Fresh Doctrine for Interfaith Progress

Religious people know that god (by whatever name) is greater than the evil of which we as a race are capable. They know that the love of god is such that our positive welfare is sought more than arbitrary punishment for our misdeeds. The combina­tion of god’s perfect love and power with responsiveness from the faith­ful produce a fascinating reality, a reality that benefits everyone, not just the faithful. The reality I describe here is this: god’s love and power plus the positive conditions created by the faithful (in all faiths) trans­late or repackage all horror into pathways from which positive good can arise. This is always the case, as it is now in current world affairs.

On September 11, 2001, violent and resentful people attacked the United States of America, killing 3,000 non-combatants, including many Muslims. Surat 5.032 in the Qu’ran compares the murder of one innocent soul to the taking of all human life! These vile and violent assailants think of themselves as champions of Islam, despite violat­ing dozens of Qu’ranic injunctions. In fact, their behavior violates Islam and all other legitimate religions as well. All perpetrators came from the Islamic cultural sphere.

Attack on a sovereign nation is a political act that requires political and, in virtually all cases, even a military response. Virtually all wars (since they deal with ultimates, absolutes, and uncertainties) resort to a “god is on our side” mentality. (This is a natural result of the fact the humans are related to god, and tend to call on god, or some supersti­tion surrogate, when things are uncertain and scary). In this case, the tragedy of religious error escalated, drawing the beautiful religion of Christianity unwillingly into the hellish energy spawned by the 9/11 attacks. (It is too bad that the famous, inhospitable, and intolerant peo­ple who are believed by many to be Christian added bigoted opinion into the foolishsphere, adding to the (false) impression that the hostili­ties are “religious.”)

As this degenerate, violent, and murderous spirit persists, one is tempted to bemoan the fact that the original perpetrators chose to identify their villainy with a world religion. Indeed, government and security policy decided to accept the position of the 9/11 killers— something like, “eleven suicidal, murderous guys called it Islam, so we’ll call it Islam.” As a result, great injustice, bigotry and intolerance of a religious flavor has come to influence the behavior and attitudes of secular people and institutions (as well as those who live by a perverted and bellicose form of their respective religions). This fact that secular activity (such as economics, security, military activity, international relations etc.) have been drawn downward under impulse of intoler­ance and religious bigotry, lead many in the world to imagine that ours is a time in which interreligious relations are at an all time low.

However, this is not the case. precisely because those carrying out demonic and murderous agendas at present do so openly relat­ing themselves to perversions of this religion or that, behavior among genuinely religious people is reaching new heights of enlightenment, humility, charity, openness, and trans-tradition collaboration. Because genuinely religious people are being badly misrepresented by murder­ous and demonic perpetrators, they are living their religions to an ever more beautiful and exemplary degree. Also because “combat-based” secular institutions (such as security and military) have become vaguely and confusedly tied to “religion” in name, genuine religious believers in a near excessive effort to demonstrate just the very oppo­site presently show a breadth, embrace, and respect for other tradi­tions that we have never seen before. The great irony is that one could say that this is a good time for religion. Its true adherents are showing all its best and most promising elements and dimensions.

The unfortunate part of the tale is that it took such a terrible break­down in secular relations to evoke, regenerate, and spur to hitherto unreached levels of interreligious, mutual embrace and collaboration. But this rubber-band style of narrative unfortunately always has been the burden borne by the divine. The best of our religiosity and spiritual­ity is almost always evoked only by breakdown and tragedy. Hopefully soon, we will rise to a point at which flourishing spirituality energizes itself through its own healthy and positive benefits, rather than laying dormant until fear, despair, and emergency awaken us as a last resort.

Under ordinary circumstances, even good religious people have tended to sit contentedly in their respective cocoons, not bothering to care about how their neighbors pray, dream, raise their children, and seek to be better people day by day. But in a world folding together as one family, even this peaceful (but parochial) way of being religious cannot be seen as acceptable. There is still too much separation in such a set up, and this “uncaring” way cannot be seen as consistent with the guidance and preferences from god (by whatever name).

Strangely then, the 9/11 attacks have led to a flourishing of religious life and a level of multi-religious collaboration the world has not seen in many an eon.

The flourishing interfaith world is reaching an ever more sophis­ticated depth and healthy complexity, but we must recognize a much higher mission that comes with this opportunity. This opportunity arose due to god’s perfectly constant power to transform ill into bless­ing. The curse and the embarrassment that all religions face as secular critics point to violence and intolerance is our own fault. We should have been more vigilant to prevent such a thing. So our chastisement is harsh, and our awakening is late. But the interfaith community must not undersell this opportunity. Of course, religious leaders must quench the flames of violence and murder that possess the secular arena. And, yes, religious leaders must rescue the reputations of our respective religions from the besmirching we have suffered from demonic perpe­trators who defile the names of our religions. But far more important than this repair work is the mission of religious leaders in this time not to miss this opportunity that has come at such great cost. This time, the world of religion must reach an utterly unprecedented pla­teau. The persistence of discrete traditions is permissible only as the best ways to speak to believers in our respective cultural spheres. But no other lines of division or demarcation should persist. The reli­gions of the world, while not sacrificing their roots and identity must become “religion-blind” when realizing and carrying out our shared responsibility and scriptural obligations as centers of compassion, care, and sacrificial service.

Dialogue and Alliance continues its mission to inform and carry professional and scholarly reflection on the subtleties and horizons natural to the interfaith effort. In this issue are seven major contribu­tions covering a broad range of interests, concerns, and subject mat­ter. Stephen Healey offers a terse but insightful and serious challenge to the doctrine of Hell on the ground of two elements, the work and responsibility of theologians, the nature of dialogue and as related to “god’s reality itself.” grace Ji-sun Kim calls for world religions to dialogue on the question of spirit, especially as it is rendered in Chris­tian theology when taken in isolation. Kim demonstrates that even tra­ditions that imagine themselves complete and solely true, only stand to benefit when core doctrines are enhanced by the wisdom and prac­tice in other world religions. Olujide presents a fascinating revision of impact that occurred from earlier interreligious contact. He argues that squeezing esu into Christian categories resulted in a mis-grasp and mis-characterization of how the figure more accurately functions in its original Yoruba “home.” sheikh Durkee walks us through the pain of the contemporary Muslim experience in a “nervous” west and argues that more profound devotion to religious practice surrounding the core ideals of devotion and compassion are the way out for all on all sides.

The Ahmad paper departs from the emphasis on doctrine in this issue, and shifts to religio-political content. This paper, elucidating the Muslim landscape in America, is especially constructive and valu­able to the task of “lived dialogue” that presses so urgently on us all. Terasawa’s address to the United Nations Vesak Day 2008 calls for a re-invigoration of the ur-Buddhist moments and the tradition’s current resources for world peace. Finally, Bharat Gupt has come up with an interesting venue for dialogue. Gupt fictionalized a conversation among the Greek philosophical and mythological pantheon as the players take up reflection on the contemporary affairs of Indian soci­ety. A curious east–west product arises, showing us that the ideal and cross-fertilization stemming from dialogue always helps.

As always, we at Dialogue and Alliance are deeply grateful for your ongoing support, and personal and institutional commitment to peace and ideal human relations. We pray that our contribution will stay substantial and genuinely transformative. Please help us improve and if you write on matters of religion and peace, send us your work for consideration

Frank Kaufmann