The Interfaith Alternative

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Cover Courtesy New Society Publishers
One pastor's quest to foster a spiritual community embracing spiritual diversity.

The Interfaith Alternative(New Society Publishers, 2012) shows us how we can celebrate each other without fear of losing our own identity. It illuminates the path to creating a nurturing spiritual community that honors and includes all religious languages – an alternative to Jews worshiping only with Jews, Christians with Christians, and Muslims with Muslims. In doing so, Reverend Steven Greenebaum demonstrates that through coming together in a mutually supportive environment we can concentrate on our shared desire to remake the world into a compassionate, loving place.

Given the huge success of both Christianity and Islam, their numbers and the number of countries that claim them as their faith, and given the continuation of war, greed, hunger and hate, it may be time to reevaluate the value of dogmatic belief. Nor should non-theists or Atheists feel superior. Given the inhumanity and mass murders worked by the likes of Stalin and Pol Pot (just to name a few) in the name of non-religion, dogmatic nonbelief clearly isn’t the answer either. Where, then, can we look? How might we organize ourselves?

I have come to believe that Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Humanists and all others who share a belief in (for example) social justice as a unifying commitment to how we live our lives, have massively more in common with each other than they do with those “of their own faith” who look to other values to find meaning (such as dogma about God, or personal wealth or power or prestige).

Consider. You wish to build a house. For some reason you work best with a hammer but are a klutz with screwdriver and saw. Yet others work better with a saw. Still others with a screwdriver. Who are your true comrades? Who are the people with whom you truly share commonality?

Is it others, who like you work best with a hammer but unlike you wish to build casinos or luxury palaces or perhaps just to smash things? Or is your true commonalitywith those who, regardless of what tool they wield, wish to build homes for those who need shelter?

Should all those who use hammers stay in one house? Should their tool be what defines them as they continually argue, not only over the best way to use hammers but why a hammer is the only true instrument for building, and how those who use other tools, however well intentioned, are at best just fooling themselves and at worst a danger to society or worse still, our children?

I want to help build a better world. My “tool” of choice is Judaism. But I cannot and will not make the “leap” to say that it is the right choice for the world. I will not proclaim the truth of hammers and the wickedness of those who wield a saw.

Let those of us who wish to build, unite and build. That is the call of Interfaith. Together let us honor the life force of the universe by building together and respecting — with wonder and not a little awe — how completely different tools can work together to fashion a better world.

The issue should not be what tool is best for building. We should acknowledge that many different tools may be used to build. The issue must be what are we building withthose tools?

Our religions can be seen as tools for interpreting our relationship with the spiritual, and an attempt to understand what the meaning of our life might be. The spiritual path we choose can help us come to grips with who we are. That makes religion (as well as a spiritual path that lies outside of organized religion) a vital tool, but still a tool nonetheless.

We should not glorify that tool. If it helps us to grasp the spiritual and find meaning to our existence, religion is an important and wonderful thing. But it is still only a tool, and each of us should, therefore, use the tool that gets the job done. If you are helping to build a house and a hammer best fits your hand and needs, is it not foolish to listen to someone who piously and with incredible arrogance tells you that the only true way to build is with the saw?

And here we reach the crucial matter. If some would build casinos, while others sports stadiums, and still others would build palaces for their own comfort, does it not make sense for those of us who believe in social justice, those who seek to build shelter for all creatures great and small, to come together? Does it not make sense for us to use our tools in tandem? For what I cannot do with my hammer, you may well accomplish with your saw. And the person next to you, regardless of race or gender or faith, may have the screwdriver that at this moment is exactly what we need.

We need to reorganize. We need to move beyond the paradigm of “right belief.” We need to build a new home, and build it on a foundation of inclusivity.

The walls that separate those who would respect the universe and strive for justice are old and hollow and crumbling. The only reason they remain at all is because we forged mental chains for ourselves long after the physical walls of our imprisonment had decayed and become dust. It is time to break those mental chains. It is time to free ourselves from the tyranny of those crumbling walls.

Let us meet. Let us embrace. Let us build. If not for our own sakes then for our children. And their children. Let agnostic, atheist and theist, let Jew, Muslim, Humanist, Hindu, Christian and Buddhist, let all who would build a future based on love and justice come together in a community that embraces, respects and treasures the varying tools through which we find meaning. And then let us use those tools to build.

It is time, then, for a diverse spiritual community based on social and environmental justice. It is time for a spiritual community that respects and celebrates our many spiritual paths as profound and marvelous, with different tools for reaching an end that has so frustratingly eluded us for so long. It is time, in short, for Interfaith.

The arrogant paradigm of “right belief ” has caused enough damage, hurt enough people, slaughtered enough innocents. It must be laid aside. But how? And for what?

There is an important question here. Can we set aside the paradigm of “right belief ” that has so poisoned us, andyet keep the valued and important religious traditions that have nourished us, encouraged us, given us so much? I not only believe that the answer can be Yes, I believe it must be Yes.

The Interfaith Alternativereprinted with permission by Steven Greenebaum and published by New Society Publishers, 2012.

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