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A Humanist perspective on Interfaith

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A Humanist perspective

Many of the conflicts that disfigure the history of humanity have had their origin in mutual misunderstanding, fear and mistrust between groups divided by their traditions, worldviews and religious beliefs. When we consider the fact that human beings have a common evolutionary origin and that only a few million years ago every human being that existed lived together in one community, the facts of religious and ethnic conflict are ironic to say the least.

A worthwhile activity?
Humanists believe that morality is a part of human biological and cultural evolution and so it is not a surprise to humanists that many cultures and traditions have basic values in common. When it is a result of inter-belief dialogue that these shared values are uncovered and recognised, many humanists would say that the dialogue was worthwhile, especially if it helps to erode mutual misunderstandings that might exist, and to humanise people of different religions and beliefs in each others’ minds.

Many humanists do not believe that interfaith dialogue is very beneficial, because it is a sort of dialogue that emphasises the differences people have from the start and because in a country like the UK, where not many people are religious, it will not really solve the issues that actually divide people, which may be ethnic, economic or political. Critics of interfaith dialogue as an industry also point out that it has tended to involve only the leaders of religions, often self-appointed, and often homogenous in terms of age and gender (mostly old men). They also point out that inter-belief dialogue only involves those who are willing to talk in the first place, whereas it may be those who are not willing to even begin the conversation that society most needs to engage with one another.

In either case, humanists often object to ‘interfaith’ dialogue because it routinely excludes the non-religious – even though the non-religious are a large part of society – and so fails to break down some important barriers that do exist between religious and non-religious people. They would often prefer co-operation between people towards shared goals, which incidentally has the benefit of bringing people of different religions and beliefs together – where this is practised (like in AFAN itself), many humanists support it.