Caldwell College hosted the Peace Islands Institute (PII) in an Abraham's Table on Wednesday March 28, 2012,. The theme was “Faith and Culture” from Christian, Jewish and Muslim Perspectives.
Father Anthony Randazzo
Rabbi Allen Silverstein
We thank the PII volunteers for the wonderful food they prepared and convey a big thanks to Father Albert Berner for making this beautiful event possible.
Father Anthony Randazzo:
On this topic of faith in culture and example that has been given to all of us recently because we live in a high-powered sports culture, is the example of Tebow coming to the New York Jets. If you have followed that to any degree with Tebow, you realize that he is someone who is sought after he has a personality, he has charisma, he got up the other day in front of press conference and said on a number of occasions how many times he’s excited about being with the Jets organization and the point of Tebow is that he has manifested his faith openly and publicly on the gridiron.
Faith and culture, sports culture and faith, we live in many micro cultures, it’s not just a matter of the American culture, and it’s just not a matter of the entertainment culture. We know that there’s a drug culture, there’s an underworld culture.
So to say faith and culture we really should say faith and cultures, in the plural. But what’s at stake in all of this? Well when it comes to any form of religious faith, you have 3 Cs commonly addressed in religious faith. Code, creed and cult, that if you were to look at Christianity you would say that there is a code; and that code of teachings is because we have a faith that comes out of a book, out of New Testament that we are one of the religions of the book; and that we share a Judeo Christian formation. Hebrews scriptures, Old Testament, New Testament; this is all part of that which comes to us as a faith out of a written word, out of inspired word. And out of that word, we have a set of beliefs and those beliefs for us are centered on Jesus, on the Christ and his teaching. And his teaching most profoundly on love, love of God, love of neighbor. And out of that comes a system of prayer, a system of signs and symbols, a system of feast and festivals; that which we somehow celebrate this faith.
And as you know that’s where we begin to crisscross when it comes to culture and faith expression, in Good Friday, the stock market is closed. There are days in the year when we observe religious holidays and as we reserve religious holidays we begin to see that people of faith maybe gathering in a synagogue or in a mosque or in a church, because that day is set aside for an observance, a recognition, that there is a for lack of better terms a higher power that has been revealed in different ways and that now on this day we place focus in priority upon some form of religious faith, spiritual experience. All of that comes out of that each of us are people on a journey. Whether we are on a spiritual journey, a social religious journey, a journey to a path, a carrier path, we are all somehow on the move.
We are on the move to a destination to fulfilling dreams, to fulfilling hopes and in our respect to religious traditions we appeal to them to fulfill those dreams and to fulfill those hopes. It is this incredible exchange between our faith, our spiritual tradition and our religious culture. I’d like to conclude my brief remarks with a quote from this book, Every Day Counts, Lessons in Love, Faith, and Resilience from Children Facing Illness. Children have a lot to teach us and this author states this as what she has learned from children who had been facing illness. And to me this crosses all religious boundaries or spiritual traditions, in which she says here; “may these children’s lives offer you what they offered me, a certainty that wisdom can be attained whenever we choose to pay attention.” When you pay attention to faith and culture wisdom can be attained, that connection to each other matters deeply; that when we come together in this context, these connections one to another, they matter deeply and lastly that we must love who we love while we can. It seems to me that if faith teaches us more about love, if the better parts of our culture teach more about love, then somewhat of the divine symphony has been achieved. Thank you.
Rabbi Allen Silverstein:
I just want to give you a thumbnail sketch of the way faith and culture have interacted in producing the role of local churches and today mosques and synagogues here in the U.S. in a manner that’s different than other places in the world.
During the colonial era, there were established churches that meant in the various colonies. If you were part of a specific colony you had to be part of the established church in that colony or you weren’t really welcome. When our country was established we untied the official relationship of church and state and so in 1776, 90 percent of Americans were un-churched. And so in 1780 until 1860 that was the era in which religious institutions, congregations became voluntary associations in a free marketplace of souls going out to try to persuade people to become affiliates of their congregation out of freedom. As a strategy, congregations began to have for the first time, clergy identified with the specific congregation; we didn’t have that before in America. We had clergy for the whole community, now we have clergy for congregation.
Sermons became the vehicle in an era when the primary leisure time activities were very few, it became a vehicle to persuade people to come to that worship service and to hear the all time religion presented in a modern parallels. Secondly, you had Sunday schools established in congregations. The idea of religious education being established within congregations was new, didn’t exist before, but that was to persuade folks to affiliate with congregations in order to educate the next generation.
From roughly 1870 after the Civil War until 1900 a different mega trend in American society of culture forced us to respond and that was secularization. People began to be pushing away from religion worldwide and so congregations responded by adding secular activities within congregation as a way of connecting folks, who might by connection secularly, connect religiously as well. So you began to have men groups who had recreational activities in congregations, some congregations actually the institutional church model build gymnasiums and all kinds of things, but tied to that was the opportunity also to worship.
Women were not yet members at that time in congregations. Women were attracted to a secular worthy pursuit of social work, that is reaching out to impoverish families in progressed areas and through sisterhoods of personal service could get connected to the congregation.
Roughly 1900 to 1930, an era of vast immigration, new folks coming to America needing to become Americanized and urbanization, increasing numbers of folks in cities, we began to have the scientific management revolution into congregation. So the congregation had to be managed for age and sex differentiated activities, activities for young children, activities for adolescence, activities for young adults, activities for men, activities for women and all those meeting in the frame work leading towards worship including the integration of the immigrants.
As we move forward, 1930 to today; we’ve picked up all kinds of new challenges and all kinds of new responses. Some of those new responses are evident in this room, that is the great blessing of interreligious dialogue and partnering.
I’m so proud to say that Father Anthony and myself led a shared trip to Israel honoring Nostradamus 50th Anniversary and Israel’s 90th anniversary. Congregants from each of our congregations, this is something that could never have happened in any previous time in the history of our country. It is similarly the dialogue that the dialogue center of our Turkish Muslim friends have established, and we have had many such dialogues. I’m proud to say, here in our community some in our synagogue, some in Anthony’s congregation and Jeff Marquise’s congregation in here at Caldwell College, this could never have happened in any previous time and I’m very grateful that we live at a time where these times have changed in such a beautiful way. Thank you very much.
The Muslim world is actually not a cultural monolithic, so it presents a broad spectrum of perspectives ranging from the extremes of those who do think of circumcision of girls are actually necessary; to those who argue that this has nothing to do with Islam and I’m on the second side. Since culture is full of range of learned human behavior patterns, let’s find out if this is possible with Muslim population throughout the world.
A comprehensive demographic study of more than 200 countries finds out that there are 1.6 billion Muslims of all ages living in our world today. Presenting and representing 23% of an estimated 2009 world population of around 7 billion; so this makes around 25% of world population and while Muslims are found on all 5 inhabited continents, more than 60% of them are in Asia and 20% of them are in Middle East and North Africa, then the rest are all over the world. So we can also observe such high minorities often quite high such as in India, China, and Russia. So, every country’s understanding and applying Islam is affected by its own culture and everything that people follow, not originate from Islam. From now on I will just refer this as cultural Islam, so there is a big gap actually with the Islamic culture and cultural Islam.
On the other hand, unfortunately most of the Muslim countries couldn’t use advantages of their religion as human rights, women rights throughout the history, because of the cultural boundaries. During Prophet Muhammed(PBUH)'s life woman was able to speak freely, but it took centuries for rest of us to follow up with after his death. A few more examples of cultural Islam in media, again I want to stress on these are not originated from religion but culture. There is a New York Times best-seller which is “Infidel” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, it presents circumcision of girls in their culture in Kenya. There is a movie, such a breathtaking one called “Stoning of Soraya M.” And that movie proves that culture may make people kill a woman in Iran and there is honor in killing. And there are in the different parts of world, there are woman who don’t have any values or they don’t get to have education and other rights.
As you can see in these examples although Islam gives a great importance on human rights, woman rights, free will, individual privacy, justice and etc. Unfortunately past traditions and culture norms determine how Islam leads and there are lots of things to say, but I want to conclude my words with a really good saying of President Barack Obama in 2009. He said “we know that our patchwork heritage is strange, not the weakness. We are a nation of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and nonbelievers.” We all know God’s words always tell us the ultimate truth. I want to finalize my words with a poem of Rumi;
Come again whoever you are,
Whether you are infidel, idolater or wanderer.
Whether you have broken your vows hundred times,
Ours is not caravan of despair.
This is the gate of hope,
Come yet again and come.
May god help each and every one of us in our journey to become better believers, better submitters to his will.