As a secular organisation with a vision of an inclusive society, we respect and embrace the diversity of faiths as well as those without a faith. For World Religion Day we have a guest blog from Iain Stewart, Executive Director of Edinburgh Interfaith Association on the theme of inclusion and the power of connection between people.
As humans we yearn for connection and acceptance. We need to find a place where we feel secure and welcome. We are also looking for something that can give us direction, hope and support in our lives, which will help us face stresses and challenges with the strength and belief that we have the support to get us through it. For billions of people across the world, their religion and religious community fulfil these roles. People pray in the course of daily life but may also turn to prayer or meditation when they need help; they find support from the different members of their faith community group.
The role faith communities play in building connection and community has also been recognised by secular groups. An atheist friend of mine brought up in the Church of Scotland said he appreciated the churches’ contribution to supporting daily life and their concern for how human emptiness is filled in an increasingly secular society. Interestingly, there has been a growth in atheist churches trying to meet this need.
Belonging to a faith community however brings more than just a sense of connection and community with a shared group. There is a sense or awareness that this life is not the only one that we have. For some, life beyond this life is a reward for a life-lived well in this world; for others, our experience of God and eternity begins in this life. The afterlife could be in heaven or through reincarnation. For many there is a belief in a higher power behind everything that exists; the essence which is the cause of all existence. It differs how we explain and understand that power, be it a loving creator God or an energy giving life force but there is a longing to be closer to it. For many we feel almost an inbuilt predisposition towards a greater power. We might feel closer to it through prayer, worship or meditation.
Being a person of faith should also cause us to reflect on the uniqueness and value of each human life and indeed every living being on this earth. In faith, we believe in the interconnectedness of all living things; we are pointed towards recognising the value of life. All world religions have at their core, teachings such as the ‘Golden Rule’, to treat others the way we would want to be treated, that promote compassion and love for others. Where someone is encouraged to follow teachings that do not promote these things, they should be alert to the fact that they are being misguided into following a false path.
As the Director of Edinburgh Interfaith Association I often witness the power of faith driving others to care for the least fortunate in society and giving strength to individuals in difficult times, such as after the death of a loved one. Indeed, there is much evidence to support the belief that practicing a religion can help to improve our mental well-being. Prayer and meditation can help us to cope with stresses, helping to lower blood pressure, and assist us to think in positive ways and reduce the likelihood that we might suffer from depression.
As we celebrate, ‘World Religion Day’, I would ask you to consider how much more could be achieved if people of faith could come together setting aside their differences in order to concentrate on actions and projects that promote love and compassion. Everyone’s help is needed to create a peaceful world and one which works to reverse climate change. Peace in our world will also only come about through dialogue including interfaith dialogue and groups working together.
This is not a threat to our own individual faiths and beliefs, but any faith followed properly should lead us to actions that promote compassion and necessarily will lead us to working with people of other faiths. This is not something to fear and in fact we might find that dialoguing with others helps open a little window that reflects some light and understanding on to our own faith and practices. Crucial to interfaith dialogue is openness and trust. Happy World Religion Day.
Iain Stewart, Executive Director, Edinburgh Interfaith Association, 20th January 2019