We all know where we were, what we were doing, on 9/11.
Curiously, another 9/11, in another century, marked the beginning of inter-religious dialogue, as we now understand it. On that day in Chicago in 1893 the World Parliament of Religions was founded. “From now on,” declared Charles Bonney, “the great religions of the world will no longer declare war on each other, but on the giant ills that afflict [humankind].”A further conference was convened in 1993 on the centenary of the first, and a series of similar conferences have subsequently come together under the new title ‘Parliament of the World’s Religions’.
There is a faith line described by the American Indian Muslim Eboo Patel that is no less divisive and no less violent than the 20th century color line of racial segregation that existed after the abolition of slavery (1)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, the exclusivists, and the values of the religious pluralists. (Pluralism is not quite the same as inclusivism, which from a Christian perspective takes the view that Christianity is present in all religions, and they are all moving towards Christianity without knowing it. This is an angle not much more conducive to tolerance than exclusivism or totalitarianism!) The totalitarians 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.” Patel describes pluralism as the belief “that the common good is best served when each community has a chance to make its own unique contribution.”Patel founded the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) and this serves to promote and support many initiatives between religions, to foster understanding and therefore respect for the long-term.
IFYC has trained thousands of people across continents (Australia, India, Qatar, and across Western Europe for example as well as across America) for the skills needed to transform religious diversity or religious tension into active interfaith cooperation. One way it achieves this is by training college students as leaders to engage with and address topical social issues in an interfaith way, within the college, schools and in the community, wherever there is an identified social need.
We need to build more tolerance between us all, to live and let live, but much more than that, to celebrate and build on our diversities, rather than quarrel about them; because the stakes are now too high, given the deadly weaponry that is available across the world in the hands of those from so many different cultures and creeds.
“We have inherited a big house,” said Martin Luther King in his Nobel Peace Prize Lecture in 1964, “a great world house in which we have to live together – black and white, Easterners and Westerners, Gentiles and Jews, Catholics and Protestants, Moslem and Hindu, a family unduly separated in ideas, culture, and interests who, because we can never again live without each other, must learn, somehow, in this one big world, to live with each other.”
This week is interfaith week in / England, Northern Ireland and Wales. Actually this year it is longer than a week, as it runs from 18th - 27th November this year, extended to celebrate our Diamond Jubilee year.
There is also a World Interfaith Harmony Week.
This was first proposed at the UN General Assembly on September 23, 2010 by H.M. King Abdullah II of Jordan. Just under a month later, on October 20, 2010, it was unanimously adopted by the UN and henceforth the first week of February will be observed as a World Interfaith Harmony Week each year.
The World Interfaith Harmony Week is based on the pioneering work of The Common Word initiative. This initiative, which started in 2007, called for Muslim and Christian leaders to engage in a dialogue based on two common fundamental religious Commandments; Love of God, and Love of the Neighbor, without nevertheless compromising any of their own religious tenets. The Two commandments are at the heart of the three Monotheistic religions and therefore provide the most solid theological ground possible. I have written about this in more detail in a previous blog.
So let's observe our interfaith weeks and do all we can to promote their causes. Because therein lies the future of us all.
(1) Warning over 100 years ago by the great African-American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois
(2) Eboo Patel (2007) Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for
the Soul of a Generation, Beacon
Expanded and explored further in Why Religions Work
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