“God and Conflict” Author Speaks at United Nations and Book Event



Philip Hellmich during an interview before his recent book presentation at Intersections International. Photo: Valerie Prassi.


As conflict over religious issues erupted in the Middle East and other regions during September, peace activist and author Philip Hellmich spoke on conflict resolution through spirituality, and on his own life-changing experiences as he has tried to resolve disputes.

Hellmich recently spoke at a United Nations forum on “Culture of Peace” with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and discussed his new book, “God and Conflict,” with a group of 20 people at the Fifth Avenue headquarters of Intersections International, a non-profit organization that promotes peace through dialogue and education.

In recent weeks, controversial statements about religious ideology have sparked protests in countries around the world the world, including Egypt, Pakistan and the United States.

During September, the YouTube broadcast of the 14-minute anti-Islam film “Innocence of Muslims,” produced by an Egyptian-born American Coptic Christian, led to violence in many Muslim countries. And at the Edward Tyler Nahem Art Gallery in New York City, the exhibition of “Piss Christ,” by American artist Andres Serrano, angered Christian groups and politicians because of a photograph of a crucifix in a glass of the artist’s urine.

Hellmich says that the answer is within reach. “If people would actually live the deepest wisdom of whatever their spiritual tradition is, these conflicts could be prevented,” said Hellmich, director of peace for The Shift Network, Inc., a global organization. He has over 25 years of experience in peace-building initiatives and development projects.

At the book event, he discussed his experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in small bush villages in Sierra Leone. During that time, the author – who worked in various regions of Africa for nine years of work – witnessed “violence and war, loss and suffering.” But Hellmich also became fascinated by native tribal spirituality. “I came back to the United States and realized that our western pursue of happiness does not make any sense,” he said.

“Despite tremendous poverty, many Africans seemed happier than people here in the United States,” he said. “They have a deep sense of spirituality, a strong connection with family, community and nature. When I came back to the United States I had a culture shock. People in the west have an inner spiritual void.”

The book event, which was publicized on the Internet, didn’t attract a large audience. Most of the 20 attendees were Hellmich’s friends and colleagues who had worked on peace-projects with him.

“Philip Hellmich is a very humble person, an ambassador. I want to support these peace initiatives in every way I can,” said Barbara Costigan, a member of the organization’s board.

Despite the recent uprising of violence, the author is optimistic. “There is tremendous good happening in the world, that is mostly not reflected in the news,” he said.