Symposium on Muslims, Christians and Jews

 

ĎAn open look at what brings us togetherí

 

5 November 2005

 

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Prayer

 

I have been asked by the organisers to begin with a prayer. As a Christian I pray from within that tradition.

 

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

Heavenly Father, we gather to listen to your Spirit as you call to us in the quietness of our hearts and as you speak to us through our brothers and sisters assembled here.

 

Grant to us all the gift of love, not only for our families and friends, but for all people and especially those whose customs, ways and beliefs differ from our own.

 

Guide and protect all who are gathered here. Preserve us from thoughts that are wrong, from words that hurt and from actions that harm. Enable us all to serve you and each other with generosity of spirit and for the good of the whole community.

 

Hear our prayer through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Now I am invited to speak from a Christian perspective about some of the values that Christian, Moslem and Jewish people might share, some of the things that might bring us together.

 

First of all, though, I should acknowledge that there are significant differences between Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

Itís not a matter of all religions being the same at root. Thatís not the case. There are differences in what people of different faiths believe. For example Christians believe that God is the Holy Trinity Ė Father, Son and Holy Spirit - and in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. An those beliefs that make Christianity quite different from Islam or Judaism. So itís no good pretending the faiths are all the same or that that all see God in the same way, because I think itís very clear that they donít. Theyíre different.

But having said that, as well as there being big differences between the faiths there are also some points of agreement or similarity.

Let me suggest three:

First as I understand it all three faiths see human life as more than functional. That is, the truth about human beings is more than their usefulness in economic processes. I think Iím right in saying that all three faiths believe there is a fundamental value and dignity to human life, and they all believe, in some way, in a life beyond this life. So there are some similarities there in the way the three faiths view and understand what it means to be human.

Secondly, all three faiths I think emphasise the importance of the family. The family is important in the nurturingand expressing faith among its own members as well as being central in ensuring the cohesion of the wider society. I thnk the way the family is seen would be another area where there would be strong similarities and common elements among the three faiths.

And thirdly, though we might get there by different routes and different ways of thinking, I think we do reach similar conclusions about a range of ethical and social questions in todays world. So I think thereís a fair degree of agreement about issues like abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research and so on. That agreement allows us to act together.

So the situation we face is one in which there are significant differences in what we believe but also important areas of agreement among us especially in terms of the values which underpin our daily life.

The other important element of our current situation is the world we live in. With developing technology we are living in a smaller and smaller world where no part is isolated from another part. People of different faiths now regularly encounter each other. We must find ways to leave together in this world with peace and justice. Sadly, at the moment some people resort to violence to achieve their ends.

In this situation I think that people of faith, from whatever religious tradition, must try to be part of the solution and not become part of the problem.

There are some basic attitudes that will help us to be part of the solution.

First, we should recognise that no religion or culture is perfect. We need to be honest about the good and the bad in our own faith and our own culture as well as in others. And we must avoid equating the worst in another faith or culture with the whole of it, and the best in our own faith and culture with the whole of it.

Second we must admit that generally we are appallingly ignorant of other religions and cultures. We must make some effort to learn and understand. Where ignorance continues it breeds fear and prejudice.

Third we should celebrate the common ground we find between us as well as understanding better the differences.

Fourth there needs to be face to face meetings of people from different faiths and cultures so they can come to know each other, learn from each other and become peacemakers together.

Fifth in situations where there doesnít seem to be any hope of dialogue or peaceful coexistence we should work hard at being especially patient and persevering. That may be costly in all sorts of ways.

In the long run that cost, significant as it is, may not be as great as the alternative.

If we can all bring these attitudes to bear in our discussions and our relating to each other then I think people of faith can be part of the solution our world needs.

These attitudes depend on an underlying outlook which is a kind of spirituality, I think. Itís a spirituality based on thoughfulness and humility. We each have a responsibility to keep deepening our understanding of the truth and to keep expressing what we believe to be true. But we should do that in a humble way, recognising that the truth about the infinity of God is bigger than any human mind can grasp fully. That means that each of us has only a partial grasp of the truth. It also means that if we are prepared to listen carefully and thoughfully to another personís grasp of the truth then we might learn something more ourselves and so deepen our own understanding of the truth.