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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 27, 2006

Religious differences need not divide us

By the Rev. Al Bloom

The Rev. Al Bloom

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American society is considered one of the most freely religious societies in the world. Despite the contemporary involvement of religion in politics, our principles of freedom of religion and separation of church and state encourage all forms of faith to express themselves without hindrance.

No one religion has become the paramount religion recognized legally by the government. Consequently, there are myriad truth claims, promulgated by each religion believing it is the true religion.

There is a way to dispel the broad confusion of these claims. We need a different perspective, something out of the box, that goes beyond simple differences of belief, ritual or organization. We must find the true essence of religion in principles that enhance and fulfill the life of all people without discrimination, not only followers of a particular religion.

There are four principles that are life-enhancing and life fulfilling: love/compassion, justice, peace and community.

Love and compassion are the fundamental basis of human relations, promoting life and mutuality or reciprocity, dispelling fear and abolishing hatred, prejudice and violence. These values inspire respect for the other person, the insider as well as outsider. They do not abolish interpersonal problems, but they encourage us to identify with the other and put ourselves in their shoes to discover a true resolution of issues.

If there is true love and compassion, there will be justice. One cannot say one loves and then permit a person to be treated unfairly and unjustly. Justice means respect, treating others right, seeking their welfare and happiness. I John 4:19 states: "If a man says, 'I love God' while hating his brother, he is a liar."

No one who loves and practices compassion wishes to see others harmed. In Buddhism a person on the path to enlightenment does not harm "living beings; (but) through his harmlessness towards all living beings is he called an Ariya (Noble)."

Also Buddhism indicates that hatred solves nothing: "Occasions of hatred are certainly never settled by hatred. They are settled by freedom from hatred. This is the eternal law."

If there is real justice, there will be peace. Grievances and misunderstanding can be resolved if we seek justice rather than victory or advantage.

The result of sharing love and compassion, seeking true justice and creating peace is community. Under such conditions people can live together without destroying each other.

No one can live meaningfully without a nurturing, supporting community. In community we find our common humanity and our need for love and compassion, justice and peace. We can live without fear as love casts out fear.

Any religion that promotes these principles and works to bring people together in exalting life is a true religion. Vocabularies may differ with history and culture, but true religion brings out the deepest awareness of interdependence and the oneness of humanity within the world of nature.

These are not simply unreachable ideals but necessities of our modern world. We need converging spiritualities in our pluralism that will share mutually to strengthen each other and aid in realizing the true religion within each faith.

The Rev. Al Bloom, a Buddhist, is professor emeritus of religion at the University of Hawai'i.