Discoveries in Brussels

Having just returned from Brussels and the presentation of our book Reductionism, Globalization and Faith, I am encouraged by the openness and eagerness of those we met to the possibility of using the world’s scriptures as a vehicle for peace instead of for political violence. In one week we distributed three hundred signed copies of the book to members of parliament, commissioners, council members, ambassadors and staff members, and have received numerous emails of thanks and enthusiasm for our message.

One journalist, who  identified himself as an avowed atheist, was nonetheless, firmly supportive of our non-sectarian approach to unity. Feedback from the presentation included a suggestion to develop a curriculum for use in Belgian public schools as a sort of primer on the communalities between religions, and the creation of a follow-up publication in which prayers of all traditions would be collected into a single volume, arranged thematically. Yet others offered volunteer assistance in promoting a deeper understanding of our underlying unity.

What was most encouraging about al this was the very diversity of the people themselves. Greeks and Poles, Germans and Italians, Estonians and Belgians, Spaniards and French, were all equally aware and concerned that religious ignorance and cultural bigotry we on the rise again in Europe, and that these factors are toxic in the hands of ideologues eager to exploit them for there personal agendas. Europe’s history, in this regard, is even darker than America’s, for there is a long list of holocausts, pogroms, purges and inquisitions implemented under the aegis of some sort of religious orthodoxy or purism that has stained European soil with the blood of millions stretching back millennia.

What was equally refreshing, and a stark contrast to the U.S. Congress, was the approachability of people in positions of power. Unlike walking the corridors of Congress, where even interns are dressed in power suits hoping to impress, the European Parliament was a fascinating mix of blue jeans and Prada, and the way someone dressed was no clear indication of their rank or function.

Racism, religious resentments, xenophobia are all alive and well in Europe, and given the economic instability, they represent endemic risks to social progress that can be easily fanned into flame in the current environment. But it was heartening to see a recognition of the need for spirituality- a spirituality that can both transcend sectarianism and still celebrate its rich variety of traditions.

One highlight of our time in Belgium was sharing the book with the staff of the Saudi Arabian Embassy. Christians and  Muslims who had worked there for years had never spoken to each other about matters of faith were suddenly finding common beliefs and seeing each other in a new way.

Time will tell what our next step should be- we are exploring the possibilities of creating a radio program to address these issues openly, as well as writing to expand these themes and delve into them in ways that are both academically well-founded and easily accessible to the average reader. The public school curriculum idea, suggested by someone in the audience, is, among other suggestions and ideas, a very attractive one.

Ironically, I returned from Brussels to my regular work as a medical interpreter on September 11 when the tragedy in Ben Ghazi hit the news. The core of our book was written eleven years ago as a response to the 9/11 tragedy. Though we conceived of FID aver a decade ago, it seems our message is still as timely as ever, if not more so. In our mission statement we identified educating people in positions of leadership, and after years of patient plodding, we are finally achieving that. We appreciate the prayers of all those who have been so supportive- and welcome into that list all those in Europe with whom we met and are now corresponding in Europe.

 

 

 

Seeing the Spirit in all things

I write on the eve of a presentation to the European Parliament in Brussels of the article that inspired the foundation of FID. Our co-founder, Sadig Malki, and I wrote an article following September 11th that addressed the oxymoron of claiming there is only one God but my God is better than yours. The article examines systematically the ways in which cultures throughout history and all over the world have reduced their experiences of the divine to particular formulae, each claiming their formula of choice represents universal truth, and then insisting upon the superiority of their formula over all others.

Our ongoing attempts to grasp the infinite are the engine that has driven both scientific and artistic inquiry for millennia. It is natural that we should want to understand, for we are conscious beings. But our reductionism of the infinite to the knowable often ends up being a reductionism to the comfortable and familiar, and that diminishes us all.

Europe today is of course a largely secular environment, despite being shaped profoundly by the evolution of Christianity and its interplay with Judaism and Islam in particular. Europeans tend to pride themselves on also being shaped by a very rational, Cartesian educational system that at times elevates scepticism to a virtual obligation. There are some who insist with the vigor ot the Age of Reason that science and religion are antithetical. There are others who, deeply programmed by Christian traditions, are loathe to let go of an attachment to the idea of God’s existence, even though they have long since become blasé or indifferent to any active practice of religion. And there are, of course, many who practice their faith tradition quite fervently, but often in a somewhat insular way, as if defensive against the portential threat of its annihilation by the forces of secularism, and the dread of “Secular Humanism”.

When FID was founded over a decade ago, our mission statement proposed as the third point of our plan: “To educate leaders and people in policy-making positions in both the public and private sector, so that the prevailing models of cultural and religious domination can be replaced by mutual acknowledgement and cooperation for the common good.”

Sadig and I have been not only delighted by the genuine thirst shown by people in the European Parliament, but many others in positions of authority here in Brussels, who have received us with great warmth and enthusiasm.

Our thanks go out to all who have shown such support and interest, and may this be the fulfillment and the beginning of a new chapter in our work.