November 14, 2005
-- Martin E. Marty
Most sightings of religion in public life rely on print or screen. This week, let them be in person. My "interfaith" week began with friendly-to-religions humanists in an ad hoc presentation at the Chicago Humanities Festival. Next it was to Louisville, for the Cathedral Heritage Foundation's tenth annual Festival of Faiths, the most sustained and ambitious enterprise of this sort that I know of. It is Catholically located and utterly interfaith. Then it was to the Chicago Interfaith Gathering, propelled—with help from numerous institutions—by the Turkish-American Niagara Foundation. (Never mind the anomalous "Niagara"; it is based in Chicago.) End of autobiography.
No, disregard that premature line. I have one more personal thing to say, which is this: While I have been involved in Christian ecumenical and then inter-religious events for a half century, I have never considered myself a type that its critics call "interfaithy." Like many of those critics, I was not moved by inter-religious events whose sponsors and ethos suggested that in our various faith communities we are all one and the same, but with different names and superficial markings. A score of years on the inter-religious conflict front has taught me how deeply grounded most people of faith are, and how little satisfied or motivated they can be when the call is to sameness, superficiality, and the "we are all in different boats heading for the same shore" ethos.
Today we confront new questions, and most inter-faith agencies are moving beyond "mere" ceremony, niceness, and display (if they were ever there), to education, common action, and the like. I spoke at a National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ, with the "CJ" formerly being "Christians and Jews") event in Detroit some years ago, in an African American church where there were present more Muslims than Jews, and the Muslims were of several sorts. The Niagara Foundation is too new to have a track record, but, while it deals with "all" religions, it can do its best work on Muslim-and-Everybody-Else fronts.
What leads me to return to Louisville—besides friendship, which was also a lure with leadership at the other two sites last week—is the way its leaders guide participants to educate young and old. One year the faiths represented thereabouts dealt with the question, How does your faith community regard family? Another year it was, How do you and yours interpret texts? Good.
But there are two "alases": First, while almost "all the religions" are part of most of these gatherings, conservative Protestants shun them—sometimes because they have the old model in mind, and they don't want to be seen as the "same" when, like everyone else, they are "different." One hopes that they will enter the scene soon.
Second, these institutions and events represent investments that are dwarfed by the huge expenditures devoted to religious hate, conflict, exclusiveness, competition, and even lethal ventures. In the new millennium, and against all odds, some believers believe that, over against the negatives, some energies should go into positive relations among people who will not give up what is important to them, but put it to work. They teach, and they are learning.
I suppose most religionists can tell you why hate inspires more devotion than love, but the faiths in their various ways teach that love should have a hearing. Hear!
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.