It’s not religion itself, but a corrupted understanding of religion that fuels violent extremism, said Dr. Ganoune Diop, director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the Seventh-day Adventist world church, during a United Nations symposium earlier this month. The event, held Feb. 1 at the United Nations Secretariat in New York, drew some 130 representatives from various UN agencies, along with religious and non-governmental organizations, to discuss the role of religion and faith-based groups in international affairs.
Diop, one of the keynote presenters, challenged what he called the “simplistic generalization” that religion and religious faith should bear the blame for driving extremist violence.
Drawing on both history and theology, Diop explored what he called a “multi-faceted, complex phenomenon,” and he traced a strong connection between a person’s understanding of God and how they relate to other human beings. He said that violence finds fertile ground in “any religion or ideology that instrumentalizes human beings, that fails to recognize the sacredness of human life and the innate dignity of every person, or that refuses to acknowledge the freedom of others.”
He said that extremist violence is also bolstered by a theological perspective that prioritizes ideas or objects above respect and care for others.
“Human beings are more important than objects or places,” said Diop. “Humans beings are more important than cathedrals, churches, mosques or shrines.”
Diop advocated greater international efforts to uphold freedom of religion or belief, to embrace the “dignity of difference,” and to “care for the physical, emotional, and spiritual integrity of every human being.”
Speaking later, Diop says that it’s important for Adventists to be active participants in the public discussion about ways to discourage religiously-motivated violence. He adds that the Church has important contributions—both practical and theological—to make, especially in the area of promoting human dignity. He cites as one example the Adventist Church’s belief in the biblical doctrine of creation, which embraces the teaching that every person has been made in the image of God. “This gives us a unique understanding of the oneness of the human family,” he says.
Diop also points to what he calls the Church’s “international portfolio of services,” which includes educational, spiritual, health, and humanitarian care. All these institutions and services, he says, speak to Adventism’s efforts to improve people’s lives and to affirm the value of every human being.
Other presenters at the symposium included Adama Dieng, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Advisor for the Prevention of Genocide; Zainab Hawa Bangura, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict; and, Dr. John Esposito, Professor of Religion and International Affairs at Georgetown University. The Public Affairs & Religious Liberty department of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists was one of three organizers of the symposium, which was co-sponsored by the UN Inter-Agency Taskforce for Engagement with Faith-based Organizations.
Diop’s presentation, along with panel discussions and other presentations, can be viewed via the United Nations webcast archives. The introduction to his presentation begins around the 18-minute mark.