Friday, 12 July 2013

Interfaith Dialogue and the Role of Social Media | John Ager


The following post was first published in 2013 and has since been updated. The featured guest writer in the Interfaith Ramadan series is someone who nurtured my spiritual development while I was growing up. John Ager was my pastor for over 20 years and still challenges me and influences my faith now as a Muslim. On top of that, he also taught me to ride a bike, was my personal chauffeur during my high school years, and has been on call as my tech support ever since I broke the first in a long line of deceased laptops. You may have already guessed the personal connection...  John also happens to be my Dad!




Here, John reflects on Interfaith Dialogue and the role of Social Media. 



It would be perfectly acceptable to ask the question, ‘Why, as a Christian leader, are you so interested in interfaith dialogue?’ Indeed, it’s one that I’m asked in a variety of ways, although the question is often implied in a negative way, with the suggestion that I’m somehow diluting my own faith by association. As a Christian, I firmly believe you can celebrate diversity, whilst at the same time remaining true to your own faith tradition.

So, let me turn the question round and ask you, ‘Why not?’ It takes very little observation of the world to see that there’s way too much misunderstanding, mistrust, hatred and violence between communities and faiths. It’s so easy to see those not like us as ‘other’, to stereotype them, blame them for problems we face, and ultimately hate them. Immigration is an example, the facts tend to be very different from the sensationalism of the tabloid media that fuels public opinion.

Whether you’re a person of faith or not, I’m sure we can agree that one of the noblest things in life is connecting with other people, breaking down barriers, celebrating difference and relating as unique human beings. Simply smiling at other people, acknowledging them, talking to strangers, and making them friends. We are all enriched by diversity, yet diminished by separation and fear. What applies in the ordinary, everyday world, also applies in the world of faith.

There’s so much we can learn from the people we meet in our lives day by day, it simply requires that we listen and have an open mind. The negative approach that takes up the defensive position of I’m right and you are wrong is never helpful, whilst constructive dialogue can only be for the overall good.

Since my daughter (for whom I’m pleased to write this guest post) has embraced Islam, I’ve had some interesting discussions with her, although these have been limited recently as we live in different countries. These have powerfully reminded me that the assumptions we make about Muslims are very different from the reality. This has also been my experience in conversations with Muslim friends in person and through social media, breaking through the dogma that can so easily divide. Of course there are differences, but within the context of friendship these can be accepted, explored, and shared in our common journey of faith.

In recent years the rise of social media has given us the opportunity to reach out to others in an unprecedented way. Facebook is limited in this respect as mutual friendship is a prerequisite of connecting (although occasionally ignored), whereas Twitter has no such limitation. Every user is free to follow whoever they like, unless their account is locked down. It’s a great leveller, everyone is equal on Twitter. It’s neither good nor bad, only in as much as how it’s used by individual users. For me, it’s an opportunity to share my own Christian faith, yet at the same time to listen to and be open to others. Indeed, I describe myself as a Christian with an open heart and mind.

In all my interfaith conversations, I've never felt I've had to dilute my Christian faith or apologise for it, and I would never do so. Similarly, I would not expect my Muslim friends to do so of their faith. I often send Christian love and peace to my Muslim friends, and it’s always well received - even when I remind them that Ramadan is all about the fasting NOT the feasting. Mind you, any invitations to Iftar this month would be gratefully received! Remember, love always wins!




John Ager has been a Salvation Army Officer for over 30 years and is currently stationed in Middlesbrough, UK. He is interested in Formula 1,  and has recently taken up running. You can find his eclectic blog here at https://johnager.co.uk/




9 comments:

  1. The post almost got me crying. Wisely beautiful and meaningful. The answer is very honest. Especially when he stated, "love always wins"

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    1. Thank you so much for your lovely comment. I'll pass it on to my Dad - he'll really appreciate it. inshAllah your fasts are going well and you feel good this Ramadan : )

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    2. Thank you Annisa, that's very kind of you. Love and peace. John.

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    3. You're welcome, Sarita ^^
      You too, have a nice and blessed Ramadhan..

      You're welcome Mr. John ^^
      Have a nice day..

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  2. Wow - what a lovely post! And he is based in Middlesbrough - my husband often goes to the Mosque in Middlesbrough :)

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    1. That's cool - I didn't know you were nearby

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  3. Another great example of interfaith understanding between Islam and Christianity is the Halal Monk website. It collects the conversations of Jonas Yunus, a Christian thinker who speaks with influential spiritual leaders and important artists of the Muslim world.

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    1. Thank you for letting me know about this website.

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  4. If you are interested in some new ideas on interfaith dialogue and the Trinity, please check out my website at www.religiouspluralism.ca, and give me your thoughts on improving content and presentation.

    My thesis is that an abstract version of the Trinity could be Christianity’s answer to the world need for a framework of pluralistic theology.

    In a constructive worldview: east, west, and far-east religions present a threefold understanding of One God manifest primarily in Muslim and Hebrew intuition of the Deity Absolute, Christian and Krishnan Hindu conception of the Universe Absolute Supreme Being; and Shaivite Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist apprehension of the Destroyer (meaning also Consummator), Unconditioned Absolute, or Spirit of All That Is and is not. Together with their variations and combinations in other major religions, these religious ideas reflect and express our collective understanding of God, in an expanded concept of the Holy Trinity.

    The Trinity Absolute is portrayed in the logic of world religions, as follows:

    1. Muslims and Jews may be said to worship only the first person of the Trinity, i.e. the existential Deity Absolute Creator, known as Allah or Yhwh, Abba or Father (as Jesus called him), Brahma, and other names; represented by Gabriel (Executive Archangel), Muhammad and Moses (mighty messenger prophets), and others.

    2. Christians and Krishnan Hindus may be said to worship the first person through a second person, i.e. the experiential Universe or "Universal” Absolute Supreme Being (Allsoul or Supersoul), called Son/Christ or Vishnu/Krishna; represented by Michael (Supreme Archangel), Jesus (teacher and savior of souls), and others. The Allsoul is that gestalt of personal human consciousness, which we expect will be the "body of Christ" (Mahdi, Messiah, Kalki or Maitreya) in the second coming – personified in history by Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Buddha (9th incarnation of Vishnu), and others.

    3. Shaivite Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucian-Taoists seem to venerate the synthesis of the first and second persons in a third person or appearance, ie. the Destiny Consummator of ultimate reality – unqualified Nirvana consciousness – associative Tao of All That Is – the absonite* Unconditioned Absolute Spirit “Synthesis of Source and Synthesis,”** who/which is logically expected to be Allah/Abba/Brahma glorified in and by union with the Supreme Being – represented in religions by Gabriel, Michael, and other Archangels, Mahadevas, Spiritpersons, etc., who may be included within the mysterious Holy Ghost.

    Other strains of religion seem to be psychological variations on the third person, or possibly combinations and permutations of the members of the Trinity – all just different personality perspectives on the Same God. Taken together, the world’s major religions give us at least two insights into the first person of this thrice-personal One God, two perceptions of the second person, and at least three glimpses of the third.

    * The ever-mysterious Holy Ghost or Unconditioned Spirit is neither absolutely infinite, nor absolutely finite, but absonite; meaning neither existential nor experiential, but their ultimate consummation; neither fully ideal nor totally real, but a middle path and grand synthesis of the superconscious and the conscious, in consciousness of the unconscious.

    ** This conception is so strong because somewhat as the Absonite Spirit is a synthesis of the spirit of the Absolute and the spirit of the Supreme, so it would seem that the evolving Supreme Being may himself also be a synthesis or “gestalt” of humanity with itself, in an Almighty Universe Allperson or Supersoul. Thus ultimately, the Absonite is their Unconditioned Absolute Coordinate Identity – the Spirit Synthesis of Source and Synthesis – the metaphysical Destiny Consummator of All That Is.

    For more details, please see: www.religiouspluralism.ca

    Samuel Stuart Maynes

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