So, a friend and former roommate of mine, Daniil Leiderman, posted a valid and often unanswered question very eloquently on World Faith’s new Cause on Facebook. He has been the source of many great conversations that force me to articulate myself in different ways, and so I felt it would be interesting for you who read this. I attempted to respond with my personal thoughts, but I think this is a discussion that will continue on without a clear answer, but is still worth exploring.
Daniil Leiderman wrote:
True understanding between faiths is an admirable and worthy goal which has numerous precedents in human history. However the trouble comes in as religions seem to go through cycles of moderation and extremism.
In cycles of extremism seemingly moot issues become perevalent and make open discourse difficult–i.e. the Biblical and Koranic prohibition on idolatry, while apparently anachoronistic, became a major issue in the last decade or so beginning when the Taliban destroyed ancient statues of the buddha causing world wide protest in Christian and Muslim countries alike, followed by protests around the issue of Mohammed being visually represented in a Dutch political cartoon. How does one accomodate each dogma along with each possible degree of religious fervor–from the tolerant to the statue-exploding, to the western (quite possibly Eurocentric) willingness to treat nothing as beyond satire?
Another problem is that of interfaith tolerance between say Catholics and Satanists, or even the status of such faiths as satanism, wicca, astarte,Thelema or Scientology within the general question of religious tolerance. What to do about such “cults”, especially (back to satanism) when their foundation is defined by antagonism?
Frank Fredericks responds:
Very Good Question Daniil,
While I am no authority on the issue, There are some things I have stumbled across some concepts and approaches that allow for both maintaining religious strictness while acknowledging irreconciliable differences. Essentially, enough common ground can be made between two faiths which contain “exclusivity” clauses (e.g. Christianity or Islam).
Essentially, we can start by exploring shared values… While many paint religious relations in a dialectical manner, the religious with the most conflict have the most in common, in values and in shared history. This often leads to the creation of shared experiences… I as a Christian may have experienced the same questioning of my faith, or persecution for my faith, or what have you, as a Hindu, Satanist, or Athiest may. This is essentially shared humanity.
The next step is where I like to leave the common dialogue path, and why I don’t even like the term “dialogue.” Often times people feel they have to leave with something in agreement. I don’t. I think more important than “understanding” the opposing faith, is discovering the humanity of someone of the other identity. This is why at World Faith we focus less on talking, and we just want to get young people working together on community service projects (a shared value of faith traditions), as a means to build friendships with the “other.”
I think the problem lies is when people abuse religious language for politic gain. Your examples illustrate this effectively. Often times, among all religious traditions at some point, people will step forward with a tainted message that promotes fear, judgement, and ultimately hate. Yet when we look at religious traditions, if there is judgement, it is only for their god(s) to carry it out, or a spiritual law (e.g. Karma). I have found this true of virtually everyone religious tradition I have looked closely at.
So to break it down further, it is not that we do not promote (or discriminate) Moral Relativism. It is that we all are in pursuit of truth (which may be the lack of absolute truth for Moral Relativists). So let’s say one comes from a religion that forbids the consumption of pork. This moral believe does not require that the person admonish others for their swine-eating transgressions. Rather, they should live their life by their moral assumptions, and then use their interactions to show grace, humility, forgiveness, or whatever religious instruction they have on the topic. This, despite what many say about it, is the call by most faith traditions.
Now, I don’t believe we will ever get together and sing koumbaya, and I am generally annoyed by those who have such idealism (must be the New Yorker in me). However, right now, the extremists of all colors dominate the conversation of faith in society’s media and politics, though they are a tiny minority. We just have to mobilize well enough to reveal to everyone in the middle that they should not fear their neighbors, but that interaction, cross-religion friendships, and common action are safe, possible, and closer to the intent of faith traditions, so that the shared values and experience become mutual respect.
From the discussion board of the World Faith Cause on Facebook: