Beyond Tolerance – Toward Understanding and Respect

The Wellington Interfaith Council will host New Zealand’s 5th National Interfaith Forum on 8-10 March 2008 in Wellington. The forum’s slogan is “Beyond Tolerance – Toward Understanding and Respect: Challenges and Opportunities”

The Council has extended a warm “invitation to:
– all participants in interfaith activity throughout New Zealand
– anyone who has a keen interest in becoming involved in interfaith activity
– those who have a sincere interest in deepening their interfaith understanding.”

Now, it seems to me that this invitation is too narrow to achieve the declared aim of understanding and respect. Surely this requires dialogue and interaction with people outside, as well as those inside, the “interfaith” community. Considering that a third of New Zealanders do not adhere to a faith (see Trends in religious belief in New Zealand) how can such a limited forum deal with the “challenges and opportunities” encountered in the efforts to build “understanding and respect?”

This was the problem with the National Statement on Religious Diversity. Because of the restricted “interfaith” nature of the working group involved in the statement’s preparation and endorsement the statement fell well short of basic human rights guaranteed in New Zealand legislation and international agreements on human rights. For example, Article 3 provides the right to safety to only “faith communities and their members.”

The Forums slogan is great. But it’s wrong to see these as issues only for those of “faith.” All of us, religious and non-religious alike, need to face up to these issues. And, in particular, there is need to build understanding and respect between the religious and non-religious.

The news release from the forum organisers does claim that it will bring together “representatives of interfaith, faith and non faith groups from around New Zealand.” But how is this possible when the invitation is restricted to only those involved or interested in “interfaith” activity?

Related Articles:
Secular alternatives to religious communities
Religious diversity and human rights
Atheism and religious diversity I: Diversity in New Zealand
Atheism and religious diversity II: A personal perspective
Atheism and religious diversity III: Conflict between science and religion
Atheism and religious diversity IV: Values, morality and spirituality
Religious Diversity Statement
Religious diversity includes “non-believers”
Common values, common action?

2 responses to “Beyond Tolerance – Toward Understanding and Respect

  1. Good catch. I wonder if there are actually any non-faith representatives registered for the forum?


  2. I don’t know. However, I’ve emailed the organisers to see if they can enlighten me about the invitation.

    The invitation to the previous forum in the Waikato was similarly restrictive. However, I was told that If I had gone I would have been welcome. This was given as an argument that non-religious people had a voice in the endorsement of the National Statement on Religious Diversity which took place at that forum.

    I suspect that the organisers of these forums may be in two minds about the role of non-faith people – hence the apparent confusion between the invitations and the news release.


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