Today is where I finally give in to another “cosmic conspiracy.” For those who may not be familiar with such things, a “cosmic conspiracy” is where a topic or train of thought keeps coming up in my daily life to the degree that I begin to suspect that the very universe is conspiring against me to force me to face and grapple with that particular topic or train of thought. Today’s “cosmic conspiracy” (I use the quotes because I refuse to accept the idea that the universe really conspires against people) has to do with the topics of interfaith relations and interfaith dialogue. Actually, I’m just going to use the word interfaith relationships because I believe that dialogue is just a natural part of relationships, so it makes sense to roll the latter into the former.
A lot of people are talking about interfaith relationships right now. And I think that’s a great thing. I’m all for interfaith relationships, myself. It’s a good thing, too, because there are a lot of them in my life.
For this post, I’d like to try and focus on what interfaith relationships are really all about and why they’re important. Obviously, any answers I give will be my personal answers. Other people may see things differently and therefore may disagree with me in part or entirely. But as someone who engages in interfaith relationships regularly and seeks to increase my involvement in them, I think it’s important to explore my answers to these questions.
First, I would like to point out that faith traditions do not have relationships. Faith traditions are abstract concepts. Abstract concepts do not have relationships. Relationships require actors with personality. So people have relationships. Those people’s faith traditions just come along for the ride. Certainly, those faith traditions may influence and otherwise become reflected in the relationships, but in the end, the relationships are really about the people. No relationship — interfaith or not — works out unless those involved really grasp the truth of that statement. Because anything that isn’t about the people involved isn’t a relationship at all.
People surround us every day of our lives. Some of those people are going to be of different faith traditions. When we come into contact with those people, we have to make a choice. We can ignore them and pretend they’re not there. While such a choice may make sense in isolated cases, the effort of ignoring someone we see regularly can be inconvenient and even quite difficult. This is especially true of this person is a coworker, a friend’s significant other, or otherwise has any sort connection to us that would make avoiding any relationship altogether nearly impossible.
We can treat a person with hostility, keeping them at arms length. Again, this is rarely an effective strategy. In addition to being problematic if the person is someone we might be forced to have some sort of relationship with for other reasons, it takes a lot of energy to maintain and live in a state of hostility. That sort of thing tends to take its toll on us.
Our final option is to engage the person and establish a relationship. That relationship can be casual or intimate, depending on numerous factors. But in the long run, this choice is usually the healthiest and most convenient one.
I will also admit that on personal level, I enjoy building relationships. I love people and I love interacting with them. So I’m certainly biased in favor of this last option anyway. However, I will note that my bias does not necessarily negate the accuracy of my analysis of the other options.
Once we’ve accepted that engaging people in relationships is the best option, we are faced with another choice. We must decide whether we will allow our individual faith traditions to come into the picture. There’s certainly no rule that states that we must discuss our faith traditions into every relationship we have. In some cases, avoiding the subject makes perfect sense. For example, it’s not relevant in my relationship with my coworkers, so I generally don’t bring it up.
However, our faith traditions are usually important to us as people. As such, not discussing them with the people we relate to creates and maintains a certain amount of distance in our relationships. After all, it creates a part of us that is “off limits” and closed off to the other person. While this is acceptable in casual relationships where other factors are more important, it will not work with close friendships and other intimate relationships.
Similarly, the other person’s faith tradition is important to them. If we refuse to discuss and engage with their faith tradition, we have created an impediment for close relationship. I might as well change the subject abruptly every time a close friend brings up the topic of his children. I have no doubt that the net result would be similar.
There are other reasons why I find interfaith relationships both necessary and important, and I hope to share them in a future post. I also hope to discuss some of the pitfalls common in interfaith relationships. But for now, I would like to close by reiterating that like any relationship, interfaith relationships are about people. They are important because people are important. At least that’s the understanding I choose to live by.
This post has been submitted to the October 2008 Interfaith Dialogue synchroblog. The following is a list of other participants in the synchroblog.
- J. R. Miller (Christian) of More Than Cake on A Christian Approach to Interfaith Dialogue”
- Liz Dyer (Christian) of Grace Rules on Interreligious Dialogue: Risky Business
- Matt Stone (Christian) of Glocal Christianity on Is Interfaith Interfaith enough?
- Steve Hayes (Christian Orthodox) of Notes from underground on Interreligious dialogue
- K.W. Leslie (Christian / Pentecostal / Assemblies of God) of The Evening of Kent on Gathering with the pagans.
- Phil Wyman (Christian) of Square No More on A Christian Presenter at Pagan Pride!?
- Beth Patterson (Liberal Christian w/ Celtic undertones) of Virtual Tea House on Same Stove, Different Teapots
- Yvonne Aburrow (Wiccan Unitarian) of the dance of the elements on Only connect
- Andii Bowsher (Christian) of nouslife on More Tea Wicca?
Be sure to check out my fellow synchrobloggers!