Last Wednesday I had the privilege of attending a lecture given by Dr. Eboo Patel. A practicing Muslim known for his interfaith work, his lecture was on the wisdom of Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Hasidic Jew. In a day when all we seem to hear is the strident voices of religious intolerance, it was refreshing and inspiring to listen to Dr. Patel reflect on how Heschel’s insights and perspective deepens his own faith as a Muslim. Following the lecture there was a time for questions. The last question asked was the most important and the most provocative. It went something like this. ”In an age of religious pluralism and in your [Patel’s] own work on interfaith understanding and cooperation, if religious traditions can no longer claim to be the one true religion, what does any tradition have to offer that would cause people to become adherents?”
The question was and is an important one.
If it is not about where you will spend eternity or whether or not my tradition is the best or the only true one or the only right one, then what do we say to people who ask why they should be Muslim or Christian or Jew or Hindu?
Patel’s response was, “Beauty.”
The goal of any and all religious traditions is to help individuals discover and see the beauty in each other and in the world around us, and in our religious traditions and practices.
My response (at least today) is different.
My word would be gratitude.
In a culture that is so often protective and fearful and competitive, we need to be reminded to be grateful, to say Thank you, and out of our gratitude to practice generosity.
I realize that one word answers, whether his or mine, are not sufficient.
But, the question is real.
And, if progressive and inclusive religious voices are to be heard and to have a voice and to touch people’s lives and to make a difference, we need to begin to figure out our response.