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Interfaith Dynamics

Religious Inclusiveness

This article could just as easily be entitled simply Inclusiveness, given that the principles and concepts of inclusiveness permeate every domain of life – from family to community to humanity. But the IRC has a mission to specifically bring people of all walks of faith together in an inclusive dialogue and experience, and thus this article will focus specifically on religious inclusiveness. We live in a world with 7 billion human beings – growing continually and at times exponentially. Among us, we are divided into an ever-increasingly large number of religious and non-religious groups. Needless to say, these groups are not sufficiently distinct to satisfy all those among us, and thus new splinter groups are created all the time – adding to the divergence of religious affiliation, and taking us further and further away from religious inclusiveness from the context of the human race. In fact, many religions – especially the splinters within – can be modestly considered exclusive. Following is a list of the 22 most populated religious and non-religious groups in the world – accounting for all but a small fraction of the world's population.

  1. Christianity: 2.1 billion
  2. Islam: 1.5 billion
  3. Secular/Nonreligious/Agnostic/Atheist: 1.1 billion
  4. Hinduism: 900 million
  5. Chinese traditional religion: 394 million
  6. Buddhism: 376 million
  7. primal-indigenous: 300 million
  8. African Traditional & Diasporic: 100 million
  9. Sikhism: 23 million
  10. Juche: 19 million
  11. Spiritism: 15 million
  12. Judaism: 14 million
  13. Baha'i: 7 million
  14. Jainism: 4.2 million
  15. Shinto: 4 million
  16. Cao Dai: 4 million
  17. Zoroastrianism: 2.6 million
  18. Tenrikyo: 2 million
  19. Neo-Paganism: 1 million
  20. Unitarian-Universalism: 800 thousand
  21. Rastafarianism: 600 thousand
  22. Scientology: 500 thousand

Notice your internal dialogue or reaction to the list. What do you think or feel when you see a list "breaking down" the various religious groups according to "popularity?" Do you identify with any single, or perhaps even multiple groups? Do you identify yourself within a broader category? Are you familiar with most, or even all the religious groups? Do you have an interest in knowing and understanding more about other groups, or do you not care? Do you see these groupings as man-ufactured creations born out of our seemingly inherent need to divide and subdivide all things in life? Or, something else? The objective of the IRC is not to attempt to break down or change beliefs – or the passion that stands behind those beliefs – in order to create a new world religion. Neither is the IRC intending to espouse any single truth or truths about the nature of reality and existence – as a religion would. Rather, the IRC is intending to bring people of different faiths together in an inclusive dialogue and experience, which requires that we host a culture and environment that is itself inclusive – free from the constraints of any one religion or belief system. This requires our group of Rabbis, Ministers, Imams, Gurus, and others to implement and practice the art and skill of religious inclusiveness.

It's not always an easy or seamless endeavour, but it is our endeavour nonetheless. In order to create, implement, and maintain a culture of religious inclusiveness in our organization – such that participants in our programs can step into and enjoy the experience of religious inclusiveness – the IRC practices the following principles.

Willingness and Tolerance, Exposure and Respect/Affinity

No one can or should be forced into an environment where their core beliefs and values – the essence of religious ideology – are disrespected or ignored: for to disrespect or ignore another is to disrespect and ignore oneself and all mankind. In any case, no one likes to have their core beliefs and values disrespected or ignored. Thus, all the IRC staff and participants in our programs must first and foremost possess a willingness to engage in dialogue and shared experiences with people from different faiths – with perhaps different core values and beliefs.

Our experience is that for those who choose to step into this diverse mix of religious ideologies in shared dialogue and experience find one or both (as they are not mutually exclusive as they first appear) of two things: 1) the exposure to new information and experiences expands an existing worldview and/or 2) an existing worldview is reaffirmed or solidified. Either way, our experience is that those who willingly expose themselves to new conversations and experiences gain a net positive impact on their worldviews and their lives.

For example, if you've never been to a particular "foreign" country, you may be, at the very least, a little apprehensive over the differences in culture – food, language, norms, etcetera. That apprehension may in fact lead you to choose not to step into the experience – you may choose to simply "stay away." Or, you may still go, but you carry your apprehension with you – which results in a different experience than if you were to be completely open. In doing so, you're likely to remain more or less "exactly where you are," and lose the opportunity to expand your worldview and/or reaffirm it. In other words, the degree of your expansion as a person or affirmation of who you truly are as a person is a function of the degree to which you step into new experiences – especially those that are different from which you're familiar or comfortable. Indeed, should you choose to perceive new experiences such as inclusion within a "foreign" culture or religious group as a net positive, there's nothing to fear in stepping into these environments and experiences.

It's said that travel is the most transformational experience one can have in life, and the reason for this is not due to seeing similar mountains and cities in different parts of the world so much as seeing similar human beings (for we are at the very least all similar in this regard) living in different cultures – for the mountains and cities are merely a reflection of those people. And with people comes religious or non-religious ideology – representative of their core values and beliefs, as expressed in everything they do.

Should you choose to wholeheartedly step into a new cultural experience among "foreign" people, you may find that when you return home, you're strangely drawn to that culture – or at least more than you were previously. You may find yourself gravitating more toward people from that culture, or attending cultural events that remind you of the connection that was cultivated during your time there. You're now more inclusive of and in that new culture. This is not to say you've adopted the core values and beliefs or the lifestyle and norms of that culture – you've simply expanded your worldview, through inclusive dialogue and experience to include an awareness of connection to this culture.

The same could be said for exposure to people with various religious ideologies. If, for example, I were to drop you into a nation or community comprised entirely of a religion with which you were unfamiliar – and therefore perhaps uncomfortable – and told you that you'd be forced to remain there for a year, you'd likely have an adverse reaction. In time however, you'd undoubtedly make acquaintances, and given your vulnerability (which also tends to make us humble), you'd likely make some friends as well. And in doing so, you'd come to love and respect them for the people they are. And when you returned home, you'd no doubt be more open and less closed to that culture and that religion…

In essence, it's our lack of exposure – or put another way, our fear and ignorance to put it bluntly, or at the very least our lack of experience and familiarity – to other religious groups that leads us to "stay away" from them. And should we never step into some form or degree of inclusive dialogue and experience with religious "foreigners," then we will never expand ourselves beyond our present worldviews or truly know who we are and what we truly think, feel, and believe. To know thyself and to thy known self be true – a parable for life that cuts through all religious ideologies.

Perspective

When trapped inside an unresolved or seemingly irreconcilable conversation, it's helpful and sometimes necessary to take a step back from the debate or conflict and look to another topic. This is certainly true for delicate and sensitive issues, such as religious differences – which effectively represent our core beliefs and values; which is why we are so passionate and take these conversations so personally. The objective, assuming both parties are committed to some form or degree of resolve and understanding, is to find areas where alignment can be created around things that are mutually agreeable, and agree to disagree around things that are not – until the next conversation.

Whereas a whole host of things may be required to reach this destination, perspective is certainly one of them. If I were to ask you to describe the one person in life for whom you have the greatest respect and with whom you have the greatest ease being around – the powerful combination of like and respect – you would likely come up with a list of adjectives describing the personality and way of being of someone who has gained a high degree of perspective in and on life. This person is easy, safe, and comfortable to be around because you trust they will not judge or over-react to a situation – they are anchors in the sea of life. You respect this person because they see the big picture, and don't get caught up or carried away with any single incident or circumstance – and they are consistent.

This is not to say these people lack passion or hold their beliefs and values as sacred as another, as much as they remain calm and perhaps assertive rather than volatile and aggressive – with the understanding that all people and all of our individual and sometimes divergent beliefs and values are united under a single umbrella called humanity, life, and the unknown. In essence, they're able to maintain themselves in this way because they maintain perspective – on themselves, on their counterparts, and on life. Mahatma Ghandi might be a fitting example of this.

Before we dive into perspective in the context of religious inclusiveness, let's take a look at another example in life where people might find perspective to gain mutual alignment and understanding. Take for example the "fans" (an abbreviation for fanatics) of different sports teams. Conflict, arguments, and passionate disputes occur all the time between two opposing sports fans. So long as the two parties are focusing merely on the two teams, there's truly no end to the debate. However, should they both take a step back and agree that they both love the game, we have an opening for inclusiveness and alignment between the two.

Taken a step further back, they might also agree that they love sports, and once in they are engaging in this new space of mutuality and alignment around a broader topic, they might discover that both of their children play sports. Soon, the conversation may turn to how much they both love their children and families… and onward and upward the conversation goes. From this perspective, mutual respect and other such things that are required to find resolve and reconciliation begin to open up, and a new space is created to revisit the conversation around duelling sports teams. To bring the sports metaphor home, let's take a look at the individual sports fan. You have a guy who sits on the edge of his couch and anxiously anticipates each play. He screams wildly with either excitement or angst with every pitch, throw, or kick of the ball. But that single play is merely part of a game; and that game is merely part of a series; and that series is merely part of a season; and that season is merely part of a sport; and that sport is merely part of all athletics; and athletics is merely part of a culture; and that culture is merely part of a society; and that society is merely part of nation; and that nation is merely part humanity; and humanity is merely part of a galaxy; and that galaxy is merely part of a universe….

With sufficient perspective, one begins to see and experience that a play in a game does not equal… much at all. But we tend to lose perspective – rather easily I might add. But in doing so, we are also losing the opening for respect from others and the ease in which others can be around us. This is the inherent trade-off in holding onto micro-truths that run incongruent with the whole. In disputes over religious differences, sometimes the only perspective that can be mutually agreeable is that we are all human beings designed by our Creator.