I am not claiming that “interfaith” activity is bad – obviously it can do a lot to reduce inter-religious friction, hostility and violence. And that is certainly needed in parts of the world today. No – the bad arises when interfaith groups go outside their mandate and start thinking they represent everyone. Or they behave as if only religious “faiths” count and other, non-religious, beliefs should be ignored.
A blatant example occurred in the US in an “interfaith” service on April 18 after the bombing at the Boston Marathon. Despite repeated attempts humanists and secular groups were denied a representative presence (see Healing Must Be For Everyone, Including the Nonreligious Affected By Boston Marathon Bombings). Effectively the organisers excluded non-religious from an important ceremony which should have been for every American.
Staks Rosch, in his examiner article Interfaith: The very name is exclusive – National atheism acknowledges that:
“Even people who don’t immediately hate atheists for our lack of belief in deities would be quick to point out that atheism isn’t a faith and therefore atheists don’t belong in an “interfaith” service.
The problem however is not with atheists for wanting to be included in interfaith services, but rather with interfaith services themselves for pretending that they are inclusive when their very name is exclusive. If they desire to be exclusive that is one thing, but doing so while pretending to be inclusive just doesn’t work. The fact is that atheism is on the rise in America and many atheists have built and are building humanist communities like the one at Harvard. We are here and we are not going away; we’re growing!”
We had similar issues in New Zealand in commemorations held for victims of the Christchurch earthquake. I understand that even the minor religions had to fight hard against dominance of the major Christian denominations for representation at the “interfaith” service. I guess humanists and other nonreligious groups just didn’t have a show.
“Interfaith” in local bodies
This issue came up for me again when the local “interfaith” group achieved a small “victory” with the Hamilton City Council. Here’s how the Waikato interfaith council reported the City Council’s acceptance of their request:
The Waikato Interfaith Council (WIFCO) is pleased to announce that the Hamilton City Council has embraced the opening of each of its City Council meetings with an interfaith prayer. In 2013, these will be led by Waikato faith leaders from the Anglican, Baha’i, Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu, Jewish, Mormon, and Muslim communities. We would like to extend our vote of appreciation to Her Worship the Mayor Judy Hardaker, Hamilton City Councillor Daphne Bell, and all Hamilton City Council members for including both majority and minority religions in the opening of future Council meetings. This positive action sends an enthusiastic message of inclusion to all members of society and we sincerely hope that our prayers, led by a more representative selection of Waikato faith leaders, may help guide and encourage our Mayor and City Councillors in fulfilling the obligations for which they have been elected. WIFCO believes that this is a significant milestone in local governance that embraces all members of Waikato’s multicultural and multireligious communities. We hope that other Councils throughout New Zealand undertake such initiatives. [My bold]
So there’s the delusion – blatantly presented. The idea that holding religious prayers at City Council Meetings is somehow inclusive. Or that just by including prayers from minor religious groups as well as the major one is being inclusive.
But it’s not – as this figure from my recent post Fiddling with census figures for religion in New Zealand shows:
WICO’s agreement nice little arrangement with the Hamilton City Council is not inclusive because the largest New Zealand belief group is actually excluded!
Questions for consideration
- Are ceremonies and prayers needed in local bodies and public events?
- Should interfaith groups make sure there is representation of nonreligious beliefs in such “inclusive” ceremonies?
- should nonreligious organisations be more proactive and request their recognition and offcial presence in “inclusive” ceremonies?
- Why do “interfaith” groups and activities usually ignore the nonreligious?