There are many ways in which we humans try to define ourselves, many tools which we use to fashion ourselves an identity; the way in which we dress, the people we befriend, the religious and the political views to which we adhere. Carving out an individual place in society is undoubtedly important, but so too is identifying oneself with the people with whom we share this planet. Religion has the capacity to bring people together, to promote harmony and tolerance. Yet the politics of religion can be equally divisive, setting people apart and building barriers between peoples.
In compiling this issue, it has become clear that the catalyst for turning religion from a unifying force to a divisive threat is ignorance. Ignorance of other religions, of other peoples and of other cultures. Refreshing, then, to read of the work of the organisers of the Children of Abraham internship in creating real opportunities for people of diverse backgrounds to share their own experiences of religion and, more importantly, to learn from the experiences of others.
In his interview with the LIP, broadcaster Rabbi Lionel Blue observes that the mix of ‘politics with religion is a lethal cocktail.’ Belonging to a religion carries with it certain political and social consequences and the headlines in recent months have shown a blurring between the political and religious domains. For those of us living in societies in which expression of religious conviction is allowed, the stories of those oppressed in other parts of the world (see Dharma Police page 9) should be a reminder that it is a right which should not be taken for granted.
Religious diversity is one of the central tenets of a successful multicultural society. It is in a climate of ignorance and fear that the paranoia kicks in, prompting the questioning of loyalties – can an individual be true to both religion and country (see our Film Reviews) as though the two are mutually exclusive. As American writer Elbert Hubbard pointed out, ‘religions are many and diverse, but reason and goodness are one.’ The true common-ground that exists between us all, regardless of creed and colour is our humanity, and that is what should exist at the core of all religions.