There are people who go to church and other places of worship all their lives, every day or every week, practically without exception.
There are important ways in which what happens at church, or in the yoga class that I’ve attended for years, every single time is “the exact same thing.”
This aspect of repetition should not be seen as a negative. People involved in spiritual growth in religious communities, recognize that they benefit from repetition. Repetition serves the communal religious experience positively. There is comfort in knowing what to expect. We waste less energy laboring to command the unfamiliar. We can soar to greater heights seeking uncharted horizons in more rarefied realms, unencumbered by anxiously and helplessly looking left and right to figure out when I’m supposed to stand and when to sit. To the outsider this looks like “the same old thing.” To the faithful practitioner it is known as a supportive ground for deep levels of progress.
The fact that religion and religious experience can flourish in circumstances that look repetitious to the naked eye is something of which interfaith activists must take very careful note.
Interfaith activism is relatively new in our current history. Depending on how one reckons, it is only between 60 and 110 years old. A legitimate criticism of interfaith activity is that it seems to make essentially no progress at all. Even people involved (if they are honest, or at least reflective and aware) with embarrassment note and recognize how every meeting is just like the last, a parade of ever aging and tiring platitudes, a dull drone of the same weary “we musts,” only with new beards and new hats. In the mean time religious violence and militancy grows in leaps and bounds. This seeming “groundhog day” of passing microphones around for people to say with enlightened sounding inflection and demeanor, let’s get along is part of what renders this all important work (of interfaith) mocked or ignored. I wrote of this fact during the 2009 Melbourne Parliament which gathered over 8,000 participants on site, with nary a mainstream article on the meeting to be found.
There are two things to note about this very important reality facing the interfaith task. The first is a bit of a defense, but still it carries obligations to its leaders, and the second is simply a strong call for interfaith leaders to do far better.
1.One of the reasons why interfaith meetings actually feel good, feel progressive, and hopeful, and are satisfying, enriching, and genuinely revitalizing, even though they seem like “the same old thing,” is because the interfaith activists are in fact a spiritual community. They are kind of a religion, and like all religions, what looks like non-progressive repetition to the naked eye, is actually a version of the viable religious structure in which the secure and reliable grounds of constancy provide the basis upon with spiritual growth and progress in fact occurs. In this aspect, the labor and obligation for the interfaith community is to be aware of this parallel to traditional religious experience and spiritual growth, and to be articulate this fact to people outside the community. Failing that we deserve the derision and irrelevance with which interfaith is treated.
2.The second matter is more serious. Interfaith is NOT merely a new religion that serves like a church or a yoga class, whereby it is just fine to go there every week (or year, or every 4 years or whatever), and smile, and be happy, and feel good, and offer your money. Interfaith is a vital and necessary element in world affairs that should address murder, rape, crucifixions, domestic violence, and countless other dark and demonic shadows that flourish in the world of “religion.” If interfaith activists do not establish reliable, universally testable measures of true success and progress, then the real buzz and real edge in attention and resources will continue to ignore the interfaith effort, and instead devote its billions to tech, to twerking entertainers, to athletes both virtuous and vile, to medical scares, and to instruments of war.