Friday, June 21, 2013

Secular Approaches to Interfaith Part Two: Interfaith and Inclusion

In my previous piece about secular approaches to interfaith formation, Secular Approaches to Interfaith Part One: Interfaith and Honesty, I wondered if there might be certain kinds of faith and non-faith traditions that an interfaith group might want to exclude. Specifically I was thinking about those groups prone to hate and intolerance, such as an Aryan Church or the KKK. A broad, inclusive policy that welcomes all beliefs might seem like a good idea at first blush, but upon reflection problems occur.

It is a well known secret that interfaith attracts those believers of a more liberal or progressive world view. In conservative, evangelical churches terms like interfaith, social justice and economic justice are code words for a series of positions in support of the modern welfare state and even full on socialism. For some, social justice means taking away guns, giving money to women for abortions, and letting people get away with being lazy.

Another issue is the liberalizing nature of worldliness. Getting out of one's comfort zone and traveling to a strange country, or going to university, or engaging in interfaith work is a way by which many begin to rethink their deeply held beliefs. It is very hard to work side by side with a decent and kind person, all the while believing that your God is going to condemn that person to eternal torment for simply not being born in the right religion. Such interactions lead those of a compassionate nature almost inevitably to some form of universalism or agnosticism, if not full blown Humanism.

An interfaith group then, by its very nature, is self selecting. Conservative religious members do not seek to join such groups, except perhaps to test their faith or to garner converts. That being said, what of the idea then, of an interfaith group that does not make social justice issues a central priority, and instead functions as a sort of professional association for clergy members? Under this formulation, an interfaith group would not be about potentially contentious social issues or engaged in any efforts that might better society. Instead, a professional association of clerics would concentrate on the kind of training and support any clergy member might need to more effectively administrate their religious community.

Certain aspects of running a religious community are the same no matter one's religious beliefs. A cleric seeking help dealing with administrative issues, generic counseling concerns, governmental paperwork and permits, building upkeep, and other practical, non-spiritual concerns might certainly benefit from the counsel of experienced members of an interfaith group. This kind of interfaith group might not necessarily scare off leaders of conservative, ethnic and orthodox faiths, though that is not certain. Issues of gender, LGBTQ status, race and religious identity might still surface, which would bring up all the concerns about the liberalizing effects of interfaith that I talked about earlier.

However, even if such a system could work, and members of ethnic, orthodox and conservative religions felt comfortable availing themselves of the services such a professional association might provide, why would a liberal, socially committed church leader or interfaith practitioner choose to render such assistance? Imagine a newly formed church with very conservative views regarding women, LGBT, and race, views that might, under some evaluations, fall into the category of extreme intolerance or even hate. This group doesn't have to be unambiguously hateful, like the KKK, it might fall into a more difficult to assess middle ground, where some people see the church as hateful and others as merely conservative.

Either way, why would persons committed to social justice seek to help groups that have committed themselves to causes that are in direct opposition to their own? Apparently the very process of trying to include the conservative, orthodox and ethnic churches could exclude those of more liberal faiths and ideologies.

It seems to me that an interfaith group needs to establish itself along some kind of political axis by openly and plainly coming out for or against social and economic justice. Rather than constructing language that is "evocative" and "broad" a group's founding documents needs language that is specific, clear and honest. The group itself needs to stand squarely on certain principles and values.

Values that I, as a secular Humanist would see included are:
-A commitment to the strict separation of church and state, guaranteeing every person freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, and freedom from religion.

-A commitment to combating prejudice and oppression through social action.

-A strong commitment to the protection and expansion of human rights.

-A commitment to safe and open dialog, and to the endeavor of free inquiry.
-A commitment to social and economic justice.
And perhaps most importantly of all,
-A commitment to truth.
Comments are welcome.

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