World Religions Conference
Ok, so a Buddhist Sensei, a Jewish philosopher, a Catholic Bishop, and a Muslim missionary are talking about the meaning of life. No, this isn’t the set up to a religious joke, this was the World Religions Conference at my university tonight. To be honest, when I first heard about the conference I thought “That sounds like about as much fun as going to church for two hours.” I only went when a fellow grad student asked me, and bribed me with the promise of a beer afterward. She didn’t show up, I stayed anyway, and actually enjoyed it quite a bit. Here, briefly, are the highlights of the evening, and as a teaser – someone talked about homosexual anal sex. Quick, guess which speaker!
The Buddhist speaker started by asking quite appropriately (paraphrased):
When I heard that tonight’s topic was “The Meaning of Life” I got to wonder, whose life? Your life? My life? Life in general? If it’s your life, well, I think you ought to find that out on your own. If it’s my life, I don’t know that you’ll be interested. If it’s life in general, I don’t know that we should generalize like that.
The speaker for Judaism is a prominent philosopher at my university – one known for shit-disturbing. He gave an intense but intelligible talk on how purpose implies artificing (having been purposely created), and then talked about the Jewish compact, or covenant with god. Through rhetoric I wish I could replicate here, he argued that God’s purpose was the purpose of his people. If God had a different purpose than that, they wouldn’t be His people, He wouldn’t be their God. So the purpose of life is to get along with each other and take care of this world that we are being so careless with. People are to be known by their works, you don’t even need to be a believer to be a good person. I appreciate that.
The Catholic Bishop explained that in his years, he had learned five fundamental truths about life.
Life is hard
- You aren’t that important
- Your life is not about you
- I can’t remember this one
- You are going to die
I can’t really argue with most of those (especially the one I can’t remember!). He then talked about how the meaning of life is to love God, etc.
The Muslim speaker had some of the most wonderful things to say about religion and science. He explained that science is to be embraced, as scientists make it easier for believers to understand the wonder of God. Without science, we would not know how big the cosmos are, or how amazing the deep sea. Scientists are to be thanked because they make it easier to love God. And when one loves God, they love their teachers (religious and scientific).
There was much more, of course. I left out most of the specifically religious stuff. Surprisingly, though, there wasn’t all that much religious stuff to leave out. It seems that most of the speakers tried to keep their message as broad as possible. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it is important to remain civil and open if you want to foster inter-faith dialogue. On the other hand, if you can give a talk about Christianity and not actually reference the Bible until your last phrase, maybe you are watering your message down a bit too much. Maybe they were trying not to alienate people, but maybe they were trying to win converts by appearing universal.
Bet you thought I was lying about the teaser. Nope. The Jewish philosopher, in his discussion about purpose, explained that just because God made feet to walk on doesn’t mean that walking on our hands is anathema, as long as walking on our hands doesn’t ruin our feet for walking. Just so, gay anal sex doesn’t ruin penises for baby-making, so what’s the problem? Gay people can still have kids, and many do. The audience (many of whom were Muslim, since it was a Muslim community which organized the event) collectively gasped. A few spontaneous laughs rang out. The speaker acted like he hadn’t said anything particularly important, and moved on. I think he was gutsy – for one, talking about something which could have the possibility to disrupt the whole event, but doing it in a non-disruptive way, and secondly, for actually having the guts not to be as bland and inoffensive as everyone else. Inter-religious dialogue will never work if the people involved never talk about their disagreements.