This letter was sent as an open letter to the members of URI (United Religion Initiative
Dec., 31, 2019 – More about URI, see below. 

Photo: Festival of Diwali

These past months have brought wonder and awe inspired by Holy Days in many of the religious, spiritual, and Indigenous traditions of the world. During this time we have celebrated Indigenous People’s Day, the festival of Diwali for Hindus, Jains and Sikhs, Buddha’s Enlightenment Day, the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed (may peace be upon him), the 550th anniversary of Guru Nanak founder of the Sikh community, the birth of the Baha’i prophet Baha’u’lláh , Hanukkah for the Jewish community, the Solstice for many Earth-based, Humanist, Pagan and Indigenous traditions, Yule for the Pagan community, Christmas for Christians, and Kwanzaa in African American spiritual tradition, to name but a few. Through all these holy days, themes of light, peace, hope and new life abound. Each serves as a reminder of the ethical principles of kindness and compassion that form the foundation of the teachings of ancient wisdom traditions to nurture peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings.

But these past months have also brought fear… fear generated by the heinous acts of those whose distorted beliefs became dehumanizing weapons targeting vulnerable people and perpetrating horrible atrocities upon our human (and animal) siblings, and upon our Mother Earth herself.

Fear is their ultimate weapon. Generating fear of “the other” enables prejudice to take root and grow into violence. “The other” becomes the object of this fear, a fear rooted in ignorance and fed by the grief of those who feel despair in their lives. This fear, and associated grief and despair, are then used by those who seek to have or hold power by dividing human beings against each other along various identity lines thereby increasing their power and the world’s sorrow. What we know about mass atrocity and genocide is that the most important ingredient is to turn “the other” into an object, to dehumanize them, thereby enabling their delegitimization and destruction. This includes the ongoing genocide of Indigenous peoples and their ancestral lands, the horrific rise of Anti-Semitism and violence against the Jewish community, the growth of Islamophobia, the targeting of minority religious communities including but not limited to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Pagans, Sikhs and Indigenous peoples on every continent. There is no community that is unaffected by these horrors.

As the New Year approaches, we must also look inward at our belief communities, for there is no religious community the essence of which has not been distorted to perpetuate fear and commit violence not only against people of other beliefs but also targeting especially persons of color, immigrants, women, children and the LGBTQ community. We must weep for the ways in which our religious communities have failed to act in love and justice but rather allowed fear and hate to grow in their name. And we must speak out and act to create change within.

As the year turns we extend our love and compassion to all, that we may be a balm for the wounds inflicted on our sisters and brothers and our Mother Earth. But not just through our words, but also through our actions of solidarity whenever and wherever sisters and brothers of all beliefs and our Mother Earth are in danger.

May the stories that we share of our holy days… of miracles of oil lamps, divine birth, the return of the sun, of light kindling wisdom in every heart and so many more tales of light overwhelming darkness, and life overcoming death…, may these stories provide us with the inspiration to continue our struggle against the shadows of fear and despair, and enable each of us through our loving actions to be beacons of light illumining our way into the New Year.

In peace…. Victor

The Rev. Victor H. Kazanjian Jr.
Executive Director
United Religions Initiative
PO Box 29242
1009 General Kennedy Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94129-0242
URI is a global grassroots interfaith network that cultivates peace and justice by engaging people to bridge religious and cultural differences and work together for the good of their communities and the world. 

URI is a non-governmental organization (NGO) with consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.