We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Common Ground

Back in November, the United Kingdom and United States Provinces of the Catholic Xaverian Missionaries convened a conference at the Conforti Institute, Coatbridge, Scotland, on the topic, “Common Ground: A Conversation Between Religious Believers and Humanists on Values and Ethics.”  A news posting on the conference by Brian Pellot was subsequently published by the RNS under the title, "Atheists and believers seek common ground in Scotland."

Jeremy Rodell, Chair of South West London Humanists, reflected on his impressions of the conference and the issues it addressed in a thoughtful blog posting entitled, "A humanist perspective on the 'Common Ground' conference," which I would like to reflect upon in one or maybe two postings here.
According to Rodell, "Common Ground" was "a bold initiative" and "an example of dialogue in action," which among other things brought him face to face with Christian missionaries for the first time—missionaries who did not fit his stereotype of "a Bible-bashing neo-colonialist."  They were, instead, thoughtful individuals who are making a positive difference in the world.

He goes on to observe,
My main “takeaway” was that, at its core, this is all about human relationships. If people from different backgrounds know each other and have listened carefully enough to understand where the other person is coming from – and perhaps have worked together for a common cause – then it becomes almost impossible to demonise “The Other”. That doesn’t mean they will agree on everything. What Chris Stedman referred to as “Kumbaya” interfaith, where everyone loves one another and genuine differences are suppressed, has limited potential. But we were able to demonstrate at the end of the conference that, once trust has been established, it is possible to articulate conflicting views on controversial issues while maintaining mutual respect.
These sentiments summarize an excellent brief description of the process of interfaith dialogue.  The heart of dialogue is relationships built on getting to know "the Other," listening to one another, and gaining respect for one another.  Dialogue in and of itself requires that its partners work together on the common cause of mutual understanding.  In a world torn apart by intolerance over religion, dialogue is one key to a less violent, less hateful, and more peaceful global community.  Events like this are far less common than they should be, but that they take place at all provides a measure of hope for a better world.  Amen.