The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
December 2015 – Vol. 18 Issue 10
Over a hundred people attended the latest potluck Dialogue Dinner on November 8th at Northlake Unitarian Universalist Church in Kirkland, WA. Sponsored by Fostering Interfaith Relationships on the Eastside, it featured panelists who addressed what people can do “When Faith and Public Life Collide.”
Adel Andraws of the Coptic Orthodox Church told how Coptic Christians have been persecuted since the 1st century, by the Roman Empire, other Christians, and finally Muslims. Much of this persecution had to do with Copts not conforming in public life: refusing to participate in civic religious sacrifices, keeping the Egyptian language instead of Arabic, refusing polygamy and divorce, etc. Recently many Coptic Churches in Egypt have been burned. He believes that God left people free to choose their religion, since God could have forced all to adopt one religion. Therefore, we should respect others’ religious choices, accept each other as we are, and open our hearts to all without condemnation.
Elise DeGooyer emphasized diversity within a Catholic Church that is deeply involved with social justice issues. For example, while the Committee of Bishops Association issued a statement that not all people should have access to contraceptives, Catholic women protested this policy. The death penalty is another area of internal disagreement. It is a big church containing a variety of responses to public life. Because it’s easy to become frustrated and angry when working for social change, we need to form partnerships with those in other groups to move toward the common good. She mentioned the Parliament of the World’s Religions as a positive effort in this direction.
Pastor Bob Lewis of Faith Lutheran Church pointed to Martin Luther’s concept of two kingdoms: on God’s right hand is faith, on his left the state. Therefore, there is no “Christian” way to vote, only Christians who vote. The Evangelical Lutheran Church has taken divisive stands, on same sex clergy for example, but members are all part of the same body and can disagree. Forging personal relationships in spite of divisions is the place to start, he felt, and this is true also in interfaith work.
Lynn Fitz-Hugh mentioned the many times Quakers have engaged with public life, such as abolition, women’s rights, and establishing conscientious objection. With the Mennonite Brothers, they hold that the biblical injunction not to kill is meant literally, and this gets Quakers in trouble with the civil powers. Quaker congregations have Clearness Committees that evaluate whether people have been led to an act of civil disobedience as a spiritual witness or from other reasons, such as ego. More broadly, all people are bound together in their search for truth and each has a glimmer of truth within them. In public life we need to find ways to respect each other instead of holding that because the majority rules, the minority must give way. We should look harder for win-win solutions.
Ryan Litchfield explained how Mormons have been persecuted from their beginnings in the 1820s and only in the 20th century have been recognized as hardworking, upright citizens by society at large. However, the Mormons believe in ongoing revelation and that their church is led by living prophets of God. They will stick with their revealed doctrines until further revelation indicates a change because only God can change doctrine, irrespective of what society accepts as correct at any given time. He repeated twice that “100 years ago all of us were souls together awaiting birth on earth, universal brothers and sisters,” saying that if we could keep that expansive perspective, there would be much more harmony in the world. In the face of disagreements, we can hold on to our universal sense of right and wrong and our commonalities as human beings.
Dr. Turan Kayaoglu, a Turkish Muslim, pointed out that there are 100,000 Muslims in Washington State and 80% are immigrants. They follow the politics and conflicts here and in their native countries. Daily life impacts their practice of religion, such as having appropriate food served in schools and prisons or the ability to wear headscarves at work. Being a Muslim in America is challenging, with constant questions about whether they can be good Americans. This hostility and suspicion is wearing. Islam has very strong moral teachings about social justice, combating religious extremism, and providing charity. People of all religions need to act on their moral teachings, so they become a living experience. Also we need to have faith in young people who are moving away from religious dogmatism and want a message of tolerance.
Michal Ramos of the Church Council of Greater Seattle represented an interfaith perspective. He mentioned Thomas Merton, who held that in interfaith dialogue we need to go to the depths of our own tradition in order to find common ground with others. Also Dorothy Day, who worked for labor rights and the poor, the Christianity of the bread lines. She was ostracized by the Catholic Church but is now raised up. America has freedom of religion and no imposed religion. It is a challenge to stay at the table together when we are in conflict. But we are one people who need each other, and need to make the effort to get to know and trust each other.
“Prayers and sacrifice must be used as the most effective spiritual weapons in the war against war, and like all weapons they must be used with deliberate aim: not just with a vague aspiration for peace and security, but against violence and against war. This implies that we are also willing to sacrifice and restrain our own instinct for violence and aggressiveness in our relations with other people. We may never succeed in this campaign, but whether we succeed or not, the duty is evident.… And the first job of all is to understand the psychological forces at work in ourselves and in society.” – Thomas Merton
Religion as motivation and justification for bigotry and violence is increasingly in the news, with terrorist attacks only the most extreme expression of intolerance among those of many faiths. Clearly, humanity has a dark side and, as human institutions, so do religions. Acknowledging these negative elements – especially in our own religion – lets us confront them rather than deny their existence or their connection to what we hold dear. But good will and mutual respect are also widespread. This was seen at the Ahmadiyya Muslim’s annual observance of Religious Founders’ Day, which honors founders of all religions, this year with the theme, “Pathways to Peace.” Held on November 15th at the Ahmadiyyas’s new mosque in Monroe, it featured panelists from Christ Church Monroe, Temple Kol Ami, the Sikh Center of Seattle and Ahmadiyya Muslims. A good crowd from surrounding communities attended to meet their new Muslim neighbors, especially in light of the Paris attacks just two days before.
In introductory remarks, Irfan Chaudhry, President of the Seattle Ahmadiyyas, presented his organization as an Islamic revival movement which rejects terrorism, promotes universal human rights, and endorses separation of mosque and state. Since its inception 125 years ago, the Ahmadiyya motto has been, “Love for all, hatred toward none.” Imam Zafar Sarwar, the Muslim panelist, held that the Qur’an and Muhammad’s example give principles for establishing peace in the world. In his last address in Mecca, Muhammad said that God was one and all people are one and born equal, with no superiority by ethnicity or color but only through piety and good deeds. Once victorious, he forbade revenge on those who had tried to exterminate the Muslims; violence was only justified in self-defense. Both Muslim speakers quoted from the Qur’an that to take one human life unjustly is as if to kill all mankind; to save a life is as if to save all mankind.
Rev. Michael Hanford stressed that Jesus brought God’s kingdom to earth. Christians are those who, by accepting Jesus into their hearts, become members of that kingdom. This should not only bring inner peace but also entail striving to embody love for God, each other, neighbors and enemies, pursuing peace with all people and speaking up for those in need and against injustice in all its forms. Peace in the individual leads to peace in the family, the community and finally the world. Rev. Hanford felt ignorance is the greatest enemy of peace, and the remedy is to get to know each other, especially by acting together for the common good.
Rabbi Yohanna Kinberg emphasized the need to pursue peace actively. “If the one who makes peace in the high heavens is to make peace among us, we have to pursue that peace. It is our choice.” She further held that achieving peace may mean giving up a little of our own truth telling in order to achieve harmony. It’s not necessary to all believe the same.
Sikh Ish Singh became more serious about his religion when he felt surrounded by conflicts and exasperating people. He was particularly impressed with the fifth Sikh Guru, who was tortured for seven days and then killed, but never lost his calmness or balance. This Guru said that repeating a prayer for peace would cause all one’s problems to go away. Mr. Singh was skeptical but decided to try. He found that reciting the prayer when disturbed did raise him to a higher level, but only temporarily. Seeking to understand why led to introspection, then changes in his life. Eventually he transformed himself. The problems, he discovered, were inside of him, not outside. Just as the Sikh Gurus taught by example, we have to treat others well first, then they are apt to reciprocate.
Many have recognized the important role of spirit in finding a workable pathway to peace. General Douglas MacArthur, one of the greatest modern military minds, believed that “The next great advance in the evolution of civilization cannot take place until war is abolished.” He saw that the problem of eliminating war is basically “theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence and improvement of human character that will synchronize with our almost matchless advances in science, art, literature, and all material and cultural developments of the past 2000 years. It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh.” Perhaps we should take the General seriously, making pursuing peace in our own life, family, community, nation and religion a top priority.