Tony Blair’s Bid to be a Faith Leader

Tony Blair has the chance to do for the interfaith movement what Al Gore has done for environmentalism: create a … Continued

Tony Blair has the chance to do for the interfaith movement what Al Gore has done for environmentalism: create a tipping point effect on one of the most important issues of the 21st century.

Similar to the environmental movement, there are a number of excellent interfaith organizations bringing people from different faith communities together to build understanding and serve the common good. And just as the combination of environmental catastrophes and new science has focused public attention on climate change, so has the combination of high-profile religious violence and studies about the surprising persistence of faith inspired people to ask big questions about the impact of religion on the world.

The interfaith movement has lacked what the environmental movement got in 2000 – the presence of a serious global leader willing to engage a serious issue in a serious way: framing debate, galvanizing energy, generating resources, pointing to a major win and convincing the world that we can get there.

Until now.

In two eloquent and important speeches – the first was a month ago in London and the second just last week in New York – Tony Blair articulated why he is committing a good part of the rest of his life to being that figure.

The crux of Blair’s vision is contained in these few lines from his New York speech:

“Globalization is pushing people together. Interdependence is reality. Peaceful co-existence is essential. If faith becomes a countervailing force, pulling people apart, it becomes destructive and dangerous.

“If , by contrast, it becomes an instrument of peaceful co-existence, teaching people to live with difference, to treat diversity as a strength, to respect “the other”, then Faith becomes an important part of making the 21st Century work. It enriches, it informs, it provides a common basis of values and belief for people to get along together.”

“If , by contrast, it becomes an instrument of peaceful co-existence, teaching people to live with difference, to treat diversity as a strength, to respect “the other”, then Faith becomes an important part of making the 21st Century work. It enriches, it informs, it provides a common basis of values and belief for people to get along together.”

When I met with Blair in Chicago a few months ago, I was struck by the depth of his commitment to the issue, the scope of his vision and the concrete plans for his institution, the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.

Blair will teach a course on Faith and Globalization at Yale University. There are plans for educational material on the intersection of religious devotion and religious diversity, meant for distribution everywhere from corporations to teenagers (through web-based technologies). The Interfaith Youth Core is partnering with the Blair Faith Foundation (and Malaria No More) to bring faith communities together to end malaria in the next 5 – 10 years.

It is an ambitious agenda, but Blair has never thought small.

I was a graduate student at Oxford from 1998 to 2001, the early years of Blair’s Prime Ministership. It was an exuberant time to be in Britain. The culture was moving from “Rule Britannia” to “Cool Britannia”. London was getting a makeover. A peace process was underway in Northern Ireland. Multiculturalism was becoming the new norm.

Blair had a vision and he made it happen.

Visions in the world of interfaith cooperation are not new. At the dawn of the 20th Century, the Chicago Protestant leader Charles Bonney ended the first Parliament of the World’s Religions with these words: “From now on, the great religions of the world will no longer declare war on each other, but on the giant ills that afflict humankind.”

There was nobody colossal enough to realize that dream in the last century.

We may have found the guy to make it happen in this one.

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  • skypblue

    I agree with most posts here. I think Blair lacks the credibility to be a true ambassador of tolerance, peace, and the common good after his decisions on Iraq. He can call his foundation what he wants and taut his desires all he wants, and be a proclaimed Middle East envoy all he wants, but effective, I seriously doubt he will be.

  • paul c

    I know there are a lot of people here who are upset about the war in Iraq and I can see why they are therefore sceptical of Tony Blair. However, I think it is still necessary to give him the benefit of the doubt on his intentions. If he is willing to use his political and personal capital to drive interfaith discussion with an end goal of increased understanding, why would anyone complain? Does anyone think that this is not a noble goal?

  • TJ

    Blair says: “If , by contrast, it becomes an instrument of peaceful co-existence, teaching people to live with difference, to treat diversity as a strength, to respect “the other”, then Faith becomes an important part of making the 21st Century work. It enriches, it informs, it provides a common basis of values and belief for people to get along together.”Rotten apples, though selected from different trees, still make for a crummy pie.

  • Mohamed MALLECK,Swift Current, Canada

    Eboo, It’s very good to be optimistic; it is deadly to be naive.You are young.I wish you and Tony Blair well — but I prefer the wisdom that has come with my long dedication to selflessness. Like Bertrand (read his “My Philosophical Development”), I started off being an idealist; after accumulating long years of experience of the real world of selfishness, greed, corporatism and cynical political manoeuvering, social darwinism, I became, as did Russell and almost every rigorous philosopher that I know, a pragmatist; after living the period August 1978 to August 1979 in Iran during the Iranain Revolution, I took an even harder look at the breakthroughs made in Game Theory since I completed postgradute studies in 1975, and I became convinced, as do most cutting-edge researchers in multi-disciplinary socila sciences and the humanities, that the tools of Game Theory and evolutionary biology hold the key to an answer to the question of an Almighty, Omniscient, Benevolent divinity that can be reconciled with free will and human responsiblity — and therefore to a rigorous theory of morality.I think that, along with so many other seekers after rigorous truth, I have developed a rough sketch of such a theory of morality.When I test the record of Tony Blair against the basic theses of that theory, he comes out at the opposite end of the moral spectrum to where I think I am.

  • TJ

    Paul C. writes: “If he is willing to use his political and personal capital to drive interfaith discussion with an end goal of increased understanding, why would anyone complain?”Do you actually think that the reason that all of the various faiths have trouble getting along for more than 10 minutes is because they don’t understand each other??

  • Latest

    peace of Islam-Muslims protesting the Danish cartoons of the prophet depicting him as violent blew up the Danish embassy in Pakistan.I think the only religion that does not get along with other religions right now is Islam. So Blair should forget the inter-faith dialog and just work on curing the humanity of this cult. He is a good and brave man. Good luck to him

  • paul c

    Mohamed malleck:

  • Leanna

    Interfaithism is prophesied to be part of the endtime world. The Bible describes the endtime Beast as having “the mouth of the lion.” (Revelation 13:2) England is represented by the lion so Tony Blair’s attempt to be an interfaith leader fits right in with the prophecies.

  • Mohamed MALLECK,Swift Current, Canada

    Paul C,I am happy to oblige by copying a comment that I had posted on several months ago and that was vigorously debated. I hope that what is supposed to follow does not get automatically deleted, as has happened in the past when I just copy and paste.Here goes: POWER REALTIONSHIPS AND THE AMBIVALENCE OF MORALITYAs surely as there is an inevitable binarism in physical phenomena (for example, the proven existence of matter and ‘anti-matter’, the universality of an ‘equal and opposite reaction’ to the action of any of the four forces identified in the physical world, and the experimentally-proven fact that we are born with an innate sense that our world is three-dimensional inspite of the wide acceptance, among the scientific community that the ‘string-theory’ proposition in modern physics that the cosmos may actually be eleven-dimensional and that no satisfacory explanation has as yet been found why our sensory world should be three-dimensional), there also is an inevitable binarism underpinning the forces propelling human phenomena, including such elusive concepts as consciousness, free will, the mind/brain dichotomy, and morality. The analysis of the processes by which this binarism impacts on matter and forces in the physical world continues to be issues being hotly researched by the scientific community of high-powered physicists such as Stephen Hawkings, Roger Penrose, Steven Weinberg and countless others. Similarly, the analysis of the processes by which binarism in the behavioural sciences have, over millennia of the hardwiring in the human brain of the experiences acquired to ensure the survival of the individual and of his kin, has gathered momentum since Edward O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, Stuart Kauffman and, importantly though far less well-known, Stephen Brams, constructed, on the multi-disciplinary bases of evolutionary biology, neurology, Game Theory, and psychology, rigorous scientific theories of consciousness, free will and morality.What impels me to start this very mundane opinion piece on racism, militarism and their antithetical manifestations with this laborious foray into the quagmire of high-powered science is the news of the impending upheaval in American internal and geo-strategic politics, and the amazingly contradictory emotions and outbursts it is triggering in many of the most-watched power circles. For example: Tehran’s protege, Hizbollah, having won a stunning moral and military victory against a vaunted invincible Israeli army, Ahmadi-Nejad hastens, not to boisterously taunt America and the EU-3 with yet another temporizing response about Iran’s undeniable right under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty to enrich uranium for peaceful energy purposes, but to offer to halt such enrichment despite these undeniable rights. In Game Theory, this is called “reaching for the maximin”; in mathematics, it is called a “saddle point”, being simultaneously a maximum in one dimension and a minimum in another dimension; in evolutionary biology, it is the “meme” — the equivalent of the gene augmented by a behavioural embodied force to ensure cultural survival — establishing an equilibrium between the competing forces of competition to reinforce chances of individual survival and cooperation to maximize group/kin survival. Another example, India, having secured a mutually-beneficial nuclear deal with the US to obtain improved transfer of technology for civilian nuclear energy production, is now wary both of amputating its autonomy for developing nuclear capabilities for military/defence purposes and of downgrading its stature among the Shaghai Cooperation Organisation in this Eurasian organisation’s efforts to counterbalance Western military dominance and possibly contribute to humanity’s maximum welfare by endorsing the UN’s 1993 proposed (and Tehran- and El Baradei-backed) verifiable Fissile Materials Cutoff Treaty, which would start with a process whereby all weapons-usable fissile materials held anywhere in the world, by the nuclear and non-nuclear group of countries would be placed under international control. A third example — both Hizbullah and Israel claim to have won their month-old war. Who, then, should make the more conciliatory gesture to secure a lasting peace? In Game Theory terms, this question boils down to :”What is the ‘optimal penal code path’ to elicit cooperative behaviour and discourage disruptive actions from both antagonists so that a lasting peace can be secured. In its editorial of 17th August, the Washington Post, circumventing the question of who won the war, blames Hizbullah for failing to honour UN Resolution 1701 on disarming and freeing the two Israeli soldiers unconditionally and evokes, ominously, Hizbullah’s ties to Syria and Iran as justification for France and Germany to concentrate less on persuading the Israel to lift its blockade of Lebanese ports and focus instead on reinforcing this blockade to prevent Hizbullah from replenishing its rockets that have been depleted through its offensive against Israel. It boils down to a question whether the glass is half full or half empty. The lesson that the Washington Post editorialist could learn, both from common sense (the glass is simultaneously half full and half empty) and from Game Theory and the scientific findings of the behavioural scientists (the minimax, as well as the maximin, is simultaneously a minimum in one dimension and a maximum in another dimension) is that the ‘optimal penal code’ is what makes the maximin coincide with the minimax. What defines the ‘optimal penal code’? Initial conditions matter as much as the dynamics of the conflict. Who had the greater ‘endowment’, or the power to damage the adversary, to start with? Whose conduct during the conflict and its outcome (in the hard battle-field sense of violence and brutality used, advantages gained, damage inflicted and casualty suffered) would justify defining it as the aggressor, the resistance fighter, the winner, the loser? As surely as the litmus test for identifying the possible suspect in crime cases is “who stands to benefit?”, the litmus test for identifying the aggressor in this case is “who had the greater initial endowment, the more lethal military hardware?” The elements of an answer to the ‘optimal penal code’ are already evident: Israel’s initial endowment was superior; Iran, the ‘sponsor’ of Hizbullah has already made a gesture of compromise on the nuclear issue; the Lebanese army, over whose deployment in the areas specified in the ceasefire agreement Hizbullah has an influence, is already being deployed in the South of Lebanon. We can conclude that the lifting of the Israeli blockade of the Lebanese ports is an essential ingredient of the ‘optimal penal code’ as much as would be the retention, by Hizbullah of a substantial part of its weapons combined with a partial disarming and a clear demarcation of Hizbullah’s political wing from its military wing, to be followed by the eventual integration in the regular Lebanese army of remaining Hizbullah fighters. It is a commonplace for people to be both moral and at the same time amoral and selfish/hedonistic. The sermon about doing unto others what we wants other do unto us is in denial of the incontrovertible fact of human nature that each one of us rightly considers himself to be unique in the universe. As our grasp of behavioural science improves, maybe our miltary strategists could put Game Theoretic insights to more practical use to advance peace and the geo-strategic potential to improve human welfare.

  • Rauf Karim

    Eboo,We all rejoiced when the labour party won and Blair became Prime Minister. To his credit he did a lot of good for our country. Sadly he blindly followed Bush into Iraq and everywhere else that Bush led him. Since stepping down as prime Minister he is supposed to have been an ‘envoy’ to the Middle East. Unfortunately he has not severed his ties to Bush hence has failed miserably. Muslims have no faith in Tony Blair. He sold his soul to the devil a long time ago.

  • Jim

    Blair and religion how interesting. This Heathen along with Bush is responsible for thousands of deaths and you say that he has a chance to be a religious leader? Guess what I agree with you because religion, as we know, became the hostage of Satan long ago.I quit going to church to keep myself from vomiting each time the Pastor bless our noble boys who were on a killing spree in Iraq. God said thou shall not kill. God did not say that killing was doing his work for him as most ‘religious’ people believe. Bush and Blair deserve to head the church which is heading in the downward direction. END THE WAR IN IRAQ.

  • Frank S.

    Hi Eboo,Sorry, but the comments so far seem spot on. Blair is tainted goods and, while his quest seems admirable, nobody really trusts him anymore. Also, there is a strange feeling that he has some other motive, other agenda or specific constituency that is behind this effort.

  • Eclectic Elder

    Forgive me for being extremely suspicious when a politician decides he’s going to be a religious conciliator in his “next life.” Organized religion (in quotes) and politics have always been intertwined and never in a way as to be beneficial to the ordinary man. I believe that there can be interfaith tolerance. There are many examples in the past of side by side peaceful co-existence. Those peaceful times were torn asunder through the devious intervention of people like Blair, who have stirred up ill-will through deprevation or some other tactic in order to create monetary/power/territorial gain for a few.Blair needs to be ignored.

  • Shafiq

    I was a little bit surprised also when I heard him talking about it with Fareed Zakaria in his new CNN program. Interfaith program is important and if Mr. Blair joins the program it would be excellent. But I am afraid it will not address the main problem. The problem with religious fundamentalism (now mostly with Islam, but all other religions had it) is not religious; it is political. Mr. Blair knows it very well. Political problems are much more difficult to deal with—it needs nuance understanding, willing to negotiate and genuine initiative to heal the trouble spots of the world. Blair’s interfaith will do some good if he approaches it properly. If he begins with an assumption that the problem with the Muslim societies (I emphasize here that Muslims are not just one society; they might follow the same religion but they are very different on many respects) is that they do not embrace modernity and advice them to do so—he is doomed to fail. He will have to premise his program in a changed world in which modernization is not a West-to-rest straight linear process, but a negotiated one. Different societies including the Muslim majority ones “modernize” in different ways. I suggest that Blair spend much of his time educating Americans and Europeans about Islam and Muslim societies. From my experience of living in a Muslim-majority society I can tell you that those societies understand Christianity a little bit better than the Western societies understand Islam. If you follow the news you will see they do not have much complaint about the religion Christianity, but they have serious problem with the policies of the Western countries, which potentially impact their lives. So, Mr. Blair needs to customize two messages for two audiences: Educating the western society about Islam and the educating the Muslim societies about the core values of the Western world that might be misunderstood in Muslim societies. Good luck, Mr. Blair.

  • Anonymous

    Eboo hopes that:Eboo forgets that for interfaith to succeed, it needs a non partisan. Blair, unlike Bush declared fundamentalism, is a closet fundamentalist.

  • Mohamed MALLECK,Swift Current, Canada

    Arif,You write ” Muslims are the special needs entities in free societies. They are in desperate need for you all to understand their ways and YOU make the changes to accommodate them.”Let me ask you: “Which year are we in?”- 2008.- According to which claendar?-Gregorian, of course!-What or who is that?-Pope Gregory XIII, of course. Everybody knows that!-And why are we not in the year Al Hijra 1429?-What or who is that?- The number of years that have elapsed from the time of the flight of the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) from Mecca to Medina. The calendar that would best suit the 1.2 billion Muslims of the world (20% of its population).- Ha, ha, ha! I see where you are coming from. The Gregorian calendar has been adopted by the large majority of nations of the world because it is scientific; the Islamic claendar is unscientific.-Hey! You’re smart, ain’t ya! And which month are we in?- June, of course! OK, youre going to ask me why not Jamaadi-ul Awwal. That’s because June is also scientific and not Jamaadi-ul-Awwal.- You getting smarter and smarter! Since we are on the topic of the calendar, why are there sixty seconds in a minute, sixty minutes in an hour, 24 hours in day, seven days in a week?- All these are scientific because they are western, and anything that is not western is unscientific. Don’t you mess up with me now! I am an immigrant to the west, and I earn my living here and cannot earn it elsewhere.- Ha, ha, ha! Despite all your scientific kmowledge?- Well, I confess, I am not a scientist.- OK , you’re forgiven. But before advertising your ignorance (and, in case you watched the Millenium show on CNN about the calendar where scientists and historians and others provided answers to the questions I asked above — answers that you can find out for your self at your leisure on the Wikipedia website — and expressed their hopes that an impossibly navel-gazing West would, in about 71 years’ time, be as respectful of the dawn of Islam’s third millenium as the world was being, eight years ago, to the dawn of the West’s thrid millenium) you should refrain from disparaging others.

  • Mike

    The age of ‘Cool Brittannia’ ended when Blair decided to join Bush on a crusade against Iraq, partially based on that same faith you seem to admire so much.

  • Soja John Thaikattil, Sydney, Australia

    Dear Dr PatelCongratulations on becoming part of former UK PM’s team ‘Tony Blair Faith Foundation’ to work towards making inter-faith dialogue and cooperation, faith based projects, and faith based universal ethics in business and politics a global reality! I wish former PM Tony Blair, you and the rest of the team the guidance of the Holy Spirit in everything you do and great success that brings glory to God, no matter what people of different faiths may call Him!Soja John Thaikattil

  • Don

    Tony Blair faith leader? What a load of claptrap and the saddest thing about it is that well educated articulate people like you fall for this nonsense.

  • Anonymous

    Is there a christian country that prohibits muslims from worshipping their faith? I think there is none. Are there muslim countries that prohibit Christians from worhipping their faith? A LOT. I believe that is a kind of special treatment. Anybody who’s coming from countries which forbids free worship should not be allowed to worship freely in their adoptive country.

  • nemo_psycosis

    just one more step towards the one world religon in these last days!

  • Amine

    Is Bliar feeling guilty for sonmething?

  • Algonquin

    Tony Blair as the new messiah for religion? Give me a break. If there ever was a disgusting, snivelling, slimeball – that’s Blair. He wasn’t called “Bliar”, and Bush’s “poodle” for nothing.The U.S. faithful must be in dire straights if they look for this pathetic suck-up as a role model.From your northern colony, a.k.a. the Great White North, where our Head of State, believe it or not is still the British Queen! Go Figure…

  • Anonymous:

    Anonymous, I am your cousin, anonymous!Cousin, let me tell ya: there is no christian country and there is no muslim country in the world today. having majority christian or muslim people is not sufficient to call that country christian or muslim.Be cool, cousin, and think more about what you read as well as what you write about.

  • 2late4god

    Tony Blair recently converted to Catholicism, moving from one inane religion (Anglican) to another. When are we going to stop this insane “faith” in a god or gods? There is far more evidence for Santa Claus, Mary Poppins and the inhabitants of Narnia than there is for current theologies. Perhaps if the absurdity of accepting beliefs created by people who thought the earth was flat and the sun revolved around the earth were to finally end, we might actually begin to concentrate on solving the myriad of problems facing humanity.

  • Anonymous

    Leanna says:Interfaithism is prophesied to be part of the endtime world.Interfaith is the stepping stone to a more robust set of relationships based on secularism. Please, do not speak of ‘end of time’ none sense.Please note that England does not look like a lion; it looks like an old lady having issues sitting on the toilet.

  • Mohamed MALLECK,Swift Current, Canada

    Victoria,Thank you very much for the encouragement.I think that I have had the occasion to tell you, Eboo, and the other readers of WAPO who care to reflect: it is not just me trying to spread the message of peace, coexistence and the mutual respect of the other’s dignity in the negotiation of conflict. Gideon Levy, Amira Haas, Uri Avnery among jews regularly spread the same message, even as they are abused by their own compatriots. Oh, we live with it but it hurts, it hurts very, very badly; and when we read infinitely soothing wors such as you write to encourage us, tears well in our eyes and we fight back to let them not roll down our cheeks because those who are not humane think that only wimps cry.And, Victoria, I am not even an Iraqi child who has seen his innocent father being stripped of his dignity in front of his eyes and dragged to Abu Ghraib to suufer monstrous torture, after having been subjected to all sorts of deprivation because of UN sanctions that, far from curbing Saddam’s brutality, illegally enriched him because high-placed UN officals and politicians and corporate bosses also saw an oportunity to enrich themselves through sanctions-busting. (Is there not a parallel there, Victoria, with the cash-for-honours scandal that Tony Blair has had to face in his own country and the Saudi-BAE arms sale and bribery scandal? Is our brother Eboo so forgetful, Victoria? Is he IS, indeed, just forgetful, can he afford to be rashly forgiving for harm done not to HIM but to others, Victoria? Is it not the prerogative of those to whom harm has been done to decide whether they will forgive, and if so, under what circumstances, especially whther they will attach a condition that the perpetrator repents?)Do I hear my detractors say, Victoria, that I am a naive wimp, a creep without the guts to go to the front myself? I won’t repeat about my being in Iran in 1979 and what I did when I was there. But allow me to tell you what I have had the occasion to tell WAPO readers in other blogs. The eminent, Nobel Prize winning Jewish scholar and Head of the New York University-affiliated Centre for the Study of Rationality, Robert Aumann, who started off as a convinced hawk on all matters relating to the Israeli-Middle East-Muslim world conflict, later revised his opinions into a more sober middle ground that I call a swan if not a dove, after he refined his Game Theoretic-baseds simulations of the conflict to reflect ground realities.Before I end, Victoria, let me invite you and Eboo and the other readers of this particular posting of mine to also read the excellent article below lifted from the ‘Common Dreams’ news website: And thanks again for your soothing words, Victoria.

  • Anonymous

    please don’t be disheartened by the hatred expressed on this blog. Unfortunately,all of the On Faith blogs are dominated by hate-filled posters who reject anyone who doesn’t agree with them.I commend Tony Blair for seeking to spend the next phase of his life seeking peace — either through the interfaith dialogue or in the Middle East. Was the war wrong? Of course. Did Blair make a mistake that is costing lives? Yes — no doubt in part because of the “persuasion” of Bush & Cheney but he is responsible for his own decisions, too. Does that make him an evil man without the capacity to do good in the world? Of course not. Let’s try not to be overly simplistic. World leaders make tough decisions and some of them have disasterous consequences. But Blair is a good man attempting to create a better world. I wonder how much love and compassion the angry posters here are bringing into the world. I wish Blair luck. He obviously has the stature to launch such initiatives and I commend him for using his position to seek peace. The Al Gore analogy is on point.

  • Mohamed MALLECK,Swift Current, Canada

    Paul C, Arif,The posting by Anonymous at 6:16 a.m. on June 4 impels me to comment as follows.Knock, knock!You still there?


    mr malleck- while i (as ususal) did not grasp a great deal of your paste- the conclusions and reasoning are so intriniscally fair and logical i wonder that these principles are not applied to some of the heaviest disputes facing the world today- if only our strategists and leaders would use their powers for good (peaceful co-existence)instead of evil (subjugation of the less powerful)

  • Onofrio

    It would seem that Blair has contracted a nasty case of Catholic guilt over his part in the Cheney-puppet’s Mesopotamian razzia. Fitting, surely! All that blood and treasure so sincerely wasted with all the best intentions – he ought to be shedding a tear or two … million. It’s a shame that we will have to endure his atomic grin, his hollow handwringing, and his earnest glib lippery well beyond the term of his PM-ship, as he attempts to beam healingly on the blighted places he helped blight even worse. The decent thing for him to do would be to accept the fact of his dead credibility, and remove himself to some remote monastery for a lengthy penitential hiatus. A Trappist vow at the end would be widely appreciated. In other words, he should just shut up, and count himself lucky we’re not Romans – self-swording would have been implemented by now! He’s not the Messiah; he’s a very naughty boy.


    brother malleck-

  • bill topolsky

    Tony Blair’s vision? Committment?1008 quince orchard road

  • bill topolsky

    Tony Blair’s vision? Committment?1008 quince orchard road

  • John R. Young

    Mr. Patel,You are saying this man, who enabled President Bush to wage an immoral and illegal war in Iraq, is the man to help bring world peace through faith and religion.Sir, his actions in supporting and waging this war prevent his credibility in bring about this peace. And, sir, your promotion of Blair as the one to do this destroys your own credibility as one who is working toward peace among the world’s peoples and cooperation among the world’s religions.John