Tuesday, 5 May 2009

The banquet

About 50 people attended the banquet. It started at 5:30 pm in St Peters and ended about 8 pm.

The topic of this banquet was "Diversity in religion".

The first speaker was the Islamic speaker, sister Rubina. She spoke about how there are many levels of differences, even within the same family or same culture or same nation, what to mention religion. Its just how people are. Many people don't like differences, for example in marriage the family prefers to have someone of the same background. but we must learn to respect differences and live together.

Felix gave the talk on behalf of Christianity. His talk focused on the concept of tolerance. In the gospels there are different quotes on the topic, such as in Matthew: if you are not with me you are against me, in another gospel its whoever is not against me is with me. The early Christians were very open minded in some ways, on the other hand were very intolerant on who they allowed to join their church. Jesus bestowed power and authority on the church. Yet he also said, my kingdom is not of this world. For Christians the weapons are truth and prayer. Jesus himself died for his faith, in spirit of charity and love. To the truth all cannot belong, yet it is for salvation of all people. tolerate means not to prevent something considered wrong, yet not approving it. love for truth and for other people is a precondition. Passive virtue: let it pass, do it wisely.
There is a hierarchy of goods, ie. the lesser good, the greater good. People and religions have different understandings. We should respect all of them. I have got to give, knowing all this. There is also a historical understanding: many wars were fought in the past but the people who fought these wars thought they were the best way to do good. Now our understanding has become much more broader. The greater good is for us to have tolerance. Christ said to turn the other cheek. Of course, all this does not mean diluting the sense of truth. We respect the freedom of the person to discover truth for themselves. Christians believe that anyone who is seriously seeking the truth and doing charity is on the way to salvation.
Christians believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the only way to interpret the nature of God. There is this exclusivity to the claim for the truth, and Christians have to balance this exclusivity with tolerance.
Q: Not only Jesus, but Baha'ullah also lived most of his life in prison and died there, so he can be said to have also given his life for the faith. In Quran so many prophets are mentioned as having died for the faith.

The Buddhist speaker was Cathleen.
She started the talk by relating what Buddhism was for her, her understanding of Buddhism and then relating it to diversity.
Buddhism means to speak and behave in a way that brings peace and happiness, its a way to understand the mind.
For example, when you think of a juicy slice of lemon, you're looking at it, holding it in your hand, you may find you start to salivate... :P ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Thus, the mind is powerful!
We should all radiate goodness, so smile at people around you, and you will find that people smile back at you.
Everyone is good and capable of enlightenment. to quote a famous psychologist named Daniel goleman, its like pieces of gold buried in a mine, we need to extract layers of dust to see the gold that is in the mind. Buddhism also believes in cause and effect, also in impermanence: all things change.
How related to diversity: Buddhists believe that a good person is not defined by their religious label, more with what you say or do. Dalai lama said that its like common illnesses have different cures, for Buddhists that is meditation, for other religions might be different, we are more concerned with curing the disease rather than demonstrating which medicine is better. Buddhism encourages us to accept, understand and respect differences. For example people may call a chair by different names but all use it for sitting. Buddhist philosophy and principles are applicable to all, gay and straight, people of different cultures: china Vietnam Thailand India Tibet UK America etc. Everyone has their own way of practicing, theres still room for diversity. Being responsible for our own actions, we should be respectful of our differences and care for each other. We should think in terms of the bigger picture. Also, genetically speaking, more than 99% of all human DNA is same, the diversity comes from only less than 1%.

Saha, the Baha'i speaker then gave her speech. Baha'i faith is the newest world religion. Its based on 3 oneness's:
Oneness of God, the great spirit, higher power, all religions call him by different names such as Jehovah, Allah etc but its still the same god, he is the source of religion.
Oneness of religion, based on faith in god which is changeless, one religion that is based on love and peace.
Oneness of the human family. The Baha'i faith seeks to unite all the races of the world. it preaches unity, but unity is not uniformity. If everyone thought the same way there would be no wars.
Abdul baha said the negative aspect of differences is that it leads to conflicts. The positive aspect of diversity is that it is the symbol and secret of perfection.
Baha'ullah came in 1844, 165 years ago, thus its the newest faith yet the second most geographically widespread.
An example of diversity: the dance group called 'Diversity' in Britain's got talent. Everyone of different ages and backgrounds and ethnicity yet dancing the same flawless moves.
Bahai's also believe in universal education, moral education to improve virtue and spirituality and help people reach their potential. Would you prefer a garden with same type of flower or filled with many kinds of flowers? The Baha'i faith is not some type of customised new religion, where someone can prefer not to say their obligatory prayer. Baha'is believe that despite diversity we are all one, what counts is the soul, we all need love and spirituality. We believe different religions are like the sequential chapters of the same unbroken religion, like pieces of a mosaic.
Questions: is Baha'i faith really the 2nd most geographically diverse after Christianity, or is it Islam? but we shouldn't be getting into a contest here.
Isnt it more important to teach diversity to adults rather than children, who dont really see many differences anyway?
How to Baha'i worship when there are so many different ways of worshipping for different religions. In case of conflicting teachings we follow the teaching of Bahaullah.

Interesting News: Theres now a research project MU/MMU about what a multi faith architectural space would look like, and whether its possible to pray together. Perhaps there can be lots of plants, as gardens full of water and plants is said to be a vision of heaven. There already are multi faith prayer rooms in airports and shopping malls.

Then there was question time for all the speakers.
Questions for the Baha'i speaker:
All the Baha'i believe is exactly the same outlook as in Islam, except that some duties and rights had been taken away to suit modern life. But the same point could be said for Islam too.
Islam too believes, like the Baha'i faith, that the message of the prophet Jesus came as was suitable for that time, but Prophet Mohammad was the final revelation, and its concluded. Kitab e Aqdas and Old testament essence of the message is similar.

Bahais believe humanity is progressing to different levels of maturity like children, that's why we have different religions, each suitable for that day and age. For Christians, God is the ultimate revelation. So its very difficult for Christians to believe the concept of progressive revelation. For Christians, Jesus' death brings salvation and redemption to the world in a very factual way, this transcends time. In this way what you THINK Christianity teaches is not the full picture of the wholeness of Christianity and how Christians see the world. Counter question: but there are so many sects of Christianity who all follow completely different beliefs eg Unitarian and trinitarian, so how can you make a claim for all Christians. A: See the mainstream sects, the catholic church, Anglican church etc. Their broad beliefs are the same and quite well defined, for example its a fact that Jesus lived on the earth and died on the cross, nobody disputes that.

After all the speakers had spoken and the question session was over, came the time for the meal. We counted 1 to 5 dividing into 5 groups for sitting in circles for socialising and having dinner. The discussion topic around dinner was: what is it that we celebrate about any other faith than your own. The dinner had chicken curry, veggie curry, boiled rice, sweet yellow rice, bread, and drinks. Kosher food was also separately available for anyone who needed it.

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