יום ראשון, ינואר 21, 2007


World Religion Day

Today I attended an event marking World Religion Day. It is apparently a concept that originated with the Baha'i Faith, and there are events to mark it in various communities. At the event I attended, there were representatives from Hindu, Sikh, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, New Thought, and Baha'i. The theme of the event was something like "drawing a circle big enough for us all." In other words, unity and the idea of "true religion" as being any of several paths that lead to peace and to one God.

For the speakers--many of whom were clergy from local congregations--the theme of the event required a rather delicate balancing act, a fact that the Sikh speaker explicitly acknowledged. That is, the theme is unity and how all these faiths ultimately are promoting the same thing. Granted that is an over-simplification of any religion, but that is precisely the point: As the Sikh representative noted, the very presence of representatives from so many traditions (so many yet still a fraction of all that exist) meant that there is something distinctive in each, and hence there is division as well as unity. (No one invoked E pluribus unum for some reason, though given the theme of the day, perhaps that should be reversed: E uno plures—or better yet, Ad unum plures.)

Despite the difficulty of the task, most of the speakers handled it quite well, I thought. Naturally, I thought the Jewish speaker was the best, but that is hardly a surprise: She's my sponsoring rabbi. She related two stories about Choni the circle drawer, one of which was about a man planting a carob tree, despite knowing that he won't live long enough to see it fruit. The planter explains that just as those before him planted trees that they could not enjoy, but he did, so he was planting for the benefit of future generations. (I liked the link to our upcoming holiday, Tu B'Shvat, or the New Year for Trees; on that theme I found a nice overview told for kids' benefit.)

The Sikh and Baha'i representatives were also good. What made them worthy of note is that they, like the rabbi, conveyed a sense of what their faith was, but grounded their remarks very clearly in the theme of the event (in the allotted five minutes!) Some of the others got the "unity" theme down well, but told us little about what their own teachings had to say regarding the theme. I was also impressed by the Christian representative, who came from what I took to be a nondenominational church. He joked about how there was simply no way he could "represent" all of Christianity, but he made a few terrific points: He said we (i.e. Christians) stand on the shoulders of Judaism, draw from the Abrahamic traditions of Islam as well as Judaism, and share connections to Zoroastrianism; Jesus even carried a message consonant with those of the Eastern faiths, he said.* But then came the kicker: He said Christians need to get off their "high horse" and "confess" for pushing Western culture in the name of evangelizing the religion. Amein, pastor!

There was, however, one speaker who failed in the theme of the day, in my estimation. He was the only one who came across as making assertions that his faith was the only way. His was the only presentation that made me uncomfortable. I am speaking of the Imam. His message boiled down to a claim that Muslims have shown the world what the faiths that came before only tried to say. It seemed to be: Join us and we'll show you unity. He also had a "helper" stand behind him; I felt as if the helper was watching the audience, even though for a while he was holding up a sign with some key concepts of the faith. (The sign was hardly necessary; he was really a "watcher," I think.) And he and his entourage were the only faith representatives to walk out as soon as the presentations ended and not to stay for the social and refreshment period after. Needless to say, he was a poor representative of Islam. (Or was he? Not something I want to get into in this forum. Maybe it was revealing, in its own way.)

All in all, an interesting afternoon. I only wish the advertised Zoroastrian representative had been in attendance.


* The sentence before the asterisk has been revised since original posting. TikkunGer pointed out in a comment that I might have misrepresented what the minister said about Zoroastrianism, as I implied that he said it was "Abrahamic." Upon reflection, I doubt he would have said so, because I am pretty sure that Zoroastrianism predates the Biblical Abraham and continues to set itself apart from the Abrahamic approach to God. I can't recall precisely what the minister did say. I know he acknowledged some historical connections of Christianity to Zoroastrianism. But I will not attempt to characterize his claims, as I can't do so accurately. (Note to self: Next time take notes!) As I said at the end of the post, I really wish the originally advertised Zoroastrian representative had appeared at the event.

Shalom Zed

Sounds like you had an interesting day out so I am glad you enjoyed it. I have a few thoughts but before that I also have a couple of questions that I would like to ask you.

1) I could be Miss understanding what you've written but are you implying that Zoroastrianism is an Abraham make faith? I don't personally believe it is and I couldn't find anything on Wikipedia that suggested it to be the case. Could you please clarify I'm curious as to whether or not they are although I doubt it.

2) You made some interesting remarks regarding the Imam and am wondering if anybody else felt the same way was there any discussion about this, did you get a vibe from the crowd? Did your rabbi happen to mention anything about it?

I find such events to be interesting but somewhat inaccurate because they only tend to draw more "liberal" types of institutions who of course have a vested interest in patting themselves on their backs in terms of their ecumenical interfaith progressiveness. Of course this is not to throw the baby out with the bath water because I think a lot of good can come from such things I've just become somewhat skeptical in terms of how balanced the view they represent this.

Lastly I'm so skeptical of the Baha'i faith because of what I consider to be their revisionist evangelical agenda that I'm skeptical of anything they are promoting. I've had a lot of experience with the faith and the bulk of my (same age) male friends are all ex-bahai's who all have abandoned the faith. Actually I'm willing to admit that this is probably why at least in part I have such a negative view of the faith but it's definitely more than that.

Anyhow thanks for the interesting post.

Be well
Thanks, TikkunGer, for the thoughtful remarks.

I will admit I was surprised to hear the minister imply that Zoroastrianism is Abrahamic. I had never heard that before. Could be my ignorance, could be his (which seems less likely), or maybe I misunderstood what he said. He might merely have been saying that some Christian (and Jewish) rituals and concepts area drawn from earlier Zoroastrian traditions (which, as far as I know, would be uncontroversial).

Yes, some others had similar reactions as mine to the Imam, for whatever that might be worth. (I'm not about to reveal anything the rabbi said in a private conversation, because some people reading this know the rabbi's--and my--identity.)

I agree that the more "liberal" are likely to be drawn to such an event. I guess I could offer myself as Exhibit A!

The whole thing was co-sponsored by the Baha'i and a local interfaith society.

I "hear" what you are saying about Baha'i, but I am not sufficiently knowledgeable to elaborate on the point. It did occur to me that my objection to the Imam's attempt to "revise" all the prophecy that came before Mohammed could likewise be said about Baha'i, though the speaker on behalf of Baha'i did not get into this concept of subsuming other faiths the way the Imam did regarding his own faith. He was fairly aggressive in his words (I felt) while the Baha'i speaker was very inclusive--for what that might be worth.

Thanks and shalom to you!
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