A Biodiversity of Religion
Multicultural Desk Writer
As the seven panelists - Anand Elchuri, Orah Rein, Geoff Thomas, Rev. Kathleen Eschen-Pipes, Aziz Gaziev, Dr. Robert Rees, and Marsha Gilpatrick - gathered to discuss the question "What can religion offer today's world," they reflected what Rein called a "biodiversity" of different religions.
Approximately 40 people showed up at UC Santa Cruz's Student Center for a discussion on the impact of religion on today's world Monday, Jan. 18. However, due to time constraints, the discussion was limited to a synopsis on each of the world's major religions - Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and the Baha'i Faith.
According to audience member Mary Eiland, the discussion provided insight into each religion, but failed to do what it originally set out to do - answer the question, "What can religion offer today's world?" "I think the discussion [was conducted] in the best possible way considering the time given, but I would have been more interested in how each religion is related in a more social context," Eiland said.
Elchuri began the discussion with an overview on Hinduism. He summarized the essence of God as he compared God to a mango seed and a tree. "God is the lifeforce that creates the seed to blossom into a tree," Elchuri said to the audience.
The essence of God became the center of discussion as the next panelist, Rein, pointed out that one of the main concepts of Judaism, unity, was based on the belief every human is made in God's image, and therefore is one with God.
This concept of unity eventually led to a pronounced message of commonality between all religions. According to Thomas, seeing the unity of all human beings strengthens one's spirituality. "Through the practice of helping others, you become less preoccupied with yourself," he said. "We tend to see people as separate from ourselves. But, [the reality is] everything is interconnected," Thomas told City on a Hill Press.
This message was repeated as panelists made connections between their own religion and the other religions represented in the room. Gilpatrick of the Baha'i Faith pointed out religion is an institution that tends to cause strife among people. "Religion is dividing," Gilpatrick said. "I want to make a case for why we need religion."
However the discussion's highlights came when panelists dealt with the political forces which cause strife among different religions. "There is a bad image of Islam in the American media," said Gaziev, a representative of Islam. "The term Holy War is actually meant to [address] the war with the evil inside you," he said.
According to United Campus Christian Minister Eschen-Pipes, Christianity is evolving to recognize its part in political religious strife, and to promote ideas of tolerance, especially in the area of faith sharing, or evangelism. "Only recently are Christians learning to listen more, instead of speaking [or preaching]."
Rein, a UCSC environmental studies graduate student, compared the diversity of religions to biodiversity. "Biodiversity says that the environment needs different components to function," Rein said. "Like biodiversity, I think the world needs 'different trees,' so to speak, [to function]. We need different religions, because embracing different points of view is a way of making oneness here on earth."
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