History of Religious Pluralism

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1 History of Religious Pluralism Places of Worship. Shown here (left to right) are Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, Ontario, a church in Saskatchewan, and Baitun Nur Mosque in Calgary, Alberta. How many different places of worship are there in your community? Religious pluralism The co-existence of many religions in a society; Canada, India, and the United States are examples of countries where religious pluralism exists Since Confederation, Canada has mostly been a Christian country. Even most Aboriginal peoples have become Christian. Although around 72 percent of Canadians still identified themselves with the Christian faith in 2001, other faiths were becoming increasingly visible. Today, one in sixteen Canadians belongs to a faith other than Christianity. If immigration continues at the current rate, this number will grow. Canada is increasingly a country where religious pluralism is practised. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, more and more Christian Canadians can count Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Hindus, Bahais, and followers of Aboriginal spirituality and traditional Chinese religions among their neighbours, friends, and family. If immigration continues at the 2006 rate, the number of such interactions will be more frequent. Of all the differences between people, religious differences are the most enduring. Although religious traditions and beliefs may evolve or 6 Chapter 1

2 Distribution of World Religions in Canada, 2001 Catholic 44.0% Protestant 29.0% Muslim 2.0% Other Christians 3.0% Christian Orthodox 1.5% Jewish 1.0% Buddhist 1.0% Hindu 1.0% Sikh 0.9% Eastern religions 0.1% Aboriginal Spirituality 0.1% Other religions 0.2% No religious affiliation 16.2% World Religions in Canada. This pie graph demonstrates the diversity of religions in modern Canada. (Note: numbers have been rounded off.) Does any of the data surprise you? How does the percentage of people with no religious affiliation compare to the total percentage of people who listed their religious affiliation? be transformed, they still operate at subconscious levels after thousands of years because they touch people s souls. The symbols, rituals, and beliefs of religion play a key role in how people perceive and live their lives. Each religion claims that its identity is divinely approved. Because of these strongly held beliefs, religions have not always lived peacefully side by side. Today, more than ever, believers from different religions need to learn how to live together. To accomplish this task, we all must develop some ground rules for living together. Four ground rules will be discussed under the following headings: 1. Respect the Faith and Religion of Others 2. There Is No Neutral Stance 3. The Truth of Other Religions 4. Accept the Importance of Religion 1. Respect the Faith and Religion of Others The first ground rule for dialogue is to learn to respect the faith and religion of other peoples. To say I believe means I pledge myself. When Muslims pray the Shahadah ( I bear witness that there is no God but Allah. And I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah ), or when Jews pray the Shema ( Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one ), or when Catholics pray the Apostles Creed ( I believe in God ), they express their deepest convictions. They express what they believe is true. A Closer Look Serious conflicts between followers of different religions such as Muslims and Christians in Iraq, Hindus and Muslims in India, Jews and Muslims in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Hindus and Christians in India are part of the world s recent history. Serious conflicts also occur between followers of the same religion, including Christians. World Religions and Religious Pluralism 7

3 Prayer. In prayer, humans touch a core of themselves that wants to talk to God. Here the most fundamental things about life are said. Prayer is a conversation with a Reality upon whom we depend to the depths of our being. The Cross and the Resurrection. The cross and the resurrection of Jesus are central to the Catholic faith. Catholics bring these beliefs to their interactions with members of other religions. Discuss how these beliefs might affect how Catholics relate with members of other religions. 8 Chapter 1 This truth has held for them for centuries without change. It has withstood the test of time. These confessions of faith are sacred to these religions and are repeated in their rituals and liturgies. Since these confessions touch the heart of a person s identity, they call for the utmost respect. 2. There Is No Neutral Stance The second ground rule for religious dialogue is to acknowledge that we cannot be neutral observers of other religions. For example, if we are Catholic and profess the Catholic faith, we live with Buddhists in Canada as Catholics. Non-believers will live with Buddhists as nonbelievers. (After all, non-believers believe something. If they believe that religion is an illusion or superstition, they will relate to religions as if they are superstitions.) Everyone has a particular stance or perspective a starting point. Everyone has certain presuppositions, certain beliefs about God or the Supreme Spirit and the meaning and purpose of life; everyone also has certain prejudices. This textbook takes its position from a Christian, and, more specifically, a Catholic perspective. It asks how Catholics ought to live with members of other religions. What does it mean for someone living the Catholic way of life to interact with members of other religions? To enter into dialogue with another religion, Catholics need a strong sense of themselves and their Catholic identity. They must be aware of their beliefs and opinions, for these will colour the relationships they have with others.

4 3. The Truth of Other Religions For believers of a religion, their faith explains for them how the world works and how reality holds together. At a practical level, members of each religion believe their religion to be true. That is what all religions celebrate: the truth of what they believe. To this truth believers pledge themselves. The third ground rule for religious dialogue is therefore to express respect for the truth of other religions. A Muslim, for example, holds as true that the Qur an is literally the word of God as revealed to Muhammad. When a Muslim imam (leader) reads the Qur an at Friday services, those present hear and understand it as the word of Allah. In performing their rituals, the members of a religion make present what they believe. For example, Muslims understand the reading of the Qur an to be Allah s word to them. For them, their faith is the truth. When a Catholic and a Muslim encounter each other, it is important for each to appreciate what the other holds as true. Catholics and Muslims may disagree about the roles of Muhammad and Jesus, but they must start by recognizing how important Jesus and Muhammad are to each other s religions. Each must respect what the other holds to be true. 4. Accept the Importance of Religion The fourth ground rule for interreligious dialogue is the acceptance of religion even with its different forms as important for human beings. Some people propose abolishing religion because they think that the world would be better off without it. They blame religion for violence and tensions among people. Without religion, they claim, there would be greater peace and harmony in the world. It may also be argued that religion even a course on world religions like this one leads to harmony and peace by promoting ways of living peacefully together and promoting social justice, for example. It can also be claimed that the greatest violence has come from those who deny religion. After all, some of the most deadly violence of the twentieth century was carried out by the fascist National Socialists (the Nazis) of Germany and by secular communist governments in the Soviet Union (Russia), China, and Cambodia. Other people suggest that religions drop all their differences and seek one religion a so-called one-size-fits-all solution. But, whose differences ought to be dropped? And are differences the problem? Are differences among people not part of the richness of human life? The same is true for religions. The differences among religions are a sign of the wealth of diversity of humans. Religious diversity is their glory, not their failure. Differences are important, even though they may cause tensions at times. The challenge is to shape harmony amid all the diversity. For Catholics, the source of unity amid diversity is their belief in one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In God there is a unity with difference: the more the three persons in God are distinct, the more they are one. In a similar way, harmony among religions does not mean doing away with all the differences. In the Catholic tradition, for instance, clear distinctions exist between the Roman Church and the Eastern Churches. Yet, they still form one Church. To be one does not mean to be the same. Diversity does not mean division or disunity. The intent of studying other religions is not to create a sort of syncretism of religions, but to appreciate and celebrate our differences and to learn from one another. The Word of God. Catholic priests (top) and Jewish rabbis both proclaim the Word of God. How is the Bible the Word of God for both Catholics and Jews? What does this suggest about the relationship between Jews and Catholics? Syncretism The attempt to blend the beliefs and practices of different religions into one system World Religions and Religious Pluralism 9

5 Check Your Understanding 1. Define religious pluralism. 2. In your own words, state the four ground rules, outlined above, for religions to live together. Think About It 3. There is one human race but a great number of cultures, ethnic groups, languages, customs, foods, types of music, and religions. In a small group, discuss this question: Have you ever thought about what the world would be like without these differences? Name one difference for each category that you think is a positive thing. Making It Personal 4. What attitudes or virtues do people need to live together with many ethnic groups in one country? 5. Describe any attempts you have seen in your school or community by people of different faiths to take active steps to live together in harmony. What steps might you personally take? The Goals of Dialogue Tolerance An attitude that recognizes the right of others to think, live, or worship according to their own beliefs 10 Chapter 1 What Is Tolerance? Canadians like to think of themselves as a tolerant people, accepting that people are different and respecting those differences. We tend to hesitate to interfere with the beliefs and values of others. We feel that to respect others beliefs, we must leave them alone and never question them. Some feel that to question another s beliefs indicates a lack of respect and a refusal to accept differences. This kind of tolerance of difference is tolerance for the sake of peace. It reflects an assumption that we must do everything we can to avoid causing hard feelings or tension. But tolerance does not mean always agreeing with others. In fact, tolerance comes into play when there are disagreements. At such times, we do not have to act as if we agree. At the same time, we do not have to speak out forcefully, except when what is being promoted is intolerable, such as slavery, racism, and physical or sexual abuse. We practise tolerance in the face of such differences as dress (for example, the hijab, worn by many Muslim women), the wearing of symbols (for example, the kirpan, worn by many Sikh boys and men), or foods people eat (for example, kosher laws followed by many Jews). Religions Must Interact with Each Other Our relationship with other religions must go beyond tolerance. It is not enough to respect others and leave them in peace. Religions deal with ultimate matters such as the meaning and purpose of life and one s sense of identity. Religions cannot just live side

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