Saturday, July 4, 2015

Practical reasons for cultivating an interfaith mindset in your daily life: You won’t get very far in 21st century America without it

My purpose here has been to share with you examples of why there is hope—and evidence—for cultural, social, and spiritual revolution in the Detroit area, in spite of its history of segregation and racial violence and its present of economic decline. I’ve written at least 100 pages here in the last four years, most of them devoted to demonstrating this point.

If you read my last post, you saw how I went from being a spiritual free-agent at the crossroads of several different religious communities to a newly-dedicated Nichiren Buddhist. Having a single dedicated faith practice now, I can more clearly see the larger purpose and value of interfaith relations. It’s not about overlapping religions, or about poaching other groups for converts. It doesn’t even have to be about attending large multi-faith events hosted by the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit. It can be as simple as making the effort to truly understand your own neighbors, coworkers, or friends who are different from you.

Some people may argue, Why bother participate in interfaith relations? Shouldn’t you put your sole focus on developing your own faith community, doing your part for the world’s benefit by nurturing your own?

On the surface, this argument seems to make sense. The deeper reality is, everyone needs to have at least some level of interfaith understanding: It’s becoming less and less likely that all the people in your neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, or social circles will practice the same religion as you. It’s impossible in 21st century America for single-faith groups to be completely self-sustaining islands unto themselves.

The interfaith paradigm evolved as an adaptation to the increasingly more diverse demographics of urban and suburban America. Whether you’re attending multi-faith events, reading scripture or other writings from an unfamiliar religion, or making friendly inquiries about a new neighbor’s beliefs during your getting-to-know-you dialogues, you are facilitating trust—This trust in turn facilitates the ability to overcome the prejudices that get in the way of different types of people being able to work together toward shared goals. Such goals can be as complex as nuclear disarmament, or as simple as helping assure the social harmony of your street.

Connecting with people of different religions doesn’t mean you have to agree with them on everything you discuss. It does mean you need to respect where they are coming from, and both be able to speak your truth without having to argue over who’s right and who’s wrong. (Obviously dealing with true fanatics is an exception to this rule; the subject of religious fanaticism is beyond the scope of my blog.)

Developing an interfaith understanding can be as simple as cultivating a truly open mind. Sadly, some people I encounter who say they are “open-minded” are really not, once I talk with them for more than a few minutes about a potentially-divisive topic, or while comparing religious or other beliefs.

Overall, as a religious minority in many of the groups I’m in on a regular basis, I’ve been fortunate so far. When I’ve mentioned to my Christian and religiously-unaffiliated coworkers that I’m Buddhist, most of them have tilted their heads and said, “I actually know nothing about Buddhism. What is it?” They don’t appear to be asking because they’re seeking a new spiritual path themselves; they ask because they have the practical wisdom to know it’s in their best interest to form a rapport and develop trust with a person they see and work with on a regular basis.

Cultivating this mindset of wanting to truly understand the people around you does not threaten, undermine, or compete with your beliefs in any way. It does demonstrate that you are secure enough in your own identity and belief system that you can have meaningful dialogue with someone who does not share it.

In my next post, I’ll dive deeper into this topic from the perspective of facilitating interfaith understanding when you are talking with people who are inquiring about membership in your religion.

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to drop a comment if you’d like to share your own take on any of the subjects I write about.

Cheers :)

Image: "Interfaith Collective 2" by Karla Joy Huber, 2008 and 2015, Prismacolor and Sharpie marker

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