Essay A WORLD DOMINATED BY RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE:-
A WORLD DOMINATED BY RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE:–
SURROUNDED BY HOPE
I led a sheltered life in my formative years, growing up in a Christian home in rural Queensland. My family attended Presbyterian, Methodist and Lutheran worship, depending on which minister happened to be visiting our community on particular Sundays. My religious education at Sunday school and at ‘religious instruction’ classes at school focused on the Christian Faith. In an uncomplimentary way, teachers occasionally mentioned ‘Muhammadans’ as we called Muslims back in the 1930’s and 40’s. Jews were referred to only in relation to the crucifixion of Jesus. Hindus got a mention when we had a history lesson about Gandhi. Buddhists were considered to be a bit odd and a lot of jokes were spread around about Confucius.
It wasn’t until I commenced my overseas travels at age 30 that I glimpsed the world at large. It was far different from what I had so far experienced. The first nations of Islamic tradition that I visited were Pakistan and Egypt. This was the first occasion when I found myself in places where Christians were a minority and loose words about my faith could cause offence. While I didn’t relish the thought of living within their culture, I developed an enthusiasm for reading about religions other than Christianity. This enthusiasm also extended to an interest in visiting more nations that were not Christian, a quest that I still find fascinating. Then, suddenly, the issue of religion turned dark and ugly.
Few of us will ever forget the impact that ‘Nine Eleven’ had on our lives. The memory of planes crashing into mighty skyscrapers in New York will never dim. It seared into our consciousness that the world had entered a new era. One that had the potential to become very dismal indeed. The battle between communism and capitalism had ended. A struggle for religious dominance was the new battle. No one can now ignore religion. It permeates every phase of life – politics, culture, education, relationships, professions, trade, defense, sport, ethics and a host of other issues that concern our sense of humanity. I believe that the United States of America has not yet faced up to the question of what caused ‘Nine Eleven’ to happen. They seem to simply regard those who inflicted this atrocity on their nation as being terrorists of the worst type. The major response, therefore, was to take revenge by originating pointless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Few people questioned why so many people on every continent actually stopped and cheered on that awful day. So, we are left with many unanswered questions. Even now there seems to be no genuine plan to have a world in which peace can predominate. This is a highly unfortunate situation for which we all have a responsibility to find a remedy.
The sight of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre crashing to the ground caused me to significantly ramp up my involvement in interfaith activity. This was not because I thought that this might help stop wars being fought. Rather, I believe that those who follow any faith of whatever description should try to determine and foster the things that we can agree on, not the issues that divide us. I had a ready-made means of achieving this because my local church, the Aspley Uniting Church, was involved in interfaith activity.
Opportunities for continuing my involvement in interfaith activities now come through the North Brisbane Interfaith Group. This active group involves people who live in the northern suburbs of the City of Brisbane and who identify with the Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Baha’i traditions. It enables us to meet together on a regular basis to develop a better understanding of one another. I see very little evidence that any of us experience any weakening of our own personal faith. In fact, the reality is that our faith grows because we acquire a lot more wisdom, tolerance and knowledge, while reducing our judgmental attitudes. We also work together in supporting good causes.
This latter activity has real potential for expansion. Every faith has within it a strong element of philanthropy and our growth in spiritual power is the direct result of our giving and our self-denial. This creates an enormous opportunity for Interfaith Foundations to be founded in every community of all nations. Such Foundations could provide opportunities for us to practice generosity, conquer poverty, overcome hunger, enhance secular education and improve the environment, as well as many other challenges that our world faces. The good that this will do to enhance the dignity of humanity is quite simply enormous and is highly likely to ensure that no more’ Nine Elevens’ ever happen. Indeed, it is highly possible that atheists and agnostics will join the great army of givers.
The worldwide interfaith movement has enormous potential to help us understand varying cultures and life styles and the different religious traditions that underpin so many of these cultures. We can use this increasing understanding to also increase our interest in getting to know people who belong to religions other than our own. Genuine understanding and close personal relations at a local level can open opportunities for us to work together on important humanitarian projects. In turn, these local initiatives contribute to the greater cause of promoting peace and goodwill among the great religions of the world.
The world out there is filled with possibilities for good. Our challenge is to recognise these possibilities and to find ways of responding to them in partnership with our friends in other faiths. I believe that by doing this together each of us will grow greatly in spiritual and humanitarian stature. I believe that my Christian faith will allow me to do no other. I hope and pray that you will find a similar inspiration and motivation from within your faith.
- THE DREAM AND THE VISION
- Uniting Church people in Ministry visit local communities
- North Brisbane Interfaith Group
- INTERNATIONAL PARTNERSHIP
- Partners in Friendship