Are Interfaith Community Center’s The Answer?

So a Rabbi, Priest, and an Imam walk into a bar…ok, It doesnt only have to be the beginning of a corny joke right?

In the middle of the fire storm controversy sorrounding the community center and mosque near ground zero in New York, there is what I feel a larger topic at stake – inter faith dialogue.

Interfaith or interfaith dialogue refer to cooperative and positive interaction between people of different religious traditions (i.e., “faiths”) and spiritual or humanistic beliefs, at both the individual and institutional level with the aim of deriving a common ground in belief through a concentration on similarities between faiths, understanding of values, and commitment to the world.

It is distinct from syncretism or alternative religion, in that dialogue often involves promoting understanding between different religions to increase acceptance of others, rather than to synthesize new beliefs.”

In a country where our very identity is tied to religious liberty and cultural diversity, we still see evidence of a sluggishness to embrace theological discourse that crosses pre determined dogmatic battle-lines, both institutionally, and also among individuals.

Why is this?

Cocky Hearts & Extremism

We may shop, work and play together, but on the weekends our religious battle lines are more clearly defined, as many withdraw behind stained glass fortresses to worship God as we understand Him/Her/It.  But at our worst, we solidify our preiminance as sole purveyors of truth, and in so doing can be found to condemn all others in the need to validate our blessed fortune.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. acknowledged the color line when he called Sunday the most segregated hour of the week.  And at the root of this revelation into America’s racial situation there lays the foundation of a spiritual & religious malnutrition, whereby we also catch a glimpse of our fundamental, age old difficulty in dealing with the other.

The schisms of nationalism, partisan politics, racism, and our unique points of religious doctrine, all need not soffocate the creative possibilities of human interaction for the common good.  But is this really possible when some feel that they are 100% correct, and hold the monopoly on Truth?

Some head to their temples, and mosques, while the majority of religious americans head to one of the many Christian denominations subtly or overtly claiming an exclusive hold on truth.

Imam Feisal seems to think that both Christianity, and Islam have been hijacked by radical extremist, and that the recent contentions call all the more for betters ways to encourage peaceful dialogue.

WBWJG2(What Building Would Jesus Go Too)?

For many of our religious readers, I know that all this talk of interdenominational & interfaith dialogue makes you nervous.  I think I get it.  How can I retain my uniqueness if I’m parlaying with the “enemy”…right?

I’m still figuring this all out, and as of right now I do not accept a blanket argument for ecumenism.  Which seems to argue we all ignore our carefully and genuinely held convictions, in order to become one happy family.

But are there universal ideals that escape our 501(c) identities, that allow some constructive conversation and cooperation towards the greater good?  Can these platonic values such as love for creator, and creation, trump the lesser points of what makes us peculiar, and maybe even reveal some of our particular blind spots.  After all, we are human right?

Right now in NY, this ongoing mosque debate springs up amidst a post 9-11 atmosphere of increasing inter-faith tension. The edges of our swords of dogma become sharper than ever before, thirsty themselves, for the blood of rightness.

Where extremist pastors feel justified in organizing book burnings.

Where people like Daisy Khan and her husband, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, actually receiving death threats?

And so I wonder.  Is this all the inevitable fire caused by the smoldering rhetorical embers and belief based theology that denies the preiminance of the doctrine of Love?

Where does the dogma of conversation, humilty, and love trump the insatiable appetite for being right?

So in this environment of rising tension between some less than moderate Christians and Muslims.  Between Jews and Palestinians.  Between the “in-group”, and the “others”.  What does the future of our world demand in this hour?  Stronger more reinforced religious walls?  Where we arrogantly rehash plans on how we can win over as much of the world to our brand of religion?

Or does this time implore of us to demonstrate a divine humility that builds upon our variously held convictions, but with an openess to safe places of conversation regarding faith, peace, and love that can and need to act for the common good of all.

Maybe we need to explore the benefits of what moderate and progressive religious & secular voices are saying about traditional and extreme religious views.  One where we hold our tradional ideas and expressions of God loosely enough to more fully embrace the universal values they admonish. Where our traditional religions, and secular organizations converge on these outer religious values of love, service, and forgiveness.  Shouldn’t we labor to build and explore here?

What are your thoughts?  If you are a religious person, do you think it is possible, right, or sinful to engage in dialogue with other faiths?  And if you consider yourself secular, do you find it beneficial to work with or enter into productive conversations with people of faith?


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