We live with so many words. What are the words we use when we speak to each other about interfaith? You see, there is a lot at risk with interfaith activity. Something might change, once you or I hear about another person’s faith experience – someone who is from a religion other than mine – and it rings bells with my own experience. If I understand something like that, what changes within me?
When we look at words applied to interfaith communications, we encounter these terms:~
- dialogue – a word that ties you to existing structures of conversation and exchange of ideas
- conversation – might be a better word, it opens things up
- lines – that is, words spoken by characters in fiction or drama
- a discussion intended to produce an agreement
- a duologue – a conversation between two persons; is it meant to produce any result?
- give-and-take – an exchange of views on some topic, perhaps light repartee, perhaps the giving of concessions
- talks – a discussion intended to produce an agreement
- parley – (rare, in earlier usage, a negotiation between enemies)
- diplomacy – subtly skilful handling of a situation
- diplomatic negotiations – negotiation between nations; where (practice of)( the institution of) faith is tied to national identity;
- bargaining – come to terms; arrive at an agreement;
- collective bargaining – (often thought to be ) negotiation between an employer and trade union; might be negotiations between members of faiths on a collective level?
- horse trading – negotiation accompanied by mutual concessions and shrewd bargaining; negotiation with much give and take.
A lot of different terminology (or assumptions, threats, defensiveness that comes to mind) when we engage in (communication) with those of another religion or faith system other than our own. How do we sit down at a table together, sans assumptions and fears, and cultivate community, communication and common purpose?
A word to the wise. We will not be talking – nor referencing – cults in these discussions. Put simply, cults take your decision making away from you. There are many other criteria which evaluate cults, but these belong in another discussion for another day. In the values section of this page – there may be some relevant matters.
In relations between faiths – formal, informal and non formal – there is hospitality. The Abrahamic faiths, along with Hinduism, Buddhism and other Eastern religions all treat the visitor, the guest, as a visitation of the Divine. Hospitality to the stranger is the mark of good intent, expression of good faith, and in the case of non-formal multifaith or interfaith relations, simply being a good neighbour. And good neighbours share the ups and downs of life, share their common challenges – in the family, in the society, in the nation – and share their experiences. We know the gladness for the rain after a drought; we know the joy when a missing child is returned safely; we know the days when we become a tight-knit community when we face a threat in commoon, and we come together to protect one another. These are the ups and downs of life that we share in common with our good neighbours.
There is much we collaborate with in the community at large. We cooperate together to ensure the well-being of others. We share common concerns for the welfare of all, be it in Aged Care, concern (and action) for those who live alone, seeking social housing for those who are homeless, attending to welfare for those in poverty and those who suffer illness of any kind. There are many community services we take up in common, collaborating with neighbours, community agencies, local government – where we care for one another. There is the moral compassion and the knowledge that – “but for the grace of the Divine – there go I”. The moral compassion in collaboration is reaction, reflection, resound: when we care in community for another, we are caring for ourselves and our community.
Science and Religion
People of faith – and no faith (that is, people living a spirituality, and people who embody their values in daily life) – have common care and concern for the environment, the climate, stem cell technology, and advances in genetic modification of food and materials, that have impact on human wellbeing and human flourishing. Organisations have sprung up that share activities across faith boundaries, such as Faiths for Earth, Faith Ecology Network, Australian Religious Response to Climate Change, Initiatives for Change. There is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – which has accepted the Interfaith Declaration on Climate Change at several COP’s (Conference of Parties) and there is the G20 Interfaith Movement as well, with concerns for human wellbeing in the face of economic advance. Faith communities and Faith Based Organisations ally with the United Nations for the advance and implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals in many nations. Interfaith and Science should sit down at the table and talk. It is said that spirituality is the science of Love, Science is the split of love. We must get together and talk for love is the foundation of human flourishing, not the latest technology in heat resistance tiles for the kitchen stove or the bathroom.
In coming to the table together to talk about our faith, our belief, our religion, we inevitably speak of the heritage of our religion and its part in the human story. We tell of the history of religions, the understanding of ideas, the recognition of a world-view that a faith-system creates for its adherents, and if privileged, we are shown a container of spiritual progress. While previous conflicts between religions may have produced a state of affairs that prevail today (Andalusia, the Crusades, the Reformation, the English Reformation, Partition and so forth), old wars and conflicts are not brought to the table and used for scapegoating the other we are in conversations with. Human flourishing – in community – is about our understanding, cooperation and harmony today; past is past, best left in the past – except that we learn from the mistakes of history.
When adherents of different faith paths come together, it is natural to ask questions about what is practised in the faith community. This is where the different religions explain what it is they do: their sacred rites, the sacred book and associated literatures, the different sacraments, samskars, mitzvahs, like this. There are sacred rites – what you might call rites of passage – conjoined to stages of life, i.e., birth, maturity, adulthood, marriage and death. Some have a ceremonial first cutting of the hair, some have a sacred anointing, some have a reading of the scrolls at a certain age, yet another religion gives the sacred thread at a specific time. There are rites of adult immersion in water, while others walk around the sacred fire in the marriage rite, yet others smash the glass under the canopy. There are intense rituals with death, mourning and bereavement.
There is another dimension of Praxis, that is, the container that faith or religion provides for the adherent in the life journey. It is said that life is a journey to the goal of life. What are the goals of life, how do different faith systems present this? What are the virtues we may practice on the pathway to achieving those goals of our religious lives? How do these goals fit with mundane life, with work, family, exercise and relaxation? How do the goals of life shape the household, the workplace, the student, the sports field? Religions promote many worthwhile and excellent virtues, along with many paths towards the destination of life.
Relations with the Divine
We put this heading here, and allow readers to place their own understanding on this. Some may say their relations with the Divine (whatever name and form they are comfortable and used to) are implicit in their prayers, their rituals, their daily meditation, their church going or attendance at temple, masjid or gurduara. Some have private shrines in their homes and their relationship with the Divine is in the home, and they light small lamps and wave incense sticks as worship and having relations with the Divine.
For some people, relations with the Divine are done in community as whole. Participating in the worshipping community – weekly or monthly – attending at the place of worship is the interior experience, and the exterior building of the domain of the Divine on Earth. For others, they may share that participating in the ritual activities – the sacrament, the samskar, the community service, the salat – is their deep and personal relationship with the Divine. Some may speak of rites, contemplation and worship. Still others may speak of religious or spiritual experience that they have had that has transformed their lives. Communicating same may be a little like what T.S. Eliot said at the beginning of this essay, “Words strain, Crack and sometimes break, under the burden, of communicating the experience of the Divine, which is beyond human understanding.
In speaking of relationship with the Divine in faith, multifaith and more – Interfaith encounter, many will use the word spirituality. The dictionary points to spirituality meaning concern with things of the spirit. Yet, another dictionary tells, spirituality is the quality or condition of being spiritual; attachment to or regard for things of the spirit as opposed to material or worldly interests. Whatever is meant, we have to allow people to tell of their spiritual practice and its fruits unhindered, not effaced nor affected by our own practice or experience. The Divine is like a diamond, a diamond with many facets. Every time another person shares their spirituality, their spiritual experience, we are shown another facet of the Divine which we did not know. If we practice a personal spiritual discipline (a daily retinue of time and activity given over to the Divine), and thereafter, witness the fruit of another spiritual discipline – unknown to ourselves – in interfaith or spiritual exchange with one of another religion, then this adds to who we are, this expands our experience of the Divine and the human experience of the Divine. This is one reason why we said earlier, “Interfaith activity respects the boundaries of other religions and the sacred practices of adherents of other religions”.
Behaviour is based on choices; choices are based on values. Hence, we say that values are guides to action. What are the guiding values of interfaith activity, interfaith communication? Some consideration might be given to the following:
- Respect. We give the respect of silence when people are explaining their life journey.
- Respect. We give the respect of allowing others to explore what we are saying about our own faith journey
- Respect. We give the respect that is due others by way of their human rights. The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
- Respect. We give the respect that is due to those who profess not only the ‘traditional’ religious beliefs of the major religions, but also non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief.
- Respect. We give the respect that is due to our shared brotherhood / sisterhood and the mutual assistance we may afford one another.
- Maturity. We give the space needed to others to express their life commitments in a time of intense digital engagement.
- Boundaries. We honour the boundaries of any faith that is shared with us in interfaith encounter; and we honour our own faith boundaries, not seeking to evanglise, convert nor recuit any religious conversion to our own beliefs and values.
- Courage. The courage to be open to talk about those issues not often put on the table in multifaith and interfaith encounter: religious liberty, freedom of conscience, reciprocity, conversion and religious extremism.