Liberal vs. Conservative Interfaith Dialogue

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal published an interesting op-ed on interfaith dialogue, something I’m in favor of if it also embraces those of us who are faithless—and we include them, too.

There is an assumption by commentators on the right and the left that as far as religion goes, it is liberals who work–and care to work–across faith lines. Interfaith activity is understood as a politically and theologically liberal enterprise. This stems in part from the fact that the most widely recognized examples of interfaith cooperation have occurred on the left. Martin Luther King Jr.’s partnership with Abraham Joshua Heschel (the prominent Jewish theologian and civil-rights leader) is probably the most famous. Other figures who have reached across religious lines include The Very Reverend James Parks Morton (former dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine) and international icons like Gandhi, the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu.

But during my years at the Interfaith Center of New York, a nonprofit organization devoted to fostering interreligious civic relationships, I found that the stereotypes about who is willing to form partnerships were wrong. When the center first opened, we received enthusiastic support from liberals and were ignored by conservatives. Our programs looked diverse, and they were, religiously speaking. But participants were homogeneously liberal.

The more conservative religious folks were not interested in talking about spirituality, peace-building and social justice. So we refocused our programs to include seminars and information sessions on issues such as domestic violence, health-care access and immigration rights. Suddenly, every kind of religious leader came, including conservatives. Their religious perspectives did not change, but our assumptions did.

Sheikh Musa Drammeh, an African lay leader who runs an Islamic school in the Bronx, first came to a retreat we held on immigration issues. Sheikh Drammeh believes that Islam is the one true path, that premarital sex is not moral and neither is homosexual behavior. He runs a school that teaches Muslim children these values. In preparation for opening the school in 2001 he introduced himself to local pastors and rabbis, inviting them to come observe his classrooms. He attended a week-long program on religious diversity to better understand the other religious groups in his community. He also works with a Latino Pentecostal minister on the Bronx District Attorney’s clergy task force. For him, interfaith partnership is critical for good citizenship and safe neighborhoods. “The more friends we make,” he says, “the less likely we are to shed blood.”

Rabbi Emmanuel Weizer is another one of our regular participants now. An ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Rabbi from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, he is the vice president of Congregation Beth Yitzthock. Rabbi Weizer strongly believes Orthodoxy is the right path (for Jews) and strongly disagrees with the theology of nonmonotheistic faiths. He will not participate in interfaith prayer services, nor will he enter another religion’s worship space. But he has worked across religious lines for years, for example, on our interfaith mediation team, a program of the New York State court system that includes Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Sikhs.

Interestingly, it was the liberal leaders who had problems with our new conservative participants. Some wondered aloud “who let them in.” Others wanted us to advocate for positions that would keep some conservatives out, like opposition to the war in Iraq and tolerance for homosexual behavior.

Instead of excluding conservatives, though, we adopted a different understanding of interfaith activity. It is not an understanding based on the idea that with a little conversation we can iron out all our theological differences. Rather, it is one based on the idea that religious beliefs are distinct, deep-set and deserve to be taken seriously. On that point, it turns out that Rabbi Weizer and Sheikh Drammeh understand each other well.


Filed under religion, U.S.

10 responses to “Liberal vs. Conservative Interfaith Dialogue

  1. This learning to hold our own, while we respect the identified ground-of-being held by others, is such vital work. I think of this as part of the Power of Our Arrival (or presence), this capacity to honor the familiar and ‘the other.’ Indeed, this is one of the key challenges of our time.

  2. If one is serious about wanting to know “truth,” it seems logical to listen to another who claims to hold such in his hands, or in his mind or in his soul. If, indeed, we believe we have found “truth,” such truth will surely will bear the scrutiny of others, and of our own inquiring mind.

    Thank you for the post and for the link.

    Shirley Buxton

  3. Jim Pierce

    I am a conservative Christian and I believe that there is nothing wrong with working with others of differing faiths. I can firmly hold my faith as truth and just because I work with people of a different faith doesn’t mean I have to recognize their faith as truth.

    If people of all religions recognized that working together to help the poor, for example, doesn’t entail an endorsement of someone else’s beliefs, then more work could be done to help those who are truly in need right now.

    Jim Pierce

  4. jewwishes

    Working together for humanity’s sake is not only important, but mandatory, with all the problems, worldwide, that individuals face. Quite often, some cannot even meet their basic needs for food, clothes and shelter. Time, effort, an ear to listen, not just money, is extremely important in order to help others.

    We must all put religion aside, when working towards the goal of helping others. Respect, tolerance and acceptance of others and their religious beliefs is necessary.

  5. Michael

    It is true that many of us have our own ideas about faith, church and God. Many of those ideas run very deep and cannot be changed without challenging our own belief system. The ability to look beyond our thoughts and ideas and see the very basic needs of humanity around us is the true expession of our faith.

  6. KC

    New to wordpress, and found this blog, so hence my comment: Not all roads lead to Heaven has been a term well coined by many. The statement implied that there is but one path, and while my philosophy on life is biased towards a faith I was born into, and eventually abandoned, my search for truth apart from what men may say has lead me down a path that so far has never let me down.

    I agree with the Jim Pierce comment above in that we can all work towards common good for the welfare of others in the world, but when it comes to the other side of life (death) it’s where you spend it that counts.

  7. Chagri Lama

    I, too, am rather new to WordPress, but have “blogged” away in one form or another for a long time.

    It is impressive to see the range of opinions here, and still realize that most of us seem to see the same problems as needing solution: Hunger, poverty, human misery and inequality, respect for another human.

    There seems to be a glimmer of hope for humanity. Interfaith and inter-life-philosophy are types of dialogs that help humans realize they are just that – across the spectrum of ideology, faith, culture. Our bottom line as humans seems to be drawn in the same sand, with the same crayon.

    Thank you all!

    Chagri Lama

  8. what an encouraging word that there are people on all over the political spectrum who are willing to come together to discuss important issues.


    If you want to find the Maker of matter and its cosmic organizer called ‘Maat’, you need to study the most ancient Egyptian texts, but this might be a venture into unfamiliar territory. A more taxing scientific route will be fraught with difficulties and far less rewarding, as outlined in an article in the Economist, dated 10-16 September 2004, p 24, by David Adam, describing the quest for the ultimate sub-atomic particle called the Higgs boson or, more irreverently, the “God Particle”. Some 700 highly trained particle physicists, engineers, etc., undertook the construction of a massive hadron collider at the Cern Laboratory under the Swiss Alps for an amount of money that could feed all the starving people in the world for decades to come. This giant magnetic ‘bottle’ is supposed to bring into existence a short-lived ‘God particle” which will tell us how the cosmos came into being by filling in the missing link in the sub-atomic particle zoo, supposedly needed to complete the big bang theory. It’s an unconscionable waste of effort and resources, because, even if this “God particle” is discovered, it will still leave us wondering how the cosmos works now and how the biosphere functions, and what enlivens and organizes it. Belief in phantom deities like Yahweh, Allah, God and his alter ego Jesus Christ will remain unshaken if and when this particle ‘god’ emerges, since even the most fertile imagination cannot conceive how ephemeral particles organize matter, or fit into the known natural scheme of things.
    For at least a generation scientists have known that real energetic particles – electropositive protons and electronegative electrons expelled by supernova explosions, are continuously bombarding Earth. An invisible (nevertheless very real) trapping ‘bottle’ known as the magnetosphere, surrounding our planet like a doughnut, captures them to form dense streams of electrons and protons. They spiral from pole to pole creating a strong magnetic dynamo capable of patterning all living matter into its own dynamic image by invisible action-at-a-distance. This ‘image’ is manifested in the way plants develop in spirals governed by the .618/.382 ratio, most easily seen in the arrangement of leaves flowers and seeds, but buds first emerge at an angle of .618 x .618 x 360o = 137.5o. The .618/.382 ratio is anachronistically ascribed to the 12thC mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci, but the ratio, as well as this angle, were already well known to the architects of Giza and Stonehenge 5000 years ago. Sages used them in all their sacred structures to honour their Makers. Theirs was not a blind faith in an indescribable deity, but a devotion to nature’s dynamics eternalized in imposing megaliths, modelled in .618/.382 or 137.5o patterns – like those in plants. Devotion to Nature went underground when the .618/.382 design parameter was secretly used in medieval cathedral architecture. In essence Maat, the Egyptian goddess who personified the ‘first law of physics and universal order’ (meaning these primary natural ratios) had been forgotten when she was replaced by an unreachable male deity who nevertheless retained her creative skills and social conscience – the latter attributed to Jesus, and the former to ‘God’.
    This is natural theology gone wrong; meaning “the science of dealing with the knowledge of God as derived from his works” had been corrupted almost beyond recall, despite the enduring legacy of working order in the plant kingdom and every other less tangible dynamic system organized into .618/.382 proportions. (‘organized’: to make organic, into an organism, into a living part, structure or being, to put into proper working order).
    Social reformers promoted the need for social order instead of attempting to regain lost knowledge of the divine, leaving brainwashed confused masses of humanity groping for a grip on reality. The aftermath is millions of atheistic dropouts (like Richard Dawkins) dangerous misbegotten cults and religious schisms degrading global consciousness.
    At small cost, you can now perform a simple experiment to see how ‘God” (redefined) enlivens everything by transmitting invisible electromagnetic energy generated in the sky down to Earth. By doing this you can now rediscover your real but invisible natural enlivener. To see this real life process at work in real time take a seedling with a good taproot system about 15 cm long or bigger, from tender top to undamaged root tip. Wash off any clinging soil. Tie a silk thread to the growing apex and fix the thread to a central support above a wide long transparent tube or bottle. Do this to ensure that air currents do not activate the setup while the seedling is dangling in the protective bottle. Twirl the seedling to make sure that none of its parts touch the sides of the tube/bottle while rotating. If you want to record the moves, mark out angles and times on a raised glass sheet under the bottle.
    The observed vibrations and rotations enable roots to penetrate soil like little jackhammers and the spiralling superstructure spreads out leaves in order to utilise light maximally for photosynthesis. This is proof of nature’s intelligence without involving God as a Designer. The natural .618/.382 pattern starts at the quantum-physical level, where spiralling creative electromagnetic forces are released from hydrogen atoms everywhere in space when their protons and electrons part company. This process is called ionization. It is the bridge between the irrationally isolated microcosmic atomic domain and the real cosmos. It imbues all matter and energy at all levels of existence everywhere with the .618/.382 proportioning dynamic. You will be seeing these quantum physical properties (electrical charge, spin, vibration, angular momentum, magnetic moments creating action-at-a-distance) at work in your own little bottle. They prompt the electropositive calcium ions in the plant to respond accordingly, because the earth-encircling magnetic bottle is transferring these quantum properties to it.
    Darwin’s evolutionary theory is inadequate and flawed in several respects, but mainly because he omitted this driving force, yet he seems to have wrestled with the problem, because he conducted scores of experiments clearly implicating this enlivening spiralling force he mistook for gravity, as many subsequent experimenters have done. His book The Power of Movement in Plants illustrates how the roots and stems of most plants continuously move in vibrating jagged circles; even at rest during the night. (See his fig. 172 for the path followed by a plant root during 12 hours. See also the stroboscopic photo of a spiralling fungus).
    Invite your friends and relations to witness how your seedling performs a cosmic dance under the direction of the invisible magnetic bottle surrounding Earth, beating out Maat’s .618/.382 quantum rhythm. Faith is said to move mountains, but it takes an electro-active natural organizing force to enliven a tiny plant; an indispensable gift from our material Maker.
    The moral teachings of Jesus, Buddha and their like are based on Maat, but a supernatural father God is an imposition alienating us from a more unifying natural philosophy. Maat seems to have become the vague, ill defined Christian Holy Spirit, or Holy Ghost
    After reading this short essay you may see how religions and science have denatured theology.

    Right; Plant movement recorded by
    Darwin. He was unaware of the fact
    that micro pulsations generated in
    the magnetosphere were causing
    this involuntary reaction.
    Maat (TRUTH) is clearly evident

    Left; A fungus caught in the act of
    spiralling upwards in response to the
    similar magnetic micro pulsations. Photos taken at four minute intervals (white dots)
    by D Dennison

    If you have understood the rigid scientific basis underpinning this thesis you will know why Creationists are barking up the wrong artificial biblical Genesis tree of life from which an Intelligent Designer God is about to fall down into oblivion.

    ADDENDUM ; The Worshipful Magnetic Compass
    Long ago the activities of the Earth-encircling magnetic bottle entered human consciousness when lodestone compasses were seen to quiver unerringly towards its magnetic north. The Maya orientated their cities accordingly because they thought the spirit (of magnetism?) was directing them to do so. Chinese geomancers sought harmony between the spirit of magnetism and their living environment by using compass bearings to organise their landscapes and cities. In 1600 William Gilbert wrote “Magnetic force is animate, or imitates life; and in many things surpasses human life, while this is bound up in the organick life”. His many experiments convinced him that Earth is one giant living magnet organising all matter under its control, thereby following the ancient Chinese insight that this bipolar force in heaven, li, is the Tao, the root from which all things are produced in “the pattern” of the yin/yang, i.e. .618/.382 electromagnetic +/- proportions. This long interesting history of our perception of the role of magnetism as a life force to be respected is detailed in my book Reality versus Blind Faith. In it you will also find how the collective trading psyche is locked into this cosmic quantum rhythm via Earth’s magnetosphere – a magnetic bottle far more informative than the particle accelerator’s magnetic bottle misguided modern alchemists are building under the Alps.
    By applying this quantum rhythm to stock-market dynamics the very day [11 October 2007] when Western markets topped out was anticipated and identified as the pivot into a protracted bear market cascade and unprecedented depression likely to last a few years. Highs and lows since then were also prefigured. Warning e-mails sent to scores of market commentators were predictably ignored because pundits are still talking about a recession.

    Books by F. Crooks. Tel: R.S.A. 27[0]33-3302565. Fax : 27[0]33-3305283
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    All these books question the insular ruling scientific and theological paradigms by substituting a more holistic view of cosmic influences on everything that constitutes a dynamic system on Earth and in the universe. A ubiquitous Prime Mover as a partner to Matter is postulated.

    A a) Universal Gene – the Unifying Factor, The quantum rhythm in 300 data ₤ 25, R 240, $ 45
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    d) Reality versus Blind Faith – the origin of ancient symbolism. ₤ 20, R 200, $ 40
    e) Giza a Unified Plan based on Nature’s Law. The Divine Ratio is ancient. ₤ 12, R 120, $ 22
    f) Slaves of the Pulsars. Introduction to market dynamics ₤ 8, R 80, $ 15
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  10. Bendul

    Well that’s a bit of a conversation ender!

    Interesting though.

    A few beautifull comments to a beautifull post. Keep up the mutuality!

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