Interfaith- or Inter-monotheist

May 16, 2014 at 4:38 am 1 comment

A friend and neighbor of mine mentioned that she participates in a monthly interfaith discussion group, hosted by the St. Paul Area Council of Churches. I told her I might interested in checking that out, but I asked- is this really “interfaith”?  Or is it more like “inter-monotheist?”. She told me who attended varied each month (due to availability or interest in the topic) noting the Jewish folks (like herself) were actually often over-represented, different types of Christians, a Bahai’i who moderated the discussion, some Muslims and Buddhists. And atheists- though she said they called themselves “Rational Pluralists”.
The mention of enthusiastic Jewish interest didn’t surprise me- after all, religious minorities have to deal with members of more dominant faiths every day, whereas a Christian has the luxury of ignoring the existence of other religions, having them only occasionally intrude into their bubble. I felt better when I heard the atheists and Buddhists mentioned, and upon looking at the website noted mention of Sikhs, Hindus and American Indians. Sikhs are also a kind of monotheist, but part of the Dharmic family of religions (along with Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism) often Hindus involved in interfaith or PR efforts like to frame their religion as “really” monotheistic- all those thousands of Gods are really One, and that’s what matters! Now I totally respect that it’s their choice on how to publicly present their faith, but I hope they are not allowing a monotheist bias to influence them. Anyway Hindus are such a huge and diverse group it’s hard to say.

I knew my friend has some sympathy for this, because even more frequently, especially in areas with less diversity, an “interfaith” event really means ecumenical or intrafaith- between different types of Christianity, sometimes made “interfaith” by inviting the town’s token Jew. Now having ecumenical Christian events, or pan-Abrahamic or just Jewish-Christian dialogue events are fine and dandy by me, they are very much needed. But as religious minority that feels especially well, minor I ask that those events be clearly labeled as such, stating their focus and purpose. Focus and purpose are key to making an interfaith group or event successful (heck any event successful!)

As I mentioned, I felt more included once I heard about the atheist participation (if they can deal with someone who doesn’t believe in any gods, they can deal with someone who believes in many gods is my rationale) And I’m guessing the sorts of atheists that like to go to interfaith shindigs, are the kind I get along with- much like the folks who might be sitting next to me in a pew at Unity. These are the positive Humanists, who believe in working to make the world a better place, and affirm the value of science and reason, and God and religion doesn’t jive with their worldview. And they want to work with religious people to help make the world a better place, and share the values of science and critical thinking with them. But they aren’t anti-religion. I believe religion- like anything created by human beings can be used for good or evil. And as much as I value science and reason as ways of knowing, I find there are emotional, aesthetic, social, and intellectual things that I get out of religion. I can lead a meaningful, ethical life without religion or Gods. I’m frankly agnostic about the existence or nature of the afterlife, so that is not my motivation. But something would be missing for me. And it would be for a lot of people. The anti-religion atheists who don’t understand that need to work on their empathy. But the Humanists who share my view of religion as neutral, they are on my team.

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Entry filed under: Christianity, Interfaith, Judaism. Tags: , , , , , , .

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