Recently I was reading some research papers by Steve Taylor, Lecturer at Leeds Beckett, which look into the Psychology and Spirituality of participants, particularly their experiences that led to life changing ‘occurrences’. This threw up for me the question “how relevant is faith, particularly a ‘spiritual’ one, in a modern society?”
Maybe I should not be surprised that the more I looked around at the multi faith world that I live in, I notice that ‘the other’ is a very prevalent issue. The rise of Donald Trump, has highlighted the challenges of group difference, minority or otherwise, and the fact that there is a deep ‘sense’ of marginalisation. Indeed there is a clear separation between groups who have opposing values or beliefs. People simply are not getting along with each other.
In an increasingly complex and technology led society, deep spiritual connections are seemingly rejected because they are apparently not ‘provable’. It appears at times that we are becoming increasingly intolerant of both religious and spiritual (there is a difference) observance and people have become highly sceptical of other people’s opinions especially if they are based on faith. The only thing we seem to accept is cold, hard facts of science and the ‘truth’ of things.
As was cited in a 2014 article on huffingtonpost.co.uk, times seemed to have started to be on a positive track at the start of the century. In the midst of the Second World War, the former Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbi, along with others, stated that the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ) and it became a much-needed conduit for Christians to talk with Jews in order for them to try to heal two millennia of prejudice and distrust between the two faiths. There was a definite drive to start and open interfaith dialogue and for there to be an inclusive and open dialogue across apparent divides.
So how does an organisation like the CCJ, or indeed any faith organisation, stay relevant today? Is faith relevant and what does faith actually mean? As a society we appear to be turning our back on religion more and more in favour of political systems, societal debates and scientific fact. Are ‘faith’ conversations therefore still worth discussing in this rapidly changing context?
I would answer with a resounding ‘yes.’ But with a number of caveats.
We are becoming increasingly disconnected from each other and while we have become increasingly interconnected through technology, there is a clear lack of interpersonal contact between all of us. It is happening on a global level, just look at the rise in tension, persecution and the increasing number of bloody conflicts around the world where ‘religion’ is perceived to be a contributory factor. But also look at how you connect with your neighbour, the person providing you a service in a shop or a stranger in the street. Do you speak to them, look them in the eye, connect with them? I suspect not, and I am no different. The conflict of ‘the other’ clearly crosses across all sectors of society. Christian, Muslim, LBGT, Far Right, Far Left, neighbour etc, etc.
The question for me is therefore, what true, strong and lasting connection do we have and what does it have to do with ‘Faith’?
Our pluralist and multi-faith society brings us face to face with very diverse religious practice and societal cultures, which to some appears strange and threatening – although to others it can appear fascinating and enriching. How therefore do we move from suspicion and fear of the other to acceptance and respect?
I would suggest that we start to accept that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE is different. They possess unique and diverse traits that make them not only different, but also special. You, to them, also has the potential to be seen to have the same diverse and unique traits. You are also different and special. Now layer on top of that opinion, judgement and fear. People are different to you and therefore what does it start to feel like in your head (mind and thought) and heart (emotion and physical body). How do you start to react?
This for me is where it can all start to go wrong because we start to feel not only defensive and protective of our own identity but we start to dig in and become personally entrenched because of our building judgement. You’re different, but so are they, and as a result the gap begins to widen. Where has their glorious uniqueness gone and what does that actually mean for us? Are we now loosing connection to our own glorious uniqueness simply because we have brought judgement and fear to the situation? Where has our FAITH in our own unique nature gone, but more importantly why have we dropped that view of other people? It seems crazy.
Note, that NONE of this relates to GOD, gods, deity’s, etc. This is simply about human connection based on the fact that we all have a unique genetic make-up, nurtured personality traits and absorbed personal beliefs. It is however, for me, based on a ‘Faith’ of sorts, one based on general human goodness and the unique, individual beauty of human kind.
A lot of work still needs to be done to cultivate an openness and understanding of faith especially in a religious context, but faith in humanity should really be the starting point, and I believe that it isn’t too late. Faith in people, this planets survival and the animals, flora and fauna that we rely upon, is far more important because it is as near to ‘reality’, the truth of things, that we can get to. You and I are here, real flesh and bone, head and heart working in a unique and special form called [fill in your name]. What religious faith you may ascribe to, or not, is merely your own personal lens to see the world and it is a layer upon your humanity. It is not you, it is something you carry. So while it is clearly important in a great many cases, ultimately you really don’t know that each ‘path’ could lead to the same place in the end anyway. So, in reality your true faith journey starts right here, right now with YOU the next person you come across. Invest in them, invest in their uniqueness, and share time with them for a while and you will see what true faith can deliver.
Interfaith dialogue has a hugely significant role to play in a diverse and multi-cultural, multi-faith society. It occupies a prominent, upfront position in corridors of power, buildings of faith and halls of learning and we need to be part of that dialogue. However, InterFAITH dialogue will have to take its place as a crucial item on everybody’s agenda. , but Faith in humanity is essential for flourishing, dynamic, societies. What we can do for the next generation is show that we have glimpsed both the opportunities and the urgency of enriching interfaith relations through exciting dialogue and sharing knowledge between cultures, religions, genders and your fellow human.