Did you know we have just come to the end of Interfaith week? No, I didn’t either. There is an International version, World Interfaith Harmony Week, in the first week in February, and I'd love to hear about any similar American initiatives. But for England, Wales and Northern Ireland Interfaith Week this year was November 20th to 26th, and in Scotland it will be November 27th to December 4th!
It wasn’t until I read a fairly muted piece in The Times on Friday about the Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks confessing to politicians and Jewish communal leaders at the Scottish Parliament that he finds Christmas carols uplifting, that I discovered, way down towards the end of the item, the fact that “leaders of all faiths” have been celebrating this week as Interfaith Week.
Why on earth hasn’t the media given it more prominence? OK I know there has been lots more going on in the world this week that has attracted the attention of the journalists; not least the attacks on their own kind by the Leveson inquiry on the behaviour of the UK media in hunting down sensitive stories and converting them into the sensational, at the expense of the victims. But why on earth didn’t I know about it from my church activities? I would have incorporated it into my intercessions I prepared for the service last Sunday had I known. And I read quite widely, listen to the news regularly, spend time researching faith issues.
Of course the media trades in bad news, not good. And interfaith initiatives are good news for society. Any interfaith activities that promote dialogue and understanding and respect between them have to be a good thing in promoting a peaceful future for us all.
Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said to be close to the Chief Rabbi, is quoted in The Times as saying that “One of the things we have cause to be grateful for in this country (1) is the warmth and spontaneity of relationships between leaders in the faith communities.” “Lord Sacks, as quoted in the same article, told the Jewish Telegraph: “The big challenge is to bring the news to the public that the different faith groups get along together and enjoy being part of the British culture.” Williams is further quoted as saying that such relationships are “rare” in the modern world and something to be grateful for. “In history, religious identity has sometimes been the cause of rivalry.” That seems like a masterful understatement and ingenuous comment coming from such a fine intellect. I quote from what he went on to say:
"The point is though that although we have a history that is sometimes one of conflict and rivalry, we have begun slowly but steadily to develop that much richer vision which allows us to say we help one another to be human in our difference. And because our religious identities are not just something that affects one little part of our lives but something that has to do with the most profound and definitive relationships that we have, our relationship to God, to reality, that surely is a reason for not seeing our religious belonging, our religious identity, as ever in competition with other things but rather as the context in which all our thinking, all our loving and all our hoping takes place." and I strongly recommend that his speech is read in it entirety.
Now why couldn't The Times have put across something of that fuller message? Sacks is right. Getting the news to the public will indeed be a big challenge as long as our media continue to be biased against religion in their reporting.
(1) And this extends to America. In an excellent book by Gustav Niebuhr, Beyond Tolerance: How People across America are Building Bridges Between Faiths, he describes in some considerable detail the many initiatives being taken in this respect. (See my blog for August 22nd for review).
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