1. EVERYONE HAS A FORM OF FAITH OR BELIEF SYSTEM
There are many names for this : a faith, belief system, philosophy of life, personal ideology.
2. IT MAY BE EXPLICIT OR IMPLICIT
When consciously expressed in words, the belief system is explicit. When the belief or thought system is sensed but unarticulated, either by preference or lack of reflection, it is implicit. An implicit system, like an explicit, still has a governing influence on a person’s life. Often consciously held beliefs are in conflict with unconsciously held ones. This produces hypocrisy. When the consciously held beliefs are harmonised with the unconsciously held, there is integrity.
3. IT MAY TAKE A VARIETY OF FORMS
Both theism and atheism are affirmations of certainty, while agnosticism is an attitude of uncertainty. Gnosticism places the emphasis on knowledge rather than belief. A gnostic seeks to know the Divine rather than believe in the Divine. The agnostic, like the gnostic keeps the focus on knowledge (or lack of it). The theist believes (has faith) in God. The a-theist does not believe (has no faith) in God. For both, the accent is on belief.
4. IT HAS A PRIVATE AND PUBLIC ASPECT
There is a continuum of experience on this private(spiritual)-public(communal) spectrum. At one end may be those who style themselves ‘Spiritual But Not Religious’ (SBNR), and for whom spiritual practice has a uniquely private quality. Yet even they will tend to gather with the like-minded, perhaps in an informal community. At the other end of the spectrum are those whose faith life is inextricably linked to organised religion - their church, temple, synagogue, mosque or tribal circle is the core of their community, with its liturgy or public expression of faith and worship. There must yet be for these some inner life of prayer, meditation or reflection, so that they do not succumb to dead ritual.
5. ENGAGING THE OTHER REQUIRES INTERFAITH SKILLS
Without the skills, the space between faiths becomes a toxic wasteland - unholy rather than holy ground. The skills are techniques, which do not produce forgiveness, reconciliation and peace in themselves, but help remove the barriers to the manifesting of all such good, true and beautiful graces. In particular, there needs be awareness of the process of psychological projection, whereby we demonise other faith adherents who may have embraced elements of belief and thought that we have disowned.
Extending from the individual's core to the periphery of planetary consciousness, there are 4 levels on which conflict resolution is practised: intrapersonal, interpersonal, intrafaith and interfaith; that is, within oneself; between oneself and others in one's immediate circle; between factions, groupings or segments within one's larger faith community; and between one's faith community taken as a whole and other faith and ideological communities. This last - interfaith conflict resolution - not only cannot neglect the the preceding three levels, but necessarily presupposes their integral development.
6. WE ENGAGE THROUGH FOUR INTERFAITH PERSPECTIVES
These are exclusivism, inclusivism, relativism and universalism.
(i) Exclusivism means my/our belief system is right and everyone else’s is wrong. It is an obvious feature of fundamentalist interpretations, but it is also a latent intransigence in any belief system. Every definition of belief, in preserving its specific identity has a limit as to how flexible it can be, how far it can compromise. The identity of definition means a line is drawn somewhere - and that line is a battleline in interfaith conflict. Often this line is only discovered through polemic, debate and intense circumstances.
(ii) Inclusivism means that one’s belief is inclusive and respectful of the truth in other belief systems. Other beliefs may be regarded as embodying portions, large or small, of the whole truth, if not to the complete extent that one’s own belief embodies truth. They may be regarded as part of an historical progression towards the fullness of truth. Alternatively they may be seen as a later departure from or falling away from the fullness of truth. Inclusivism does not want to “throw the baby out with the bath water”, as it were, and seeks to work with and strengthen the elements of common truth between the belief systems.
(iii) Relativism is the attitude that there is only ‘my truth’ and ‘your truth’, ‘our truth’ and ‘their truth’, even when we affirm belief in absolutes. The perspective denies that there could be a dogmatic source of truth that stands independent of the beliefs held by the individual, even if the individual subscribes to dictates that are binding on all people. A corollary is that access to truth is off a level playing field and, in a way, no-one has a special pipeline to God or insight into ultimate questions. This does not mean that there are only so many opinions and no such thing as knowledge, but it does mean that there is no knowledge free from opinion.
(iv) Universalism in the religious domain usually means universal salvation - the belief that all shall be saved. Here the term is employed to refer to the perspective that deep down there is one belief system common to all, i.e. universal. Every human being ultimately belongs to one all-inclusive faith community; and participates to some degree in the one world religion. Exclusivism also affirms one true faith, one among many - which already exists, requiring no further development. Universalism holds out the possibility of evolutionary development. The emergent future one world religion is a potential in the process of actualisation. It actualises through the transformative evolution of the existing religions on the planet.
7. MISSION REALISES OUR RELIGIOUS POTENTIAL
The project of self-realisation concerns every human being : the unfoldment of native talents and powers of service in a life well and fully lived. To grow to our full potential, to complete ourselves, to become the living embodiment of our highest religious ideals, we must be on mission. Mission is carried out through the four perspectives stated above. There is a paradox whereby we complete ourselves by losing ourselves or giving ourselves to others. Mission is a reaching out to the other. Far from paternalistic, it is a humble and compassionate encounter with those different-from-me. To be on mission one cannot merely cling to the known; one must be moving toward the unknown.
8. INCORPORATING THE FOUR MISSIONARY IMPULSES ACHIEVES UNITY IN DIVERSITY
Balancing the four missionary vectors reminds us that we may not merely be one or the other; especially at a given moment or in a given set of circumstances. In this way we avoid getting stuck with a one-dimensional, inadequate understanding of our own faith and those of others. Like the rich, riotous variety of flowers that go to make up one large and complex garden, the wondrous diversity of beliefs need not be seen as the enemy of interfaith harmony. Our oneness as a race, as a “family of religious beings”, has manifold expression. On the many paths back to the Source we strengthen our solidarity with fellow travellers, and we are free to believe and hope that our fellow travellers may be destined for the same Source as ourselves. This is unity in diversity.
9. HARMONY AND PEACE ARE TRANSCENDENTAL.
Peace, like the blessings of love and hope, has a supernatural quality to it. It is more like a miraculous blessing than a construction of our human efforts. This is the sense in which the object of the quest is transcendental. The pulling apart and pitting of one fragment of consciousness against another, whether at the individual or collective level, is the sense of “analytic”, and is not productive of harmony or peace. Peace is “synthetic” in the sense of coming together in wholeness. It is the resolution aspect of conflict resolution and requires a kind of quantum leap, a metaperspective insight into a greater whole, not at the same level of the conflict.
10. INNER PEACE LEADS TO PEACEMAKING IN THE WORLD
Any kind of political or religious activism, even in the name of peace, without the proper inner foundation cannot succeed. Outer peace, in society, is the externalisation of an inner peace. As the fragmentation of consciousness is settled, and a sense of the pristine wholeness of being arises, it extends outwards to the world. The insight that “I am the world” is the awareness that all the conflicts and opportunities in the global community have their correspondence within myself. The individual is a fractal of society; a microcosm of the macrocosm. Resolution arises within and extends from there.
11. THE LAY PERSON IS SUITED TO SHOWING THE FAITHS’ COMMONALITIES
Faith traditions typically develop orders and a class of specialised religious “professionals”. Part of their role is to provide expert opinion on matters of doctrine, and establish the boundaries of what constitutes right belief. This tends to highlight differences between traditions and, if not tempered by interfaith bridge building and honest and fair explanations of why groups go independent ways, it can exacerbate conflict. The laity - ordinary faith adherents who are not part of the specialised religious hierarchy and who are largely concerned with worldly and temporal matters - have an important balancing role to play in affirming the commonalities shared by diverse believers. Bonds of goodwill, affection and friendship, generated in daily relationships, is the mortar of the interfaith edifice.
12. ORTHOPRAXY PRECEDES ORTHODOXY
Orthodoxy or right doctrine is important, but if people are too inhibited to relate naturally to others for fear of breaching it, it can be a stumbling block to interfaith community. Truth should stand the test of one's own experience. When orthodoxy, an intellectual construction, is not at the forefront of interfaith relations, but follows behind orthopraxy (right practice), there can be a more relaxed atmosphere conducive to bonding via the feelings and via the multitude of shared common interests that characterise humanity. People of goodwill - whether of a belief or nonbelief - show a remarkable degree of convergence in practically addressing the needs of a suffering world. They exhibit a great similarity of outlook in the way they discharge their civic responsibility.