I recently read a book called The Faith Club by Ranya Idliby, Priscilla Warner and Suzanne Oliver: a Muslim, a Jew and a Christian, all residing in the New York City area in 2001. Out of concern for what their children had been exposed to after September 11th, they decided to write a children's book about religion. The women commited to meet regularly to learn more about each other's faiths, and it became an experience far beyond what they had expected. They argued, hurt, and insulted one another with their preconceived notions about each other's religions. They faced awkward moments when they reached the point of participating in worship services of religions not their own in order to truly understand their prejudices and misconceptions. Knowing that the three religions held great differences seemed to be a given, but ultimately they discovered more similarities than differences. They came to recognize the same God in everything.
Ranya said it best on page 258 of the book: As a Muslim I am called upon to believe that the diversity in human faith traditions is intended by God's design and not a random occurrence. The universality of God and his accessability to all is emphasized in the Muslim understanding that all religions have sprung from the same divine source and that God's message was sent to all people and cultures of all nations. Different communities are united in their devotion to God, yet what sets them apart is their good work, not the merit of one faith over another."
She went on to comment on how Gandhi's legacy and ideas were greatly influenced by the message of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Gandhi truly believed in the equality of all great religions of the world. He saw religions as being true but imperfect, "inasmuch as they are presented through human agency and bear the impress of the imperfections and frailties of human beings."
This strikes me as a notion that is at the heart of most religious and cultural conflict and strife in our world. We have taken religion and righteousness out of God's hands and put it into our own fallible human hands. We appear to believe that we know better than God, and it is up to (some of ) us to decide which way of life is right or wrong. What makes us think it has ever been up to us? How is it possible to believe that God created a planet full of the unfathomable diversity of people, religions, races, languages, cultures and lifestyles and then deem only one of them good?
I personally will never abandon the faith that I was born into, but I will also never tell someone else that theirs is wrong - I am not the judge.
I love my book club and book clubs are probably at the height of popularity now, but maybe we should all be starting faith clubs - maybe we could truly co-exist.