703 Karen Armstrong, Huston Smith … and you … Coverage from ‘Religion, Conflict, Peace’ Conference

Rabbi David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee addresses the American conference in Dearborn, Michigan, from Jerusalem.

International heavyweights Karen Armstrong, Huston Smith and Rabbi David Rosen are converging in Dearborn for three days of work with grassroots activists to combat bigotry and push toward peace in the face of rising fear and conflict. If you’re within traveling distance of Dearborn, the conference is open to the public. The Common Bond Institute schedule for the “Religion, Conflict and Peace” conference is online.

ReadTheSpirit’s national Home Office is located in Michigan, so we’re reporting conference highlights.

Karen Armstrong talks about Charter for Compassion

Karen Armstrong is one of several international figures who addressed the opening of the three-day conference via video connection. Armstrong spoke from London. Rabbi David Rosen spoke from Jerusalem. Huston Smith spoke from California. In her talk, Armstrong stressed several themes, especially her work on the Charter for Compassion. (ReadTheSpirit is a partnering organization in the Charter project.) Some of Armstrong’s thoughts:

SUMMARIZING CHARTER’S FOCUS: As a historian of religion, I’ve long been aware that every single one of the major world faiths has at its heart an ethic of compassion. Each one has a version of the Golden Rule: “Do unto others what you wish to have done unto you.”

KEEPING OUR WORK “PRACTICAL”: I love the subtitle of your conference, “Walking the Talk to Compassion and Harmony,” because now the challenge is implementing the compassion ideal in practical terms that will make a difference in the 21st century.

REMEMBER THAT EARLIER SAGES ALSO FACED EXTREME VIOLENCE: We can do this. Just think back to those great sages—Buddha, Confucius, Socrates, the rabbis, Jesus, Muhammad—all of whom were working in times of great violences and yet managed in those times to bring a messages of peace to the world. We can do that, too.

Huston Smith talks about Religion, Violence and … Listening

The great scholar, writer and educator Huston Smith literally taught America about world religions. Starting in the 1950s on public television and continuing through millions of copies of his comparative-religion textbooks, Smith has influenced generations of Americans in appreciating religious diversity.

IMPORTANCE OF BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS: We need to engage someone in love more than simply greeting him or her. When we greet a passerby, we smile and go on our way, but real engagements are involving and open ended. We pause, we linger and we share with each other.

WHY RELIGION IS SOMETIMES LINKED TO VIOLENCE: The central reason is that religion gets hijacked by politics all through history in nations in conflict. In war, people want to win and they invoke the greatest power they can muster—and that power is God. Therefore, people invoke God. “God is on our side! Who can prevail against us?” The problem is that this works both ways. Both sides think the same thing and they invoke the religion that they champion. Thereby, all manner of sorrows follow.

IMPORTANCE OF PREPARING CAREFULLY FOR PEACEMAKING: First of all, make sure that you have an accurate perception of the other party at its best and that means reading their scriptures, searching out the noblest examples of people and then pilgrimaging and talking with them about issues we are trying to negotiate so we can move toward peaceful solutions.

NEED FOR LISTENING: (Waves his finger at the crowd to emphasize this point.) The key is listening. Listen before you barge in to pontificate your own views. Instead, move in with questions. “Do I have it right that this is your belief on this subject?” Ask questions. Listen.

Rabbi David Rosen talks about Peacemaking and the new Council of Religious Leaders of the Holy Land

Rabbi David Rosen’s work circles the globe, including his efforts to negotiate improved Jewish-Catholic relations with the Vatican. His home page lists his many ongoing projects. For the conference, he spoke mainly about his cutting-edge work with the Council of Religious Leaders of the Holy Land, founded in 2007. The Council includes a wide range of minority religious movements in the Holy Land. Primarily, Rabbi Rosen argued, Americans should urge our political leaders to engage with interreligious groups like the council as partners for peace in the region.

HISTORIC IMPORTANCE OF THE COUNCIL: This is the first time ever in the history of the Holy Land that there has been such a council that embraces Christians, Muslims and Jews … but also Druze, Baha’is, Samaritans and the whole diverse fabric of religious life in the Holy Land.

IN MANY PARTS OF THE WORLD, “RELIGION” DOESN’T MEAN “PEACE”: For those of us who live in the worlds of our respective religious traditions, all of us want peace. … But, the assumption that religion and peace should be synonymous is not a given assumption among many people in our society.

WHY RELIGION CAN FUEL CONFLICT: Religion is bound up with all the different components of understanding who we are … as communities and peoples. Therefore, when communities and peoples feel threatened by one another, then the role of religion becomes one of nurturing our identities. … We find this in so many conflicts.

THIS CAN LEAVE EVERYONE A VULNERABLE VICTIM: In the Holy Land, everybody sees themselves as vulnerable and everyone sees themselves as the victim. Palestinians see themselves as vulnerable and victims in light of Israeli power. Israelis see themselves as vulnerable and victims in a hostile sea of Arab power. And, Arabs see themselves as vulnerable and victims in the onslaught of Western consumerism and power. … So, there is a natural tendency for isolation and withdrawl. Often, religion becomes part and parcel of the process … a part of our demonization of the other. … In this part of the world, people tend to live very much, if not in watertight, at least very much separated communities that don’t relate to each other.

WHY IT’S HARD TO ENGAGE POLITICAL LEADERS: Especially in Israel, there is suspicion about everything religious. Religious things are seen as either socially manipulative or having to do with political bargaining. … That’s why, when we established the council, one of the key things we wanted to do was to meet political leaders in a new way.

THE MESSAGE AMERICAN LEADERS SEND BY IGNORING THE COUNCIL: We had great hope from this new Obama administration. … But, George Mitchell has been over here a couple of dozen times and he still has not met with the religious leaders, let alone this council. … The message is that, at best, religious leaders are irrelevant or, at worst, religious leaders are the enemy and we’re working on peace in spite of you.

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(Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)

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