INTERFAITH - Why and How

INTERFAITH - Why and How

Interfaith Competition 2017

Renowned religious leader, the Dalai Lama believed that the purpose of religion “was to control yourself, not criticise others” restraining and engaging with our human emotions by “criticising ourselves” (Tenzin Gyatso, the XIVth Dalai Lama, 2016). Today there are over four thousand different religions and religious denominations, with Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity as the five major religions. The progress and proliferation of religion alongside secular society has been historically polarising; one outcome a seamless or innocuous union and the other marred by conflict and turmoil. Thus in a society where religion is the driving force in the lives and ideologies of its many adherents, it is crucial for communities to not only foster tolerance between diverse faiths but embrace their members. To develop religious tolerance for youths there is a need for its inclusion within state-run curriculum. Furthermore, interfaith representations are significantly influenced by the media and the fostering of religious tolerance starts with the members of the community.

Institutionally, youths experience religious education in independent religious schools, however to foster understanding and tolerance between diverse faiths there is a need for its inclusion in state-run curriculum. Contrary to opposing arguments institutionalised religious education provides a predominantly objective examination of the different faiths present in contemporary society. Through objective understand of the tenets and values behind diverse religions students become informed and develop tolerance and a healthy scepticism for misinformation; in other words, they cease to ‘judge a book by its cover.’ Kevin Donnelly (2016) from the Australia Catholic University correctly argued that, “Ignorance often breeds hostility and suspicion whereas knowledge and understanding lead to tolerance and respect.” Far beyond learning to ‘love thy neighbour,’ through religious tolerance they as the future generation will be compassionate towards the diverse faiths in the community rather than seek to discriminate. Proponents of secular schooling may argue that religion within a government school is a method of indoctrination, but this is a grave misunderstanding of the nature of religious education. It instead provides an unbiased community that equitably treats and is enriched by each faith present. Thus the key to positive interfaith relationships is understanding, and the education of the future generation whose ideologies will ultimately shape the world’s social climate.

The mass media also plays a vital role through positively and negatively impacting interfaith relations; it can attribute misinformed stereotypes and impart bias upon certain faiths, fostering resentment and xenophobia. In today’s social climate there is a widespread fear of foreign ideals, faiths and appearances that has grown through media bias and trends. The prevalent example is that of Islam where western media in particular has indirectly or directly generated the preconception that Muslims are all responsible, capable or at least supportive of extremist acts. As conscientious people, we choose to draw the meaningful values of religious texts such as the bible and discount certain parts based on our understanding of the values and times in which they were written. The same discerning approach should be applied to reception of information from the media; where the media intentionally applies or fails to eliminate bias we must make no assumptions regarding a faith based on the actions of a portion of its followers. Pope Francis, the leader of the Catholic Church addressed this affirming that “fundamentalism is not just an Islamic problem and is something which exists in all religions, including the Catholic Church” referring to it as “a disease of all religions”. To promote interfaith relations and combat this ‘disease’ the mass media must take responsibility for the immense power it wields in affecting the beliefs of its audience who for reasons of convenience, ignorance or complacency uncritically accept what is presented. Professor in the department of Media Studies, Stuart Hoover claims that “we need to understand the larger cultural questions of the location of religion in public discourse, and the role of the media, as guarantors of that discourse, in supporting, shaping or challenging it.” The fair and equitable representation of faiths is paramount as is the inclusion of programs such as community Q&A’s, interfaith talk shows, faith based news and simply the portrayal of members of diverse religions, free of stereotypes in entertainment media. Ultimately it falls to us, the members of the community to understand that the mass media may impact interfaith relations through intentional or interpreted bias and as such critically evaluate the information presented.

 Religious tolerance first and foremost takes its roots in the community and its members. The establishment of an interfaith community and the gathering of diverse faiths to share in experiences could allow individuals not only develop tolerance and acceptance but also embrace their fellow neighbours. By developing tolerance in individuals and individual communities overtime this will create a society that embraces diverse faiths. Such gatherings have been a success at interfaith symposiums where cooperation through constructive and positive interactions occur. Former editor for ‘The Age’ John Holdings argues that 1 out of every 5 individuals against the Islamic faith in Australia have never actually met a Muslim. Thus, these interfaith dialogues provide an opportunity to embrace those individuals whom have been suppressed by society. Meetings of members of different faiths where an exchange or stories, ideas and simple greetings even once a month can eventually alter the values of beliefs of an entire society. This collaboration would allow the diverse faiths to express any ideas or concerns for not only their respective religions, but for others as well. This ‘symposium’ of sorts could become an accepted practice that not only develops religious tolerance, interfaith bonds but also enhancing the presence of religion collectively in the lives of people.

 It is vital for communities in a society where religion has significance for influencing followers, to foster both tolerance between diverse faiths and embrace their members. The inclusion of religious education in state-run curriculum is necessary for youths to foster tolerance. The media’s role in influencing interfaith relations is crucial for fostering religious tolerance in communities. Although historically the interfaith relationships often brought complications, religious tolerance for diverse faiths is where its synergy is most pronounced.
















Tags: Garth Read, RE; Interfaith, Religion, Diversity,

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