progress Speeding UP?, speaks of his conviction, drawn from a long life, that ‘to gain some sense of what may await us, we can profit greatly from looking at past trends.” Not, he explains, trends that grab the headlines, that span a few weeks, or few months or even a year or two — but trends that span decades, even generations.
And, he declares, “My lifelong interest in the longer term leaves me with a strong sense not only that the rate of progress is speeding up, but that this acceleration is put to continue across countless areas of human endeavour in coming decades.”
I share Sir John’s optimism. I share it despite the Shoah, despite My-Lai, despite Rwanda, despite the many horrors that God’s creatures have visited upon each other in His name. I share it because, in the words of a recent issue of Time magazine, we have lived through the Century of Freedom, the one in which freedom beat back the two totalitarian alternatives that rose to challenge it, fascism and communism.
At the end of this decade, individual rights, civil liberties, personal freedoms and democratic participation in the choice of leaders hold sway over more than half the world’s population. It is an amazing reversal from how the world looked at the dawn of the 20th century and the way in which it seemed to be going just sixty years ago.
The sacrifices of those who fought and died in this century were NOT in vain — or will not have been if we finish the job they began, the elimination of hatred and mistrust.
But it has been an astonishing century in other respects — and here you will allow me to paraphrase Time’s summary of it: a century in which we split the atom, launched airplanes and landed on the moon, received a theory of relativity, devised the transistor and how to etch millions of them on tiny microchips, discovered penicillin and the structure of DNA, built highways across continents and wired the world.
We cannot celebrate this, of course, without recognising it as the century in which the atom bomb was not just invented, but was used; the century in which the word genocide was coined and first used to describe the Nazi attempt to eliminate the Jewish people; the century in which millions were enslaved, and too many still are.
If there are still dark patches on our map of the world, we must also recognise — with Sir John — that perhaps one of the most heartening aspects of the broad outlook for humankind is “the recent improvement in our ability to get along with one another and, not unrelated, our increasing attention to matters of the spirit.”
How true that is.
I have found it to be true in my years of association with the International Council of Christians and Jews, which now spans the world, or, more recently, the Three Faiths Forum of Christians, Jews and Muslims, which seeks to unite the three in dialogue.
I have been made resoundingly aware of it by the worldwide response to some of the things I said here in New York, in March, when the award of the Templeton Prize was announced.
What I did then, and which has had its echo around the world, was to make a plea for global healing with the committed involvement of all men and women of faith. I have no hesitation in repeating that plea.
Let us acknowledge, first, that in the last few years, few months even, the world has traveled a remarkable distance towards the resolution of its outstanding conflicts:
In Northern Ireland, Prime Minister Blair has achieved the near-miraculous feat of getting both sides in this centuries-old conflict to start the process of serious dialogue — and all dialogue begins by listening to each other;
In the Middle East, whatever the hiccups of the moment, and for all their stubbornness, neither side really believes there is another way, or an alternative, to the path of peace;
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, there is the dawn of acceptance — I would put it no higher than that — that solution to its ethnic problems will not come by bloodshed but by patient discussion and, inevitably, compromise.
But, ladies and gentlemen, the process of healing cannot be left to the politicians and the generals alone. Initials on treaties, signatures on agreements, handshakes and embraces at the top table or on the White House lawn — all these are not more than gestures if they are not also embraced in the hearts of the peoples.
Even if, and when, the deals are done — and we pray for that blessed time — suspicion, fear and mistrust will remain. Northern Ireland, Bosnia, the Middle East, the Indian continent — these are parts of the world where a religion other than one’s own is so often regarded as “the enemy.”
Only a long, careful, patient process of dialogue can bring that true peace which lies not in agreements but in the heart of human beings.
It has long been my firm belief that, in the making of foreign policy and the managing of international relations — especially in the aftermath of conflict — there is room within the dialogue for men and women of true religious faith, those who are driven by something more powerful than human emotions, by purely national considerations or even personal ambition.
There is room for those who are driven by their belief that mankind, all mankind, is fashioned in the image of God and that, if only they were given the opportunity, they could introduce a dimension of understanding and fellowship based on this belief which could truly speak to the anguish of peoples and nations — and heal them.
This United Nations’ platform must be that place, above all others, where I can say this loud and clear: that there are many in every land who can contribute to the healing of the world wherever in this world they live. It is their duty as people of faith, as citizens of this world, to come forward and make that contribution.
I am delighted that this message is being carried loud and clear to all four corners of the world by Secretary General Kofi Annan. His appointment to this vital and influential position was an act of inspiration and we have already seen the life-saving fruits of his endeavours in Iraq and elsewhere.
For all its faults — and it would be foolish not to believe there are any — the United Nations remains our commitment to the belief that our world must be built not on the strength of arms but the strength of the human spirit.
Let me halt at this point and remind you — perhaps even myself! — that I am neither a politician nor a theologian. I am not a scientist, not a scholar, least of all a rabbi. I am a businessman, a businessman who also happens to be a man of faith.
To my intense regret, I am a rare species among those engaged in the search for interfaith reconciliation and fellowship. This is the 26th year in which the Templeton Prize has been awarded. I am only the second businessman to receive it.
I do not understand why businessmen are not more widely engaged in interfaith activity. Peace in the community, peace in the world, is in their total interest. It is absolutely to their benefit that the society in which they live, in which they trade, in which they raise their families, is a stable one with a sense of values. The jungle is not conducive to a sense of commerce.
In my travels to all corners of the globe in the pursuit of interfaith understanding, I have come across men and women of all religions who earn their living in business and in commerce who are sustained by and believe in a power for good greater than themselves. That is the power we call God.
The people, merchants, traders, bankers, shop- keepers, comprise a vast global resource for human betterment which has scarcely been tapped. These are people, like few others, with an absolute stake in a stable society, at home and abroad.
What’s more, these are people who know how to dialogue.
They are doing it all day long in the marketplace. These are people who know how to listen to others. If they did not, they would not profit from opportunity.
They are trained in the art of dialogue like few others — and they are out there, on every continent, in every land, every city, even every village, a huge army of intelligent communicators whom we must harness as leaders in that great global conversation which has to take place before we can truly say “all men are brothers.”
My purpose now, and the Templeton Prize has stimulated it, is to bring together in one place representative leaders in business and commerce from many lands who are attracted to the notion that they have a contribution to make to the world which derives not alone from the profit motive, not from what they do, but from who they are: men and women of faith and with the faith that it is within human capacity to create a world based on justice and love.
As I said here in March, what I look towards is a sort of Davos convocation of the soul, an international coming together of the faithful of all continents and every religion. Together, they would seek in a spirit of equality and brotherhood for a set of principles which, while honouring their separate religious beliefs, would bind them in a fellowship of the spirit capable of leaping over every border, political and physical.
I would like to see them joined by members of labour confederations who would be welcomed on equal terms. Faith alone would be the admission card.
If doctors want to do the same, or sportsmen or journalists — they have my blessing. I am addressing myself to those I know and understand: the worlds of business and commerce.
We would not have to start from the beginning. A lot of the ground work has already been done.
Hans Küng, a distinguished professor of ecumenical theology at the University of Tübingen in German, author and editor of books on global ethics which are on the shelves of many world leaders, has already devised a set of ethical values to rule relations between people across every divide.
Five years ago, I was one of those at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago when delegates agreed on a set of principles which would form the basis for a “Declaration Toward a Global Ethic.”
For me, this declaration stands second only to the UN Declaration of Human Rights and, in many respects, complements it.
Condemning the waste of the world’s human and natural resources, the participants proclaimed their interdependence, their sense that humankind was one family with commitments to the children, the aged, the poor, the suffering, the disabled, the refugees and the lonely.
They committed themselves to a culture of non-violence, respect, justice and peace and to strive for “a just social and economic order, in which everyone has an equal chance to reach full potential as a human being.”
Earth, they said, could not be changed for the better unless the consciousness of individuals was changed first. And they pledged “to increase our awareness by disciplining our minds, by meditation, by prayer, or by positive thinking.”
Without risk and a readiness to sacrifice, they said, there can be no fundamental change in our situation.
“Therefore, we commit ourselves to this global ethic, to understanding one another and to socially-beneficial, peace-fostering and nature-friendly ways of life.”
This is, as it says, a Declaration Toward a Global Ethic. I would like to see the business community, if feasible in concert with the labour force, work together in making the declaration a real code by which peoples and nations live.
And, if not that, if that is a mountain too steep to climb, then to work together towards the creation of an ethic for the conduct of their own relationships at the local, community, national and international level.
In Britain, an impressive start has already been made in seeking a path forward. HUB, an initiative by the prestigious Institute of Directors, has initiated a ten-year campaign based on the promotion of high standards of behaviour in business and by business people.
From that take-off point, it will seek to promote a more positive view of business. It is called HUB because, as it declares, business is at the hub of all our lives. I salute what it is doing and welcome it as an ally.
I also count as an ally the Institute of Business Ethics in whose founding I am proud to have had a hand.
The aims of the Institute are to emphasise the essentially ethical nature of wealth creation, to encourage the highest standards of behaviour by companies, to publicise the best ethical practices and to demonstrate that business ethics involve positive initiatives, as well as constraints. I am happy to tell you that its purposes are subscribed to by some of the leading banks and businesses in Britain and it has recently instituted a new educational initiative, based on the three “R’s”: Responsibility, Relationships and Respect.
It has the endorsement of all the heads of the major faith communities in Britain, from the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Chief Rabbi, from the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster to the Imam of the London Central Mosque.
There are others to whom I look for support in promoting a convocation of businessmen and women from across the globe.
Most especially I have in mind the ubiquitous Rotary organisation whose reputation for good works and good fellowship is without parallel and in whose ranks I have been happy to serve for many years.
In Britain, too, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, Crown Prince Hassan of Jordan and Sir Evelyn de Rothschild were the joint organisers of a five-year search for an interfaith code of ethics for international business.
The interfaith declaration which ensued was drawn up by a group of eminent scholars, clerics and business people from the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths.
It followed a comprehensive review of the teachings of the three religions with regard to ethical issues in the conduct of business.
The declaration is based on a shared concern for justice, which includes fair-dealing between all people; on mutual respect, in which special reference was made to the employee; on stewardship, which sees humankind as God’s trustees in the care and proper use of the earth’s resources; and on honesty, which incorporates the concepts of truthfulness and reliability and is summed up in the word integrity.
The authors of the declaration recognised that business is a part of the social order and its primary purpose is to meet human and material needs by producing goods and services in an efficient manner.
How that role is carried out — the means as well as the ends — is important to the whole of society.
They emphasised business as a partnership in which the terms of employment should be consistent with the highest standards of human dignity.
They proclaimed the responsibility of business to future generations not to degrade the natural environment in which it operated and to seek to enrich the lives of those who work within it.
Ladies and Gentlemen, these are truly the duties of the religious person.
I work to see them adopted and built upon by a wider forum representative of all faiths and bringing in the insights of other teachings.
It is time for those of us who are both in business and have a religious faith — if I may use the phrase — to come out of the closet.
As has been said, open, public conversation about values and beliefs are as appropriate in the marketplace as in a house of worship or meeting hall.
Religious traditions bring centuries of experience and learning to the table.
Those of us who have this experience, this learning, are duty-bound to share them.
Thinkers, politicians, rulers are everywhere looking for a working definition of interdependence which encompasses both what happens at home and relation- ships abroad.
Those of us who move in the world of the faithful already have our definition: interdependence is trust in and concern for the other based in the belief that we are all precious in the sight of God.
I was privileged recently to take part at Westminster University in a symposium on Diplomacy and Divinity. I was delighted there to hear Sir Peter Marshall, the chairman of the Joint Commonwealth Societies Council and a visiting lecturer at the Diplomatic Academy, say that the management of inter dependence requires more attention, not only to moral factors, but also to that which nurtures and sustains them.
He said: “The values and norms which the members of the United Nations agree should prevail in international dealings derive largely from religious teaching. The world’s religions need to be heard more readily if they speak in harmony rather than discordantly.”
I can think of no better rallying cry for the campaign on which I am now embarked.
Leonard Swidler, a percipient American writer on business and religion, has noted a radically changing attitude towards ethics among businessmen and women, beginning in the West and now spreading throughout the world.
Previously, as he remarked, the reaction to the term “business ethics” would be to laugh and say that business and ethics are two contradictory terms.
It is true, as Swidler said, that there are vast numbers of businesses in the West, as well as elsewhere, where this is still true, where the thinking is first, last and always about “profit” and where the end is made to justify the means.
These business forces might be powerfully destructive now, but, as Swidler predicts, they are on the way to being extinct.
“Radical as it may sound, many observers are completely convinced that, in the future, the ‘robber barons’ type will not be able to compete with the ethically concerned and socially committed companies.”
It is fascinating to me that even so powerful an organisation as the World Bank last year recognised that religion is power and commands moral authority and that they need it to influence their thinking in approaching problems of poverty and deprivation.
Just a few short years ago I would have been laughed down the streets of Manhattan had I the temerity to stand here and predict that thirty of the world’s leading religious figures would be invited to a meeting under the joint auspices of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the President of the World Bank to discuss the relationship between religion and development.
A hard-bitten journalist came to that conference to mock. Instead he recorded the words of a World bank official:
“We used to arrive and look at a country purely economically. We ignored the cultural capital of the society: how the family works, how apprenticeships work, what is the role of the mosque.
“Our attitude to cultural traditions was only that these were museum fodder for tourism. We failed to understand the role these play in making a society work. In the absence of the social and cultural, we were promoting a lobotomised development.
“Look around,” said the official gesturing to the world religious leaders present, “everyone in this room can mobilise millions.
“They have the moral authority to stand in the public square and denounce corruption. They have detailed knowledge of what goes on at the grassroots. And they have effective organisations and delivery systems.”
And another officer of the World Bank was quoted for the statement:
“This is post-Enlightenment world, not a post-religious one. As governments have lost their legitimacy so people have turned to faith and the social contract has been re- negotiated.
“It is the religions which stand between the state and the market — both of which people do not fully trust — as communities which are trusted, which link the macro and the micro, and which protect the interests of the poor.”
Mr. Chairman Strong, I think I can say here without being laughed down the streets of Manhattan that religion is the wave of the future!
It is not without meaning that, of all ideological groups in the world, it is today the religions which are seeking each other out to talk about what divides us and why, and to seek those elements which united us, and how.
From a near lifetime spent in specifically Christian- Jewish dialogue, I can tell you that one side benefit of getting to know the other is that you get to know yourself better.
Each of us is constantly enriched by studying our own tradition so that we can better encounter the other.
The overwhelming characteristic of our society as we approach the Millennium is a search for meaning in life.
And life includes work. This has nowhere been more distinctly recognised than in the Government of Mr. Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, which is introducing an entirely new ethical way of thinking not just in the manner in which the administration conducts its business, but also in inculcating a sense of values among those who have come to regard welfare as a substitute for work. I can think of no previous time in my long life when a political leader, certainly not a Prime Minister, has been referred to unblushingly in the Press as a “spiritual person,” or where the places in which he chooses to worship are recorded, as if in some court circular.
Those of you who know the Britain of today will know there is a new spirit abroad in the land and that spirit, overwhelmingly, emanates from the man at the top to whom I am happy to pay this tribute.
The mood engendered by the Blair government, as much in business as in what is commonly called “the street,” is totally in tune with what I believe are the great social trends of the time.
We live in an age when the environment in which we exist is paramount, when employers look to employees for partnership rather than just their labour and when employees look to their employers for acknowledgement of their worth as individuals.
As I said here in this city four months ago when the news of my award of the Templeton Prize was announced — and I do not blush about repeating myself — this must be a time for religion to emerge from the church, the synagogue, the mosque and the temple and help create unifying bonds between people which, while not blurring the dividing lines between faiths, could help create a sense of spirit able to soar above the mundane and which, if harnessed, could contribute to the creation of truly caring societies.
I have put the world’s business and religious communities at the head of this forward movement.
If you like, I have made them the shock troops.
They are after all the people who are more in touch with the grassroots than any other element in society — even the physician.
Not too many people see the doctor when they are well. But well, or ill, everyone has contact with the shopkeeper, the trader, the banker.
If the shopkeeper, the trader, the banker is also a religious man — and I see no shame to proclaiming this state of being — we contemplate an army for good whose ranks are massed across nations, across continents, across the world.
If we can but agree on a global ethic acceptable to all men and women of religion, if we can but create an emblem which says “I share your values and I care,” then the Buddhist, the Christian, the Hindu, Jain, Muslim, Sikh, the Taoist — no matter what religion — the adherents of faith can meet the other anywhere on this globe and raise a hand in a gesture of Shalom, a gesture of peace.
Being a businessman means that I must also be a realist and long experience has taught me that it is not easy to get into the business of dialogue, of engaging oneself in the wider world beyond the office or the drawing room.
It is some decades now since I woke up to the fact that, while it is very comfortable to talk, to discuss, even to argue with your friends about those things that matter most in your life, it does not get you very far.
It is much more difficult to talk, discuss, even to argue without temper with those you perceive as your adversaries, even your enemies.
But, I must tell you, there is no other way to grow, to change oneself — and, at the end of the day, it is mere men and women who change the world, whether for good or for ill.
True dialogue must begin with a search for those principles held in common and a commitment to build on those that bind, and not to be blinded by those issues that divide and separate.
We have to seek out the route to that dialogue. I hope that you, ladies and gentlemen, and millions across the globe, will join me in the search which is at the core of everything I have tried to do and will continue to do for so long as the good Lord spares me.
It is truly the most worthwhile journey. Thank you.