By Rob Nash
I’m always surprised that my efforts to learn more about the various religions of the world result in a deeper understanding of myself. I don’t know why this should surprise me after a lifelong effort to enter into the worldviews and perspectives of my Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Sikh and Taoist brothers and sisters. Always I come away from the encounter having learned something about those traditions but having learned much more about myself.
It happened again for me when I attended the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto, Canada in early November. Some 7,000 people from every imaginable religious tradition came together for a long weekend of conversation and collaboration around the theme of “The Promise of Inclusion, the Power of Love: Pursuing Global Understanding, Reconciliation and Change.” I did make a small contribution by serving on a panel with Rabbi Noam Marans of the American Jewish Committee and Soumaya Khalifa of the Muslim Speakers Bureau of Atlanta. We talked about the power of interfaith pilgrimages in fostering religious reconciliation.
I attended many different sessions and wandered the halls marveling at the religious diversity. I noted the area designated for “Pagan Meet and Greet.” I listened patiently as a couple of folks from another religion attempted to “evangelize” me. I engaged in numerous conversations about the power of religion to make a difference in the world.
Mostly though, I learned about myself.
Two experiences stand out. The first was in a session on white supremacy and its devastating impact upon the world. Yes . . . the world! Dr. Jaideep Singh of California State University East Bay spoke powerfully to the startling and terrifying rise of contemporary white supremacy while Dr. Jeannine Hill-Fletcher, a Catholic theologian at Fordham University, charted the historic influence of such supremacy upon US history and politics. I learned a powerful lesson in the session about the ways in which I have benefited from the ideology of white supremacy and of my own need to seek God’s forgiveness for the ways in which I have embraced it, sometimes even without knowing it.
The second came in a session led by Dr. Carol Christ and entitled “Why We Still Need the Goddess: Religions and the Abuse of Women and Girls.” She talked about how many sacred texts, including the Bible, are infused with patriarchy and that we must seek to transform our own religious traditions to remove the systems of male dominance that legitimate violence against women and girls in the name of religion. Again, the session helped me to see the structures of patriarchy that benefit me at the expense of others.
Karen Armstrong, who wrote A History of God, paraphrased Confucius when she called upon Parliament attendees to “look into your own heart, discover your own pain, and determine not to visit that pain upon others.” It was a powerful word and one that brought the truth of my own need for conversion fully into focus. Systems of patriarchy and white supremacy don’t just hurt women and persons of color. They hurt me as well because they keep me from being the full human being that I should be. They cause me to deny full humanity to others. So let me enter into my own heart, acknowledge my own participation in such systems and determine not to visit them upon others . . . or to tolerate them in myself.