We are told not to talk about ideological differences. Look at where that has gotten us. We are more ideologically divided than ever before. Maybe we should reconsider? These are important topics worthy of conversation. For example, when we discuss politics, we are debating what kind of society we want to live in, and when we discuss religion, we are speaking of personal values and spiritual inclinations.
If we want to have civil discussions, we need to make a distinction between two competing elements that are found within each human being. Equipped with that understanding, we can practice talking to each other rather than talking at each other.
Human and Ideological Personas
The idea of the two personas—which is central to our work at Harmony Interfaith Initiative and was originally presented by Padraig O’Malley who took part in the Northern Ireland peace process—explains the distinction we need to make if we want to have meaningful discussions. According to O’Malley, each human being is a mix of two personas. One is human the other ideological.
A number of the world’s religions have made the cultivation of goodness their primary goal, which—for a lack of another word—is good. Goodness is both a lofty and worthy ideal. Who wouldn’t want to be able to display more empathy, kindness, love, altruism, and compassion?
Having said that, there are two very different ways to achieve the goal of becoming a better person that have to do with strong emotions of attraction and repulsion. We call this the attraction-repulsion principle.
To understand the dynamics, it is important to realize that goodness cannot exist in a vacuum since it is a dualistic concept. For goodness to exist there has to exist something other than goodness. This means that when we are attracted by what we perceive as good, we are naturally repulsed by the opposite. The stronger our attraction, the stronger the repulsion can become.
Attraction Automatically Generates Repulsion
One approach to cultivating goodness focuses on the beneficial elements of changing one’s behavior; the other focuses on the detrimental aspects of the opposite behavior. One embraces on the sun while the other tries to eliminate the shadow.
“Focus on the sun! The shadow can’t be eliminated!” one could exclaim.
Sure. It would probably be better if we could just focus on the positive aspects of goodness and cultivate niceties without accruing any dislike for their opposites, but it is harder than you think—near impossible I would say.
Students are always astounded when I tell them about the role that poetry has always played in cultures throughout history. “Come on,” they laugh almost in unison. “Poetry?” But the truth is poetry has always been with us, most probably since the beginning of language.
Its origin is most likely rooted in the sacred, what was the beginning of ritual and religion. Members of the community who acted as interpreters between humanity and the abundant natural gods that were believed to exist in hunter-gatherer clans and tribes, what we anthropologists call animism, couldn’t just speak in everyday language when communicating with the gods or spirits; anyone could do that. Instead, these shamans employed their own language, their own elevated or exalted speech patterns that sounded like they must indeed be speaking to the “other world.” Shamans passed on their secret knowledge to apprentices. Over time, these special speech language patterns may have become what we presently call poetry.
I am by no means the first to make such a claim. My friend Gary Snyder, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poetry, drew similar connections decades ago, when I was a boy.
Ritual and Religion
Poetry’s connection to ritual and religion is still with us today. Consider the Psalms in The Old Testament. The Qur’an is said to be poetic, if not poetry altogether. Many other seminal texts of world religions contain poetry. I recently finished reading a translation of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, a major poetic text in Daoism (also spelled Taoism). Even Confucius wrote poetry. In Hinduism, the Mahabharata is the world’s longest poem. The oldest existing literature, the epic of The Gilgamesh, written in Mesopotamia around 2100 B.C.E., is a poem. Not only is it a poem, but it centers on two main characters, Gilgamesh and Enkidu, who was created by the gods to stop Gilgamesh. In fact, the whole story involves the frequent intervention of gods. Within the epic are also the stories of The Garden of Eden and The Flood (see The Flood tablet at left), both of which eventually made their way into the Old Testament. Even our childhood bedtime prayers are poetry:
One of my favorite books by Erich Fromm is titled The Art of Loving. His main message is that cultivating love is an art form. Fromm gives examples of innate talents in everything from painting to dance to music to acting, showing the reader that natural talent only accounts for a small percentage of the art created by the artist.
For example, someone who sits at the piano and starts playing the Moonlight Sonata at an early age (like my son did) has to practice hard if professional status is ever to be achieved (which he did not, opting for the trumpet instead).
Practice. That is the key element for Fromm. The ability to love takes practice because the innate feeling can only take us so far.
My Own Experiences With Love
Having been married since 2001 and having spent the last fifteen years taking care of my children, I can attest to that. My initial feelings, both for my wife and for my children, were only seeds. I’ve had to nurture and weed on a continual basis. Thankfully, my ability to love has grown because I have made it a priority in my life. Now, because of great social unrest, I am doing the same in the area of social harmony.
One of the biggest surprises and joys in my sixties is that I decided to volunteer as an education advisor for the Charter For Compassion. I had signed the Charter for Compassion declaration several years ago confirming my support for all that the charter stands for and does. It was wonderful to affirm a document that expressed so deeply all that I am about at my core. For a long time thereafter I would receive their emails in my inbox. I remember always saying to myself, “Someday I will get involved in the great things the Charter does.”
To us a partnership as the ‘coming together of two or more entities to further the causes of social harmony and bridge-building.’ Below you will find a list of possible partnership opportunities including education, good causes, workshops and conferences, equal exchanges, and more. Naturally, our list represents the limits of our creativity and we are open to exploring all other possibilities that are brought to our attention.
Do You Share Our Vision?
Our vision statement is: We envision a world where people have good access to strategies, methods and ideas that promote social harmony and enable bridge-building across divides. If you share our vision and want to live in a world where more people are well equipped to bridge gaps and promote harmony, then we want to find a way to work with you.
Partnering for Co-Human Causes
If you are gathering people and organizations to work for co-human causes, we are all ears. We love being a part of the synergy that happens when many forces come together for an altruistic reason like the rays of the sun through the lens of a magnifying glass to ignite a blaze of awareness. We can use our social media platforms, blog, and personal connections to help spread the message.
Partnering for Education
Our offerings contain some of the best ideas and strategies for bridge-building and social harmony available today. We are happy to partner with anyone who wants to offer them to their group. Below are a couple of examples.
What is in a man’s heart? Men are likely the only ones who truly know. Normally, they protect what’s at their very core from other men and perhaps the women and partners in life. Fear of being vulnerable and shame keep them from connecting with other men, yet it is only when we men open our hearts that these questions get answered.
When Can Men Put Down Their Swords and Shields?
The emphasis over the past fifty years in the U.S. and a few other countries has been on raising the consciousness around women, addressing women’s issues, validating their rightful place in the world and the sacredness of the divine feminine. To say this work is long overdue and that we have a long way to go would certainly be an understatement.
But what about men? When and how do men get the opportunity to put down their swords and shields to go inward to heal themselves? What about the divine masculine and what about male spirituality?
Interfaith is about creating harmony between people who profess to different faiths and ideologies. Interspirituality is an exploration of mystical traditions and experiences. Interfaith is for everyone. Interspirituality is not. Allow me to explain.
The Need to Feel Safe
Most people want to live in a peaceful society. They want to be able to go about their business without feeling marginalized, being discriminated against, or having to stay alert because of threats of violence.
However, because we live in a pluralistic and diverse society where people have different views and ideologies, there are those among us who do not feel that way. Because this need to feel safe is always present, it is important for all groups to get to know each other, to be around each other, to feel safe in each other’s presence—to inter-mingle.
My experience with interfaith events over the past few years has been exactly this. People of all faiths and different backgrounds come together, not to agree on ideologies or theologies, but rather to appreciate each other’s humanity. After each event, I have walked away with a feeling of calm and a certain degree of elation because I have witnessed cordial personal interactions in a larger societal context that feels much more divisive.
Working Towards a Peaceful Society
Interfaith should be for everyone* who wants to work towards a more peaceful society. As the name implies, interfaith should include all faiths, but we also need to include those who stand outside of organized religion, including humanists, secularists, those who prefer to label themselves spiritual-but-nonreligious, and everyone in between.
Does religion equal division? It is a seemingly easy question to answer. From observing the news on any given day, most people would answer yes, religion does divide. Any number of conflicts around the world can be attributed to religious differences and modern political rhetoric is using religion to pit people against each other.
The same can be said when we look back at history. Religious differences seem to be at the root of many conflicts. The dividing aspects are easy to amplify. “I believe this, you believe that and that is why we are different. In fact, your beliefs so offend me that I am willing to take up arms against you.”
Those who place religion at the center of most conflicts use this rhetoric.
Religion Itself May Not Be the Cause
Comparative religion author, Huston Smith, maintained the position that most wars have been fought over lands and resources, been mired in tribal history (as in, “your tribe did this to my tribe many years ago, that is why we fight”), or been instigated by power hungry individuals who used religion to fan the flames of war. In short, divisive people cause division with divisive rhetoric and actions, sometimes under the guise of religion.
Can religious division be explained away like that? It’s probably too simplistic, even if there is truth to it. Religion can’t be exempt when it comes to divisiveness.
Faith Reflected in Behavior
However, when we look at the other side of the ledger, we see that religion has the potential to extract the very finest from within people and be the cause for harmony. There are religious people of all faiths who place tremendous emphasis on kindness and compassion.
Isn’t that the hallmark of true religion, practicing your faith until it shows in your behavior? In The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James notes that:
We use the term ‘co-human harmony’ a lot here at Harmony Interfaith Initiative. It’s the name of our flagship program and the title of an upcoming book that we are publishing in January 2019 with Flaming Leaf Press. To us, it’s an important term with vital connotations. It deserves a concise definition.
Understanding the difference between the human and ideological personas is one of the central ideas we work with here at the initiative. Each human being is a blend of both.
The human persona consists of everything that human beings share. We are all born, we die, we breathe, we eat, we sleep, we feel, we suffer, we laugh… the list goes on and on.
The ideological persona consists of values and beliefs that cannot be independently proven or disproven. Every –ism, be it political or religious, falls into this category.
The term ‘co-human’ relates to the human persona. It’s an expression of our shared humanity. Using the term helps shine a brighter light on the things we have in common.
Harmony is the coming together of many disparate notes to form a pleasing whole. Harmony exists on a spectrum. A garage band creates one type of harmony, a barbershop quintet another, and so on. Harmony does not have to sound like the Vienna Boys Choir to be pleasing.
Everyone is a critic. It’s easy to look around, find the things we disagree with or don’t like and then let loose. With the number of social media outlets and blogs available, it’s never been easier.
And yet, few ever stop and think about what the purpose of a critique is. Is it to let everyone know about a particular point of view that is opposite to another person’s point of view? Is it a dog whistle that signals to a group of likeminded people? Is it a way to show superiority by means of demeaning others? Or is a critique the start of a constructive conversation about what can be done better?
Opposition, dog whistling and demeaning need no further examination as they speak for themselves. However, if a critique is meant to be constructive, it must meet certain criteria.
Are all faith practices alike? The answer to that question is Yes…and No. Dodging the question, you ask… not really. I have spent the better part of my life questioning and searching, and the last ten years in intense research to discover that answer.
Didn't Know How Much I Didn't Know
In the process of my research for my books, I learned a very valuable thing: I did not know how much I did not know! We’ve all been taught things by family, friends, spiritual leaders…and many times, because we respect that person, we accept those statements as Truth without question.
But what we don’t realize is that sometimes those people have been unknowingly mislead themselves. Not in a purposeful or vindictive way...it just happens. We live, interact, hear and discuss things casually and pass on our views that have been formed over time by our associations and life experiences. Unfortunately, misinformation can inadvertently be spread and multiplied by this totally innocent approach to “truth.”
As I was researching, I realized in a very profound way that many things I had heard or been taught were NOT true. I also learned through many long hours of follow-through, that many things written on the “all knowing” Internet were NOT true.
Watch the Life They Lead
If you really want to know what others believe, go to their main website, talk to real people who live that faith practice, and most importantly, watch what kind of example they lead with.
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Our Vision and Primary Goal
We are an educational and social good interfaith organization. We envision a world where people have access to strategies, methods and ideas that promote social harmony and enable bridge building across divides. To us, the term 'interfaith' means the continual improvement of interrelations between people who strongly believe in different worldviews. Our primary goal is to support and supplement new and ongoing efforts.
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©Harmony Interfaith Initiative
Registered in Hays County, Texas
Founded in 2018
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