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?
Posted in agnostic, atheism, belief, New Zealand, politics, religion, SciBlogs
Tagged Boston Marathon, City Council, Hamilton, interfaith, Interfaith dialog, SciBlogs, Waikato
I think most people are pleased the authorities captured the suspects for the Boston Marathon bombing – and got one of them alive. There are a lot of issues raised by the Boston events over the last week, and I think this video about the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Centre is of at least tangential relevance.
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and the Imam.
We won’t know for some time what the motives of these bombers were, what international links they had and if they received help. But, in other cases involving acts of terrorism in the West by young men from immigrant families, one scenario appears common:
- Genuine problems for immigrant communities offer a breeding ground for discontent.
- This can cause radicalisation of some young men in the community.
- In some Muslim communities there are militant and fundamentalist Imams in the mosques whose teachings help inflame discontent and feed the radicalisation of the youth.
- Many, if not a large majority of Muslim Mosques in western countries, have relied on financial support from Saudi Arabia – particularly for their establishment. This is certainly true for New Zealand.
- Sometime support is also provided by importing Imams and teachers from Saudi Arabia – often members of fundamentalist sects themselves.
- I suspect that more moderate members of the Mosque may tolerate fundamentalist Imams because they respect older conservative members of the community who see value in criticism of western values, etc.
So we can have a quite inflammatory situation. Genuine discontent, radicalisation of youth and militant religious leaders feeding the radicalisation. In some, yes just a few, cases this can lead to terrorist activity. With the ironic aspect that finance to feed this problem comes from the western obsession with oil which has made Saudi Arabia very rich. It has also made the country immune to criticism for the export of militant Islam.
I realise some commenters might accuse me of “Islamophobia” for the above. But isn’t that part of the problem – the denial of criticism? After all, I am not criticising all Muslims, even all disaffected Muslims. I am not criticising the religion (not in this post anyway – but the ability to do so is part of living in a democratic, pluralist society). I am only criticising a situation which has an effect in only a small number of cases – but a dramatic effect.
Yes, I am also aware we have other disaffected communities in our society. We have fundamentalist, radical, priests and ministers in other religions. That combination can also sometimes lead to terrorist activity, such as the bombing of clinics or murder of doctors. In the past non-religious groups have also promoted terrorism. Let’s not limit our concern just to Islamic terrorism.
But also, let’s not limit our ability to confront such problems by a naive form of multiculturalism which prevents any criticism and sweeps real problems under the carpet.
Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) tweeted the above picture today from the International Space Station. As he wrote – “A somber Spring night in Boston.”
Boston Marathon bombings
I think it demonstrates the sort of high-tech world we now live in – high connectivity, immediate information transfer and amazing technology. We have astronauts in near earth orbit tweeting condolences and images in response to the bombings at the Boston Marathon. But the bombs themselves probably also relied on the technology of cell phones for their detonation, even though they may have been relatively primitive devices themselves. On the other hand, authorities quickly closed down cell phone communication – maybe preventing further detonations. And they are investigating records of cell tower transmissions – hopefully this will give them leads enabling rapid arrest of the perpetrators.
Technology – it’s a mixed bag. It can be used for evil as well as good.
Empathise with victims of terror everywhere
The other thought this atrocity evokes in me is that our technology and culture seems to restrict our empathy to the “first world.” The world we see everyday on our TVs. Inevitably we wear cultural blinkers.
What happened in Boston today happens regularly in a number of “third world” countries, and we hardly hear about those events. Meetings, markets, churches, mosques and other places humans gather together are regularly bombed in a number of “third world” countries. Just in the last few days dozens of people were murdered in Iraq in this way. Wedding parties are bombed in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Sometimes these people are “collateral damage” – victims of invading or intervening countries committing acts of war. More often they are people purposely targeted in terrorist acts committed for religious, ethnic or ideological reasons.
Whatever – innocent people around the world are regularly killed in such hateful attacks – and we hardly notice. So, while I react with an understandable grief and anger at the shocking waste of life and widespread injuries in Boston today, these feelings are tinged with guilt.
I felt the same way when I reacted to the terrorist attacks in New York on September 11, 2001. Even today, when I hear or read the term “9/11” I inevitably think of another “9/11” – the bloody coup which overthrew democracy in Chile on September 11, 1973. A coup which lead to the torture and murder of thousands of Chileans.
No, I am not critiquing people for this inevitable cultural blindness. I just wish the great technology we now have would do more to make us realise we are all in this together. That it would more quickly break down the cultural barriers which cause this blindness.
Posted in human rights, politics, religion, SciBlogs
Tagged Boston, Boston Marathon, Chris Hadfield, International Space Station, SciBlogs, September 11 1973, September 11 2001, Terror