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Friday, January 17, 2003

World Religion Day invites interfaith understanding

By ROBERT THAGGARD and LEY SCHLEICH-For the Frontiersman

"Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful." Buddhism

"What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. That is the entire law; all the rest is commentary." Judaism

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Christianity

"No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself." Islam

"Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself." Baha'i Faith

One of the most extraordinary developments of the past century has been worldwide religious pluralism.

Encyclopedia Britannica's Book of the Year documents statistics on the world's 16 largest faiths or ideologies. It has reported Christianity as the world's most widespread religion, with followers in 260 nations. However, 67 percent of the world's population is comprised of non-Christians.

The Bahá'' Faith has followers in 210 countries, and Islam and Judaism have followers in 184 and 134 respectively. Buddhism, Hinduism, agnosticism and atheism are also widespread.

In the United States the religious landscape has changed dramatically in just the past 30 years. We now have Islamic centers and mosques, Hindu and Buddhist temples, and meditation centers, along with churches and synagogues, in virtually every major American city. Encounters between people of very different religious traditions take place in nearly every town and neighborhood.

How Americans of all faiths engage with one another to shape a healthy pluralism both here and abroad is one of the most important questions of our time.

In 1950, The Baha'is of the United States designated the third Sunday of each year as World Religion Day and invited community celebrations wherever possible throughout the world.

Since that time, the aim of World Religion Day remains to foster interfaith understanding and harmony by focusing on the common beliefs and spiritual principles underlying all religions. This Sunday -- on Jan 19 -- WRD observances will again take place around the globe.

According to WRD organizers, "Encouraging the leaders and followers of every religion to acknowledge the similarities in each of our sacred Faiths, World Religion Day observances can help us agree on meaningful ways to address the changes that confront humanity. These unified approaches can then be applied to issues on an ever-expanding scale."

A number of religious groups have published material to help their adherents understand the beliefs of others.

The Jehovah Witness Watchtower Bible and Tract Society states in a book entitled Mankind's Search for God, "With so many religions in a world that gets smaller and smaller by virtue of ever faster travel and communication, the impact of various faiths is felt worldwide, whether we like it or not."

The book encourages the study of different religions, stating "...knowledge leads to understanding, and understanding to tolerance of people with a different viewpoint."

The Bishop's Conference of England and Wales Committee for Other Faiths, in a series of leaflets entitled "Getting to Know People of Other Faiths" state, "Understanding and friendly relations with those who believe in God and live their lives with religious principles and purposes contribute to the harmony of society and the happiness of all." Many other examples abound.

Indeed, since before the 20th century, there have been national and international efforts among religious leaders to advance a spirit of brotherhood.

There continues to be a variety of interfaith movements involving publications, comparative religion courses, interfaith worship services, and formal and informal cross-education among religious groups. Several major summit meetings have occurred that have brought together representatives of different faiths and advanced various types of consensus statements.

Still, to say that discord remains in the world is an enormous understatement.

"The message of World Religion Day is that, mankind, which has stemmed from one origin, must now strive towards the reconciliation of that which has been split up. Human unity and true equality depend not on past origins, but on future goals, on what we are becoming and whither we are going," reads a statement from the World Religion Day Web site.

The sacred writings of the major world religions amply demonstrate the underlying unity revealed in the utterances of the founders of the world's great religious systems.

When believers open their hearts to exploring the common foundation of different Divine Messages, they are richly rewarded.

"The Golden Rule," that most familiar and earliest learned ethic of mutual love and respect, finds expression in every major faith tradition.

World Religion Day is a good time to commit to integrating this teaching yet deeper into our way of being, individually and collectively.

For more information about WRD observances and world religions, interested people can visit the Web site

Robert M. Thaggard and Ley Schleich are local residents and members of the Baha'is of Matanuska Valley.

©Copyright 2003, Frontiersman (Alaska, USA)

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