More inter-religious dialogue!

Tomorrow (Saturday), a student group at CWRU will be hosting an inter-religious program at the Tinkham Veale University Center Ballroom, followed by a panel discussion. The first part from 5:00-6:00 pm consists of some kind of inter-religious celebration led by people from Protestant, Jewish, Islamic, and Hindu traditions and includes a dinner. From 6:00-7:00 pm, the campus Catholic chaplain and I will join those four for the panel discussion

The organizers have asked students to submit questions. Here are the questions submitted so far:

  1. What are some ways to create dialogue among inter-religious groups?
  2. When and how did ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ religions branch off from one another?
  3. Why would you choose not to believe in God? Is this an unanswerable question?
  4. Can science and religion co-exist?
  5. What are the best resources for learning about other religions?
  6. What are the specifics for each religion on community service?
  7. Do Hindu people have a weekly service the same as many other religions?
  8. How similar are all religions? Are we all practicing the same thing and just calling it something different?
  9. How does science affect religious belief? Why do they conflict??
  10. If someone is not affiliated with any religion, can they be religious?

In general I find the Q/A sessions after a talk more interesting than the talk itself. The questions submitted by the audience also tend to be more interesting because they are usually more concrete and are often of real concern to people, rather than abstract ones of the kind that appeal to more academic types. After a talk once, I had a student ask me whether he should tell his religious grandmother (whom he was very fond of and she of him) that he had become an atheist and if so, how he should go about it without creating a rift between them. This sounds like a very specific question but often such concrete questions can give rise to quite deep insights.


  1. doublereed says

    Those do seem like far more interesting questions, because I think they go more into why people believe in religion. For instance, people want to know whether science and religion can co-exist because of the way they see themselves, as scientifically-minded curious people. Can they reconcile the intelligence they see in themselves with the religious beliefs they identify with?

    And a question like “why would you choose not to believe in god?” I feel like there’s a lot of fear inherent in the question. Both the fear of divine retribution, but also the fear of social retribution. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it.

  2. says

    When and how did ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ religions branch off from one another?

    They appear to be separate evolutionary branches that occasionally pray on eachother.

    Why would you choose not to believe in God?

    Because the default behavior is belief? Why would someone choose to believe in god when they could believe in the great green arklesiezure. Could it be because there’s nobody telling them about the great green arklesiezure?

    All of those questions are superfluous if you start from a standpoint of nonbelief. Think how much time we could all save if we didn’t have to violently debate about the great green arklesiezure every so often!!! Especially given that nobody has seen hide nor hair of the damn thing, ever.

  3. says

    ” I feel like there’s a lot of fear inherent in the question. Both the fear of divine retribution, but also the fear of social retribution. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it.

    I think you’re right. One topic to raise would be:
    “Would you believe in god if you hadn’t been raised with the rather bizzare notion you’d be going to a place of eternal torment if you didn’t?”
    It’s great fun to try to pin the faithful on the horrifically coercive nature of mythologizing children with threats of hell. Ask a christian or a muslim to say flat out that they think teaching kids about hell is wrong. It’s really fun. I know 60 year-olds who are still afraid they’ll go to hell.

  4. Reginald Selkirk says

    These are not all good questions, in that many of them require clarification before they can be answered.

    1) Too many choices. Do you want friendly or unfriendly “dialogue”? For just one example, you could start by asking who’s invisible imaginary friend is better.

    2) I think that predates history.

    a)You could go the route of asking whether you can “choose” your beliefs.
    b) Or you could go the route of treating it as a rational decision process, and note the lack of convincing evidence and arguments, and the lack of convergence on which God should be believed in.

    4) Yes, and in fact they do. But then, so can science and astrology. The question needs clarification: Can science and religion co-exist in society? Sure, and they do. Can they co-exist within one human mind? Yes, and they do. Humans are capable of believing in incompatible things, either through compartmentalization or cognitive dissonance. So that a human believing in both science and religion is not evidence that they are compatible.

    5) Lots of information is available on the Internet, but not all of it is accurate or of high quality. There are traditional resources, such as books (Encyclopedia of Religions, e.g.). Or college courses. It helps to meet actual practitioners of various religions, but I would consider that unreliable. So many people are caught up in the day to day experience of what it is like to be a member of X, and not familiar with even the most basic doctrines their membership is supposed to signal.

    6) There are too many religions and sects to answer adequately. And besides, even if a sect is doing community service, that does not make their magical beliefs true, nor does it negate any harm done by the religion.

    7) Beats me. Ask a Hindu.

    8) No. Major religions cannot even agree on the number and identity of gods. Western religions and HInduism cannot even agree on the basic nature of time (linear versus cyclical).

    9) Scientists are more likely to be nonbelievers. Probably because almost all religions make doctrinal claims which can be investigated and falsified. I.e. religions do not respect the doctrine of “non-overlapping magisteria.” Therefore it is hypocritical to protect religion from science by invoking that concept.

    10) Define “religious.” This sounds like it is probably coming out of the “spiritual but not religious” camp. If it makes someone feel better to hide behind ambiguous language, so be it, but it has no appeal for me.

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