December 4, 2016

Marc Gafni on the positive and shadow sides of the interfaith movement

Marc Gafni, Director of the Center for World Spirituality, reflects on the article by Rabbi David Rosen, writing in Huffington Post (described in a recent blog post here) which gave his view on the importance of the launch on Monday of the King Abdullah Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue. In this 22-minute audio clip, Spirit’s Next Move Executive Editor Joe Perez invites Marc to reflect on this important moment in the emergence of the global religious interfaith movement.

Listen to the dialogue and read a partial transcript:

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In this section of the reflection, Marc describes both the upside and downside to the interfaith movement:

Interfaith dialogue — its great contribution — is that instead of faiths engaging in an aggressive, brutal contestation. (Contestation is the formal technical word, arguments between the faiths in which one faith considers the others infidel, or makes a distinction between those who are chosen and those who aren’t … but then even worse, says that those who aren’t … the people of Islam vs. the people of the sword, the infidel is to be killed.) That’s one of the great tragedies of ethnocentric consciousness. Interfaith movement challenges that consciousness from within, meaning people who are completely committed to their faith actually come and say even though we are committed to our faith and the great texts of our faith seem to command violence towards one another, we actually accept the deeper consciousness of peace and love and toleration in our faith, so we each hold our own position. We think the other is completely wrong. And yet we want to engage in a deep level of mutual respect.

That’s fantastic. In some sense the early interfaith movement in the Church in the mid-50s was a result of the Church’s complicity in the Holocause. The Catholic Church — Pope Pius — has a dismal record in relationship to the Holocause and Pope John in the mid-50s had this realization that the Church had to do its own kind of atoning and in particular needed to change its doctrine that the Jews were responsible for killing Christ. Deocide, the killing of God, for which the Jews were being held responsible. Let’s leave aside the absurdity of how can somebody kill God. When you demonize someone you never let things like that get in the way.

The structure of demonization is very powerful. The structure of demonization is that you do something bad to someone because you are afraid or jealous of them. The Church attacks the Jews believes that Jews rejected Jesus. So the Church attacks the Jews. That’s one. Once you attack someone, you have to justify it. That’s two. Friends of yours, people in your hierarchy are afraid or have vested interests which support the demonization. That’s three. Finally, four, good people stand by and do nothing. That’s how it happens. That happened with the Christian Church vis-a-vis the Jews was set in stone at least from the time of Constantine in 315 C.E. at least until the early sixties. That’s shocking. That created an enormous amount of tragic murder and violence and the early interfaith impetus was to overcome that violence through creating  interfaith bridge of mutual respect and tolerance for the basic human dignity of each other.

So David Rosen’s work seems to be in this interfaith gestalt which is unbelievably important. So the first thing we would want to do from the Center for World Spirituality is bow to this great work. It’s not the work that we’re doing. That’s not where we’re focused. Dr. Rosen and many other people who work with him have great skill and depth in this, and they have our full support and admiration.

That’s point one. Now we get to point two. As interfaith emerged in the early and later sixties, someone said something about it which really captured its weakness. Someone said that interfaith dialogue between Jews and Christians in the United States, which was largely run by very liberal Jews who were very alienated form their own source of tradition and largely not deeply familiar with the integrity of own sources, basically liberal reformed Jews very distant from their sources and liberal Protestants distant from the mysteries of Christianity. Somebody said that interfaith is when Jews who don’t believe in Judaism get together with Christians who don’t believe in Christianity and discover they have a lot in common. That’s the shadow of interfaith. The strength is everything we talked about until now.

The weakness is that the leaders of interfaith often didn’t come from … not Dr. Rosen, who is not of this ilk … came from the idea that really our traditions aren’t important. They’re all basically saying the same thing. And why should there be any distinction at all? Let’s just all agree that we’re all wonderful people and respect each other. Which is in part wonderful, and in part difficult because then you lose the great Unique Self contribution of every tradition. Each tradition has a Unique Self and its own unique set of gifts. Interfaith was often driven by people who didn’t recognize the great unique lineage obligation and mystery that was held by each tradition. It was a reduction of the mystery, a great of the mystery that became the ground of a civil discourse which lost the great depth of revelation and realization of the traditions.

That’s how we take issue with interfaith — interfaith both in its positive and in its shadow.

Download to the entire reflection by Marc Gafni or listen to it below.

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  1. [...] all expressions of universal spirituality and World Spirituality includes all of them. In a recent audio dialogue posted on Spirit’s Next Move, CWS Director Marc Gafni discusses the similarities and [...]

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