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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, October 22, 2005

Learning realities of religion

By Aliman and Mirnah Sears

It should have been utter chaos: 150 Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and others all crammed into a room for eight hours, arguing about the merits of their respective religion.

Instead, members and friends of All Believers Network spent Labor Day amicably participating in a symposium, "Finding Spiritual Sovereignty: Moving from Exclusion to Inclusion in My Faith."

We entered the room thinking religion was all about converting people, competing doctrines, anti-scientific ideas, alienation between members and nonmembers, and, most assuredly, God. However, attendees discovered some remarkable realities. Hinduism and Zoroastrianism don't even have a concept of conversion, and converting to Judaism is an arduously long process that entails learning Hebrew.

Is religion antithetical to science? The Islamic holy book (the Quran) mentions such scientific notions as the big bang theory, the expansion/contraction of the universe, and the aquatic beginnings of life. Talk about inclusiveness. Buddhism holds no distinctions between Buddhists and non-Buddhists: Humanity is one large in-group with no out-group. Sikhism and the Baha'i faith preach that all religions are viable spiritual paths to the same source.

And we certainly thought that religion was all about God, right? Well, Jainism has no concept of God, and neither does the spiritual path of Subud have a specific idea of God.

All worshippers seem to have the same intentions when they pray, chant, sing, recite, give alms, kneel, bow, feast and fast. Our task is to overcome our own bias and be inclusive rather than exclusive in our thinking. The true religious struggle seems to be within ourselves to become more open and accepting.

Words are useful, but the symposium wasn't strictly a cerebral exercise. Participants experienced their physical bodies as a direct connection with something higher.

Participants learned how to move from exclusion to inclusion in their religion. One theme centered on personal experience. When you expose yourself directly to another faith, such as attending a friend's place of worship, you directly feel the differences and similarities as compared with your normal experience.

Suspending judgment about others, being open to different ways of life, and bringing our worship into the lives of other people through concrete actions in the community, this is true religiosity.

Aliman Sears, a psychiatric social worker, and his wife, Mirnah, an artist, practice Subud, a mystical/religious movement. Expressions of Faith is a column that welcomes submissions from pastors, priests, lay workers and other leaders in faith and spirituality. E-mail faith@honoluluadvertiser.com or call 525-8035. Articles submitted to The Advertiser may be published or distributed in print, electronic or other forms.