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

Friday, 27 January 2012

What do we mean by tolerance?

Here's a story:
If someone is making what I consider to be a huge din next door, playing loud pop “music” that I find disturbing, I may put up with it or I may bang on the wall between us, ask him to turn it down. I am tolerating his noise, or perhaps not. And that is what tolerance is; putting up with something. But supposing he wasn’t really playing his music that loud; just that I prefer Mozart and find that his type of music doesn’t speak to me in the same way. How is he to know that? So I go next door and speak with him. Suppose I tried to understand why he enjoys what to me is anathema. Suppose he comes to understand that I am writing, and there are times when I need quiet for concentration and for thinking. And let’s suppose that through dialogue we can come to a mutual accommodation. He’ll try to turn his music down on the days and times when he knows I am working at my laptop, perhaps close his window. I may never appreciate his musical taste, but I can respect it. I now know that this is his type of release when he gets home from work, an essential part of him “winding-down.” Of course none of us should have to tolerate antisocial behaviour within the norms of society, and neither of us intended to be anti-social! But I’ve discovered through dialogue that he’s not too keen on my bonfires either, because they don’t help his asthma. And we have built up a mutual respect through the dialogue we had, because actually now I know him better he’s a pleasant guy – I’d been a little nervous about him before we talked - and I’ve found we do share a passion for growing our own vegetables and for reading books on spirituality! Respect and understanding achieved through dialogue is much more powerful than mere tolerance.

The Dalai Lama once suggested to a multifaith audience that they should go on pilgrimages with each other, to each other’s holy sites, where they should pray together or at least meditate together. “This is a very effective way to understand the value and power of other religious traditions,” he said.

Gustav Niebuhr, great nephew of Reinhold Niebuhr, calls for an end to what he calls the “rough trade in raw insults” between religions, for example as seen so often on the Internet, and agrees that we need more than mere tolerance; we need a more committed effort to really get to know and respect our religious differences, he writes, to recognize that we can all learn from others, to understand that whatever those differences we are all of equal worth and value across class, race, ethnicity and religion. Respect, a warm acceptance, a mindfulness of everyone’s role in society, is called for, akin to the teachings of Gandhi on tolerance, respect and ahimsa.

So isn’t it just a little demeaning to talk of religious tolerance? Tolerance will never be the full answer. We should be talking in terms of respect, understanding, acceptance, appreciation. Mere tolerance is simply not enough.

And that respect and understanding is only going to come from dialogue between faiths.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

“Why may we not suppose that the great Father of all is pleased with a variety of devotion?” 
Thomas Paine

Thursday, 19 January 2012

One should not injure, subjugate, enslave, torture, or kill any animal, living being, organism, or sentient being. This doctrine of nonviolence is immaculate, immutable, and eternal. Just as suffering is painful to you, in the same way it is painful, disquieting, and terrifying to all animals, living beings, organisms, and sentient beings

Jainism. Acarangasutra 4.25-26
One going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should try it on himself first to feel how it hurts

Yoruba proverb, Nigeria

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Those who praise their own doctrines and disparage the doctrines of others do not solve any problem

Jainism Sutrakritanga 1. 1.50

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent


Friday, 13 January 2012

After all, if there is no God, then God is incalculably the greatest single creation of the human imagination

Sir Anthony John Patrick Kenny
Fellow of the British Academy


Wednesday, 11 January 2012

I only know that I know nothing


Sunday, 8 January 2012

Few things are likely to be more important...

“...for the twenty-first century than wise faith among the world's religious communities. That calls for fuller understanding, better education, and a commitment to the flourishing of our whole planet.”

Professor David F. Ford

Friday, 6 January 2012

The most beautiful thing...

“...we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”


Wednesday, 4 January 2012

When I worship or pray...

“...let me do so to God, never to “my” God…”
P. D. Mehta, The Heart of Religion, Element Books Ltd., (Shaftesbury Dorset, 1987), p. 261.

Monday, 2 January 2012

The Pope on Atheism

“It is our task always to struggle for the relatively best possible framework of human coexistence in our present day and, in doing so, to overcome anything bad that exists at the time, and to guard against the outbreak of destructive forces…the atheistic systems of modern times are the most frightful examples of passionate religious enthusiasm alienated from its proper identity, and that means a sickness of the human spirit that may be mortal.”

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions, (Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2005) pp. 257, 258.