Finding Our Religious Voices

I have been involved in interfaith work for much of the past 15 years.  I am currently in a leadership position with a local interfaith group, and have done so for other groups.  I believe that conversation and work among people of different religious traditions builds relationships and overcomes fear and anxiety about the other.  At our base we are all human beings with similar desires and needs.  I think we all want to live in peace and have at least some sense of prosperity in our lives.  At the religious level there are elements that overlap and are held in common.  In my house and in my office are posters that were developed by the student group at the University Religious Center at UCSB.  These posters offer a concept and then quotations from different religious traditions.  In doing this the students wanted share that we do have much in common.

I believe that we do have much in common, but we also have differences.  Sometimes we want interfaith relationships to be based on sameness, and therefore we're uncomfortable with our differences.  I am a Christian.  I'm a follower of Jesus.  I believe in the Trinity.  My Muslim friends honor Jesus but reject the Trinity, and their understanding of Jesus is different from mine.  My Jewish friends honor a set of books they call Tanakh.  Christians have traditionally called these books the Old Testament.  Whether we call it Old Testament or First Testament or even Hebrew Bible, these books form a section of the Christian Bible.  The New Testament, those books that were written by Christians have no foundation outside the earlier texts, and so a Christian Bible has both parts to it.

The Abrahamic religions do overlap at many points.  The overlaps with Eastern Religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism are fewer.  The way we view the world is different.  Many Buddhists don't believe in a God, and while some Hindus are polytheists, others I'm assuming are not.  But we can find points of contact, that allow us to have conversation and work together for the common good.

Christianity and Islam are not at heart ethnically based religions.  Islam has an Arab beginning, but it spans the globe and it has inculturated itself differently in different parts of the world.  Islam is not, as many think, monolithic.   The same is true of Christianity.  It was born in Palestine among Jews and expanded across the Roman Empire, taking on Greek elements as it did so, and it expanded east into Asia, taking on elements from those cultures.  Both of these faiths are conversionary.  They seek out converts, which is why they have crossed cultural/ethnic lines.

In reading Miroslav Volf's A Public Faith, I found myself agreeing with his assessment of the pluralistic view of religion.  Volf believes that the key to living together as different traditions is to maintain a politically pluralistic environment, but he's not so sure that the pluralistic program of religion works.  That's because it tends to force faith traditions into boxes that are too confining.  So what is the solution?  Volf suggests that we find our own voice and speak from it.  As a Christian, Volf says that he speaks from two primary convictions:

That God loves all people, including the transgressors, and that religious identity is circumscribed by permeable boundaries.  Everything else that is said about every topic should be said informed by these two convictions.  When that happens, the voice that speaks will be properly Christian but might contain nonetheless the echoes of many other voices, and many other voices will resonate with it.  Of course, sometimes the voice will find no resonances, only contestation.  That's the stuff good arguments are made of, in personal encounters as well as in the public sphere.    (p. 133).
I invite you to share your sense of how we might engage one another with respect and grace and love, while understanding that we're not all the same in our religious professions.

Update:  I have just discovered a recently published document entitled "Christian Witness in a Mult-Religious World:  Recommendations for conduct."  This document is the work of the World Council of Churches, Pontifical Council for Interrelgious Dialogue, and the World Evangelical Alliance.  I'll be commenting later, but check the link.


John said…
I am a religious pluralist; I am certain that God speaks. Not only in our own language, but within the context of our own cultures, in a voice and with symbols that make sense to each of us wherever we are.

God is not human, yet God took on human form as a Jew in Palestine so that a portion of humanity would have a better comprehension of God and God's will for humanity. So too God has manifested the Divinty in India and elsewhere in forms and through symbols that make sense to the people of each of those cultures. The symbols and the idiom representing each culture's encounter with the Divine are not necessarily consistent and may even be in conflict, as those cultures so find themselves in conflict. I believe it is the will of God that we learn from one another about what it is God wills for each of as well as for the whole of humanity. I believe that what God wills transcends faith traditions and has much to do with love, compassion, kindness, acceptance, forgiveness, and being in relationships, with God and with one another. How these values are lifted up in each faith tradition differ markedly.

All that being said, I have to wonder how we as Christians, or Jews or Muslims, etc, respond to our brethren in our faith traditions who confront other faith traditions as existential threats, if not to the will of God, then to the spiritual health of the adherents of the respective faith traditions. And I think this is especially a concern in those fath traditions which lift up their proselytizing work as critical to living out their faith.

It is within our own faith traditions that most of us encounter the front lines in God's battle for hearts and minds.

!!!!! My verification word is INAINISM. !!!!!
Robert Cornwall said…

I think one of the questions we need to wrestle with in the Christian community is this:

Is there a difference between proselytism and evangelism? By definition evangelism is sharing the good news that one has experienced in one's walk with God as revealed in Jesus. Proselytism is often used as a synonym, but it has a more sinister element.

In my interfaith work I've not tried to convert my Muslim, Jewish, or Hindu friends. On the other hand, in America, the numbers of unattached is pretty high. So how do we, in a way that is respectful, honorable, and up front, invite them in to relationship with God?
Anonymous said…
"So how do we, in a way that is respectful, honorable, and up front, invite them in to relationship with God?"

* By being more concerned with openingly living the Good News than with preaching it;

* By being the Kingdom of the God here and now;

* By being the hands and arms and feet and sweat and exertion of Jesus, the body of Christ - by being the tangible and effective presence of God in the world;

* By feeding, quenching, clothing, housing, including and visiting - being here and now the unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God;

* By enthusiastically and persistently advocating justice as restoration and compassion as a community norm and hospitality and generosity as a personal norm.
David said…
Hey, atheists (4) were invited for the 1st time this year to the pope's interfaith thingy, oh, and kung-fu monks too-

Benedict welcomed some 300 leaders representing a rainbow of faiths to the hilltop Italian town of Assisi to commemorate the 25th anniversary of a daylong prayer for peace here called by Pope John Paul II in 1986 amid Cold War conflicts.

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