by: Charles Gelman on November 9th, 2009 | Comments Off
New at The Immanent Frame: Talal Asad and Abdullahi An-Na’im both stand at the forefront of the challenging and constructive exchange taking place today between European and Islamic traditions of political, legal, and religious thought. At a recent event organized by Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, the two scholars traded questions and criticisms concerning the concept of human rights. Moderated by José Casanova, the discussion addressed the intrinsic limitations and historical failures of the language of human rights, as well as its formidable capacity to challenge autocratic and state-centric distributions of power, creating openings for democratic contestation and political self-determination. A short excerpt of the exchange has been posted at The Immanent Frame and a complete transcript is available for download here (pdf). You can also watch video from this event at here & there.
In one room, young Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, secular humanists, and others cluster in a circle to learn strategies for facilitating constructive interfaith discussions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Down the hall, more young people — bareheaded or wearing headscarves or kippot — crowd together to discuss multifaith intentional living communities, learn about the Baha’i faith, create videos about youth-led interfaith activism, and train to volunteer as advocates for undocumented immigrants.
Talk about a rich space for conversation.
All this happened during one morning of the Interfaith Youth Core‘s 2009 conference, which took place October 25-27 at Northwestern University, just north of Chicago. The conference brought high school and college students engaged in interfaith work together with religious leaders, politicians, and authors interested in interreligious cooperation. Speakers included Greg Epstein, the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard; Tikkun Daily blogger Joshua Stanton, who founded the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue; Rami Nashashibi, the inspiring director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network; Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who has worked with Tikkun to garner support for a Global Marshall Plan; and others.
There is huge scope for the secular and the religious to work together! We are currently missing far too many of those chances. Believers and nonbelievers tend to look down on and mistrust each other. The emphasis on belief, creed, and ideas — the ways we understand and describe our experience of the world — tends to overwhelm an emphasis on our actual shared experience, and on ways we could care about and for each other, and pursue shared goals.
Look at how various atheists have been promoting Islamophobia. Some secularists are so overwhelmed by fear and distaste for Islamic beliefs and for existing Islamic states that merge religious with political power, that they cannot conceive how to make common cause with the uncountable millions of Muslims who are simply trying to lead good lives in peace.
Maybe it’s obvious that secular ex-Muslims might be the ones who could teach secular non-Muslims how to do this. But how many prominent people have come out in public as secular ex-Muslims? Here’s one, and a very interesting and eloquent one at that, and my thanks to Danny Postel for sending me the link.
Check our Hussein Ibish’s post yesterday: “Why an agnostic and secularist fights for American Muslim rights and against Islamophobia.”
Over at the New Humanist blog, Caspar Melville writes:
That nice Dave Belden over at Tikkun magazine has paid me the compliment of disagreeing with a piece I wrote for the Guardian’s Comment is Free site, in which I argue against Dave’s notion that humanists need to organise themselves like religious communities, have services, rituals, build a community that sort of thing. Dave thinks I am too individualistic and we will never heal the world if we can’t build a strong ‘base’. He may well be right.
His perspective, I think, would be that being a humanist implies a desire to improve the world – for humans and other animals – it’s a commitment to a kind of activist attitude. (This is well expressed in Tikkun’s strapline, they want to ‘mend, repair and transform the world’). I wonder if my own humanism isn’t more of the “I don’t believe in God, I’m fascinated by what humans have done, do and might be capable of (good and bad), I want more peace and love, less war and greed, but life is short and full of sorrow (and plenty of laughs), most human endeavours and ambitions are fragile and misguided, if not ludicrous, and much harm is done by those with grand visions, so I don’t want to join a movement, any movement, and I will choose my friends and confreres from the weird and (often) wacky individuals I gather to myself, for possibly perverse and certainly unexamined reasons, along the way,” sort. Not a very snappy slogan, I grant you, but my own. I admire those with the courage to believe they can change the world and the drive to try – but they scare me too. So, good luck with your humanist religion, Dave, but include me out.
What about you?
Well the last line was irresistible, so of course I left a comment much longer than Caspar’s post–I’m the Dave on his site here. The next two comments side with Caspar. It’s fun to get out among the movement-phobic.
I am happy to find myself being quoted on the Guardian website by Casper Melville, editor of the New Humanist.
Belden (who is now managing editor at the non-denominational spiritual US magazine Tikkun), in a piece entitled Is it time for humanists to start holding services? wrote that while humanism had done well to meet the philosophical challenges set by religion, it did less well reproducing the kind of “vibrant social connections” that religion provides. He was rather stirring, in fact…
Caspar has a go at demolishing my argument–that humanists need to build congregations–in the kindest way, intelligently and entertainingly. (The New Humanist is full of English wit and irreverence and always a good read, with great cartoons.) Caspar’s main point is that any kind of ongoing community, with attendant meetings and formalized (gasp!) rituals, necessarily involves groupthink, and disapproval of outsiders.
As if unattached humanists don’t suffer from these traits themselves? They don’t look down their noses at the religious and judge them?
Caspar, it comes with our humanity. We’re tribal. We ALL have to struggle against groupthink, devaluation of outsiders, unhealthy reliance on charismatic leaders and so on. Those problems are not confined to formal associations, they just become more visible there, and therefore in some ways are easier to identify and guard against in communities, IF their members have their humanist and skeptical wits about them.
We need more humanists to help work out how to do this!
This week’s spiritual wisdom was written by Harold W. Becker, president and founder of The Love Foundation, Inc:
(Photo courtesy of FlickrCC/Photos8.com)
From the laughter of children at play to the golden rays of the sun beaming through the sky at sunset, the eternal song of love permeates all creation. Each beat of our heart pulses to this rhythm in a majestic and graceful dance connecting us to everyone and everything. Life is magnificent when we quiet our outer selves and become fully present and aware of our own loving essence.
To know this grander love is to go beyond the sensation of a first kiss or a mother’s tender touch in time of need. Although these extraordinary expressions reveal the existence of love, there is so much more. This universal love is unconditional and its very presence ignites our passion and our compassion. It breathes life into our being and sustains us. It encourages and illuminates the infinite possibilities while simultaneously providing all that we require to be alive.
by: Alana Yu-lan Price on August 20th, 2009 | Comments Off
Helen Keller dances with Martha Graham, circa 1954. Photo courtesy of the American Foundation for the Blind.
I stumbled on a moving story the other day — a story that disrupted my humdrum mood and reminded me of the radical wonder of life in this world.
At the time I was searching for videos of Merce Cunningham, the brilliant and playful modern dance choreographer who passed away on July 26. Having trained seriously in Martha Graham’s modern dance technique as a teenager, I’ve always thought of Cunningham as some sort of immortal uncle. I was feeling sad about his death.
Here’s the story:
Just imagine how it would affect this country if Religious Left radio became as popular as the many broadcasts of the Religious Right …
I know it’s unlikely, but I let myself envision that scenario for just a second after meeting radio host Chuck Freeman, a minister from the Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Church in Austin, Texas. As the co-founder of the Austin chapter of the Network of Spiritual Progressives and the founder of the Free Souls Project (a nonprofit organization that aims to use mass communication tools to open new conversations about spirituality, democracy, and ethics in the public square), Chuck is on fire with excitement about creating new spaces for spiritual progressive speech. I just listened to his interview with Islam Mosaad and I’m looking forward to checking out more podcasts from his radio show (click on “free podcasts”). Here’s a bit of text from his website about the mission of Soul Talk Radio:
We live in a culture where words, and specifically religious teachings, are often used to harass and bludgeon us, thus slamming the door of “the kingdom” in our faces. We will offer a distinct contrast to this style of engagement; restoring joy, play, and expansion to the spiritual mix. In lieu of fear, manipulation, and judgement, Soul Talk Radio aims to traffic in openness, and wonder; reveling in the myriad expressions of the Divine Source.
At the Netroots Nation conference, Chuck and I talked about the possibility of creating a massive online portal to bring together links to all the various radio shows, podcasts, blogs, magazines, websites, online social communities, etc. that form the rag-tag reality of the Religious Left. Perhaps we should start this project as a Wiki so that the community as a whole can collectively aggregate these links. Let me know if you have any ideas about how best to proceed!
This week I’d like to share with you a passage from my book Spirit Matters:
Everything that has ever happened in the history of the universe is the prelude to each of our lives. Everything that has happened from the beginning of time has become the platform from which we launch our lives.
We are the heirs of the long evolution of Spirit. Each of us is the latest unfolding of the event of Creation. Our bodies are composed of the material that was shaped in the Big Bang. And so, too, our spirits. The loving goodness of the universe breathes us and breathes through us, giving us life and consciousness, and the capacity to recognize and love others.
I perform weddings as a lay minister at First Unitarian Society in Madison. Frank Lloyd Wright built our original church, so many non-members want to get married there — too many for our professional ministers to handle. As a result, I often have the opportunity to perform interfaith weddings where I put my Unitarian Universalist (UU) principles to work.
UU’s believe in the “inherent worth and dignity of all people,” “acceptance of one another,” and “a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” Instead of a creed or dogma, what holds us together is a set of seven principles, three of which I just listed for you. What this means in practice is that although I’m a pagan, I accept others’ belief systems as appropriate for them, respecting their inherent dignity and their search for truth and meaning. When I perform a wedding, I respectfully work with the couple who comes to me to create a ceremony that’s right for them.