Thursday, November 19, 2009

Tolerance and mutual understanding

St. John's Center is self-consciously interfaith. We come together (regardless of our faith tradition - or none) to meditate, to learn to keep silence, because the teachings that help us do this are, in fact, universal. I've long believed that learning tolerance and appreciation for those of other faith traditions is the great task of our times. Here's something about that:

In every great faith and tradition one can find the values of tolerance and mutual understanding. The Qur’an, for example, tells us that "We created you from a single pair of male and female and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other." Confucius urged his followers: "when the good way prevails in the state, speak boldly and act boldly. When the state has lost the way, act boldly and speak softly." In the Jewish tradition, the injunction to "love thy neighbour as thyself," is considered to be the very essence of the Torah.

This thought is reflected in the Christian Gospel, which also teaches us to love our enemies and pray for those who wish to persecute us. Hindus are taught that "truth is one, the sages give it various names." And in the Buddhist tradition, individuals are urged to act with compassion in every facet of life.

Each of us has the right to take pride in our particular faith or heritage. But the notion that what is ours is necessarily in conflict with what is theirs is both false and dangerous. It has resulted in endless enmity and conflict, leading men to commit the greatest of crimes in the name of a higher power.

It need not be so. People of different religions and cultures live side by side in almost every part of the world, and most of us have overlapping identities which unite us with very different groups. We can love what we are, without hating what — and who — we are not. We can thrive in our own tradition, even as we learn from others, and come to respect their teachings.

-- Kofi Annan


  1. Cathey5:29 PM

    These lovely ideas are also expressed in Karen's Armstrong's latest project of the Charter for Compassion. I know you've probably already followed all the goings on surrounding it but its sentiments make me think of you and this blog.
    Hope all is well.
    Blessings, Cath

  2. And I have been wondering if the timing is right for the Center to explore a slightly more ambitious role as a leader in interfaith work. Perhaps as a forum for mindful dialog about the charter?


  3. Thanks for the comment, Cathey. And, Steve, I think you're quite right. In fact, it's a very exciting idea.

  4. Can tolerance breeds intolerance? How can this be?

    Historically, the indecent minority has only been able to succeed due to the indifference of the decent majority. Understanding other cultures and peoples is a wonderful approach to life, but enabling intolerant cultures (that seek to restrict our own freedoms) is where we must draw the line.

  5. Yes, I think I know what you mean, Ron. Intolerant people are often very adept at taking tolerant people hostage through guilt and charges of hyposcricy.

    I find that I am helped in that by the Buddhist notion of "idiot compassion". It is not true compassion when our tolerance hurts ourselves or others. Still, we need a better way to respond than with hostility and violence. Personally, I look at people like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu for how to go about it.


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