The only thing repeated, recurrent, habitual andcommon to everything around us? Diversity. It is prevalent all around us, inour homes, our societies, our politics, our colour, our environment, ourbeliefs. Diversity is everywhere.
But the question is if it is a unitingfactor? Or a fractionating one? The religious traditions of humankind are in an allcertitude considered a major diversifying aspect. This however is quitemisleading. As boundaried and distinct the religions may seem on surface, theirunifying depth cannot be overlooked.
- Thesis Statement
- Structure and Outline
- Voice and Grammar
The very origin of religion was an attemptof the humans to understand the world around them. Everything man saw orexperienced, from the sun to a moving insect, he saw it as magic and work ofspirits. The explanation came in with the belief of a magician, the God bywhose will the world functioned the way it did. According to what the peopleexperienced through the ages, and their plausible reasons they could come upwith, we moved towards reasoning life and the varied religions came into being.
All of them, knit in time with people and their encounters and interactions, growingthrough the ages. When we look into the histories of the Muslims, Christiansand Jews, they have shared not only the abode, but ideas of the divinity.Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains with a common cultural milieu inIndia, have witnessed interfaith exchanges and that has played a major role inshaping the lives of the individuals as well as the traditions. In East Asiathe Daoist, Buddhist and Confucian share a complex religious inheritance, allbeing influenced by one another. Man is a social animal and what he believes andfollows is largely influenced by interaction and exchanges with the peoplearound him. The religious exchanges are thus a cognate to this interaction. Whenwe talk about religions, we ought to recognize that it is the people who made them,not God. We believe that it was God who spoke to the priests, prophets and thepeople and that they recorded his sayings for the greater good which became thesacred texts of different religions.
There are time we say one thing, and havethe listener hear something different. Similarly just because God saidsomething, doesn’t imply that it was also heard right and exact. It is in factproven by psychologists that humans interpret everything they hear according totheir experiences and understanding of what is around us.
“I love you” is a common phrase and wemight think that it would mean the same in every situation but this simplephrase could be heard differently by a friend, parent, stranger. In a similarmanner, although God says the same things to the people everywhere, but eachone of us hears it according to our beliefs, culture and experiences. Thedifference prevails in the listeners, not in God.
God says “I love you” to the peopleof all cultures, places and in all times. But everyone hears the message in aunique way. The result are the multifarious sacred texts of humanity. Not only are there differences betweenreligions but within them as well. The people are not one, but many; all with amultitude of faiths.
The Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians; Sunniand Shi’I Muslims, the Orthodox and Reform Jews, the magnificent amount ofcultures and streams of thought within Hinduism can all cause the religions to encounteran internal dissent. However, it is a usual observation that they stand unitedor divided depending on the platform of arguments when they occur. The cultures,languages, faiths span the world and they all possess voices of the men andwomen, traditionalists and reformers.
Exchanges among all of these keephappening and moulding each other for good. When we go deep enough, we know we areall god’s children. Endless cultural proliferations that we have come to see asconventions should not make us forget that we are all the same. To be able toaccept this, while acknowledging the differences, meaningful exchanges become acrucial tool. They let one understand that diversity is not only about bringingdifferent perspectives to the table. By the mere existence of diversity, peopleaccept that differences of perspective might exist among them and that our beliefsmakes us what we are. And eventually, it is for us to decide, whether we usethis tremendous amount of diversity present around us, starting from the littlethings, going right up to the big ones, for salutary, learning the better waysand filling the voids, or we use it to keep creating borders, diminutions andrestrictions that will lead to our world going ‘puff’. It comes as no surprisethat a heterogeneous group, if it works together, can solve complex problemscontrary to the one where everyone knows and does the same thing.
For this tobe applicable to our customs as well, may not seem that obvious but the sciencesays that it does. Globalization is the truth oftoday. With the world becoming interconnected and interdependent, theinteractions and frictions among multifaiths stand inevitable. SamuelHuntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” no more only feels like a theory. With politicsbeing a core motif and immoral use of the religious diversities for materialistic,power related advantages, many leaders have stepped forward towards a “Parliamentof World’s Religions” for creating a more congenial environment. Co-operationand trust stand as pillars to this idea of interfaith dialogue. The aim is toshift the focus from what differentiates us to what unites us.
The first step towards this was taken in 1893 inChicago for an interreligious dialogue where religious leaders gathered fromall over the world to sow the seed of peace. It gave an opportunity to the representativesto exchange ideas, develop trust, and work in the direction of spreading theknowledge of tolerance to protect us all from extremism and war. Withinitiatives like these, the awareness on religious sensitivity spread likefire.
The political front too realized that religious peace is essential forevery negotiation between states and a healthy working of the system.Strengthening of this initiative was seen with every conference held around theworld. Some stood out among them including the one held in Mecca in 2008 byKing Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, a Sunni sided by Akabar Hashemi Rafsanjani, aShiite who tried to propagate the coexistence of their faiths.
King Abdullah furtherworked in supporting a dialogue among the monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianityand Islam. Another breakthrough was the 2008 “Global Interfaith DialogueConference” held in Madrid that had a representation of 300 delegates ofvarious religions. It was hosted by King Abdullah with the backing of Spain’sKing Juan Carlos and Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. The United Nations (UN) General Assembly wasthen reached out for support. In November, 2008 with 60 leaders from around theworld including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, U.S.
President George W.Bush, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, the interfaith concerns werediscussed. The participation of the UN General Assembly resulted in a milestonefor the interfaith dialogue as it was the first time that people widelysegregated by physical, religious, political boundaries sat together and workedto plan for progress of the societies. TheUnited Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), is another importantinitiative that is trying to address the interfaith problem with a differentperspective.
It aims to reach to the roots of this diversity and then solve theproblem from where it arose. The UNAOC launched the Education about Religion andBeliefs (ERB) which preserves the resources on the world religions. The ERBuses education as a tool to promote tolerance.
A cross-cultural youth platformwas also built in order to seek ideas and for the youth to build their ideasfor the world they want for themselves. In 2003, the Republic of Kazakhstan became a part of this too. TheKazakhstani President, Nursultan Nazarbayev believed that for the light ofpeace, harmony and prosperity to shine, it was essential to continue theinterfaith dialogue and cooperation among them.Aprogram has also been started in accordance with the motive of interfaithdialogue called “A Common Word between Us and You” and it mainly tries to bringto the people the basis of two religions, Christianity and Islam. It points atthe common foundation of these two religions which is the existence of one God andlove for that one God and people. The sacred texts of both these religions alsopoint to these principles repeatedly.
All the initiatives, organizations and peopleworking towards the interfaith dialogue are also trying to make an effort toprevent and solve the misunderstandings that could arise by the exchanges. Thereis no denying in the fact that a lot of times the issues that grow and turn outto be very serious are a result of misunderstandings or misinterpretations. Themeaning of increasing interfaith dialogue could also mean more clashes if oneis not cautious. A lot of forums are working to not let this interrupt with thecall for peaceful multicultural coexistence. A number of times when politicsand religion mix, outrages have been seen everywhere. To handle this, it isbeneficial to have an efficient forum working to keep track of such events andsolve them to the best of their ability. A collaboration where people within-depth understanding of the religions come together to handle the problemsthat could have grown due to unawareness.
This, as difficult a task may be, canbe an important determinant of the global affairs and where the world heads to.Acts in the guise of religion should be avoided if we want world peace and notlet it become a dream we can’t turn to reality. “Everycoin has two sides”. Where there are people of the thought that interfaithdialogue can bring about a revolutionary benefit of world peace, there are alsopeople who do not believe in this vision. The Hizb ut-Tahrir isan Islamic group that is not accepting of the idea as they consider it as awestern tool that is designed to bring in the non-Islamic customs into theirreligion. Peter L. Berger, a religious sociologist put forthhis idea of rejection to an exchange on moral grounds. There can be situations or discussionsthat involve a reprehensible theory like with the imams who justify ISIS.
In caseslike these, the sociologist believes that not having an interfaith dialogue ismore rational. There are also the traditionalist Catholics who show adisagreement to any exchange between religions saying that such a dialogue wouldplace all the religions on the same level and this would libel the divinity ofJesus Christ. For them, the motives of peace and tolerance do not value as muchas the supremacy and the belief in their God. It is because their traditionalpractices had earlier been demoted that they have become sceptical of anydialogue.The Sedevacantists and EvangelicalChristians are also criticalof the interfaith exchanges.S.N.
Balagangadhara and Sarah Claerhout who havestudied Hinduism are of the opinion that, “in certain dialogicalsituations, the requirements of reason conflict with the requirements ofmorality”. This statement is evidently against any dialogue amongdifferent faiths. It has been mentioned by some Hindus that anything which canresult from the religious exchanges are nothing but violence. Whatneeds to be understood is the dynamic nature of the religions we believe in. Areligion is not something that can remain a constant through the time and be passedon just as it was.
With every generation there are slight changes because theworld we live in is not at all constant. Just as how the religions originatedand developed into their present form, they will continue to evolve and findplace in the future times. Expecting constancy from religion is expectingconstancy from the people, which is quite unnatural. If it were true we wouldstill be in the Paleolithic age. The idea of S. Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations”has taken a bend to the “Meeting of Civilizations”.
The fact that the world ismoving in a direction where many people have come to terms with the religion ofhumanity, the idea of tolerance being on the mind maps is a great indication ofthe interfaith dialogue and religious exchanges paving the way to peace in theworld. A lot our everyday life’s encounters through media, inter-culturalcollaborative programs, education and others are in a way promoting the ideaand depicting the benefits of different religions coming together andinteracting. Thus,in the present time where we witness a diversity of faiths and its prevalencebeing the determinant of other motifs including the governments, trade, policiesetc., it is for us to decide if we turn it for the better, or for worse. Wetalk about “Unity in Diversity”, but would we really live up to that?Meaningful exchanges between different religions can unify the humanity, onlyif we respect the position of the other faith.
We must understand that in theend, what religions teach us are a way of life, a life that is peaceful andhappy and if we perpetrate this very motive of our religions, what good can itbe?