“Does religion unite or divide us?” That question was posed to the readers of The Sydney Morning Herald. Of those who responded, the vast majority—some 89 percent—felt that religion divides us.
SUPPORTERS of interfaith, however, view the matter quite differently. “Show me a religion that doesn’t care about compassion . . . , that doesn’t care about stewardship of the environment . . . , that doesn’t care about hospitality,” asked Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core.
Indeed, Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, Hindus, Muslims, and many others have on occasion joined forces to fight poverty, campaign for human rights, work to ban land mines, or draw attention to environmental issues. Multi-faith dialogue circles have participated in efforts to seek mutual understanding and inspiration. They celebrate their diversity with candle-lighting ceremonies, festivals, music, prayers, and so on.
Is the mingling of religions the way to heal the conflict among faiths? Is interfaith God’s way of bringing about a better world?
UNITY—AT WHAT PRICE?
One of the largest of the interfaith organizations boasts that it has members representing over 200 different faiths and that it is active in 76 countries. Its declared objective is “to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation.” That, however, has proved to be easier said than done. For example, according to the organizers, their charter had to be carefully worded so as not to offend the many faiths and indigenous groups that signed the document. Why? One factor was that there was disagreement on whether God should be included in the charter. Subsequently, any reference to or mention of God was avoided.
If God is left out of the picture, what role does faith play? Furthermore, how does such an interfaith movement differ from any secular charitable or philanthropic organization? For good reason, the aforementioned interfaith body describes itself, not as a religious entity, but as “a bridge-building organization.”
IS PROMOTING GOOD—GOOD ENOUGH?
“All major religious traditions carry basically the same message: that is love, compassion and forgiveness,” says the Dalai Lama, a prominent interfaith proponent. He adds: “The important thing is that they should be part of our daily lives.”
Granted, the value of such virtues as love, compassion, and forgiveness cannot be overemphasized. In what has been called the Golden Rule, Jesus said: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must do to them.” (Matthew 7:12) But is true faith just a matter of promoting what is good?
About many who claimed to serve God in his day, the apostle Paul said: “I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to accurate knowledge.” What was the problem? “Because of not knowing the righteousness of God,” Paul said, they were “seeking to establish their own.” (Romans 10:2, 3) Lacking accurate knowledge of what God wanted them to do, their zeal—and faith—were really in vain.—Matthew 7:21-23.
THE BIBLE’S VIEW OF INTERFAITH
“Happy are the peacemakers,” Jesus said. (Matthew 5:9) Jesus practiced what he preached by promoting nonviolence and taking a message of peace to people of diverse religious backgrounds. (Matthew 26:52) Those who responded were drawn into an unbreakable bond of love. (Colossians 3:14) But was Jesus’ objective merely to build bridges among people of various backgrounds so that they could get along in peace? Did he join with others in their religious practices?
The religious leaders of the sects of the Pharisees and the Sadducees viciously opposed Jesus—even sought to kill him. How did he react? Jesus instructed his disciples: “Let them be. Blind guides is what they are.” (Matthew 15:14) Jesus refused to acknowledge spiritual brotherhood with such individuals.
Some time later, a Christian congregation was formed in Corinth, Greece—a city renowned for its pluralistic, multireligious culture. How were the Christians there to act in that environment? The apostle Paul wrote them: “Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers.” Why not? Paul reasoned: “What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer share in common with an unbeliever?” Then he gave this counsel: “Therefore, get out from among them, and separate yourselves.”—2 Corinthians 6:14, 15, 17.
Clearly, the Bible speaks against the practice of interfaith. But you might wonder, ‘How, then, can true unity be achieved?’
BUILDING TRUE UNITY
The International Space Station—a technological wonder orbiting the earth—is the result of the united efforts of some 15 nations. Could you imagine this project being accomplished if the participating nations did not agree on what blueprint to use?
That, essentially, is the situation with the modern-day interfaith movement. Although cooperation and respect are touted, there is no agreed-upon blueprint for building faith. As a result, moral and doctrinal issues remain as divisive as ever.
The Bible contains God’s standards, which are like a blueprint. We can build our lives on what the Bible says. Those who have embraced it have overcome racial and religious prejudices and have learned to work together in peace and unity. Foretelling this, God said: “I will change the language of the peoples to a pure language, so that all of them may call on the name of Jehovah, to serve him shoulder to shoulder.” Unity results from the “pure language,” God’s standard of worship.—Zephaniah 3:9; Isaiah 2:2-4.
Jehovah’s Witnesses cordially invite you to visit a Kingdom Hall near you to see for yourself the remarkable peace and unity that exist among them.—Psalm 133:1.