What's At Stake in Interfaith Gatherings?
Parliament Blog Posted In: Interfaith Harmony 02. 21. 2019 ByMiriam Quezada Mendez
This address was originally drafted by Dr. Larry Greenfield for the Parliament's 2019 Chicago Interfaith Breakfast Celebrating World Interfaith Harmony Week but was cut from the program due to time.
What's At Stake
But what’s at stake in these gatherings? What’s at stake for our gathering here this morning?
Is it just to be nourished together with food and conversation? Is it just to widen our circle of friendships? Is it just to commemorate our past and celebrate what is happening now as a result of that past? Or is something more at stake?
I want to propose that something greater is at stake for both religions and the world in which they are a part if it is the case that the fundamental nature of reality is interconnectedness, is interrelatedness, is the interdependence of all things, including religion and spirituality, is harmony in all of its complex and ever-changing possibilities.
I can only be suggestive this morning, but I want to identify four areas where there are challenges to be met if interfaith harmony is to truly flourish and be increasingly generative.
The first challenge has to do with the purpose of the interfaith movement in our world: is it an end in itself (faiths becoming harmonious for the sake of harmony within the sphere of religion) or as a means to something else (faith working together harmoniously to the degree possible so that something harmonious can happen in the world of which religions are a part.
I think a strong case can be made for the interfaith movement being primarily a religious means to a worldly end that is not restrictively religious. And I think there is a positive and negative rational at stake here.
Put negatively, it goes something like this: Religions by definition make ultimate truth claims about the meaning of existence and what follows from those truth claims in terms of the right way of the living. In many cases, these truth claims are not just different but conflictual. Why then waste time trying to find agreement among these religious traditions and communities at this ideational or ideological level? Instead, isn’t it better to set that aside and see where there are enough similarities in terms of objectives in worldly spheres to justify serious efforts of cooperation in achieving those worldly ends that are consistent with most religious teachings?
The positive way of putting this might go something like this: look, we have reached a point in both human and natural history that life itself on the planet is under threat: climate change, nuclear weapons, injustice in the form of inequalities, etc. All (or most) of the world’s religions have teachings that support and advance life, and working together they can use their power to make a huge difference in heading off global disaster, so forget the interfaith dialogue part except to the degree that it strengths cooperation in the challenge for the earth’s survival, the earth’s flourishing. Work for interfaith harmony that makes a real difference for individuals and communities and the whole world.
As powerful as both of these rationales are, however, there is an equally strong case to be made for interfaith harmony taking place at the level of fundamental truths and beliefs.
One way of putting this is to acknowledge that religions, despite their ultimate and comprehensive claims to truth, do themselves change. And most often they change because the context in which they exist changes in fundamental ways, requiring religions to recast the way they approach how their beliefs and practices address the contextual changes and seek to have, as well, an impact on that context.
Furthermore, if it is empirically true that beliefs really do have an impact on behavior, then changes or modifications in beliefs can bring about changes in behavior and thereby may contribute to cooperation in religions facing the urgent challenges of the world.
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