The Beauty of Interfaith

I was originally going to write a bit today about what Paganism can bring to the Interfaith table.  But, considering recent events, I’ve decided to postpone that article until next time.

It has been a week since the shooting at the Oak Creek, Wisconsin Sikh gurdwara.  It has been six days since a fire destroyed the mosque for the Islamic Society of Joplin, Missouri.  In the first case, it’s quite clear that the Sikh congregation was targeted, but things in the latter are unclear.  What we do know about that fire at that mosque, however, is that this was actually the  second fire it suffered.  The first, taking place on July 4th, was determined to be arson.  While it doesn’t mean that this more recent, and far more destructive fire, was also deliberate, it does seem to necessitate some careful investigation in that direction.

Considering the shooter in Wisconsin has been killed, we may never know his exact motivations for choosing the Sikh community to attack.  His ties to white supremacy and membership in neo-Nazi bands seem to make it pretty clear that there was a racial component but we may never know if this specific gurdwara was chosen for a reason or if the shooter was simply seeking to harm the Other.  The perpetrator of the original arson in Joplin has yet to be caught and the second fire is still being investigated, so we don’t have enough to work with there.  However, I find it hard to accept the premise that someone not motivated by racial or religious bias would randomly choose to burn down a mosque.

In the week since the shooting, we’ve heard a lot of talk of gun control.  We’ve heard from world leaders about how horrible the event is and how we must mourn for those killed and injured.  And, if like me, you sift through the comments on news and opinion sites, you’ve been exposed to some fairly heinous ideas as well as some noble thoughts.  But what we haven’t heard too much about is what different religions have done to support each other.

This map shows places where vigils for the shooting in Wisconsin were held throughout the US and a few in Canada.  Jahnabi Barooah, assistant religion editor at the Huffington Post, provided a brief reflection of one such vigil in Manhattan.  I read today that other religious communities within Joplin stepped up to provide Muslim members of their communities a place to hold an iftar on Wednesday, August 8.  Involved were the South Joplin Christian Church, the United Hebrew Congregation, and others.  It was held at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church as reported by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.  Even members within our own Pagan community have stepped up; Circle Sanctuary, also located in Wisconsin, is collecting donations through August to raise funds for the families of the slain.

The interfaith outreach performed in the wake of these horrible events helps to lift my spirits.  The words of individuals throughout our nation as collected by the Groundswell Movement help me to realize that the actions of our most radical few do not define us. I see the work of people like Valarie Kaur, a Sikh woman; an award winning filmmaker; and interfaith organizer, who, according to her own twitter feed, has been on CNN, FOX, NPR, worked with the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and more  since this past Sunday to help educate people about Sikhs and their religion.

Lest you think it’s only the religious that have stepped up in the wake of these events, Chris Stedman, Assistant Chaplain and Values in Action Coordinator for the Humanist Community at Harvard University, has been vocal on twitter about his support of this Indiegogo campaign to rebuild the Joplin mosque which, when this was written, had blown past its goal and raised over $320,000.  The Humanist Community itself is organizing a trip to a gudwara in Massachusetts both to participate in a service commemorating the victims of the shooting but also as an educational opportunity.

As with many things in our lives, we are often motivated to act when something negative happens and drives us forward.  I’m as guilty of this myself when I look back at some of my own attempts to organize parts of our Pagan community toward a goal.  But, the work of these individuals to educate about the religious and non-religious diversity found in this country as well as the collective process of working together at the community level is a necessary and beautiful part of our future.

Religious and philosophical beliefs often separate us.  How, for example, do you find the common ground between an atheist and a theist or between a monotheist and a hard polytheist?  And yet, we find over and over again within our communities that we have a drive to work together to learn about and try to understand the beliefs of others in a way that we seem to lack when it comes to other concepts like politics.  I find this to be true within myself, too.  I’m far more willing to sit down with someone and discuss what Catholicism (for example) means to them then why this informs their choice about this November’s election.

To be honest, I’m not sure why this is.  Perhaps because of the religious freedoms enshrined in our Bill of Rights we find it hard to completely discount the beliefs of others in the same way we can categorize and marginalize those who think differently from us in other ways.  Regardless, the interfaith movement in this country provides a template for a way that we can begin to work together again.  It is a template that organizations like the Interfaith Youth Core are beginning to define and one that I think can be generalized as a solution to work across other divides.

Next time, as mentioned above … way above! this was a long post … I’ll be writing about why I think Pagans need to be involved in interfaith activism.  But I’ll also be returning to the ideas at the end of this article about why interfaith seems to engender communication while other differences do not.

About David Dashifen Kees

David is a professional web application developer working for a major US University and freelancing as time permits.
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