More than one hundred years ago, the great African-American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois warned in his book The Souls of Black Folk that the problem of the twentieth century would be the racial segregation that existed after the abolition of slavery, in ‘the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea.’ He called this ‘the problem of the color line.’ With the election of President Barack Obama to the White House and only a short while before that the inauguration in the Anglican Communion of John Sentamu to be their own first black Archbishop of York, the hope must be that this color line is well on the way out.
But what about the Faith Line?
This, the American Indian Muslim Eboo Patel has pointed out, is no less divisive and no less violent than the color line. The faith line does not divide different faiths, or separate the religious from the secular. This line is divisive between the values of religious totalitarians and the values of the religious pluralists. The former believe that their way is the only way and are prepared to convert, condemn or indeed kill, those who are different, in the name of God. It is this side of the faith line that gives religions a bad press in the eyes of the secular public. The pluralists on the other hand hold that ‘people believing in different creeds and belonging to different communities need to learn to live together in equal dignity and mutual loyalty.’ Pluralism is the belief, Patel explains, ‘that the common good is best served when each community has a chance to make its own unique contribution.’
We are desperately in need of a universal religious tolerance. We can all play our part, to work hard at that faith line and support in any way we can all those organizations and individuals who are striving to achieve harmony between the diverse religions of the world. Many of us are apparently blind to the fact that all the great faiths share a love, compassion and respect for all beings, sentient or not. May we all in the years to come learn to celebrate our differences and our unique perspectives in an atmosphere of tolerance, understanding and humility. This is a vital message for our future, the need to heal the rifts between religions and faiths so that we can all be a part of that great global healing, all be catalysts for healing change at society and global level.
‘…I would urge people who are judgmental and moralising,” said John Sentamu in 2005 in his inauguration sermon in York Minster,
"as followers of the Prince of Peace, the friend of the poor, the marginalized, and the vulnerable, I bid you all by the mercies of God to go and find friends among them, among the young, among older people, and all those in society who are demonized and dehumanized; and stand shoulder to shoulder with them.
Christians, go and find friends among Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, agnostics, atheists – not for the purpose of converting them to your beliefs, but for friendship, understanding, listening, hearing…
Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, agnostics, atheists, go and find friends amongst Christians, not for the purpose of converting them to your beliefs, but for friendship, understanding, listening, hearing.
God is working in the world today quite beyond the limits of our budgets, structures and expectation. His gospel, lived out in corporate-discipleship, has the power to transform our individual and corporate lives, our families, our communities and our nations. It has the power to break beyond our timidity and insufficiency."
The color line took a great deal of time to transcend and the work is not entirely finished. Can we dare hope that the faith line will follow the same path towards tolerance and respect for all, blessed as we now are with greater global information, communication and education? May this lead to a better understanding if we will only allow it in our hearts and minds. There are many organizations that work tirelessly to keep the principles of religious pluralism alive. They need our support. Are we ready for that challenge?
See Eboo Patel, Acts of Faith: the Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation, Boston: Beacon Press,
And “Building the Beloved Community; Values of Religious Pluralism” in Frank, the magazine of the Clinton School of Public Service (Winter 2007b), p. 58.
My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.
"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden