What is Interfaith?

What is Interfaith? in Interfaith Today, Vol. 1, Number 1. January – February, 2009.
By Rev. Dr. Thomas D. Lynch

This column is devoted to engaging in theology – that is the study of God. In it, I will express my thoughts of this infinite subject but I will also ask guests to disagree or at least present their views on this broad and always unsettled topic.

There are no right or wrong thoughts presented here but rather perspectives and opinions that I hope will encourage thoughtful moments for you in your exploration of the deeper meaning of the infinite.

To me, as a product of The New Seminary (TNS), Interfaith is an approach to religion that is predicated on respecting and embracing the fundamental beauty and wisdom in all religious traditions. Essentially, for me, it is a religious movement that embraces all traditions and thus it is more than a separate denomination. However, I can accept those that call it a new denomination, as long as they also embrace all traditions with respect and love.

In 1998, my wife and I wrote the Word of the Light. In its Forward, Arun Gandhi presented his thoughts (pages 1 and 2) and a portion of his words follow:

I can see now why my grandfather, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, was so perturbed by the religious differences around the world. Civilization, to him and to most reasonable people, means progressing, improving, rising above the level at which we are. In other words it means progressing from a state of being uneducated to being educated; from backward to being forward; from ignorance to being wise.

Yet, ironically, the more “civilized” we become the more violent and intolerant we are becoming. Obviously, something is seriously wrong. Gandhi recognized the fault of modern civilization when he said “there is an inverse relationship between materialism and morality. When one increases the other decreases.” Our incessant pursuit of materialism has corrupted our morals, ethics, values and beliefs.

He was pained that religion, which is the universal quest for peace and salvation, was being misused to divide and destroy humanity. How can we find peace if we hate so much? How can we value life, if we are willing to kill? How can we carry a gun in one hand and the Bible in the other and with a heart full of malice seek redemption and salvation? Why do we turn religion into everything that it should not be? So divisive? So competitive? So totally devoid of Truth?

As children growing in the ashram commune, we often listened to Grandfather tell us that religion must be seen as a huge tree. The trunk of the tree represented spirituality, the branches represented the various religions and the leaves the various denominations. All the religions derived their nourishment from the same source, “spirituality.” In its totality the tree looks beautiful and serves humanity positively. However, when dismembered it loses its beauty and usefulness.

I agree with Arun and his grandfather. I think of Interfaith as a spiritual approach to religion. It honors and values the fundamental beauty and wisdom in ALL religious traditions. If you embrace Interfaith, then you believe that there are many paths to God and to achieving what God wants of humankind. Each path is valid and worthy of respect.

God created humans in an amazing variety – we come in all sizes, shapes and colors and with different needs and tastes. Some people will be best nourished by one type of religious experience while others will thrive best on something different. So, too, spirituality nourishes different people through their different traditions that give them comfort and wisdom.

Interfaith maintains that it is not the form of religious practice that is important, but rather the spiritual soul or core that underlies it. We believe that God is in all things and in ALL people. Profoundly, God is. God is not in one place only but in all places including inside each one of us.

Interfaith strives to promote true respect and appreciation for all the diverse paths to God, as together they are an important aspect of the balanced visual beauty of the whole tree. From an Interfaith perspective, respect is different from tolerance. For us, tolerance implies merely putting up with something you find disagreeable. In contrast, respect involves valuing and appreciating something for it own true nature.

Those who adopt Interfaith do not advocate blending all religions into one great big super-religion as that would defeat the beauty of the tree as described by Gandhi. If you are Interfaith, you are likely to be a devout follower of a particular path. Thus, Interfaith has among its ranks ordained ministers, priests, rabbis, Buddhist monks and nuns, just to name a few. However, as a person of Interfaith, you can also define your own path as each person must select or make his or own choice while respecting the choice of others.

As I end this column, let me stress that the previous views are my own but they are also clearly grounded in the thoughts of others. We are one. Arun and his grandfather inspired some of my thoughts. Some of my thoughts are from what I learned at TNS. Some of my thoughts are from my fellow Interfaith ministers of which one is my wife. Each of us can and does grow from each other and having and fostering that growth is my motivation for writing this column. I hope you enjoy and grow from it in the future months ahead.

Academy Publications

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