“The only alternative to coexistence is codestruction.” –Jawaharlal Nehru
I feel it appropriate to remind ourselves that for an interfaith movement to be successful we must reach out to humans of all religious beliefs and to those who lack them. As an atheist I often feel caught between the spheres of belief and skepticism. On one hand I have such an immense appreciation for religious thought; it provides solace in times of loneliness, it promulgates human goodness, and is often incredibly selfless in the service it renders to the marginalized. These are all products of the sphere in which I don’t inhabit.
Or do I? My own set of morals, my set of beliefs, the very foundations of my identity are born from the sphere I do not claim as my own. My vegetarianism stems from my close friendship with a Jain. In high school I was highly involved in the Honor Code – a stance that directly reflects the 9th Commandment in Christianity, two branches of the Eightfold Path, and Allah’s forewarning for the Day of Judgment in the Quran (to name just a few). To say that my ethics are not influenced by a variety of faiths would be an ironic contradiction of my commitment to honesty. In this light, I am very much a religious man.
The reason I often find myself caught between these two spheres is the virulence these bodies emanate within and towards each other. Even in this increasingly globalized world, people of faith often go out of their way to hunt the differences between their faiths rather than relish in their similarities. So many core values are shared between religious groups – why do we not seek the beauty in this path? But it doesn’t stop here. Atheists can be just as guilty. The virulence with which some atheists attack religion can be equal or worse than their religious counterparts. Yet once again, I find that at the core of their being, in the depths of their heart, atheists are no different from theists.
I wish to live in conflict no more. I don’t want to join a sphere; rather, I want the spheres to join in a pluralistic, peaceful coexistence. On this day we must remember the caution offered by Nehru: that we must live in a peaceful coexistence or, as Martin Luther King said, “perish together as fools”. It comes with little surprise to me that an atheist and a Baptist minister share, quite literally, an identical worldview.
I leave you with the 14 Precepts of Thich Nhat Hanh, a source of great inspiration to me.
I remain optimistic about our ability to reconcile our similarities and appreciate rather than oppose our differences. I am hopeful because I know that intrinsically we are overwhelmingly similar – we belong together in a single, loving sphere.
Happy Jawaharlal Nehru Day!