Rejoicing in our shared humanity
I have been fortunate recently to attend events organised by followers of other faiths.
A few weeks ago I was at a fast breaking dinner with the Muslim community, and recently as an observer at a Hindu act of worship.
In both cases the hospitality was kind and welcoming.
There was a concerted effort to rejoice in our shared humanity, whilst acknowledging our differences.
I think most knowledgeable religious people recognise that the truth claims of our different faiths bear superficial similarities, but are fundamentally incompatible.
In many parts of the world this is a source of ongoing and often violent conflict.
Mercifully, it isn’t in this country.
We would by and large seek to engage with one another on the basis of our best qualities.
I will not judge Muslims on the basis of ISIS, and I hope others will judge Christians on Jesus Christ and his teaching rather than the crusades, Spanish Inquisition or televangelists selling salvation for money.
I hope this mutual respect and attentive listening could be a model for our increasingly fragmented and disrespectful culture.
We have become rather good at interacting in social media bubbles solely with those who agree with us, whilst caricaturing and even abusing those with whom we disagree.
The use of the word bigot is a case study of what happens in this sort of world.
It used to mean someone who is intolerant of the views of others. Listen to its common use now, as a term of abuse for someone who disagrees with the prevailing consensus. Ironically, the word bigot is now used by bigots against people who disagree with them!
We are in grave danger as a society of losing the ability to disagree well.
Unfortunately, democracy only works if we can.
We would do well to heed the words of the apostle James, “everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for a person’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”
I hope those of all faiths and none could say, “Amen” to that.
If you're interested in some of the inter-faith activities and organisations in the uk, a good place to start is www.interfaith.org.uk. They describe themselves as 'work[ing] to promote understanding, cooperation and good relations between organisations and persons of different faiths in the UK... through providing opportunities for linking and sharing of good practice, providing advice and information to help the development of new inter faith initiatives and the strengthening of existing ones. It raises awareness within wider society of the importance of inter faith issues and develops programmes to increase understanding about faith communities, including both their distinctive features and areas of common ground.'
Church: local and online
In March of 2014 the Church of England launched @OurCofE, an initiative which saw a different person in the Church of England take over a Twitter account for a week and share their area of ministry. The aim of the account was to give people an insight into all the work that goes on into the day to day running of a church community, telling the story of the Church of England through the eyes of its people, providing an insight into faith in action. There's been an arts chaplain in Gateshead, a nun in Portsmouth and a vicar staffing the church tent at Glastonbury Festival (to name just a few!). The account has also demystified some of the major calendar events in the year, such as how churches mark Ash Wednesday or Ascension Day, pulling together the photos churches have tweeted at their events to explain what these days mean to Christians. You can follow this on twitter: @c_of_e