GETTING AID TO BURMA
The natural disaster (compounded by government failure) in Burma (or Myanmar) raises the question of what outsiders can do, if anything, to help citizens of this politically isolated country. The White House announced a $3 million grant to help, but said the military government there is resisting access to a disaster assessment team from the United States. President Bush is pushing Burma's leaders to allow more U.S. aid. An advocacy group, the U.S. Campaign for Burma, which is working to end the military dictatorship in Burma, is collecting disaster relief donations at this site. Another relief donation site operated by GlobalGiving can be found here. Many faith communities are responding in various ways. Three examples: The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has sent an initial $5,000 in aid and is sending a worker from nearby Thailand to assess things. To contribute to CBF's effort, click here. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is collecting donations for Burma here. And Islamic Relief is gathering donations at this site. More ways to donate are listed at this CNN site. In my experience, when such incredible natural disasters strike, people of faith as well as people with no religious commitments at all are moved to help, even if for different motivations.
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ARE ALL RELIGIONS EQUAL?
This coming Sunday will be celebrated in some Christian churches as "Pluralism Sunday."
The people behind this annual event say, "We don't claim that our religion is superior to all others." And in a "Welcome Statement," found on the Web site to which I've linked you, they say this of people who follow other religions: ". . .their ways are true for them, as our ways are true for us."
As regular readers of this blog know, I certainly am a proponent of interfaith dialogue and understanding. I think it's crucial that we understand one another better so as to avoid ignorance, fear and even violence.
But I also insist that interfaith dialogue must be based on a firm commitment to a faith (or, perhaps, to athetism). One simply cannot give away the core of one's faith for the sake of harmony. Such harmony will be false and short-lived.
So today I invite you to think about how far one can go in being open to dialogue with people of other faiths without moving to a sort of meaningless relativism. Are all religions, in fact, of equal worth? Clearly not all ideas are of equal worth. Some ideas are hideously wrong.
And if all religions are equally valid, why pick one over another?
How is it possible to be both deeply committed to a religious tradition and yet open to other traditions? If you've managed that, tell us how.
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P.S.: I was one of the preliminary judges this year for the White Rose essay contest sponsored by the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education. It's for junior high and high school students, who are asked to write about some specific topic related to the Holocaust. This year it was life in the ghettos. For a list of the winners and to read the top essays, click here. I thought the first place winner in the 8th and 9th grade division, which I helped judge, was especially good. AND: For information about the Holocaust book I've been working on with a local rabbi, click on the "Holocaust book project" headline on the right side of this page under "Check this out."
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ANOTHER P.S.: Two women who say they have been ordained as Catholic priests will be guests on the "Up to Date" radio show at 11 a.m. tomorrow on KCUR-FM, 89.3, in Kansas City, hosted by my Star colleague Steve Kraske. Click here for more information about how to ask questions of them.
To read my latest Kansas City Star work, click here.