Interfaith Dialog A Path to Peace
A Paper by Gordon Mosher
HUM-10 World Religions
Peace on earth is a lofty goal, but when you understand that most violence is simply a choice to destroy that which appears different to us, it becomes clear that another choice is available; the choice to allow differences in others and their freedom of choice, just as we want to have our freedom of choice. There have always been compelling reasons to consider interfaith worship. For example, mixed faith marriages and their children. What I will focus on here is the growing practice of interfaith dialog and worship with the intention of world peace and understanding.
Interfaith dialog is an opening of communications between leaders and lay persons of all faiths. The purpose of interfaith dialog is to foster greater understanding of others beliefs for the purpose of getting along better. Interfaith worship is a facet of interfaith dialog. Interfaith worship is actually attending a worship service of another faith. Interfaith celebrations are gatherings where different faiths can come share common ground for a variety of social reasons.
A common practice of local interfaith groups is to invite members of other faiths to a Sunday afternoon dinner. The interfaith group can meet at a different place of worship on a monthly basis. The interfaith group at Unity Church of Pomona, CA is a good example of a local interfaith organization.
Many of us raised in the comfort of American culture may, until 9/11, believe that religious violence is not our problem, maybe even believing that Americans are above that kind of behavior. David Hyatt describes recent events in American history: “In the 1890’s, the American Protective Association was as vicious in its attacks upon Catholics as was the Ku Klux Klan, later, in the 1920’s, in brutal attacks upon Blacks and Jews and Catholics. Indeed, unbelievable though it seems, when the National Conference of Christians and Jews was founded, in 1928, the Klan had six million members.”(Hyatt) I am shocked to learn that religious persecution was as common as that, and as recently as that. It goes to show how something as terrible as the holocaust happened. Religious violence is not a thing of the past or another place, it is with us, even here and now.
The contemporary interfaith movement has been growing worldwide for over 100 years. I include here references to efforts by Jewish, Islamic, Catholic and Protestant leaders to open the doors to interfaith dialog and worship. Catholics began their revolution of interreligious dialogue with non-Christian during the years of Vatican II (1962-65).(Swidler) In reference to King Abdullah’s Interfaith Dialog Initiative in 2008, Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., Adel Al-Jubeir, said: "The idea stemmed from King Abdullah's view that there are universal values that are common to all faiths, and that if we focus on those universal values we will see that there is a lot more that binds us as human beings than divides us."(Alhomoudi) The Jewish people have had good reason to pioneer interfaith understanding. One of their major contributions was the founding of the National Conference of Christians and Jews in 1928.
There is growing support by lay persons and the general public for the support and practice of interfaith ideals. Piet Levy reports that “Interfaith worship services have doubled in the decade since the 9/11 attacks, according to a new study, even though more than seven in ten U.S. congregations do not associate with other faiths.”(Levy)
The most important objective is that dialogue helps us acquaint ourselves with people of other faiths and cultures and establishes with them common principles that achieve peaceful coexistence and security of human society.(Alhomoudi) More peace and security, less war and less cost of war. Those are big benefits for simply making a choice to support interfaith tolerance and understanding.
Interfaith worship doesn’t need to be practiced regularly. Simply give it a try once or twice so you learn to have an open mind about it. Continue your support for interfaith by talking positive about it when the subject comes up. Be a voice, or at least a prayer, for understanding that respect of other faiths is one of the simplest paths to peace in which we all can easily participate.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia concluded: "… we must focus on the common denominators that unite us, namely, deep faith in God, noble principles, and lofty moral values, which constitute the essence of religion."(Alhomoudi) U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the Muslim world in his speech in Cairo, stating the following: “Indeed, faith should bring us together.”(Alhomoudi)
We may wonder, “What difference can one person make?” We may wonder, “What could I do that could possibly make a difference?” Well, now we know. Try interfaith worship on your own or in a group. Support interfaith dialog when the opportunity arises. Participate in interfaith celebrations that you find interesting. Believe that greater peace is possible.
VIII. IN DEPTH – THE IMPLEMENTATION OF INTERFAITH PRAYER
The Assisi Gathering has defined the “theological distinctions such as the difference between "praying together" and "coming together to pray."(Welle) In 2011 it also opened the dialog “to include secular humanists among the invitees and how this expressed his [Pope Benedict XVI’s] understanding of interreligious dialogue, intercultural dialogue, and the meaning of "religion."”(Welle) To further demonstrate the magnitude of interfaith development I include here an excerpt of Jason Welle’s selection titled “The Evolution of the Assisi Gathering”.
The most iconic images of the Assisi Gathering hail from the first event, a "World Day of Prayer for Peace," convened by John Paul II in 1986. The United Nations had declared 1986 the International Year of Peace, so the pope invited religious leaders to come to Assisi and invoke from God "the gift of peace," a phrase he subsequently used many times. The announcement caught many by surprise, for everyone in ecumenical or interreligious circles knew that this event would break new ground. John Paul insisted that Christians interpret this Assisi initiative as an organic unfolding of the Second Vatican Council's commitment to ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, the same context in which he understood his own interreligious outreach -- most prominently his visit to Rome's Great Synagogue in that same year. After some initial skittishness, leaders from twenty-six different religions attended, including some very prominent figures such as the Dalai Lama.
The potential theological ramifications of such a gathering were obvious. John Paul himself insisted that participants certainly could not "pray together," but they could make a "common prayer," meaning that they would be present while others prayed. This would be a sincere attitude of prayer in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
IX. IN DEPTH – THE PARTICIPATION OF SECULAR HUMANISTS
Pope Benedict XVI “saw sincere agnostics as a force that could purify religious practice and reorient dialogue toward concrete questions of coexistence.”(Welle) “Julia Kristeva, the spokesperson for the humanists in Assisi, is the perfect example of a desirable dialogue partner for Benedict, because, though an unbeliever, she has accorded positive value to religious belief and tacitly favors Christianity over the other major world religions.”(Welle) I continue with Jason Welle’s selection titled “The Participation of Secular Humanists”. Don’t miss the last two sentences of this.
If Benedict's larger goal in some measure involved building an alliance of sincere agnostics and committed believers to counterbalance the fanaticism of both religious fundamentalists and secular fundamentalists, how did the humanists themselves understand their participation in Assisi, and what effect did it have? Kristeva's brief remarks could never be characterized as "routine speechifying," except insofar as they bore the density that marks nearly all her prose. She began with the simple question, "What is humanism?" addressing the raison d'être for the humanists' inclusion in this pilgrimage. "Humanism is a process of perpetual reestablishment," which attempts to promote a universal ethics and universal solidarity by constantly reconsidering "the moral codes formed in the course of history" and "renewing them to meet" the needs of changing societies. Since "humanism awakens the desire for freedom in men and women, it teaches us to" care for others, especially the most vulnerable. Kristeva welcomed the fact that today we "are capable of reassessing in complete transparency the religiosity inherent in the human being." We know that humankind has the means to destroy itself and planet earth. We do not know whether religions, beliefs, or ideologies will lead to this destruction or whether they will lead to peace…
Alhomoudi, Fahad A. "Muslim-Christian Relationship From The Perspective Of King Abdullah's Interfaith Dialogue Initiatives: Current Challenges And Possibilities." Journal Of Ecumenical Studies 45.2 (2010): 288-295. Religion and Philosophy Collection. Web. 28 Nov. 2013.
Gordis, Robert. "Interfaith At Fifty--An Evaluation." Judaism 27.3 (1978): 262. Religion and Philosophy Collection. Web. 28 Nov. 2013.
Hyatt, David. "The Interfaith Movement." Judaism 27.3 (1978): 267. Religion and Philosophy Collection. Web. 28 Nov. 2013.
Levy, Piet. "Interfaith Worship Doubles In Decade, But Remains Low." Christian Century 128.20 (2011): 17. Religion and Philosophy Collection. Web. 28 Nov. 2013.
Swidler, Leonard. "Introduction, in Leonard Swidler, ed., Muslims in Dialogue: The Evolution of a Dialogue." The Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston, NY (1992): p. v.
Welle, Jason. "The Evolution Of The Assisi Gathering: To Humanism And Beyond?" Journal Of Ecumenical Studies 48.3 (2013): 377-390. Religion and Philosophy Collection. Web. 28 Nov. 2013.
Posted on Fri, November 29, 2013
by Gordon Mosher