Talk about religions and conflict is sure to get a mention. The perception is that religion involves disagreement and often opposition. There’s something about being correct. For some reason faith seems to mean being right or having the right truths.
Religion in fact means what joins people into community together – the Latin word ligare means to bind. Belief in having the right truths does bind people together, but does it make community?
My turn during October’s Inter-faith Week of Prayer for World Peace was the last night, with the theme of Truth. The service sheet proposed we pray “for recognition of the fundamental importance of the quality of Truth”. The quality of truth.
The quality is how rather than what. It is not so much about being right as being in right relationship. Relating one to another, we to you. Relating through trusting and being trustworthy, being true to oneself and to the other.
I suspect this is at the heart of all religions: I can only speak for Christianity and I know that it’s the core of our faith. What joins us together is, in the words of John’s gospel, “the way, the truth, the life”. As church, as Christians, we are followers of the Way. We are disciples (or apprentices) learning and re-learning the basic lessons of living, learners and mentors together on the journey.
It’s tempting to turn Jesus’ teaching into statements about truth and not truth, right and wrong, to read his teaching as nouns – naming words. We’ll get the point much better (and not slide into conflict with people who see things differently, because of background, experience, personality, etc) if we read it as verbs – as doing words and being words.
How not what. The quality of truth not the dogma of truth.
Karen Armstrong speaks of compassion as the heart and soul of all religions. This is the quality that is emphasised by all the great religions and it is what binds their people together in true community. Compassion is a noun but we can only find its meaning if we treat it as if it were a verb. Being and doing is how compassion exists: never in the abstract, only in relationship one to another. It is the key to bind people within religions and across religions, including those of no professed faith.
We all have life beliefs of some sort, whether articulated in terms of a religion or not. We can all commit to the truth – the true practice – of compassion. It is the only future for humanity and the planet.
Rangimarie Peace Shalom,