World inter-faith movement needs inclusivity

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Representatives of religions from across the globe are meeting up in the USA, for the Parliament of the World’s Religions that opens in Salt Lake City today, 15th October.

The parliament is, perhaps, the greatest international inter-faith movement and draws followers from a multitude of religious beliefs including Paganism, Islam, various denominations of Christianity, Buddhism – the list goes on and on.

There are major important absences from the list on its website as it sees that neither the Anglican nor Roman Catholic Churches will be taking part officially – and neither will the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latterday Saints, otherwise known as Mormons, despite Salt Lake City being their headquarters. Without that form of involvement, can it really be a Parliament of the World’s Religions? More needs to be done to encourage greater inclusivity.

Roman Catholic Women Priests will be there but that group can hardly be said to be an official representative of the church.

Its calls upon us all to ‘reclaim the heart of our humanity’ and invites everyone, of whatever faith, to work together for a world of compassion, peace, justice and sustainability. And the 2015 Parliament includes sessions on women, emerging leaders, income equality, violence and hate speech, climate change and, last but not least, indigenous peoples.

That all sounds like truly meaty stuff that I can see will be close to the hearts of people everywhere but while I agree that the issues regarding women should be discussed, I find it impossible to agree with this year’s inauguration of the Women’ Assembly.

For the life of me, I cannot accept that setting up a Women’s Assembly is in any way a good idea. I know some will welcome it as the only way to advance the female cause but, to me, it smacks of sexism and separatism – neither of which are good for women nor the world’s religions.

There is a plenary session of the Parliament that will be focussing on women and that should be the way forward. Yes, women’s issues are important but it is precisely because of that importance that they should be discussed by all, men and women together, not in a ‘Women’s Assembly’.

That assembly is said to be offering five days of special programming devoted to women, religion and spirituality that will be ‘fully integrated’ into the overall Parliament. That sounds good, the integrated part, but just having a Women’s Assembly is divisive, outdated and an unwanted form of segregation.

Integration, not segregation, must be the way forward.

 

What we believe is true, or is it?

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This picture caught my attention on Facebook today. It fascinates me, not so much for what it says but the whole concept of different religions in today’s world.

Before starting, let me first of all make one thing clear. I am not an atheist and do indeed have a strong religious faith. However, my beliefs are not those of the Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or any other organised religion.

A much older religion calls to me, one of the Mother Earth and nature, one that recognises both masculine and feminine aspects of our deities. We are taught to harm no-one and never seek to push our religion onto others. We do not seek converts, nor do we claim that our religion is the ‘only’ way. And we don’t believe in the existence of the devil.

Having been brought up as a Christian, attended church and been taught ‘religious education’ at school, it should come as little surprise that that faith and the Church of England formed an area of intense interest for me.

Indeed, my first wife completed a Bachelor of Theology degree in 1999, for which I typed all her essays and so learned a great deal. By the time she graduated, I realised that any Christian beliefs I had held had just been metaphorically shipwrecked.

So, let’s look at the text in that picture.

“The King James version of the New Testament was completed in 1611 by 8 members of the Church of England.

“There were (and still are) no original texts to translate. The oldest manuscripts we have were written down hundreds of years after the last apostle died. There are over 8,000 of these old manuscripts, with no two alike.

“The King James translators used none of these, anyway. Instead. they edited previous translations to create a version their king and Parliament would approve.”

All those are true, according to research available online, so we can hardly take issue with the summary that says: “So, (what) 21st Century Christians believe (is) the “Word of God” is a book edited in the 17th Century from 16th Century translations of 8,000 contradictory copies of 4th Century scrolls that claim to be copies of lost letters written in the 1st Century.”

But the truth is much worse than that.

Absolutely none of the gospels were written at the time they purport to talk about. Word of mouth stories were written down a hundred years, or more, later. Many texts were ignored when putting the bible together.

Mistranslations took place and have not been corrected to this day.

For example, Isaiah’s prophecy as originally written states that the Messiah would be conceived by an ‘almah’ (young woman) but in the Greek translation Isaiah refers to a ‘parthenos’ (virgin). From this, it appears that Matthew’s gospel attempts to justify Jesus’s divine parentage by claiming fulfilment of a prophecy that was never actually made.

And, as far as the resurrection is concerned, why was Jesus’s body removed from the cross so soon after the crucifixion? It was uncommon for a crucified healthy adult to die in the time described by the Gospels; the Gospel of Mark reports that Jesus was crucified at nine in the morning and died at three in the afternoon, or six hours after the crucifixion. Pilate was surprised to hear that Jesus had died so soon (Mk 15:44). The average time of suffering before death by crucifixion was between two and four days.

It gives some strength to the argument that Jesus did not die on the cross and that, therefore, there was no resurrection. As Christianity is not my faith, I offer no comment on these beliefs or arguments except to say that everyone should be free to follow any faith of their choice or choose to not follow any at all.

One last point: something else on Facebook today was a negative comment about religious people saying they ‘know’ what happens after death. Another person wanted ‘proof ‘of the existence of an afterlife. To me, that is why it is called faith. There is no proof, no-one knows; there is only belief, only faith.

 

 

 

 

An old lesson for religions today

300px-SiegeOfAcre1291 Christian crusaders unsuccessfully defend Acre in the 12th century.

Many of the world’s problems, both today and throughout history, can be traced directly back to religion. Not that the different beliefs involved actually advocate violence and bloodshed, they all seem to include peace among their teachings and holy books.

It is important not to get the idea that any particular religion, or its followers, is to blame, because it isn’t.

Today’s IS and its jihad or holy war is made up of Sunni Muslims but we must remember that a few hundred years ago it was the Christians who waged their own holy wars, or Crusades, in the Middle East. Their avowed intention was to wrest the so-called holy lands from the Muslims and they were sanctioned by the pope and numerous European monarchs.

Even within the Christian faith, there is a history of hate and persecution. Ever since King Henry VIII severed ties with the pope and had himself proclaimed head of the church in England, effectively setting up what was to become the protestant Church of England, there have been problems. Catholic monarchs have persecuted Protestants; Protestant monarchs persecuted Catholics. And both were anti-Jewish.

In more recent history, Northern Ireland saw many years of troubles between the Catholic republicans and the Protestants who wished to remain in the UK.

In the Muslim world, there is also a serious, and often violent, split between the Sunnis and Shias, or Shi’ites, which has its origins in the immediate aftermath of the death of the prophet Mohammad.

These are just examples of the many religious differences, troubles, violence and wars throughout the world over the centuries – all in the name of their own god.

It should not be beyond the capability of people of all faiths to recognise religious differences and to peacefully co-exist with one another.

All it would take is for each faith’s, each denomination’s, leaders and followers to stop insisting that their way is the only way and that everyone else is ‘in error’ or ‘damned’

Am I religious? Where do I stand in this? I am religious but I am not Christian, Muslim, Jewish or a member any other religion considered as mainstream anywhere in the world today.

My religion predates Christianity and Islam, it does not seek to preach or convert others to its ways, although its adherents have themselves been persecuted in years gone by. It recognises the right of everyone to choose their own religion, or to choose none at all, and to live in peace with them all. It can be summed up in one word: Tolerance.

An old lesson there for the 21st century.