It's my belief that the call of the 21st Century for Americans is to learn to live together in harmony despite being adherents of many different religious traditions. My hope is that we can be a model for a world often ripped apart by sectarian strife.
Someone who shares my vision is Rabbi Alan L. Cohen, director of interreligious affairs for the Jewish Community Relations Bureau/American Jewish Committee of Kansas City. In the past year or two, he has created several seminars for area clergy to learn how to help their congregations become engaged across religious lines.
On Monday, I attended another of these sessions. It was held at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Kansas City, and it reaffirmed me in my belief that interreligious understanding is crucial but also in my conviction that it's not easy.
Alan had brought together three speakers to help us think through the need for -- and implications of -- interfaith understanding, and I found each of them helpful: Molly T. Marshall, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kan.; Emily D. Soloff, an American Jewish Committee staff member from Chicago; Imam Yahya Hendi of Georgetown University, and Father Dennis D. McManus, formerly of Georgetown but now on the staff of the archbishop in New York City. (In the photo above, left to right, are McManus, Hendi, Cohen, Soloff and Marshall.)
In his introduction to the morning event, Dennis gave a good picture of why all this is important and of what each speaker would bring to the table. if you want to hear that good summary, click on this link (it runs just under 10 minutes):
And if you want to hear just a brief excerpt from what Imam Hendi had to say about all of us being passengers on the same ship of life and how the clergy are the hope of the interfaith movement, click on this link (it runs about 4.5 minutes):
One small thing that I understood better as a result of the morning was the idea that Muslims consider Abraham, Jesus and others Muslims even though they lived before the Prophet Muhammad introduced Islam to the world.
That's because, Hendi said, that Muslims believe that "you become a Muslim when you submit yourself to the will of the Lord." So whoever does that is a Muslim, in the Islamic view. I'd never heard it explained in quite that way before.
The true struggle in interreligious understanding is to be able to maintain a deep commitment to one's own tradition while respecting the traditions of others -- and even learning from them. Often people are so fearful of other paths that they won't engage the followers of them in conversation at all. And often people are so convinced that they have all the truth and all the light that they think talking to people of other beliefs amounts to dancing with the devil.
But in my experience people who engage in interfaith work become even more committed to -- and understanding of -- their own tradition.
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IMAGINE NO RELIGION, TOO? NOT SO FAST
Are young people shunning religious belief or, rather, the institutions that promote such belief? This good analysis of a recent study on the subject suggests it's much more the latter. And I suspect that's the right way to view things. To read the full report on "Religion Among the Millennials" by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, click here.
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P.S.: My latest Presbyterian Outlook column now is online. To read it, click here. To read previous Outlook columns, look under the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page.