Scott Korb & Leon Morris make a compelling argument that is both astute and intrinsically interfaith in their opinion piece, first published Dec 17th in the Baltimore Sun and reprinted today in the Chronicle:
The essential discussion touches on one of my personal difficulties with the entire concept of interfaith ministry in its many forms: the loss of significance of cultural and religious events by attempting to make them “fit” into a dominant cultural paradigm.
It’s not that I think that the interfaith movement is wrong – I’d not be an interfaith minister if I did. I simply think that the movement is not about creating a common approach to spirituality, but rather finding a common ground for respecting and tolerating each other’s unique spiritualities.
I am reminded of something my mother heard in a lecture by Jill Carroll of the Boniuk Center at Rice University. Mom caught the lecture on public access, and related some of it to me when I moved back to Houston. She told me that Ms. Carroll said that tolerance does not require approval, permission, sympathy, or understanding of the other person or practice. One simply allows the other person to do as they believe is right, while they allow the same. (I am attempting to catch a rerun or a podcast of the lecture to quote it more effectively, but whether the quote is accurate or not, the point is well made.) Tolerance, the cornerstone of the interfaith movement, involves no great leaps of cooperation to show the other side how harmless/familiar/similar this side really is. It does not require an outsider to take part in order to fully appreciate the delicate nuances of practice.
Tolerance is simple, and non-intrusive.
It is a question both fascinating and pertinent, whether the “Happy Holidays” and “Season of Light” phenomena constitute an intrinsic devaluing of the practices and beliefs they purport to celebrate.
Can Unity of Spirit come from the forceful melding of cultural traditions, or should the global community, and especially America, practice tolerance and education in lieu of religious monism? Let the cultural melting pot proceed at its own pace; we needn’t hurry it along by invoking the cultural whisk quite yet.
As for me, I have celebrated Winter Solstice with dear friends, through dancing and song, thinking often of dearest spiritual sisters celebrating that night far away in New York. I have enjoyed a family White Elephant Party. I plan to partake of certain family traditions for Wigilia, a Polish Christmas Eve celebration, with my parents. Come Christmas Day I will play games – board games, card games, word games – probably long into the night, with my extended family. And on January 6th, I will light a candle for the feast of the Epiphany, make wishes for the New Year, and plan my charitable giving.
That is an interfaith celebration based on my personal spiritual path, my childhood memories, and respect for the cherished beliefs of my family and friends. Those things are important to me in a way that the practices of other religions cannot be; that does not lessen my tolerance, nor for that matter my respect and awe at other religious ceremonies, simply reflects my own experience of the season.