Learning about other beliefs will strengthen your own
I am a member of the board of the All Believers Network. As a result I have good friends who believe the most amazing things. Christians, Buddhists and Jews, of course. This is, after all, Hawaii. But also, Hinduism, Islam, Bahai, Hawaiian spirituality, Jainism, Sikhism, Subud, Sufism and Zoroastrianism.
Hey, before someone invited me to an interfaith dialogue, I didn't even know what some of those were. I certainly didn't know that there were communities of them here in Honolulu unless they had an ethnic restaurant.
What is more amazing is that they embraced me, who believes like none of them. Unlike the Comparative Religions textbook, they are living, breathing people with deep commitments to many of the same human values I have. How could that be? We believe different things, yet the values encoded in such differing ways in their different stories, symbols, images and rituals speak of such similar deep human commitments.
But I had to hear them to know that.
All my life, preachers have told me that "they" were fields ready to harvest, prospects for conversion. And politicians have tried to convince me -- and them -- that we were adversaries if not actual enemies. I was taught to be tolerant of them, as if they were errant children. Are Christians really interested in policing my bedroom? Do Buddhists just want to escape to Nirvana? Are Muslims ordered to kill all who do not believe like them? Are Unitarians just closet atheists? And on and on.
Instead, I found a richness that challenged my assumptions and, yes, sometimes my own faith. I have had to relearn what a spiritual discipline is. Sometimes the different take on the same human experience lets me see a depth to my own religious tradition that I had not seen before.
If your only spiritual discipline is to remain within your own group to celebrate and be reminded that everything you believe is true, come risk the adventure of meeting folk with the same deep human commitments but who speak of them in such differing ways. I very much doubt that you would be converted, but there is every good chance that you, too, will find a depth in your own faith tradition that you had not seen before. And believe it or not, you might have a religious insight that would never have occurred to me unless you come and share in the wonderful adventure of our similarities and differences.
It seems to me that religion is at the heart of the human experience. Each of our religions is a rich and complex heritage that has nurtured its people under diverse circumstances. When its people have been under threat, the inward-turning part of the heritage has given them strength to persevere. In more expansive times it has motivated them to high cultural achievement and the advancement of human values.
The question is which parts of those heritages are appropriately called forth in these times. Inward-turned habits are hard to break. The challenge today is how to respond to pluralism, a dynamic that is sufficiently new that all of our traditions struggle with it. If a given religion is merely a cultural maintenance institution, it will surely fail. If it attempts empire, it will certainly be defeated. To succeed at the inward-turned defensiveness will at best leave their people in cultural and economic backwaters. Together we have the spiritual resources within our rich and complex heritages to respond creatively to the modern challenge. Will we?
Come share with us and explore the possibilities Monday at the All Believers Network Third Annual Symposium. "Celebrating Our Spiritual Similarities; Savoring Our Ritual Differences" is the theme of the program from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the University of Hawaii Art Building auditorium. The cost of $25 (students $12) includes a vegetarian lunch if you register today. For additional information or to register, call Harendra Panalal, 538-6202, or visit the Web site www.allbelievers.net.
We'll introduce you to a fascinating array of interesting ideas and people, feed you and give you a chance to dialogue with folk different yet not so different from yourself.
The Rev. Mike Young
is minister of the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu, a Unitarian Universalist Welcoming Congregation. He can be reached at (808) 347-3249 or firstname.lastname@example.org