Joe and I attended the World Religion’s Conference on Saturday held by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community at the University of Waterloo. The overall theme for the conference was “keeping faith alive in contemporary society”, however it seemed like this topic rarely (if ever) came up in the presentations… Well, to be fair they all talked about what their religions do and why these things *should* continue and why they *might* continue, but I thought there would be a much stronger focus on strategies and plans for keeping faith alive by working together. My take on the talks will be incredibly different than Joe’s, so I hope that you’ll read both of our accounts.
There were 8 religions so I will address each of them with my overall feeling/response now…some of them I didn’t really listen or like, so I won’t say much, but 3 or 4 of them I really liked. Please understand that what I took out of each talk my be extremely different than what the main concept may have actually been… but we all take out what we need/want to.
Hinduism with Chander Khanna of the Hindu Institute of Learning
The overarching concept of his talk was that all of the religions on the stage, including atheism, were simply all the same thing. (He called atheists “delayed” in their faith and procrastinators…heh.) He elaborated on this by saying that we’re all different paths heading toward a common place and that the future of faith in contemporary society is hidden inside of this.
His hope, that I agree with, is that there will be a meeting point at the center that will involved many levels of understanding and will essentially morph into new religions of the future. In the future people will look back on the Christianity, Islam and Buddhism that we have today and talk about how strange it all seems. The future religions understand each other, including the secular humanists’ perspectives. What a lovely idea! Too bad he didn’t have any suggestions on how to do this, he sort of just said it would happen all on its own. Given the history of Christianity and Islam I highly doubt it. I think that there still needs to be some major activism for calming down extremists so that we actually have a chance at a world full of different religions, celebrating their differences and working together on big issues.
The real risk to Religion does not come from Contemporary Society with its discoveries of Science or rising affluence by from the viruses, the infections which have distorted, hijacked and vilified some of the basic tenets for political and societal expediencies.
…and I couldn’t agree more. He gave some examples of how religion has been used “out of context” to create great suffering in the world such as with the caste system in India where 70-80% of all Indian poor are “untouchables”. People too often use bits and pieces of religions to advance their own points of view or political agenda, this is not what religion is for. It is nice to think of a time when it won’t be used for this.
Humanism with Stuart Bechman of the Atheist Alliance International
You can all take great pleasure in knowing that secular humanism and atheism was represented in a very eloquent and intelligent fashion by the president of the atheist alliance international, Stuart Bechman. While he might look a little bit like a used car salesman he did an extraordinary job defending the secular position in front of an auditorium filled with religious people (except Joe). He did a lot of things I liked and a couple things I didn’t like (which I forgave him for later because other people did it too).
He did the ever-inspiring and never-old “the universe is awe inspiring” speech saying that “faith” for atheists is in humanity. He expanded on this by saying it is important to have an understanding of life, the universe and everything in order to make right decisions for the future. For the wellbeing of future generations, he says, it is important to use our knowledge and science to come to good decisions.
What I didn’t like: He said that we are all essentially Gods because we shape the world of tomorrow. Maybe it’s the Christian in me, but I just didn’t think it was entirely appropriate to call humans “gods”. Not only does it make him seem like he has a bit of an inflated ego but it is also pretty much as blasphemous as you can get…lol. Which I don’t have a problem with, but some might. He also reminded everyone that passion is not truth and that the religious need to question their faith and dogma because humans are gullible and emotional. At first I had a problem with this because he seemed like he was trying to de-convert people, but then I realized that pretty much everyone was trying to convert someone so I let it slide. But I also don’t like the underlying assumption that faith materializes because a person is gullible and emotional. People of mature faith don’t grow their faith because they are emotional, they do it because they are seeking and finding.
It is worth noting that he was the only panel member who didn’t promote working together for a better future.
Judaism with Dr. Daniel Maoz a professor of Jewish studies
To be completely honest… I tried to listen to him, I really really really did.
But the hat he has on in the picture – he wore it through his entire talk and it was so distracting because you couldn’t see his eyes at all… all you could see was a hat. An ugly hat.
And he talked really slow… and for like 5 minutes he was talking about learning how to play bridge and how it is really hard to play bridge until you actually do it… and then it turned out that the bridge-playing analogy wasn’t even central to his point, it was just to demonstrate that he understood that we wouldn’t understand Judaism as outsiders…
Anyway, …I fell asleep. Joe listened tho, ask him.
Christianity with Charles Van Alphen from St. Michaeil RC Parish
He was a Catholic and I’m United so we did totally not see eye-to-eye on the appropriate amount of scripture to be saying or on the basic groundings of Christianity…however…the meat of his talk was actually quite good.
He advocated that the future of faith lies in having a mature understanding of faith in order to put that faith and religion into the context of today and tomorrow. He said that the context today is love, and that Jesus preached love and that we need to focus on this. The obsession with dogma, he argues, has created too much conflict and hate. The bible was created by a group of people with an agenda to advance – so there are things that no longer fit into the context of today and for faith to be alive tomorrow, it needs to catch up with this context.
I think the reasons atheists will have a hard time understanding this is because of their lack of a mature faith… I know hearing/reading that will piss you all off, but I don’t care. You don’t have mature faith and therefore you think religion is only what you read and these shallow definitions of God (ie: comparing God to fairies in a garden) are remotely accurate.
Buddhism with Dr. Christopher Ross a professor in Religion and Culture
Aboriginal Spirituality with Walter Cooke of the Elder Counsel Ojibway Cree Bear Clan
I don’t have a single note taken down for either of these guys…. Despite the fact that Dr. Ross had a wonderful English accent and it was sort of promising when he said we didn’t need to keep faith alive if it was dying… to just let it die if it has no purpose… But, then he just went off about Buddhism in Western society and stuff.
I went to the conference to see the aboriginal guy! But it was pretty bad, too. I’m taking a class right now on aboriginals and it is really focused on the politics of aboriginal cultures and how they are trying to fit their culture and spirituality into a changing world. There are some amazing scholars out there with good ideas about how to do it very effectively, but this guy wasn’t one of them. Not even close. It was too bad, really…. aboriginals are finding ways to resist globalization on local levels and have their culture represented in larger political bodies – this is key in keeping aboriginal faith and spirituality alive.
Islam with Mubarak A. Nazir from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama ‘at Canada
Much to my surprise Nazir was my favorite speaker (enough that Joe said “you’re converting to Islam now, aren’t you?”). I’m not quite sure what it was about him, but he was vibrant, confident and very charming.
He played up on the fact that similarities are not news worthy. That events that are free (like this conference) are not filled up to the brim because there is no conflict. But these are the events with substance and with information that can help make the world a more loving place. Debates about religion vs. science/atheism, debates about the mosque – these are all popular because the create friction and hate, which people thrive off of. But we need to learn to stop and think. To love your mind, yourself, your neighbour and the poor to create a better world.
The future of faith is in the contemplation and conversation with oneself and with others who are more mature in their faith. Thus we need to stop and think about what we know, reflect on what we know and let our minds wander.
“You can put books on a jackass and it won’t become educated.”
Education isn’t always in the books and it isn’t always in the classroom or the lab. There is much to be learned in the faith world and innature that we should be allowing ourselves to be more exposed to. This is such a great thing that people should internalize. Scientific knowledge is NOT the only knowledge that is out there.
Yeah. I said it.
Sikhism with Kulvir Singh Gill from Sikh Centennial Foundation and Seva Food Bank
He was the youngest on the panel and really well spoken. He is really the only person who outlined two very specific strategies for keeping faith alive in contemporary society.
1. We (people in religion) need to face the plurality of the modern world. Each person needs to accept that there is no one single path and that all paths lead to the same God. Too many faiths have been overly focused on numbers – how many houses of worship have they opened, how many followers did they gain – but they need to refocus. He expanded on this by telling a story about a black cat who was the pet of a monk at a monastery. The monk would tie the cat up during meditation. The monk passed the cat on to the next kid and the next kid – and eventually the cat died…so they went and got another black cat to tie up during meditation. The point here is that this was once something that was functionally useful but had turned into something totally useless. He equates this stories to the discrimination and inequalities found in so many religions. He says these inequalities in our holy texts were functionally useful for the old societies, but today they are useless because we have changed.
2. He argued that we need to move away from fear and guilt in religion. Children can’t be forced to wear a veil, a turban or to not cut their hair. The children need to want to do it, and to love to do it. Instead of using the religion as a way of making a child scared, we need to teach religion and faith to the next generation as something to embrace and to love because faith should grow from the heart.
Right now we are collectively keeping out the love.
There you have it!
I agreed with a lot that was said and disagreed the most with the atheist. :) The only guy that offered some real concrete advice for keeping faith alive was Kulvir Gill from Sikhism. I think his two ideas are good, but they are certainly not the whole picture. A lot needs to be done to keep faith alive. People need to faithful and hopeful of a lot of things in the future in order to live productive lives. I think if you all lose faith in religion, love, humanity – whatever our “thing” is then there are going to be a lot of depressed people out there. We all need something to hold onto, and I think it is up to each of us to learn to work together and to teach the next generation to stay positive and put their talents to work.