Just a quick one today. Work is really piling on so I’m not getting much chance to blog, hopefully after exams I’ll have more time.

I had an interesting conversation with Stuart (President of the Student Humanist Society) about Interfaith. I’ve been very much involved in this kind of thing, much to the surprise of the religionists at the Chaplaincy, as I think the society has in the past come across as very ‘militant’, as much as I hate the expression.

Stuart’s position was that it’s a very useless, facile, wishy washy excercise to have people with totally contradicting beliefs sitting around a table together pretending to be friends, what’s the point? I replied that you don’t have to hold the same beliefs to partake in the exchange of information, and in the meantime we can coordinate joint events together (such as a joint application for funding which we tried a few weeks ago), and learn about religions and cultures we otherwise wouldn’t know about. That’s pretty cool!

Stuart then said that it’s hypocritical to have people working together when each of them believes the others are going to hell! I agree it would be much easier to bash religion if people did think and act that way, but that idea of hell is totally outdated, noone I know thinks of hell as fire and brimstone, it’s a separation from God and all that’s good. The point I pushed most, though is that when religious people look a “heathen”, they don’t think “you’re going to hell”. First and foremost they see another human being, and in that sense they share common ground with humanists. It’s where scripture and practice differ, even if the text says you should be killing people of other faiths, doesn’t mean that’s what you do.

It’s becoming something of a problem, all this interfaith stuff. I’m really mellowing out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not succumbing to any religious belief, I’m just becoming less outspoken on matters of religion and atheism. I may soon be undeserving of the title “not-so-friendly humanist”.


11 Responses to Interfaith

  1. I says:

    You’re right with this:” when religious people look a “heathen”, they don’t think “you’re going to hell”.’ I think our relative peace in the Western world basically exist because even people who think they are religious basically don’t take religion seriously. They just pay lip service, but they would be very upset if you’d ask them to pretend to live according to the teachings of the religion they _pretend_ to adhere to.
    Take a random catholic and ask them if they really do believe let’s say in the trinity or the virgin birth of Mary etc. And if you have a look at who’s making trouble (as a group): basically those who take their religion seriously for one reason or other.

    I think it’s about time to become aware that in Europe hardly anyone is religious if you take it strictly, and I think that’s great, because it’s a condition for living in peace. And I think it’s about time to admit this de facto agnosticism and its rewards.

    (Sorry, for my English, I’m not a native speaker.)

  2. Stuart Ritchie says:

    You’re going to get me into trouble.

    Of course, I also think it’s cool to learn about other people’s religions (though always with the proviso that I don’t, and shan’t, believe them, unless some evidence is provided). It’s also cool to get together and talk about stuff from a wide variety of perspectives, like, say, in Parliament. But Interfaith is just such a profoundly intellectually dishonest endeavour. I’ll explain.

    When I go to a lab meeting and discuss some scientific findings, I expect to come away with a changed perspective or at least a different understanding of a particular area of enquiry. compare that to an Interfaith meeting. When was the last time you saw anyone wander out of a meeting thinking ‘Jeez, this Islam thing? I’ve been wasting my time. Hinduism is the way.’ I realise this isn’t the point of the meetings, but what I’m attempting to say is the following: everyone at these meetings is entrenched in their beliefs. They’re not going to change their minds. They’re not going to make any allowances for the truth claims of others. Why sit in a room pretending to think deeply about other beliefs when you’ve already decided that they’re wrong? Maybe I just care too much about, er, the truth.

    If you want to do stuff for charity (and I understand that the great majority of religious people as well as humanists want this), why not start a charity? Or join an existing one? Does it have to be done with such pussy-footing, faux deference and quite frankly undeserved respect for the bizarre, delusional beliefs of others?

    The moral? Give to charity. Keep silly religious stuff out of it. Respect people because they want to give to charity. Don’t respect their belief there’s a fairy in the sky who talks to them at night.

    And now, bed. I assume the debate will rage. I look forward to it.

  3. Stuart Ritchie says:

    Hm, I better not go to bed before I’ve clarified that I do think it’s nice that people of religions are willing to talk to each other, as opposed to (say) blow each other up. It’s peaceful, it’s civilised, and it’s jolly nice.

    Still doesn’t make it any less weird.

  4. grammarking says:

    They may be entrenched in some of their beliefs, but not others. So in practical terms someone could turn up thinking “I know Islam is true, but them Christians, they’re all idiot weirdo fundamentalists” and go away still holding the initial belief in Islam but changed completely on the other.

    Many religions also have a lot of overlap, where common ground can be found. Two Christians may disagree on one thing (such as, say the omnibenevolence of God, or more controversially, creationism), where one of them finds more common ground on that issue with a Muslim than with the other Christian.

    So just because they disagree on a few fundamental things, doesn’t mean they can’t agree or change their beliefs on other things. The aim is not to change the others’ fundamental beliefs. It would be like you coming away from your lab thinking “Jeez, this monism thing…” – also not gonna happen. Instead the aim is coordination (at least in the Chaplaincy) between societies. In the wider world of interfaith where there’s more discussion, experiences can be shared, viewpoints expressed, and some people may walk away with different beliefs to when they walked in. Probably not their faith beliefs, but something.

  5. grammarking says:

    I, I’m not so sure that if you asked a random Catholic they wouldn’t believe in the Virgin Birth or in the Trinity, that’s pretty fundamental to Catholicism. I know when I was a Catholic I did. Of course most don’t take their belief to the letter, but it’s a bit dismissive to say they’re only pretending to believe.

    That said, if you’re thinking about it this way, then Interfaith and cross-faith discussion is only going to contribute to the watering down of extremism, which I think we can all agree is a good thing.

  6. Stuart Ritchie says:

    Unfair. If someone provided evidence for dualism – proper, scientific evidence – I’d reconsider my position. As for your point about the Muslim changing his mind about ‘idiot, weirdo fundamentalists’, is this really likely to happen? Everyone already knows that there’s a spectrum of liberal/fundamental religion, and at obviously at Interfaith meetings you’re going to find the liberals. Doesn’t mean the fundamentalists don’t exist.

    Is it really going to contribute to the watering down of extremism? Can you provide any evidence for this?

    Do you know what would actually contribute to the watering down of extremism? Taking all the money that’s spent on Interfaith (which is, let’s face it, for middle-class religious moderates) and spending it improving the social/living conditions of the world’s poorest people. This is where extremism begins, not the Chaplaincy centre. This would actually make a practical difference. Maybe you should mention it at the next Interfaith meeting.

    Once again, if you’re just wanting to co-ordinate events, then that’s not a problem. But let’s not give credit where it isn’t due.

  7. grammarking says:

    It would be difficult to find evidence for interfaith watering down extremism but it’s easy to see how it would work. Interfaith requires that you find common ground between different faith communities, open dialogue reduces the danger that any particular group will feel victimised, and the whole process leads to better social cohesion and a reduction in polarisation. AFAIA very little money is spent on interfaith initiatives.

    The idiot fundamentalist thing was one example I pulled out of my arse, there are many other examples I can think of, “maybe God isn’t omnibenevolent”, ” maybe I should interact more with Christians”, “maybe banghra music isn’t all that bad”. The entrenched religious beliefs aren’t the only beliefs that any one community holds. And who knows? Someone may walk away questioning their own faith.

  8. Alastair says:

    Hi, met some of you guys last night at the ECG showing of Expelled. As a Christian I’d like to share my perspective on interfaith initiatives.

    1 – first of all, all of life is interfaith. In today’s multi-cultural inter-faith society, we work and live alongside people of different races, creeds, religions, culture, etc.

    2 – one of lies which post-modernism has helped to expose is the myth that these factors have no bearing on “real life” . The Enlightenment tried to put matters which could not be addressed by secular humanism in a very small box, and demanded such matters stay out of public life.

    3 – the reality is that one’s worldview, shaped from one’s culture, creeds, beliefs, philosophy, religion, faith, traditions, etc. has a huge and undeniable bearing upon one’s life, and upon the way we think, perceive and process things.

    4 – because of all of this, I am always eager to meet those from other cultural, religious, and/or spiritual backgrounds, in order to better appreciate and understand the variety of peoples and beliefs in the world.

    5 – in addition, in understanding other people, we can understand ourselves. It clarifies our own beliefs when we can come to a place of understanding of others

    6 – many worldviews / cultures / religions hold incorrect beliefs about other worldviews / cultures / religions. Interfaith dialogue can help each group understand what truth claims the other group is making, without having to assent to the said beliefs. For example, I once went into a mosque and was given a booklet about Christianity. I found the booklet to be littered with errors about what Christians ostensibly believe. I don’t expect Muslims to agree with Christians on many issues of faith, but I do expect them to sufficently investigate our faith in order for them to accurately report to others what we believe.

    7 – we can co-operate and work together with those of other faiths without having to convert to said faith.

    8 – its boring to be friends just with people who believe everything you do. Personally its fun to make friends and to work with those with differing beliefs.

    9 – interfaith dialogue gives us the chance to challenge one-another about what we believe. We should all be humble and admit we definately have it all right, and that we might have it completly wrong. We should have nothing to fear from open, honest discussion.

    That’ll do for now 🙂

  9. Alastair says:

    “and admit we definately have it all right” should have read “and admit we definately DON’T have it all right”

  10. Clare says:

    Yay for interfaith! Interfaith is hugely important. If you can’t tolerate views outside of your own, then that’s just bigoted. Also, interfaith events help people remember that behind belief systems and worldviews are people. The more we understand each other, the less afraid and hostile we become. Plus, from a purely tactical perspective getting involved in interfaith raises the profile of humanism and reminds people to include non-religious people in debates about ethics and living well,

  11. grammarking says:

    Yeah… so shut it Stuart… 😀

    Clare, I made the same tactical point to Alasdair McBay from the NSS on Monday. I’ve been to interfaith when nobody knew I was with the humanists and saw what happened. “Intellectually sucking each other off” was how I’d describe it. I much prefer to get our oar in and stir things up from the inside.

    Alasdair, I think I agree with all but 2), because I’m not sure what you mean. Cheers for dropping by.

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