Religious Tolerance is very much in the news at the moment, particularly following Tony Blair's recently well publicized comments on the subject, including his statement that "The promotion of religious tolerance, both within and between countries will be key to fostering peaceful outcomes around the world in the 21st century."
Of course comments like this inevitably fuel quite a bit of vitriol around Blair's own actions as Prime Minister, along with equally vitriolic comments calling to abolish the so called fairy tales and myths that we call religion.
But such comments are really unhelpful. The past is past. Yes we must learn from it but we cannot alter it. And like it or not, the vast majority of the world's population hold a faith which is dear to them, and they are by no means all fundamentalists or ill educated.
Also, the world's great faiths have very much more in common than they have differences.
It is certainly true that inequalities, and injustices, often revolving around poverty and hunger and health issues fuel political angst which all too readily becomes tainted with religion, and we certainly have to work towards eliminating global injustices, a huge issue in its own right.
Blair is right when he says we must encourage education and religious tolerance if we are to bring about peace in the Middle East and the rest of the world. I believe that education is key to securing a peaceful future for us all. With education comes opportunity for the world's marginalized, and this in its turn helps tackle injustices and inequalities. Reliable data is hard to find, but a massive proportion of the world’s children, by any standards, receive little or no education at all.
If we include within that education a knowledge of the world's different religions then we promote understanding of those different religions and around that understanding can be built not only religious tolerance but more importantly respect for other people's views. We should all have respect for others' views, even if we cannot agree with them.
In this brief interlude from my recent blogs about our pilgrimage to the Holy Land I thought I would mention a few other important interfaith initiatives in addition to the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, which is doing its own good work to further its aim "to promote greater knowledge and understanding between people of different faiths. This is not a call to faith – it is a call to respect those of all faiths and not to allow faith to divide us but instead to embody the true values of compassion and humanity common to all faiths".
Another initiative is the Cambridge Interfaith Programme - in the word's of its Director, Professor David F Ford:
"Few things are likely to be more important for the 21st 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."
Out of the Cambridge Interfaith Initiative has grown the idea of Scriptural Reasoning.
Then there is Eboo Patel's IFYC...
And more recently there has been the Common Word Initiative.
I have written about all these and more from time to time in my blogs and elsewhere.
But I also believe that spiritual literacy is essential for the future; that all young people need to be educated in the ways of spirit and respect and love, because this will be the world’s healing force.
The former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations and later Chancellor of Costa Rica’s Peace University, Robert Muller, wrote in the 1980s of the need for a global education that “must transcend material, scientific and intellectual achievements and reach deliberately into the moral and spiritual spheres.” After extending the power of our hands with incredible machines, our eyes with telescopes and microscopes, our ears with cell phones, radio and sonar, our brains with computers and automation, he wrote, we must now also extend our hearts, our feelings, our love, and our soul “to the entire human family, to the planet, to the stars, to the universe, to eternity and to God.”
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