In recent years, there has been horrific violence in Muslim majority countries perpetrated by Muslim extremists in the name of Allah. Earlier this year scores of Muslim scholars and religious leaders from 120 countries convened in Morocco to issue the Marrakesh Declaration (http://marrakeshdeclaration.org/marrakesh-declaration.html) In essence this document condemns religious persecution and calls for the restoration of the ‘tradition of conviviality’.
It is an important and welcomed document indeed.
Conviviality fosters dialogue. Vatican II and subsequent papal encyclicals have consistently promoted inter-religious dialogue. It is commonplace to state that such dialogue not only identifies the walls that separate religious communities but also highlights the bridges that connect them. What is not so broadly appreciated – at least not yet – is that the bridges that join us together also fortify us. A useful fable here would be Aesop’s tale of the five brothers and the bundle of sticks. This point is worthy of reflection as religious freedom in our nation today is increasingly threatened and its defense will require a coordinated stand by people of all faiths.
But, in addition to a greater mutual understanding and a coordinated defense of religious freedom, there is a third benefit to interfaith dialogue, one for both believers and non-believers, and the need for it is increasingly urgent. When people of all faiths come together genuinely to explore the depths of what they believe they tend to discover that they share a common wisdom. The discovery of this common wisdom in a mysterious way unifies and guides adherents of different faiths. It is as though the more profoundly we disparate believers jointly delve into the source of what we believe the more clearly we discern the immutable law of God ‘written in the hearts’ of all men, a law which when respected yields flourishing life for all.
Are we as a society flourishing? Have we become indifferent to, even ignorant of, the sacred and all the sacred implies? Do we still recognize as sacred and true those ‘sacred truths’ which inspired the birth of our nation? Are we disconnecting ourselves from the monotheistic ethos which has unified and moored us as a free, functioning society? Will we lose the ‘Unum” in “E Pluribus Unum”? If we abjure God’s law that stresses our responsibility to each other and submit exclusively to Man’s laws which celebrate and defend our individual self-reliance will the strong and clever dominate the weak and vulnerable? Will we begin to slide on the slippery slope to barbarism and learn too late the painful lesson of “not by bread alone shall man live?”
Let us indeed welcome conviviality and explore interfaith dialogue. Let us ‘bundle our sticks’ so that we deepen our mutual acquaintance and collaborate in the defense of religious freedom. Most of all, let us do it to enhance our potency as leaven, salt and light in a society that risks becoming increasingly shallow, insipid and dark, a society increasingly pagan.
Dana Robinson is chair of the board of trustees of the National Catholic Community Foundation.