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Tossing Pebbles in the Stream

This blog is my place to sit and toss pebbles into the stream. The stream of Life relentlessly passing before us. We can affect it little. For the most part I just watch it passing and follow the flow. Occasionally, I need to comment on its passing, tossing a pebble at it to enjoy the ripple affect upon Life's surface.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Culture of Multiple Faiths

Wrestling over religious issues has been central to my life. I can remember as a very young child avoiding saying bedtime prays ( which my mother thought were important) and then lying in bed waiting for some dreadful punishment to happen.

As a teenager I was quite religiously rebellious as I tried to understand the meaning of life and death, understand the existence of evil and question the exisitence of God. Apparently, many teenagers go through this. For me, I felt very much alone. I thought I was the only one to have such doubts. It left me feeling I disappointed my mother by denying a lot of the religious ideas she took for granted. At school, I became known as the class atheist who refused to recite the Lord's Prayer as well as the pledge of allegiance, leaving me sitting while my classmates routinely and apparently unquestioningly did what they were told. I am not sure where my rebelliousness came from for I was an otherwise ,"wanting to please" kind of person. I have always been intellectually curious. This along with having several of my friends die in vehicle accidents at a young age, keep me exploring the religious significance of life.

I had abandoned the Presbyterian Church, at last, in spite of my mother's pleas to continue going so my brother would still want to go. I finally found a spiritual home when I discovered the Unitarian Church. Here I was accepted as an adult even though I was only 17. Furthermore, my religious struggles were admired and encouraged. Being a community of seekers rather than believers left the Unitarian church on the fringe of the Christian church, in spite if deep roots in Christianity. Most of those who attended were "come outers" from mainstream Christian churches and even other religious faiths. What held us together as a group was not some creedal covenant but the human seeking of meaning in life. Most seemed satisfied by a humanistic faith with a strong ethical motivation.We were Christian in behaviour if not belief. As some have said it is "deeds not creeds" which reveal the nature of people's true faith.

The ultimate act of rebellion for me was to decide to explore the possiblity of become a clergyman. ( A counter revolutionary act) Off to seminary I went. I think some friends and family were a little more than surprised. My mother quickly bought me a Bible, a lovely one bound in red Morocco leather, which I still keep by my bed. (It could do with more reading)

I soon found myself in Boston, discovering there were Christian Unitarian and not all had come late to membership in the church as Humanists. I remember still discovering that "the Prayer of Jesus" was the Lord's Prayer and I was expected to recite it in front of a congregation. What had I doneI I did learn a lot and mellowed in some of my objections to religious form over substance.

I, at least, learned that for some people the form of familiar faith practices and rituals was meaningful and a comfort at the same time some of it made me uncomfortable. But I found that if you looked behind the outward religious practice there was the unuversal human quest for spiritual meaning.

I have long been interested in faiths other than Christianity. I remember visits to Toronto's only Buddhist temple back then and thinking I might become a Buddhist. Then I visited a Reform Synagogue and thought I would join if only they would ask me. Years later I visited a Trappist Monestary in Massachusetts. If I had not been a single parent at the time I might have considered spending more time there. As you can see I had moved beyond rebellion at Christian ritual and rather enjoyed the prayer services several time a day. While I remain loyal to the Unitarian Church I would seek out one of the peace churches it I was starting over. I could easily be comfortable among the Quakers.

Where am I going with all this?

Our Society in Canada and the United States is changing. It is harder to claim to be Christian based societies ( with acceptance of Jews in our misdst). We have rapidily become much more multi-faith communities and the trend will continue, partly with the demise of a lot of Christian religiosity and the rise of secular and new age faiths; and, more significantly the rise of World religious faiths in our midst though immigration from, the Middle East, Asia and Africa. This will change our society significantly. Conversely, our Societies will eventually bring change in the practices of these other faiths.

We have just past though the significant religious days for Muslims and Jews, Ramadan and the High Holy Days, respectively. I usually spend some time about now reading about these yearly religious events and their significance. I am particularly impressed with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement for Jews. How we could all find our need for atonement and benefit from by asking forgiveness to those we have injured and from whom we have become estranged. Ultimately, we all need to seek atonement with God. Our imperfect lives often find us estranged from the Holy and the spiritual essence which is at the core of all humanity. In their own way the Faiths of the World answer the human need to be "at one" (atonement) with the Sacred in order to be most human.

Most of us have some familiarity and comfort with Judaism as part of our culture. In the US Jews have a long history. One congregation in particular has been very significant. The
Touro Synagogue in Newport Rhode Island is where George Washington promised them and all of the United States, religious freedom. On his first visit to Newport as President he wrote them a letter where he promised the in the United States we would "give bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.". Here was the root to separation of church and state.

The Touro Synagogue is a fascinating place to visit. If you get anywhere near Newport I recomment a visit. This synagogue was founded by Sephardic Jews. They are the Jews with their tradition rooted in the Iberian Peninsula. In 1492, not only did Spain send Columbus off in his great exploration, but it expelled the Jews from the country, the Edict of Expulsion. They were given the choice of leaving or converting to Christianity. Many left for North Africa and around the Mediterranian fleeing persecution ultimately even further afield. Finally, a group learned of Roger William's experiment in religious freedom in Rhode Island and they settled in Newport, where they were allowed to practice their orthodox faith in peace. The Touro Synagogue is the oldest one in continuous existence in the US serving the historic Jeshuat Israel Congregation.

North Americans are less comfortable with the Muslims in our midst. Muslims in the US now out number Jews, I recently read. They are a growing part of North American society. Interestingly the oldest Mosque in North America is in Edmonton Alberta. The Al Rashid Mosque. It was organized by Syrian farmers who had come to Canada. It is interesting that their Mosque was build on land donated by the city and both Christians and Jews help this fledgling community built their Mosque. In the US, the oldest purpose built Mosque in the US is in Cedar Rapids, Ia. surprisingly.

I recently discovered a web site that is fascinating reading. I recommend it to you. I read the whole thing. Two men in New York set about to visit 30 Mosques in 30 days during Ramadan.

They were present in each when they broke the daily fast and shared a meal. They also participated in their service. It is amazing the variety of Mosques in New York City, most catering to one ethnic community or another but all welcoming of visitors. A few are grand buildings but many are humble and struggling to create a space for worship out of industrial and residential buildings in neighbourhoods around New York. This website shares the observations of these two fellows about these Mosques. There are also photos of them and the food eaten in breaking the daily fast. What is striking about this website is that for those who have no experience with Muslims and what their faith means to them, here is a peek into it. How Muslims love their Mosques as a place to pray, share with their community and learn. We often only see on the news the grand Mosques of the Middle East and hear of the calls for political action by powerful Imams. We have come to see Islam as a fierce and scary faith. Here in this website we see the reality of most Muslims as they live their religious lives around their Mosque not too dissimilar from Christians around their church or Jews around their synagogue. Read it. It may alter your misconceptions about Muslims and Islam.

Finally, (Ever since I taught myself to touch type my blog entries seem to be getting longer)
here is another very interesting website, the Pluralism Project by Harvard University. Here you will find information about the vast majority of different faiths that have blossomed among us.
They are in small towns and big cities. They range from the ancient world Faiths to Paganism.
There is increased interest in Interfaith groups where there is mutual respect and understanding. Is there an interfaith group in your community? In this website you will find information on the amount of different faiths that are adding to our communities, religious and social. Things are changing. We need to come to undertand and welcome a wider variety of faiths in our midst that just Christianity and Judaism. ( The fact the Unitarianism is not included as an other faith is a kind of recognition of the establishment status of it. Or in Harvard's view it is since so many Unitarian ministers were trained at Harvard.)

I hope you enjoy these two fascinating websites. Knowledge of other faiths can enrich your life.
We need to know and understand something about them for they will become an increasingly
visible part of our multifaith societies.


At 11:48 a.m., Blogger Sissy said...

Good post, Phillip. It has nudged me to investigate further into other organized religions. Thank you for sharing with us

At 2:18 p.m., Blogger KGMom said...

Ah, Philip--had we met as teens you and I would have shared our skepticism. I recall announcing to a college classmate, I am not sure there is a God. She and I talked and talked.
I think many of us who go by the name Christian do so because of cultural influence. I am perfectly content to let someone be Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or whatever. I have no urge at all to convert anyone.
If God is, then God is for all and everyone, not respecting the particular forms people try to put God into.
I am one of those folks who will say certain creed statements, and just stop talking when I don't agree. You can imagine how the Apostles Creed must sound on my lips.
I refused to sing the U.S. national anthem during George Bush's presidency--the rockets' red glare. We need no encouragement.
I recently read the book PEOPLE OF THE BOOK--a fictional account of the Sarajevo Haggadah, which is a real book. Among other things, the novel touches on the expulsion of the Jews from Spain during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella.
Philip--we would have lots to talk about, wouldn't we? Well, keep posting and I will keep commenting, and vice versa. That will have to do for the time being.

At 3:19 p.m., Blogger Anvilcloud said...

From time to time, I do some reading about the origins/roots/interpretations of my heritage faith -- Christianity. I have also recently been in a synagogue. But I am thinking that we'd be better off if we moved on to a post religious era. But it seems as though that will take some time.

At 10:20 a.m., Blogger possum said...

Excellent post, Philip. As you know, I am a Unitarian/Buddhist... with Christians in my family as well as Muslims and a few athiests for good measure.
I tried all the Christian churches I could as a kid. I appreciated the Episcopalians the most... but then I moved to the Middle East. I could not understand why the Christianity I had been taught condemned all non-Christians to hell. My Muslim friends were wonderful, kind, loving people. I had never felt more at home with any people.
But, time moves on. Back in the states I tried to do the Christian thing again but felt I was living a lie. When my kids in school had to stand and pledge allegiance to the flag, I stood with them, but under the Bush regime, I stopped saying the pledge. I stood in silence during our "moment of silence" as I stood for the pledge. Today I am on the Town Council. I still stand out of respect for the pledge and the Christian prayer before each session, but I do not participate.

Buddhism had always fascinated me, so I began to study it. It was there that I found the answer... Do NO Harm. It is just that simple. Perhaps the highlight of my life was having the opportunity to spend a week with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, and study with him as my teacher, and take my vows with him.
Strangely, the Buddhist way is more closely alligned with what I was taught by the Traditional members of my family - we are Munsee. We went to church in order to blend in - but, as I said, it never was a good fit.

If anyone is interested in another good Muslim site, visit

Akso, An excellent book is A History of God, by Karen Armstrong. Check out your religious roots.
Thanks Philip!

At 10:08 p.m., Blogger Tom said...

If I keep stoping by here and reading these posts you just might save this old sinner.. ;o)
I enjoy your thoughts and always try to follow your links... I will do so over the weekend time permitting...

Hyde as a large number of Muslims, many came here in the early 1960s to work in the cotton mills.... I am very close to many of them through working side by side and going to school together.... yet when we meet in the street and stand and talk.... others from both communities find it odd... you would think after 40 years we could mix.
I remember the bad times in the late 60s where gangs of skinhead thugs would attack the Asians... burn them out of there houses. In the 1970s our area saw a rise in members of what was then the National Front... now going by the name of the BNP.. British Nationlist Party.
This hatred still goes on today Philip... Gangs of white and Asian youths attack each other weekly.... the trouble is others get caught up in these battles. We have 'no go' areas for both sides at certain times of the day...
Like I said 40 years plus the Asians have lived, worked, and run business in Hyde and surrounding towns and it is like trying to mix oil and water.

At 12:54 a.m., Blogger Gattina said...

I grew up in a protestant family. In Germany there are two churches, lutherian protestants and catholics and that's it for the christians. State and Religion are strictly separated so we never had to pray at school, because it was public schools. Only the catholics had private schools (very expensive). From time to time I went with my parents to church, but more for meeting people then something else. I too had a religious period in my teenage days, but then we moved to Brussels. In Belgium everybody is catholic. But here too state and religion is strictly separated. I don't even know if our politicians are jews, christians, muslims, nothing or budhists. Nobody talks about that.
I was very surprised when I started blogging and read my first American blogs where everybody was praying for everybody and talking about God and Jesus ! I don't even know if my neighbors go to church or not although we are good friends ! For the muslims we have mosques and also a special place were they can slaughter their sheeps for ramadan. Of course we also have quite a few synagogues.
With all what I have read so far concerning the USA, you have to be a member of a church if you want to be part of the society. Everything is organized by a church ! even politics !
I am sure a jewish or muslim or budhist president candidate would have no chance ! I don't know how it is in Canada.

At 4:40 p.m., Blogger Ginnie said...

I enjoyed your post and all the comments about it. As you know I have had 20 sober years thanks to the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. I have never seen democracy practiced as well as it is in that organization. Although God is part of the program it allows the participant to choose the Higher Power of his/her understanding. What a concept !

I was married to an atheist for 32 years and he was a very moral and spiritual man. When I joined AA I found that I could remain an atheist or agnostic but just admit that there was a force (or Higher Power) greater than myself. This I have been able to do because I see it all the time in Nature. It seems to me to be the heighth of egotism to think that God is in the form of man...why not a tree or a snowflake?

In the rooms of AA I have friends who are Muslim, Jews, Catholics, Christians and everything in between. They are white, black, and all shades of red. We even have an Indian in our area who will play his flute on occasions. It is one that he made himself.

The underlying theme of AA is that "when an alcoholic reaches out for help we will always be there for them" says nothing about race, creed, ethnicity or color. Wouldn't that be a wonderful way for the world to act?

At 6:40 a.m., Blogger amelia said...

I so agree with the writing of Ginnie about a higher power and nature. These are exactly my thoughts.

I grew up as an only child where my dad was Jehovah's Witness and mother was Church of England and the horrible fights that went on were vicious. I have to say all caused by my mother. My dad was a very peaceful man who put his view forward quietly and peacefully whereas mother was and still is, nasty! She would throw his books at him and he would do nothing to her.

Needless to say it has put me off all organized religion and now I follow my heart and go into the woods...

At 2:25 p.m., Blogger Tom said...

Hi again Philip...
I have enjoyed reading the comments as well as the post, I nipped back in case you had a new post up.

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