Religion: Getting Better the Hard Way
Dr. Frank Kaufmann «View Bio

On September 11, 2001 violent and resentful people attacked the United States of America, killing 3,000 non-combatants, including many Muslims. Surat 5.032 in the Qu`ran compares the murder of one innocent soul to the taking of all human life! The attackers violated dozens of Qu`ranic injunctions but nevertheless made their decisions and took their actions in the name of Islam.

Attack on a sovereign nation is a political act that requires political, and often military, responses. Virtually all wars are fought with a ‘God on our side’ mentality. Humans tend to call on God in times of crisis and great need. In this case, reaction to the 9/11 attacks inevitably pitted one side with a Christian God against another with a Muslim God.

The fact that secular activity (such as economics, security, military action, international relations, etc.) have been drawn downward under impulses of intolerance and religious bigotry, leads many in the world to imagine that ours is a time in which inter-religious relations are at an all-time low. However, this is not the case. Because genuinely religious people are being SO badly misrepresented by murderous and demonic actors, they are living their religions to an ever more beautiful and exemplary degree. The great irony is that this is a good time for religion. Its true adherents are showing all its best and most promising elements and dimensions.
The only unfortunate part of the tale is that it took such a terrible breakdown in secular relations to engender this very real increase in interfaith action. The best of our religiosity and spirituality almost always is evoked only by breakdown and tragedy. Hopefully we will soon rise to the point at which flourishing spirituality energizes itself through its own healthy and positive benefits, rather than lying dormant until fear, despair and emergency awaken it.

Under ordinary circumstances, even good religious people have tended to live contentedly in their respective cocoons, not bothering to care about how their neighbors pray, dream, raise children and seek to be better people. But in a world folding together as one family, this peaceful (but parochial) way of being religious is insufficient. There is still too much separation, too much opportunity for misunderstanding that can once more lead to conflict.

acks have led to a flourishing of religious life, and a level of multi-religious collaboration the world has rarely seen. The flourishing interfaith world is reaching an ever more sophisticated depth and healthy complexity. But we must recognize a much higher mission that comes with this opportunity, an opportunity that arose due to God`s perfectly constant power to transform ill into blessing. The interfaith community must not undersell this opportunity.

Of course religious leaders must quench the flames of violence and murder that possess the secular arena. And religious leaders must rescue the reputations of their respective faiths from the besmirching they have suffered. But far more important than this repair work is the mission of religious leaders to encourage believers in their traditions to carry out the scriptural obligations for compassion and sacrificial service for others. This does not mean sacrificing their religious roots and identity, but rather showing the way for each religion to contribute to a global culture of lasting peace. 

In sum, religions must seize this moment in which they are collaborating to establish permanent cross- religious platforms so that the forces of religion, spirit and compassion pioneer a no-boundaries approach to doing good.

Frank Kaufmann is the Director of the Interreligious Federation for World Peace. The opinions here are his own.