Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Getting Better the Hard Way

Religious people know that God (by whatever name) is greater than the evil of which we as a race are capable. They know that the love of God is such that our positive welfare is sought more than arbitrary punishment for our misdeeds. The combination of God's perfect love and power with with responsiveness from the faithful produce a fascinating reality, a reality that benefits everyone, not just the faithful. The reality I describe here is this, God's love and power plus the positive conditions created by the faithful (in all faiths) translate or repackage all horror into pathways from which positive good can arise. This is always the case, as it is also now in current world affairs.

On September 11, 2001 violent and resentful people attacked the United States of America, killing 3,000 non-combatants, including many Muslims. Surat 5.032 in the Qu'ran compares the murder of one innocent soul to the taking of all human life! These vile and violent assailants who in their acts violated dozens of Qu'ranic injunctions, nevertheless attributed their decisions and actions as an expression of Islam (rather than misunderstanding their actions as an expression of some other religion or ideology). All perpetrators came from the Islamic cultural sphere.

Attack on a sovereign nation is a political act that requires political and in virtually all cases even a military response. Virtually all wars (since they deal with ultimates, absolutes, and uncertainties) resort to a "God is on our side" mentality (this is a natural result of the fact the humans are related to God, and tend to call on God (or some superstition surrogate) when things are uncertain and scary). In this case the tragedy of religious error escalated drawing the beautiful religion of Christianity unwillingly into the hellish energy spawned by the 911 attacks. (Too bad famous, inhospitable, and intolerant people who are believed by many to be Christian added bigoted opinion into the foolishsphere, adding to the (false) impression that hostilities are "religious.")

As this degenerate, violent, and murderous spirit persists one is tempted to bemoan the fact that the original perpetrators chose to identify their villainy with a world religion. Indeed government and security policy decided to accept the position of the 911 killers. Something like, "11 suicidal, murderous guys called it Islam, so we'll call it Islam." As a result, great injustice, bigotry and intolerance of a religious flavor has come to influence the behavior and attitudes of secular people and institutions (as well as those who live by a perverted (bellicose) form of their respective religions) . This fact that secular activity (such as economics, security, military activity, international relations etc.) have been drawn downward under impulse of intolerance and religious bigotry, lead many in the world to imagine that ours is a time in which interreligious relations are at an all time low.

The fact however, is that this is not the case. Precisely because those carrying out demonic and murderous agendas at present do so openly relating themselves to perversions of this religion or that, behavior among genuinely religious people actually is reaching new heights of enlightenment, humility, charity, openness, and transtradition collaboration. Because genuinely religious people are being SO badly misrepresented by murderous and demonic perps, they are living their religions to an ever more beautiful and exemplary degree. Also because "combat-based" secular institutions (such as security and military) have become vaguely and confusedly tied to "religion" in name, here again genuine religious believers in a near excessive effort to demonstrate just the very opposite presently show a breadth, embrace, and respect for other traditions that we have never seen before. The great irony is that, one almost could say that this is a good time for religion. Its true adherents are showing all its best and most promising elements and dimensions.

The only unfortunate part of the tale is that it took such a terrible breakdown in secular relations to evoke, regenerate, and spur to hitherto unreached levels of interreligious, mutual embrace and collaboration. But this rubber-band style of narrative unfortunately always has been the burden borne by the divine. The best of our religiosity and spirituality almost always is evoked only by breakdown and tragedy. Hopefully soon, we will rise to point at which flourishing spirituality energizes itself through its own healthy and positive benefits, rather than laying dormant until fear, despair, and emergency awaken us as a last resort.

Under ordinary circumstances, even good religious people have tended to sit contentedly in their respective cocoons, not bothering to care about how our neighbors pray, dream, raise our children, and seek to be better people day by day. But in a world folding together as one family, even this peaceful (but parochial) way of being religious cannot be seen as acceptable. There is still too much separation in such a set up, and this "uncaring" way cannot be seen as consistent with the guidance and preferences from God (by whatever name). Strangely then, the 911 attacks have led to a flourishing of religious life, and a level of multi-religious collaboration the world has not seen in many an eon.

The flourishing interfaith world is reaching an ever more sophisticated depth and healthy complexity, but we must recognize a much higher mission that comes with this opportunity. This opportunity arose due to God's perfectly constant power to transform ill into blessing. The curse and the embarrassment that all religions face as the secular critics point to violence and intolerance is our own fault. We should have been more vigilant to prevent such a thing. So our chastisement is harsh, and our awakening is late. But the interfaith community must not undersell this opportunity. Of course religious leaders must quench the flames of violence and murder that possess the secular arena. And yes, religious leaders must rescue the reputations of our respective religions from the besmirching we have suffered from demonic perps who defile the names of our religions. But far more important than this repair work, is the mission of religious leaders in this time NOT to miss this opportunity that has come at such great cost. This time, the world of religion must reach an utterly unprecedented plateau. The persistence of discrete traditions is permissible only as the best ways to speak to believers in our respective cultural spheres. But NO other lines of division or demarcation should persist. The religions of the world, while not sacrificing their roots and identity must become "religion-blind" when realizing and carrying out our shared responsibility and scriptural obligations as centers of compassion, care, and sacrificial service.

Frank Kaufmann is the Director of the Interreligious Federation for World Peace. The opinions here are his own.