World Interfaith Harmony Week is an extraordinary opportunity to engage people of different traditions as we learn to weave together a global society from the strands of human diversity. This Interfaith Harmony Week, I urge you to go beyond tolerance in these encounters.
For centuries tolerance has been the goal of forward-thinking people seeking to respond to the diversity of ethnic traditions, religious beliefs and cultural experiences in societies around the world. This work of tolerance has been carried out while intolerance has dominated much of human history and has been a contributing factor to horrific destruction of human life. At a time when tolerance has often been replaced by overt acts of hate in our communities, tolerance would seem a worthy goal. And yet the path towards just, peaceful, diverse communities pushes us to consider what lies beyond tolerance.
Tolerance is conflict arrested. It is a great harness applied to the destructive forces of ignorance, fear and prejudice. It provides a wall between warring parties. At best it is a glass wall where protected people can see one another going about parallel lives. But nonetheless it is still a wall dividing us from each another. When I agree to tolerate you, I agree only to acknowledge your existence and not to injure you. I make no commitment to get to know you, to learn about you, and to see our lives as interdependent. As such, tolerance is not a basis for healthy human relationships. It will never lead to true community, for tolerance does not allow for learning, or growth or transformation, but rather tolerance keeps people in a state of suspended conflict and ignorance.
For us to begin to understand the creative possibilities that are held within the diversity of human experience, we must move beyond the tendency to settle for tolerance as the goal for human encounter and risk the possibility that our lives are in fact inextricably connected one to another. As people of different religions, spiritual expressions, Indigenous traditions and humanistic beliefs, we are too often segregated from each other, which leaves us ignorant of the values and practices that are significant to our lives. Ignorance is the enemy of peace. Tolerance does not dispel ignorance. Only by embracing our diversity and claiming our interdependence will we learn about each other, form true relationships, and build communities of mutual respect that are essential for establishing cultures of peace.
During this Interfaith Harmony Week, let us move beyond tolerance, and forge the strong bonds of friendship that will lead us to peace.
The Rev. Victor H. Kazanjian, Jr.
STM Cycle of Prayer
We pray today for the Qur’an: Text and Context class taught by Erica Martin; Colette Casavant, staff; Allison Cannady-Smith and Jeny Carlson, students