On the news every day we are bombarded with violence framed around religious divisions. It could be an arson attempt on a mosque, an anti-Semitic attack or a lone gunman walking into a church. Religious extremism has been added to a long list of concerns parents need to watch out for. Yet the majority of the world’s religions apparently promote peace, so what’s gone wrong?
We believe that one of the problems is that we just don’t talk about religion enough. Religion and faith have been labelled as off limits at most dinner-time conversations. But without conversations about what we believe and why, how are people supposed to form their opinions about a religious group?
Alex is a Christian and works for the West London Synagogue (WLS). Before she came to work here she had no idea what it meant to be a Jew in the 21st Century, but knew that Israel might be a tetchy subject. Rachel is a Jew and coordinates scriptural reasoning events for the synagogue’s interfaith department – thanks to her Arabic degree she is fairly familiar with Islam. She says she has known more believing Christians in the Middle East, where they are a minority, than here, where Christianity is the state religion.
For both of us it has been through conversations and friendships that we have broken down the stereotypes of the ‘other’ and been able to gain a much more realistic understanding of how faith influences the lives of the people we have met, why they believe what they do and how practising a particular religion affects their daily lives.
Therefore we want to encourage you to have a controversial conversation. It might be asking someone at work why they’re fasting during Ramadan or on Yom Kippur, or asking if you can tag along with them to a service at their place of worship. Not everyone will like you for bringing faiths together; Alex has been told by members of the Jewish community that she shouldn’t be allowed to work in the synagogue and Rachel is frequently bombarded with a litany of complaints about the behaviour of the Israeli government on telling people she is Jewish. These initial encounters can be demoralising, but persistence can truly change people’s perceptions.
The scriptutral reasoning sessions we run at WLS, have a mixed faith audience, and involve listening to a panel of faith leaders as they speak about their perspectives on what their religious texts say on a particular theme. We then get the chance to discuss the texts in small groups alongside the panellists. At these events we emphasise that everyone will read the text differently depending on our background and while we might not agree, we can still celebrate the differing opinions we have. For those in and around London, on Saturday, 1 August we’ll be holding a scriptural reasoning and an interfaith picnic for under-35s in Hyde Park. Interested? Then email us for more information: [email protected]
So this August, a vicar, a rabbi and an imam will walk into a park – well… sort of. If you want to know what happens you’ll have to join them.