15 September 2008

Keep talking or face terrible future, religion summit told

I attended a MultiFaith Forum last week at Auckland University which was sponsored by the McLaurin Chaplaincy Trust Board. Fascinating conversations acknowledging both the common ground and the need to recognise, rather than ignore, the points of difference.

NZ Herald 4:00AM Tuesday September 09, 2008 By Lincoln Tan

Inter-religious talks may seem superficial, but it is vital for believers of different religions to keep talking - or the consequences could be dire, an inter-religious relations expert warned.

Paul Weller, a professor of inter-religious relations at the University of Derby in Britain, is in New Zealand to speak on challenges facing multifaith societies at a two-day conference that started yesterday at the University of Auckland.

"New Zealand may have once been called a Christian country, but like most societies, with immigration and globalisation, it is now a society with many religions. The change is inevitable, but the challenge is, how do we face this change?"

Yesterday, Professor Weller spoke about the implications for believers of this change, and said that instead of "retreating from the world and taking refuge in simplistic and dangerous forms of religious communalism", they should "develop ways of thinking and acting that are characterised by modesty, integrity, realism and distinctiveness".

New Zealand has a religious diversity statement which declared that the country "has no official or established religion" - which some Christian groups, like the Destiny Church, have described as "treasonous" because the British monarchy and the Maori King Movement are both committed to Christianity.

But Professor Weller, a former Baptist minister, said people who thought there was no room in society for any religion except their own were "lacking in confidence in their own faith", and described their line of thinking as "dangerous".

"The shock of September 11 followed by the Madrid and London bombings, the rise of the Taleban and invasion of Afghanistan ... these bloody episodes have at least dimensions relating to religion and culture," he said.

"There is no quick fix for a way forward in religious diversity. It is vital that we keep engaging with those with different beliefs, because if we don't, the alternatives will be just too terrible."

Tuesday, Professor Weller used the example of the University of Derby's Multi-Faith Centre, of which he is vice-chairman, to show how it is possible for universities to promote religious diversity and how public institutions could be inclusive of the role of religions.

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