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Blasphemy and Freedom

Image: Antoine Walker/ Flickr

The Charlie Hebdo incident: we cannot not sight it and refrain from all comment. It would be redundant to revisit here the obvious aspects of the incident.
Thus, obviously, the murderers at the office of the French satirical magazine were simply evil.

Obviously, the killers were motivated by their obsession with their version of Islam to do the evil act.

Obviously, haters of Islam could be counted on immediately to call for hateful counter-action. They did not disappoint.

Obviously, obsessive critics could be expected to trace all the evils to “their” holy book and to discount descriptions of and calls for holy wars in other people’s holy books. What was expected has occurred.

Obviously, anyone who spoke up for patience, tolerance, understanding, and positive responses to the evil had to be ready to be dismissed as vapid, naïve, and blind excusers of evil.

Five “obviouslys” should suffice. Some other voices revealed how difficult it is to go beyond the obvious, but they tried. The most interesting of these were those who addressed some rationales and motives of the killers and their spiritual kin. Thus Bill Donahue of the Catholic League issued a release captioned, “Muslims Are Right to Be Angry.”  To the point: “We,” he wrote, should not “tolerate the kind of intolerance that provoked the violent reaction.” Donahue was predictable, but one can understand his emotional response.

“Charlie Hebdo” wanted to taunt and outrage believers in other faiths than Islam, notably Judaism and Catholicism, both of which have their own defense leagues. You don’t have to be a Catholic or to be offended by the paper’s cartoons picturing nuns masturbating or popes wearing condoms.

Rabbi David Lerner of Tikkun took a different tack: the incident should remind “us” in the West of other kinds of dehumanizing in our media. Alas, “we tolerate the kind of endless put-downs that the ‘humor’ magazines and even supposedly liberal comedians like Bill Maher perpetrate, not realizing how much damage all of this does to our souls.”

Becoming concerned with evils that do “damage to our souls” might be one positive response to come out of the crisis in which we measure “their” evils against ours. Anyone who reads “Comment-section” responses to internet coverage of this topic will encounter myriad vengeful, hateful, also-blasphemous verbal swings at reverent citizens minding their own business. Some who comment do express proper gratitude for the non-lethal or, at least, less lethal expressions, and credit Western democracy for providing us with forums which protect blasphemers.

The moment calls for new appreciation for those polities we enjoy which have encouraged inter-group civility, threatened though that may be in these days of hyper-polarization. But people in our citing and commenting vocations can also use the moment to recalibrate our measures of outrage.

In 1988 when we were chartered to begin a multi-volume, multi-year, multi-religious study of fundamentalisms, a historian of the domestic versions of such helpfully reminded us editors that, as we study militant and belligerent religious movements and forces, we should remember that “there are no guns or bombs stored in the basement of Moody Bible Institute.”

The MBI, a stronghold of latter-day American now-moderating fundamentalisms, is visible from my windows. I never feel threatened and do feel welcomed. “We” cannot solve all the problems at the core of the present tragedy, but those who ask us to begin at home to promote understanding do serve the cause. They may sound weak. They are strong.

Author, Martin E. Marty, is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His biography, publications, and contact information can be found at  www.memarty.com.

Resources:

Donohue, Bill. “Muslims Are Right To Be Angry.” Catholic League For Religious and Civil Rights, January 7, 2015, 2015 News Releases. http://www.catholicleague.org/muslims-right-angry/.

Ohlheiser, Abby. “#JeSuisCharlie: Cartoonists react to the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris.” Washington Post, January 7, 2015, Comic Riffs. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/comic-riffs/wp/2015/01/07/cartoonists-react-to-charlie-hebdo-massacre-in-paris/?wpisrc=nl_pdmwk&wpmm=1.

Lerner, Michael. “Mourning the Parisian Journalists Yet Noticing the Hypocrisy.” Tikkun, January 9, 2015. http://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2015/01/09/mourning-the-parisian-humorists-yet-challenging-the-hypocrisy-of-western-media/.

Cole, Teju. “Unmournable Bodies.” New Yorker, January 9, 2015, Culture. http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/unmournable-bodies.

Saffa, Ozzie. “‘Dangerous Moment’ for Europe, as Fear and Resentment Grow.” Ozzie Saffa Blog, January 8, 2015. http://ozziesaffa.blogspot.com/2015/01/dangerous-moment-for-europe-as-fear-and.html.

Schuessler, Jennifer. “Charlie Hebdo Attack Chills Satirists and Prompts a Debate.” New York Times, January 9, 2015, Arts. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/10/arts/an-attack-chills-satirists-and-prompts-debate.html?_r=1.

Kristof, Nicholas. “Is Islam to Blame for the Shooting at Charlie Hebdo in Paris?” New York Times, January 7, 2015, Opinion Pages. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/08/opinion/nicholas-kristof-lessons-from-the-charlie-hebdo-shooting-in-paris.html.

Krule, Miriam. “Charlie Hebdo’s Most Controversial Religious Covers, Explained.” Slate. Accessed January 11, 2015.

Calamur, Krishnadev. “‘Charlie Hebdo,’ A Magazine of Satire, Mocks Politics, Religion.” NPR, January 7, 2015, International. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2015/01/07/375599183/charlie-hebdo-a-magazine-of-satire-mocks-politics-religion.

“Paris attacks: Millions rally for unity in France.” BBC News, January 11, 2015, Europe. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30765824.

Alderman, Liz. “Huge Show of Solidarity Against Terrorism in Paris.” New York Times, January 11, 2015, Europe. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/12/world/europe/paris-march-against-terror-charlie-hebdo.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=a-lede-package-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news.

Martin, Marty E. and R. Scott Appleby, eds. The Fundamentalism Project. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994-2004. http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/series/FP.html.

Image: Antoine Walter / flickr creative commons.

To read previous issues of Sightings, visit http://divinity.uchicago.edu/sightings-archive.

January 13th, 2015 at 12:44 pm

Parliament Board Condemns Violence in France and Nigeria; Invites All Faith Communities to Issue Joint Statement

“The Parliament of the World’s Religions vehemently condemns revengeful attacks killing 12 journalists and four Jews in France, and an estimated 1500 women and children in Nigeria. Now this cycle of revenge has engulfed the French Muslims with more than 20 attacks on Islamic buildings. We send our condolences to the families of the victims and to all of France and Nigeria as they grieve.

The Parliament believes that use of religion or any other socio-political ideology to “justify” violence is simply not acceptable.

The Parliament urges the global community to remember that such acts violate the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad and asks that faith communities stand together to break this cycle of revenge by speaking out and organizing programs which enhance positive human relationship of compassion and forgiveness.

The Parliament plans to organize special programing in the forthcoming 2015 Parliament in October 15-19th on the cycle of war, violence, and hate. We invite all faith communities to participate in a joint declaration with a clear resolve to do our utmost  to develop a movement against war, violence and hate.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.”

Avenging the Prophet Who Banned Revenges

By Abdul Malik Mujahid

Chair of the Board of Trustees, Parliament of the World’s Religions

“We have avenged the Prophet Mohammad,” the gunmen shouted after killing 12 at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, yesterday. The publication is known for lampooning the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him.

Well. The Prophet banned revenge as he built his peace sanctuary in seventh-century Madinah, establishing instead the rule of law.

He never killed anyone. Only, after God’s command to defend his peace sanctuary, under attack by the non-Muslims of Makkah, did he picked up arms. These defensive battles lasted a total of six days in his life and the number of dead from both sides was less than 300.

Peace was his goal, which he achieved by developing alliances between Madinah’s non-Muslims, Jews, and Christians.

Violent extremists who accuse others of disrespect, then consider this a license to kill have nothing to do with the Islam taught by the Prophet they claim to be avenging. They have nothing to do with the message of forgiveness and mercy which Allah revealed to the Prophet; nothing to do with the law and order the Prophet established and upheld, which led to him being considered one of the world’s greatest lawgivers by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Muslim love for Prophet Muhammad is unquestionable. God’s peace and blessings be upon him. It does hurt us when people are abusive towards the Prophet.

It is, however, the ignorant, who do not know the loving path of mercy and forgiveness taught by the Prophet; they are turning into violent extremists and committing crimes in his name.

This is not love. This is hate.

The Prophet would be horrified at what is being done in his name to avenge disrespect to his honor.

The non-Muslims of Makkah tortured the Prophet and his followers. He did not retaliate. He preferred to move away, first encouraging migration to Abyssinia, which was ruled by what he described as a “just king”, who was a Christian, Najashi or Negus.

When some tribes agreed, he established the peace sanctuary in Madinah via constitution and consensus. He built a society that promoted inclusiveness, freedom, rule of law, and peace.

Respect for other faiths was a key element of Madinah society. Muslims, are by Scripture and Prophetic practice, ordered to accept God’s revealed books, as well as His Prophets and Messengers. We are also ordered to never insult the cherished beliefs of others, for humor or in retaliatory anger. This is why even today, throughout the Muslim world, you will not find newspapers being disrespectful of other religions. The terrorists are not the norm. They are the exception.

Muslims in France, America, and around the world are sick of terrorists perpetuating violence that is a violation of their faith in their name. We are against war and hate. We are also tired of the abuse of freedom of speech to spew hatred, mistrust, fear, and misunderstanding.

War, terrorism, and Islamophobia are a nexus, connected to each other and condemnable. They feed off of each other, perpetuating violence and fear. We Muslims condemn terrorism, war as well as hate. We must strive against them all.

——-

Being just in the love of the Prophet

We need to understand this abuse of the Prophet for what it is: a form of psychological violence intended to hurt and harm. Our response when we encounter such attacks must be to seek God’s forgiveness and respond with what is better: prayers on the Prophet and Duas for him.

The Prophet and the people who opposed him

Our Prophet was a mercy to all human beings, regardless of their religious, racial, cultural or ethnic background. We, as his followers, must live and spread this message today at a time when hatefulness and ugliness towards each other has become the norm.

Please stop abusing the Prophet

It is abusive to partially quote the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, thus distorting what he said.

 

Prophet's Mosque in Madinah

Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah

Parliament of Religions Calls Faith Communities to Actively Oppose War, Blockade of Gaza, Anti-Semitism & Islamophobia to Protect Israeli and Palestinian Lives

The Parliament of the World’s Religions grieves whenever violence and conflict flares, as is now occurring in Palestine and Israel. Grief, however, must not paralyze faith communities and the interfaith movement into silence and inaction. Instead, we are called to serve as moderating agents in the cause of sustainable justice, unconditional compassion, and enduring peace by raising our voices against those who seek the annihilation of their enemies.

The Parliament, therefore, asks religious and spiritual communities across the globe, and the interfaith movement specifically, to be vocal and active in:

    • calling both sides to end the war in an ethical manner, including the ending of the seven-year blockade of Gaza, with borders monitored by the United Nations to ensure safety for Israelis as well as Palestinians
    • asking world leaders to take concrete steps, with urgency, to ensure the freedom, self-determination, security, and equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis
    • calling the United Nations to ensure that both sides abide by international laws and human right accords in safeguarding civilians, with special attention given to children
    • requesting both sides to recognize the humanity of the other and to honor their sacred spaces

The Parliament of the World’s Religions encourages all faith communities and especially the interfaith movement to actively expose and challenge anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in their neighborhoods, cities, and in the public discourse. Let us be moderating voices and agents that will revitalize the dialogue and cooperation between Jews, Christians, and Muslims. This mission should be a part of our sermons, prayers, and civic action.

This statement was adopted by the Board of Trustees of the Parliament by a majority vote.

Parliament Trustee Arun Gandhi Condemns Violence in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Everywhere

By Arun Gandhi 

The Parliament of World Religions condemns all forms of violence any where in the world. While the world claims to be progressing toward civilization, the actions of brutal ethnic violence in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, as well as in other parts of the world, must be strongly condemned by all peace-loving people.

Growing intolerance, widening disparities, a life-style of exploitation, a burgeoning armament industry freely producing and selling weapons of mass destruction, are all the kinds of fuel that ignite people’s imagination for violence. Sri Lanka and Myanmar are the latest flash-points on the world map where ethnic violence has taken many innocent lives. But the world as a whole lives on the edge of the precipice of conflagration fueled by ethnic, economic, political, religious, national, gender and many other issues that become more contentious by the day.

It is important for all of us to understand that the path of hate and destruction destroys the very things we seek to preserve. Religious beliefs, economic progress, security and sanctity of life can only be enjoyed and preserved for future generations by respect, understanding, harmony and compassion.

The world community cannot ignore the strife in parts of the world because it does not affect us immediately. What happens in one place today will happen all over tomorrow. We are all sitting on a tinder box of intolerance that only needs a spark to ignite.

There are two main reasons for this state of affairs in the world. As Mohandas K. Gandhi said many decades ago: the more materialistic we aspire to be the less moral we become. This is reflected in the seven social sins that Gandhi said leads to violence in humanity. The world is guilty of indulging in politics without principles, in commerce without morality, in science without humanity, in religion without respect.

Massacres of people in the name of God and religion have become the norm with events like those in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and many other parts of the world. These events are not aberrations, they are a reflection of the unmitigated religious bigotry exacerbated by political chicanery.

It is this kind of religion-political exploitation and abuse that the Parliament of World Religions seeks to change. Religions is not how many times we pray, but how sincere and truthful we are in practicing our beliefs in real life and relationships.

Arun Gandhi

Arun Manalil Gandhi, Born 1934 in Durban South Africa, Arun was sent by his parents to India when he was 12 years old so that he could live with and learn from his grandfather, Mohandas Gandhi. It was then that young Gandhi learned the principles of non-violence that he continues to espouse until today. Dr. Gandhi spent much of his adult life in India working as a journalist and promoting social and economic changes for the poor and the oppressed classes. Along with his wife Sunanda he rescued about 128 orphaned and abandoned children from the streets and placed them in loving homes around the world. They also began a Center for Social Change which transformed the lives of millions in villages in the western state of Maharashtra. In 1987 Arun came to the United States and in 1991 he started the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence at the Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee. In 2007, the Institute was moved to the University of Rochester, New York. In 2008 Arun resigned from the Institute to begin the Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute, with its mission to build basic education schools for the very poor children of the world. The first school will open shortly in a depressed village in western India (www.gandhiforchildren.org). Arun Gandhi has taken the message of nonviolence and peace-making to hundreds of thousands of high school and university youth around the United States and much of the Western world. His publications include The Legacy of Love; The Forgotten Woman: The Life of Kastur, wife of Gandhi, and several others.

The Parliament and URI Call for Peace and Prayers in Africa

As our united prayers continue for the peoples of the Central African Republic, Nigeria, and Kenya, we now mourn the lives lost through escalating acts of violence throughout the continent.

The global interfaith communities of URI and the Parliament call for love and solidarity to bring our human family closer and to hold our guiding institutions accountable to ending violence.

“We send strength and resolve to our sisters and brothers who work fearlessly in the face of present danger, and offer our support to the interfaith and community-building efforts we know will bring peace and healing to these regions,” said United Religions Initiative’s Executive Director the Rev. Victor H. Kazanijan, Jr. in a statement after bombings in the regions of Western and Central Africa this past week.

On behalf of the Parliament, Executive Director Dr. Mary Nelson says, ”We call on the common values of love and compassion that arise out of our faith to respond in these positive ways to strengthen and support those who are seeking healing. We pray for the peacemakers, the Muslims and Christians in African nations bravely banding together in the face of violence, upholding faith and their moral will to protect one another.”

The Parliament and URI acknowledge that acts of terrorism and violence run counter to the teachings of peace, love and tolerance that lie at the root of all religious and spiritual traditions.

The global interfaith community welcomes all praying for peace to join us in solidarity.

Religious Advisers Supporting Spiritually Diverse Students Aid Interfaith in U.S. Universities

At a time when inviting advisers to serve students of minority faiths at many U.S universities is still making headlines, the University of Chicago has just appointed its third successive Religious Advisor to Pagan students.

Of her new appointment, Rev. Angie Buchanan, who is a Trustee Emeritus of the Parliament, says in a statement to popular Pagan platform WildHunt,

Rev. Angie Buchanan, Parliament Trustee Emeritus, is now appointed religious advisor to Pagan students at the University of Chicago.

Having a Pagan advisor on staff at a prestigious university such as the University of Chicago supports the mainstream recognition that opens up opportunities and freedoms already available to the practitioners of other religious traditions. It also helps secure the establishment of Paganism as a world religion.

Assistant Dean of Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel Jigna Shah says paying effort to supporting spiritual diversity is a long-established value of the University she herself experienced personally. In being named the first non-Christian to a deanship role at the Chapel three years ago, Shah reflects, “I am honored and humbled. I take my appointment very seriously and with great responsibility in continuing efforts to diversify and reflect the rich spiritual landscape of our campus.”

Context can be complex in these matters, and an absence of non-Abrahamic faiths in the chaplaincy does not always reflect of a university’s attention to spiritual life and student affairs. Still, in 2011, there were only 30 Muslim Chaplains serving in U.S. universities according to various media, and other prestigious universities were still inviting Hindu advisers to serve students for the first time.

By November 2013, Brandeis University brought in its first non-Abrahamic adviser to the campus chaplaincy after student appeal and expanding celebrations of Diwali and Holi in the appointment of their first Hindu advisor.

Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago

Rallying for the Muslim Students Association at Pennsylvania-based Swarthmore University, Hillel’s Jewish students and campus Christian groups are currently imploring administration to recognize a permanent staff position to advise Muslim students, citing their own benefits from their respective spiritual advisers, also crediting the presence of a temporary Muslim adviser a prevailing reason interfaith activity on campus flourished this year.

Buchanan couldn’t say it better. “With the growing ease of international travel and the advent of the internet and social media, the world is getting smaller. In the United States, we have populations within populations; there are hospitals, prisons, schools and universities, and even social, political, business and special interest groups.

“I believe that as a culture we are recognizing the need for a diverse set of spiritual advisors in multiple environments, and we are beginning to embrace a positive attitude regarding the diversity of religious traditions co-existing in society.”

With an expanded presence of interfaith organizing on college campuses, fostering increased collaborations among staff and students will strengthen actions and overall impact of the movement.

Religious communities and student groups at University of Chicago continue to nominate new advisers for recognition by the University’s Office of Spiritual Life. This year, the office also welcomes Charles Nolley as the first advisor to serve Baha’i students.

The Parliament stands in deep respect to Nolley, who holds the achievement of helping bring the 1993 Parliament to fruition as an early Board Chair, and who undoubtedly lit a fire for interfaith now so imperative to the national higher education system.

A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that the newest appointment of a Pagan religious adviser at the University of Chicago was a first for the university, and that religious advising is facilitated by Rockefeller Chapel. Spiritual Life at University of Chicago has historically extended recognition to advisers in a student-driven and inclusive manner. The Parliament thanks Rockefeller Chapel for an ongoing commitment to spiritual diversity. Parliament Communications apologizes for the error.

 

 

 

 

How Drinking from Alien Spiritual Wells Has Enriched My Life

By Dr. Rob Sellers
Parliament Trustee

For more than a decade, my life as a Christian has been enriched and my commitment to the Christ Way deepened through my study of the world’s great religions and my relationships with many followers of other faiths.  To use a biblical metaphor, there have been times when my soul was parched and I drew water—thirst-quenching and invigorating—from these “alien wells.”

Someone might ask why a Christ follower would willingly seek spiritual refreshment from “foreign” wells.  I’ve thought about that theological question and discovered several good answers.  The biblical passage which informs me is found in John 4 in the story of Jesus’s journey through Samaria, where he stopped to rest at the ancient well Jacob had built in alien, Canaanite territory, near Sychar.  It astonished his disciples that he would drink from a Samaritan well and, moreover, that he would befriend a Samaritan woman, especially one with a bad reputation.  But Jesus had not hesitated to stop beside that alien well, to quench his thirst from it, and to engage one who regularly drank that water.  I believe that it is appropriate to suggest that the story of Jesus at the well in Sychar serves as a biblical model for his disciples, including each of us.

Why indeed shall we seek to quench our thirst with water from alien wells?

Abandoned Well. Via Flickr User Norm Lanier

Of course, if I were simply talking about literal wells and actual water, we could easily conclude the matter by saying that when we are thirsty, it doesn’t matter where in the world we might be.  If we have a way to draw from the well in a foreign place and the water will not make us sick, we will readily drink from it to quench our thirst.  But speaking metaphorically and not literally, the issues become more complex.  Whether or not we drink from this alien well does not simply depend upon access to it or the purity of its water.

Jesus used water metaphorically in his conversation with the Samaritan woman, speaking of “living water” that “springs up to eternal life.”  He clearly takes the literal well and actual water and uses them to shift the conversation to spiritual thirst.  And so the question becomes whether or not “life-giving resources” can be drawn from other spiritual wells.

Here are some convincing reasons from several Christian scholars and writers who argue that other religions and their adherents may indeed provide us with spiritually stimulating and energizing water.

Joan Chittister

The first reason is expressed by Benedictine abbess, popular lecturer, and prolific spirituality writer Joan Chittister, who suggests that our common humanity justifies our drawing from other wells.  She writes:

Whatever the distinctions of time, place, and culture, whatever the time and place in which we have lived, we are all human beings—just human beings, wherever and whenever we live, subject to the same emotional limits, dealing with the same range of emotional responses. . . .  We have at our fingertips . . . a reservoir of wisdom as broad as the sky, as deep as history.  [For e]ach great spiritual tradition, in its own way, suggests a model of what it means to be a holy person (Chittister, xi, xiv).

A second reason for drawing from “alien wells” comes from one of the world’s foremost ecotheologians, Jay McDaniel, a Christian pluralist who teaches at Hendrix College, not so far from us in Conway, Arkansas.  McDaniel suggests that we should drink from other wells because our own water may be less than pure.  He says,

Many people in different religions are realizing that the water is polluted, and that in order to cease polluting it, they need not only to dig within their own heritages for help but also to learn from other religions (McDaniel, 140).

Is it any wonder that an ecotheologian would advocate the benefit of searching for new sources of “water”?  Simply looking at Christian history, or at the questionable beliefs of some contemporary Christian groups, leads me to agree with McDaniel that our own spiritual water is not always healthy.

A third reason for drawing water from other spiritual wells comes from ordained Methodist minister and professor, Martin Forward.  His observation is not original, yet certainly bears repeating.  Forward says that our fractured world desperately yearns for religious people to share with one another.  He notes:

Although people of distinct religions have lived alongside each other for centuries, the modern world has added a special urgency to the need to do so respectfully and knowledgeably, since we now possess the means of destroying the whole created order.  [Thus,] one hopes that respect for and knowledge of the “other” will lead humankind away from the abyss (Forward, 1).

Cardinal Newman—the 19th-century Anglican Oxford don who became a Roman Catholic and was nominated for sainthood by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010—famously exclaimed: “Oh, how we hate one another for the love of God” (Quoted in Smith, 250).

A fourth reason for drawing water from alien spiritual wells comes from Matthew Fox, Dominican priest and writer “silenced” by the Vatican for his Creation Spirituality, and who now serves as an Episcopal priest.  In one of his 20 books, One River, Many Wells, Fox argues that the source of water in all the wells is the very same Divine River.  James 1:17 calls this common “River” the “Father of Lights,” who—according to John 1:9—“gives light to everyone.”  In response to this common source of spiritual water, Fox proposes that we practice “Deep Ecumenism.”  To explain what he means by the term, he says:

I begin with an observation from Meister Eckhart, who says that “Divinity is an Underground river that no one can stop and no one can dam up.”  There is one underground river—but there are many wells into that river: an African well, a Taoist well, a Buddhist well, a Jewish well, a Muslim well, a goddess well, a Christian well, and aboriginal wells.  Many wells but one river.  To go down a well is to practice a tradition, but we would make a grave mistake (an idolatrous one) if we confused the well itself with the flowing waters of the underground river.  Many wells, one river.  That is Deep Ecumenism (Fox, 4-5).

A final reason I mention for drawing from alien wells comes from a retired Presbyterian professor, W. Eugene March, who has spoken at one of the programs of the Abilene Interfaith Council.  Marsh not only thinks we Christians should draw from diverse spiritual wells, but believes that the multiplicity of wells may actually be God’s good idea.  He provocatively writes:

The diversity within our world is something most of us take for granted.  There are in the neighborhood of fifty million species of plants and animal life currently to be found, and it is estimated that perhaps as many as fifty billion have existed at one time or another across the long lifespan of our world. . . .So why should there not be different religions?  Why should we be surprised or troubled by the reality of different ways to express spirituality?  Since diversity seems to be the norm in creation, by analogy a pluralism of religious responses among the people of the world is reasonable to expect (March, 18-19).

Now, what has so profoundly touched my own life in these recent years has not simply been the academic awareness of the good reasons to draw from alien wells and to develop relationships with those who drink those waters, but the actual spiritual practice of doing that interfaith engagement.  And, no place has been more fulfilling—or filling—than the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, on whose Board of Trustees and Executive Committee I am privileged to work.  May I mention just a few of the spiritual wells and those who draw water from them that have made me a better Christian?

First, I think of my friend Andras Arthen, a Spanish-born immigrant American who is director of the EarthSpirit Community, representing particularly the indigenous European pagan traditions.   Andras (pictured on my right, in a meeting this past year in Guadalajara), with his “earth-centered” religious beliefs, has helped to deepen my conscious gratitude for the earth and has strengthened my resolve to care for it as a steward of our gracious Creator God.

I am grateful, also, for Kirit Daftary (pictured on my left), a Jain and president of Anuvibha of North America—a United Nations NGO dedicated to working for non-violence and following the teachings of its spiritual master, Acharya Mahapragya Ji.  I’ve noted how Kirit, the extremely busy owner of his own manufacturing company, frequently goes on pilgrimage or retreat in India to serve and learn from his teacher whenever he can.  His dedication to being with his spiritual master challenges my busyness and too frequent excuse-making whenever I am given opportunity to retreat with my Lord.

I have learned from Phyllis Curott, Wiccan priestess, author, and attorney from New York City. The commitment of Wiccans to women—especially to those who have been marginalized, abused, and forgotten—has led Phyllis to leadership in the Women’s Task Force of the Parliament.

Whether speaking at Rockefeller Chapel of the University of Chicago (pictured here) or arranging women’s conferences at the United Nations, she works voluntarily on behalf of others in a way that inspires and instructs me about believing in and championing the rights of women as God’s beloved children.

Finally I mention Imam Malik Mujahid, my Muslim brother in Chicago, who chairs the Parliament Board and is constantly working for peace among the religions.  Recently chosen as one of the 500 most influential Muslims in the world, Malik juggles his global travels and peace-making missions with his own enterprise in Chicago and with his leadership of our Board.  Yet, wherever I’ve been with him, he always excuses himself from discussions when it is time to pray (pictured here, several months ago in Salt Lake City). His dedication to communicating with God, no matter the circumstance, teaches me what it means to be thirsty for God.

“Alien Wells and Those Who Draw from Them”—these are such important resources for our own spiritual growth.  Yes, we too have vibrant, living water to share from our own well with these friends of ours.  And we must certainly do that whenever appropriate or invited.  But I cannot think of any reason why we shouldn’t also be willing to linger at their wells.  It just might be that when we are especially parched and impoverished in spirit, that their cup of cold water may refresh our souls!

WORKS CITED

Chittister, Joan.  Welcome to the Wisdom of the World and its Meaning for You: Universal Spiritual Insights Distilled from Five Religious Traditions.  Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007.

Forward, Martin.  Inter-religious Dialogue: A Short Introduction.  Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2001.

Fox, Matthew.  One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths.  New York: Penguin Group, inc., 2004.

March, W. Eugene.  The Wide, Wide Circle of Divine Love: A Biblical Case for Religious Diversity. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005.

McDaniel, Jay B.  With Roots and Wings: Christianity in an Age of Ecology and Dialogue.  Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1995.

Smith, Huston.  “The Ecumenical Movement: What are we Seeking?”  In Essays on World Religions. Ed. M. Darrol Bryant.  New York: Paragon House. 1992.

The Future of Jewish-Muslim Relations on College Campuses: Hope or Hopeless?

Imam Abdullah T. Antepli, one of only 11 full time Muslim chaplains at a U.S. University.

by Imam Abdullah T. Antepli

I’m one of only 11 full-time Muslim chaplains on a U.S. university campus, serving at Duke University. It’s the only place I know where it’s kosher and halal to pray for “the Devils.” If one looks for an overarching identity where political, sectarian and religious differences disappear, look toward college basketball. Israeli-Palestinian conflicts are a piece of cake. But the Duke-UNC rivalry, there is no hope.

Unfortunately, the future of Judaism and Islam on American college campuses is not a sports rivalry where it’s trophies that are at stake. I see urgency around Jewish-Muslim relations in general, and in particular on college campuses in the United States.

I have great admiration for leaders like Pope John Paul II and John XXIII – these men moved mountains in repairing Christian-Jewish relations. Christian anti-Semitism took its theological strength from core teachings of Christianity. Unlike Christian anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism in the Muslim world isn’t rooted in Islamic theology and was never fed through core Islamic teachings.

But as anti-Semitism grows in the Muslim world, fueled by political problems in the Middle East, Muslim anti-Semitism is taking root as people turn to Muslim theology to try to find scripture and history that provides religious legitimacy for despicable hate messages.

I know, because I am one of the victims of that anti-Semitism. I’m often asked, “Why are you so obsessed with Jews? Why are you so tirelessly trying to improve Jewish-Muslim relations?” Growing up in Turkey, the first book that I read about Jews and Judaism was at the age of 12 or 13 — a children’s version of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It was very sophisticated propaganda that put modern pictures of Israeli-Palestinian conflict and atrocities atop verses from the Torah and other Jewish teachings, in an attempt to prove the inherent evil of Judaism.. Not every single Muslim is born and raised as an anti-Semite. But it’s not uncommon.

I spent a number of years believing that something is innately, irredeemably wrong about Jews and Judaism. But believing in a God of love and God of mercy and compassion, I was able to go through a life journey that removed that poison from my system. I still consider myself a recovering anti-Semite because old habits die hard and modern challenges keep scratching the old wounds.

Rising bigotry is not unique nor is it one-way. Islamaphobia among the Jewish community is increasing, too, poisoning many Jewish hearts and minds and taking deep root here in the U.S. as well as other parts of the world.

As Muslims and Jews, we have every reason to be worried about the future of our religions. Vis-à-vis Jewish-Muslim relations, we have every reason to do all that we can to build bridges between our communities. As Jews and Muslims it is in our self-interest.

I see the 20th century as the time when world Jewry came to terms and reconciled with Christianity. I see the 21st century as the time Jews and Judaism can come to terms and reconcile with the global Muslim community.

That brings a moral imperative to America’s shores. Yes, anti-Semitism may be poisoning Muslims around the world and it’s changing us for the worse.  But it is American Muslims and American Jews who must model what the 21st century will look like. We live in a country with influence and civil liberties; on college campuses in particular, Jews and Muslims have the room to exemplify a fruitful Jewish-Muslim engagement for the rest of the U.S., world Jewry, and the Ummah, the Muslim world.

An important place to start is to diversify our sources of information about each other. I invite you to consider, when does Islam as a religion and Muslims as people come to your attention? Or when do Jews, Judaism and Israel come to Muslim attention?

When it comes to information on college campuses, we have to stop inviting fringe speakers who only serve to firm up extremist images of the other. There also needs to be bilateral Jewish-Muslim conversation. Interreligious sharing is wonderful, but Jews and Muslims share similarities, a common history, as well as similar theological and judicial foundations. Bi-lateral discussions, especially on U.S. college campuses, are a must if we are to be an urgently needed light for the world.

A Voice from Sinai is calling on American Jews and American Muslims, “If there’s going to be any reconciliation, any coming to terms, it will be you. You will exemplify this to the rest of the world.”

Imam Abdullah T. Antepli is this year’s Pope John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue honorary lecturer; this commentary is distilled from that lecture. The JP II Center is located at The Angelicum Pontifical University in Rome and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City hosted this year’s lecture. Educated in his native Turkey, Imam Antepli is an international leader in Muslim-Jewish dialogue.

The Man of the Year and the Joy of the Gospel: Thoughts on Evangelii Gaudium of Pope Francis

This synopsis of the Evangelii Gaudium of Pope Francis was composed by Trustee of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Dr. Leo D. Lefebure. Part 1 emphasizes the mission of the Catholic Church in the world, and Lefebure explores Pope Francis’ stance on Interreligious Relations in part 2.

Naming Pope Francis Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2013 was a celebrated move by Catholics and interfaith advocates around the world. Time Magazine/Week of December 11, 2013

This week, Time Magazine announced its selection of Pope Francis as the Man of the Year for 2013, commenting: “Rarely has a new player on the world stage captured so much attention so quickly—young and old, faithful and cynical—as has Pope Francis.

In his nine months in office, he has placed himself at the very center of the central conversations of our time: about wealth and poverty, fairness and justice, transparency, modernity, globalization, the role of women, the nature of marriage, the temptations of power.” (Read more: The Choice: Nancy Gibbs on Why Pope Francis Is TIME’s Person  of the Year 2013 | TIME.com)

Earlier, on Nov. 24, 2013, Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Exhortation, the first of his Pontificate, and the first major statement of his program. The great theme of Pope Francis is expressed in the title: Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel. For Francis, this is the central Christian response to God’s coming into our lives. In the Catholic tradition, popes regularly promulgate an Apostolic Exhortation in the wake of a particular Synod of Bishops; but rarely if ever has an Apostolic Exhortation aroused the type of interest, both positive and negative, that The Joy of the Gospel has evoked.

I. The Mission of the Church in the World

Despite the overarching tone of joy, Pope Francis has grave concerns about the world today. At the beginning of the Apostolic Exhortation, he sets forth a stark warning:

The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades (#2).

Francis laments that too often Christians do not witness to the joy and beauty of the Gospel. He calls for Christians to witness to the Gospel not by proselytization but rather by attraction through living lives of joy and beauty (#15). He endorses the “way of beauty” (#167). Francis warns: “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter” (#6). While he is aware of the difficult times in all lives, he trusts: “Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved” (#6). The ancient prophet Zephanaiah promised that God will rejoice over us as at a festival, and so Pope Francis tells us evangelizers should not look like they are coming from a funeral!

The basis of the mission is the love of God that comes to Christians a sheer gift and offers us friendship with God, who brings us beyond ourselves, frees us from our narrowness and self-absorption. Francis invokes the ancient principle: “Goodness tends to spread” (9). He quotes from the document issued by the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops in Aparecida, Brazil, in 2007, which he had a major role in drafting: “Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others” (#10).

Francis calls Christians to reach out to everyone without exclusion, stressing what is beautiful, grand, appealing, and most necessary (#35). He recalls that Thomas Aquinas taught that mercy is the greatest of all virtues and should be at the center of the presentation of the Gospel (#37). Francis calls Christians to be like the Prodigal Father in the parable (#46). He tells us that “the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is room for everyone, with all their problems” (#47).

Francis affirms that the Church has a mission to all, especially to the poor. Francis repeats to all of us what he used to tell the priests and people of Buenos Aires: “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security” (#49). He notes that the call of Jesus echoes through the centuries to us:

“Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37; #49).

Francis also reflects on the economic structures that perpetuate poverty. He questions why we worry more about the stock market going down by a few points than about the poor who die on the streets. He recalls the commandment not to kill as a call to safeguard the value of all human life. Francis applies this commandment against an economy of exclusion and inequality, stating: “Such an economy kills” (#53). He questions: “Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown out while people are starving?” (#53) He warns against the globalization of indifference and the idolatry of money as a new golden calf (##54, 55). Francis sets forth the basic principle: “Money must serve, not rule!” (#58)

Despite the stern warnings against these and other dangers, Francis rejects pessimism, recalling the words of Pope John XXIII in opening the Second Vatican Council in October 1962, looking beyond the predictions of gloom to the hope: “In our times, divine Providence is leading us to a new order of human relations” (#84). It is this hopeful note of confidence in God’s grace that shapes Francis’s message.

Francis reflects on the implications of the Incarnation: “The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness” (#88). Francis stresses the dignity of baptism as the foundation of Christian identity and the mission of lay people in transforming the world (##102-104). He calls on all Christians to “listen to young people and the elderly. Both represent a source of hope for every people. The elderly bring with them memory and the wisdom of experience, which warns us not to foolishly repeat our past mistakes. Young people call us to renewed and expansive hope, for they represent new direction for humanity and open us up to the future, lest we cling to a nostalgia for structures and customs which are no longer life-giving in today’s world” (#108).

II. Interreligious Relations

Pope Francis situates the mission of the Church in the context of fostering respectful and friendly relations with other religious traditions. He affirms the special bond between Christians and the Jewish people because of our common heritage: “We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant has never been revoked, for ‘the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable’” (Rom. 11:29; #247). He deplores the past hostility in this relationship: “The friendship which has grown between us makes us bitterly and sincerely regret the terrible persecutions which they have endured, and continue to endure, especially those that have involved Christians” (#248).

Pope Francis strongly supports interreligious initiatives in the context of seeking peace and the flourishing of life for all: “An attitude of openness in truth and in love must characterize the dialogue with the followers of non-Christian religions. . . . Interreligious dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world, and so it is a duty for Christians as well as other religious communities” (250). Francis endorses the interreligious attitude commended by the Catholic bishops of India of “being open to them, sharing their joys and sorrows” (#250). Francis explains the hoped-for result of such an attitude of openness: “In this way we learn to accept others and their different ways of living, thinking and speaking. We can then join one another in taking up the duty of serving justice and peace, which should become a basic principle of all our exchanges. A dialogue which seeks social peace and justice is in itself, beyond all merely practical considerations, an ethical commitment which brings about a new social situation” (#250).

Francis stresses the importance and the transformative power of listening: “Efforts made in dealing with a specific theme can become a process in which, by mutual listening, both parts can be purified and enriched. These efforts, therefore, can also express love for truth” (#250). Francis is aware of the important differences among various religious traditions and does not wish to ignore or minimize them: “A facile syncretism would ultimately be a totalitarian gesture on the part of those who would ignore greater values of which they are not the masters. True openness involves remaining steadfast in one’s deepest convictions, clear and joyful in one’s own identity, while at the same time being ‘open to understanding those of the other party’ and ‘knowing that dialogue can enrich each side’” (#250; quoting Pope John Paul II). Regarding how to handle the disagreements among different religious traditions, Francis stresses honesty, mutual respect, and trust.

Pope Francis emphasizes the importance of good relationships between Christians and Muslims: “We Christians should embrace with affection and respect Muslim immigrants to our countries in the same way that we hope and ask to be received and respected in countries of Islamic tradition” (#253). Francis acknowledges the difficulties in relations in many settings and advises: “Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence” (#253).

According to Pope Francis, the grace of God that Christians experience in Jesus Christ can nurture and shape the lives of followers of other religious paths as well. Christians do not have a monopoly on grace and can learn from other traditions: “The same Spirit everywhere brings forth various forms of practical wisdom which help people to bear suffering and to live in greater peace and harmony. As Christians, we can also benefit from these treasures built up over many centuries, which can help us better to live our own beliefs” (#254).

Francis also reaches out to those who do not belong to any particular religious tradition: “As believers, we also feel close to those who do not consider themselves part of any religious tradition, yet sincerely seek the truth, goodness and beauty which we “believe have their highest expression and source in God. We consider them as precious allies in the commitment to defending human dignity, in building peaceful coexistence between peoples and in protecting creation” (#257). Francis trusts that reflection on ethics, art, and science and about the human search for transcendence can serve as “a path to peace in our troubled world” (257).

Despite all the difficulties facing the global community, Francis encourages us:

“Challenges exist to be overcome! Let us be realists, but without losing our joy, our boldness and our hope-filled commitment” (#109).

He closes the Apostolic Exhortation with a prayer to Mary:

“Give us a holy courage to seek new paths,

That the gift of unfading beauty

May reach every man and woman” (#288).

About Author Dr. Leo D. Lefebure:

Leo D. Lefebure is the Matteo Ricci, S.J., Professor of Theology at Georgetown University and a priest of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. He is the author of four books, including Revelation, the Religions, and Violence and The Buddha and the Christ. His next book will be Following the Path of Wisdom: a Christian Commentary on the Dhammapada, which is co-authored with Peter Feldmeier. He is an honorary research fellow of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.