WHAT IS INTERFAITH?

~by Rev. Leland Stewart

“Those virtues that befit dignity are forbearance, mercy, compassion, and loving kindness towards all the peoples and kindreds of the earth.”
~  Baha’i faith, Science and Spirituality, page 170

 

There are many levels of interfaith.  The beginning of the process is the coming together of people and/or leaders of various faiths to share their views of faith and how they can get along with each other even though their different religions and spiritual movements have different understandings of life.  Few, if any, of these people change their faith as the result of their dialog.

Other dimensions of interfaith are when a person changes his/her faith and stays with the new faith.  Still others join a new faith for a time and then return to the original faith, probably enriched by the experience.  An additional outcome of the interfaith experience is that a person follows two or more religions.  The most changed perspective is with those who let go of their original faith and take on an exploration of all religions and spiritual movements.

Some people have no regard for religion in any of its forms.  Certainly there are many examples of religions who hate each other and as a result engage in violent behavior.  The role of interfaith in this regard is to help such people to find out what religion is supposed to be in promoting mutual respect and understanding.

Interfaith is growing rapidly as people realize the need for the religions to get along with each other.  Two examples of the rapid growth of interfaith are the Parliament of the World’s Religions.  Last October the Parliament held its meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah, with almost ten thousand people in attendance.  The United Religions Initiative since the year 2000 has started more than 500 cooperation circles in a large number of countries.  There are about twenty interfaith organizations just in the Los Angeles area alone.

It is true that in the various faiths, certain people take on the interfaith work, and others continue just paying attention to their own faith.  One of the tasks of interfaith now is to help those other individuals to realize the importance of interfaith and begin to get involved.

Is interfaith a religion?  For most people it is not.  However, for some of the people who are most involved it serves as a faith with all of its inspiration and power.  Those who have transcended their original faiths do need that kind of spiritual awakening and call to service.  What it should be called, and what forms it will take are yet to be decided.

Spirit is One; paths are many!!!

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TREAT OTHERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE OTHERS TREAT YOU

by Rev. Leland Stewart

“Ethics consist in my experiencing the compulsion to show all will-to-live the same reverence as I do to my own life.”    – Albert Schweitzer, Science and Spirituality, page 143

The theme of our message is the Golden Rule, which in some form is present in all religions.  It is the heart of ethics, which has to do with the relation of one human being to another and to all humanity and all life.  The same ethics apply in government as in our individual lives, and a responsible society needs to have a powerful ethical basis in order to fulfill its mission.

This applies to how a society handles its finances as well as in every other aspect.  Not every person and organization in our society should have the same amount of money available to spend, but a society in which the 1% has as much money as the other 99% is clearly out of bounds for a responsible society.  There need to be laws that prevent this unbalance, but an important part of changing the balance should be based on what is ethical.  When 44,000 people in Los Angeles County alone are homeless, while others live in exorbitant luxury is clearly out of balance and in need of the increase of ethical principles and governmental support.

Dr. Albert Schweitzer, who is quoted at the beginning of this message, says in his Philosophy of Civilization, that civilization is essentially ethical in character.  The transitional nature of our present condition, moving from the end of western civilization to the birth of global civilization, is that our sense of the need for ethics has weakened, and with it the quality of civilization itself.  Our awareness of human values needs to be expanded now to include all races, cultures, and religions.  Making the transition from the predominance of western civilization over others to where a global standard is necessary takes time and patience, but we need to understand where we are going and why we now need a global ethic.

The Parliament of World Religions in 1993 introduced “A Global Ethic”, which since that time has been kept alive and further developed.  It is becoming the task of religions cooperating with each other to make clear what the global ethic will look like, and eventually to put forth a code of living that gives guidance to the emerging global civilization.  The second part of Schweitzer’s book has as its title, “Civilization and Ethics”.  In his later life, Schweitzer had a spiritual experience while on the Ogowe River in Africa, in which we became aware that the central teaching of the new ethic is “Reverence for Life”.  The Golden Rule is very similar in its focus to this teaching.

It is time that the world as a whole, and in particular the United States of America, chooses to live by a personal, social, and global ethic that is based on respect for all life.  Our survival depends upon it.

May peace prevail on earth!!!

THE FUTURE OF THE INTERFAITH MOVEMENT (Relating to the Parliament of the World’s Religions)

[editor’s note: this is an older letter by Rev. Leland Steward from Nov., 2015. Sorry, I was not able to update the site for a while]

Relating to the Parliament of the World’s Religions

“The time for the healing of the wounds has come.  The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come.  The time to build is upon us.”  –Nelson Mandela, quoted in Science and Spirituality, page 169

Many people who are interested in the Parliament and its development went to Salt Lake City in mid-October to take part in the sixth Parliament of the World’s Religions.  It was a five-day event, and it brought together about eight thousand people for what some said was “a heavenly experience”. The event was educational, inspirational, and action-oriented.

There was a plenary session almost every day, and there were a huge number of workshops throughout the five days.  It was held at the Salt Palace, a large building in downtown Salt Lake City which required a great deal of walking in order to take in the different workshops and plenary sessions.  The Sikhs offered a free lunch each day, which drew large numbers of people who found their food most tasty.

One of the major focal points of this Parliament was the sessions focusing on women and women’s issues.  Some of these were on the day before the Parliament opened, but there were also sessions on opening day and beyond.  Indigenous issues were also a major element.  Likewise there was a plenary on war, violence, and hate speech.

Outside of the Salt Palace was a tepee, which became a focus for Native American activity and prayers.  There were numerous Native American leaders at the Parliament, and various workshops and plenary sessions also included them.

One workshop especially appealed to me, and that was Matthew Fox’s Cosmic Mass.  Not only is the Cosmic Mass interfaith in its inclusiveness, but it involved active participation on the part of those who attended.  There was an overflow crowd for this workshop and an enthusiastic response from those who were present.  Although the Cosmic Mass was highly technological in its presentation, it also has a direct application to the worship experience on an ongoing basis.  We could learn a great deal that could be utilized in our Sunday morning gatherings.

The Parliament had an outstanding plenary on the final day, which included reflections on what had taken place plus projections into the future.  The most major new development that was announced at that time was that future Parliaments will occur every two years.  This step indicates how the interfaith movement has expanded in the last few years and the energy which propels it forward.  It will be interesting to see how this step works out and what kind of participation it will generate.

Spirit is One; paths are many!!!

UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF MORAL AND SPIRITUAL VALUES

~by Leland Stewart

May we experience each of (the Declaration’s) dimensions of our total being and discover their interrelationships. At the same time, we ask to become a responsible participant in the emerging global civilization based on the dynamic integration of diversity among all peoples and all life.

  Concluding paragraph of the Declaration, World Scriptures 2, p. 136

For more than a year the World Interfaith Network of Los Angeles has been exploring various teachings that might be included in a global code of living.  Now that the Unity-and-Diversity World Council has entered into its 50thanniversary, the Interfaith Network has chosen to begin the outreach phase using some appropriate code of living.

The core group of the Unity-and-Diversity Fellowship some years ago put together such a code, and it is published inWorld Scriptures, Vol. 2.  It includes the Universal Declaration of Moral and Spiritual Values, an Expansion on These Guidelines, and a set of Twelve Universal Avoidances.  These are all part of the effort to provide the different aspects of a global code of living.  The code itself was based on the research done by Prof. Charles Morris at the University of Chicago and later at Harvard University.  I had the privilege of studying with Prof. Morris at Harvard and have adapted his work to the code of living.

In beginning to outreach with the Universal Declaration of Moral and Spiritual Values, we will undoubtedly find that some parts of it will change, including possibly the title.  We will need to make sure that any changes are an improvement in the document, but we should not be insistent on keeping everything the same.  The goal needs to be to create a code of living that meets human needs.  The absence of such grounding at this time makes it difficult to know what values are essential for establishing the global civilization.

In 1993, at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, a Global Ethic was introduced and discussed by many of the faith’s leaders.  No changes were allowed at that time.  Perhaps no changes have been allowed since then.  A book has been written based on the Global Ethic, and an organization has been formed to continue the work.  What was created was not a Global Code of Living but rather a much longer document which focused particularly on the ethical aspect of the code.  A Global Code of Living needs to cover both the ethical and the spiritual dimensions.  The idea of God needs to be part of the code, with an understanding of this spiritual reality that people can accept.  There could be many different names, or perhaps for some people it could be nameless.

You are cordially invited to get a copy of the Universal Declaration of Moral and Spiritual Values and read it thoroughly.  Your comments and suggestions are welcome, and you are invited to help with this process in whatever way you can.  Together we can assist the process of providing a more stable base for the conduct of individuals, groups, and networks in the emerging global civilization.

Spirit is One; paths are many!!!